After a nearly two-year process and a survey with thousands of respondents, the city is now embarking on a year-long pilot project to figure out how parking on the Dolores Street median on weekends might best be regulated.

The Sunday parking is technically illegal but de facto permitted.

The San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency’s Board of Directors voted to pursue a pilot program suggested by agency staff that would legalize median parking, or the practice of turning a traffic lane next to the center median into parking areas, on Dolores Street for a year.

At the same time it would restrict the specific areas and times in which parking is allowed. These restrictions, they said, would reduce collisions and improve emergency response times through the area.

“Getting info and figuring out how we can do this better by having this pilot is the only way we can really move forward,” said Director Gwyneth Borden.

Religious institutions, whose congregants overwhelmingly support the preservation of median parking according to a transit agency survey, praised the proposal as a compromise.

Several congregants and faith leaders told the directors that those who travel to services by car tend to have no other choice, and would be unable to participate in their faith communities if median parking were banned.

“Something as mundane as median parking will actually hinder or potentially shut down our faith members,” said Kyung Kim, a member of Cornerstone Church as well as the citizen advisory group.

Elizabeth Zitrin speaks at the SFMTA Board of Directors meeting. Photo by Lola M. Chavez

Elizabeth Zitrin speaks at the SFMTA Board of Directors meeting. Photo by Lola M. Chavez

Parking in the middle of the road to attend religious services has a long history. Mission resident Jim Salinas Sr. said he remembered seeing cars parked there when he attended church services at the Mission Dolores Basilica as a young child in the 1960s.

The director of the museum at that church, Andrew Galvan, said the practice goes back even farther.

“My ancestors were baptized in that same Mission church in the year 1794,” Galvan said. “For many many years, my ancestors hooked their horses to the horse stalls in the center of the street – and now we park our cars, on occasion, there.”

Much of the opposition to median parking from residents has come from a frustration that a blind eye is turned to technically illegal practices for religious organizations, according to the survey results. One opponent to the practice suggested simply placing parking meters in the area to equitably provide more parking.

The pilot program approved today will allow median parking for anyone on weekends, though specific hours have not yet been chosen. Gustavo Torres, who works at Mission Dolores Basilica, said churchgoers are happy to have the parking available to everyone.

“We want to come together and want everyone in the community to use median parking,” Torres said. “We’ll work together with SFMTA and anyone else to enforce parking stipulations and rules.”

The recommendation for the pilot program, however, was somewhat at odds with a 4-3 vote a citizen advisory group took in February to completely eliminate median parking. That vote, the agency says, could not be used as an official recommendation to the directors because two members were absent and it did not reach a five-vote majority.

Elizabeth Zitrin, one of the members of the advisory group, has long held that the vote of the advisory group was unfairly suppressed.

“The recommendation was that there be no median parking permitted on Dolores or Guerrero,” Zitrin told the board. She called the process to date “an illegitimate process that will not allow the members community members to be heard.”

Before the vote, Cheryl Brinkman, one of the directors, asked that if the pilot program be initiated, transit planners take on a greater role of figuring out how to manage parking in the area, a resource in notoriously short supply.

“I know it feels like we give you some impossible projects but here’s another one,” she told transit staff. “Let’s try to manage parking in this neighborhood…We just need to move forward. We can’t turn a blind eye to this.”