The site of the proposed park and affordable housing development. Photo by Alan Sanchez.

Lack of parking is a leading gripe for San Franciscans, who live in a heavily commuted city with more than half as many registered vehicles as residents.

The Mission District is no exception, and the opening of such large-capacity venues in the neighborhood as Preservation Hall West and the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema means that the tedious routine of circling the block looking for an open parking spot is here to stay.

The conversion of a parking lot at 17th and Folsom Streets into a park highlights the need to balance adequate parking in the Mission with the desire for meaningful community space.

The transformation of the 220-space parking lot will begin in the summer of 2013. The lot will be split: half will be used for a 32,000-square-foot park and the other half is slated for housing at a future date.

Parking is an important issue for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, but it must also consider the city’s transit-first policy, adopted in 1973, which encourages walking, biking and public transportation over the use of personal vehicles.

“Like all neighborhoods in San Francisco, there is a finite amount of parking [in the Mission], which makes managing demand for that finite supply all the more important,” said SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose. “Parking occupancies in the area are some of the highest in the city.” Rose acknowledged the parking concerns that many neighbors and businesses expressed when plans for the park at 17th and Folsom were announced.

To help manage parking in the area, the city is considering adding new meters and expanding residential parking permit areas, Rose said.

“The proposal for exactly where these tools are used on which blocks is being revisited this year,” Rose said. “The SFMTA is collecting additional data and will work with neighbors on the detailed block-level analysis for where different parking management tools are appropriate.”

The SFMTA is currently collecting data on a parking management proposal for the area.

Converting a parking lot into a park is a step in the right direction and in line with the city’s transit-first policy, according to Connie Chan, director of public affairs for the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department.

“Our city family believes in public transit first and to be environmentally aware for a greener environment. We work with other agencies to encourage this,” Chan said.

Creating a new park in the Mission will help alleviate the neighborhood’s need for additional recreational and green space, Chan said.

“This project is unique to the Mission neighborhood. We understand the lack of green space in the Mission neighborhood. We have more kids growing up in the Mission now, so the idea of turning the parking lot to a park, with a community garden, is driven by community needs. We are more than happy to accommodate that.”

Plans to use 8 percent of the new park for a community garden were announced in July by John Dennis, an architect for the project. The parks department manages 36 community gardens in the city, with waits of up to two years for an individual plot.

“We look at this park as a healthy, sustainable need for the community. We consider this part of the neighborhood,” said Oscar Grande, a community organizer for People Organizing to Defend Environmental and Economic Rights.

Grande, who has been working with the city and the community to make the park at 17th and Folsom a reality, believes it will fill a greater need in the community than a parking lot. “A majority of the people in the neighborhood have low incomes and tend to drive less. You have a lot of family that don’t drive cars. We feel that those families and residents should benefit from a park,” he said.

But parking remains an important issue for Phillip Lesser, vice president for governmental affairs for the Mission Merchants Association.

Lesser has conducted his own survey of off-street parking in the Mission, using SFMTA numbers and personal observations. With the increased demand for parking generated by new venues in the neighborhood and the loss of parking spaces to developments like the 17th and Folsom park, the Mission is in the negative, Lesser said.

“By 2013, people looking for curbside parking in the Mission will be wistfully longing for the mere inconveniences of 2012,” he said.

The Numbers

A document released by the SFMTA in December of 2011 shows an estimated 2,593 parking spaces within a quarter-mile of the proposed park. That number, which includes free, paid, permit and customer-only parking spots, balloons to an estimated 10,700 spots within half a mile of the park.

The document also contains the results of a 167-person survey of drivers leaving the parking lot at 17th and Folsom streets in the summer of 2010.

Of the respondents:
• 47 percent lived in San Francisco
• 47 percent used the parking lot every weekday; 22 percent used it one to four times per month
• 54 percent would take the bus or train if they could not drive
• 27 percent would not come to the plan area if they could not drive
• 45 percent stayed one to four hours; 41 percent stayed eight hours or longer

In 2010 San Francisco became the first city in the nation to conduct an extensive citywide parking census of its parking supply. According to the census, San Francisco has over 280,000 metered and unmetered on-street parking spaces available and approximately 160,000 off-street spaces, including free, paid, customer-only and permitted parking spaces.

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  1. I’m blown away by all the commenters complaining about a parking lot being turned into a PARK. As someone who lives 2 blocks away from the site, I couldn’t be more excited about getting some green space in our part of the neighborhood. Dolores Park is the closest park as it stands now, but that’s quite a walk.

    I hope everyone who commutes to my neighborhood by car could have some sympathy for us residents too, and let us have this much-needed green space over a parking space for your entitled ass.

  2. This particular parking lot is primarily used by customers and employees of the many small businesses in the area. Most of the neighbors, residential and business, oppose the conversion to a park. The SFMTA held hearings ( where everyone objected) and pretended to give a shit, and are now just going ahead with their plans regardless of public input. Same old story in San Francisco…

    1. I agree. When MUNI mobs the buses back ti Mission I was shocked that the bus traffic on South Van Ness was high 24/7 with buses displaying 14/49 lines.

      I was told that they were looking into it. There is not a bus line on SVN but there is way ore MUNI traffic than there should be.

      The policy makers acted shocked that this was happennig.

      They obviously know it is going on and don’t care about SVN as they have done nothing to slow or minimize traffic on this street.

  3. The Transit First Policy basically just says that transit must be considered first when *funding*.
    People have used it all too frequently to bolster their personal anti-car positions. It’s not about that at all.

  4. The Mission could really use less cars, and less parking would help that situation. But what would help a lot more is better MUNI service in and out of the neighborhood. It’s easy to get here from downtown, and not too many other places. When I lived in other neighborhoods in the city (always with no car) I was always annoyed to come into the Mission because I had to take two buses. If I had a car, I would have driven here, too.

  5. I’d ride the bus and train a helluva lot more if they got me where I wanted to go in a sensible frame of time. I like “transit first” ‘cos it sounds real nice, but in reality, public transit in this town is super shabby, particularly for a 1st world so-called “World Class City.” I’d like to see a real serious effort on the part of the SFMTA to extend the Muni Metro down our most busiest corridors, like Geary and 19th Avenue and Van Ness. If I could get to the Inner Richmond in 30 minutes from the Mission using MUNI, I would. Right now it takes me about 15 in my car, and 45-60 minutes on the bus, whenever it decides to show up.

    SFMTA needs to make public transit better, not private driving worse. If the transit system was BETTER, I’ll bet we’d see way more ridership.

    1. “If the transit system was BETTER, I’ll bet we’d see way more ridership.” THIS.

      The lack of effort to improve our public transit (in a so-called public transit-first city) is infuriating. If we had better public transit (and this also includes SECURITY, because I know many families who would take public transit if they knew they were safer), we’d have more riders.

  6. Oh look, a PR piece written by the SFMTA posing as an article! Facts: The SFMTA has been hijacked by people who have a very narrow view about transportation, and are very elitist about drivers. They want to price working people out of the city to impose an insane scheme to blanket the city with parking meters and do away with residential parking. Starting in the Mission and points east. The reason why they have chosen the Mission and points east is their belief that these working class, minority neighborhoods will just roll over and play test dummy and give up and move away. They are wrong. We will fight these extremists every step of the way for a sane neighborhood where residents are treated just like anyplace else in the city.

    1. SFPark is already in place in the Marina, Fisherman’s Wharf, and the Financial District- hardly minority/working class neighborhoods.

      The folks complaining the most about SFPark are lower-middle class folks, who earn enough to afford a car, but not enough that an increase in parking charges doesn’t affect them. There’s been much less opposition in the upper-middle class Marina because those folks don’t really care whether parking costs $1/hr or $2/hr.

      So please don’t try to play the hard-pressed-working-class card. The folks who are actually working class are riding the the bus, not grumbling over parking charges.

    2. Nah. The SFMTA are de-emphasizing car parking because they’re doing their job.

      The city of San Francisco has a transit first policy, Section 8A 115 which says (among other things) that ” .. Within San Francisco, travel by public transit, by bicycle and on foot must be an attractive alternative to travel by private automobile. Decisions ….shall encourage the use of public rights of way by pedestrians, bicyclists, and public transit, and shall strive to reduce traffic and improve public health and safety. ”

      Why would I take a city agency to task for doing their job?$fn=default.htm$3.0$vid=amlegal:sanfrancisco_ca$anc=JD_8A.115

      1. Ah, so by keeping MUNI crappy but making driving an impossibly expensive/unworkable alternative, SFMTA is doing their jobs?! That’s brilliant. They don’t actually have to improve transit, they just have to make the alternative worse. And they already have so many people hard at work doing that. Why not add a bunch more?

        Suki, as much as some idealists want to make SF a car-free utopia, we are in the real world, ie, a country where the car is essential (think families, disabled, workers with equipment, etc) and, unfortunately, a society that is dependent on fossil fuel. I’m working in my job to change that. Until that happens, why not try to balance everyone’s interests and make SF livable for all?

        1. One more thing: SFMTA’s Mission meter plan incentivizes me to drive my car to work every day (where I have free parking) instead of leaving it at home and taking BART. So, this is a plan to improve the streets of SF or a plan to earn revenue?

  7. The citizens of California just overturned Prop 13. San Francisco citizens can change the direction at City Hall.

    If you are mad as h*** and don’t want to take it anymore, sign the petition and fill out the parking surveys to let the mayor and the supervisors know:

    And send letters to the Mayor and the Supervisors to tell them exactly why you don’t approve of the SFMTA.

    1. Whoa, talk about out of touch–and just plain wrong. No idea where you got this notion Prop 13 got overturned. We should be so lucky.

      And you can sign petitions with ENUF til you’re blue in the face but the recent election has shown us that data, in the end, will prevail; data tells us that a fair price should be paid for private car storage.

  8. Quick fact correction: The survey figure of 160,000 off-street parking spaces only counts publicly accessible spaces, not private off-street spaces (like home garages). Private spaces haven’t been counted, but they have been estimated to be at least half a million.

    1. Really, “Fact” correction? According to whom? Maybe you can provide some sort of backup for your questionable statistic. It just doesn’t seem accurate or believable.