San Francisco voters this election are faced with a key choice that will have very significant effects on the city’s future. On the one hand, voters will be asked to consider Proposition A, which would reform Muni and address many issues that are fundamental to operational difficulties that Muni has faced in the past decade. On the other hand, they will also be asked to consider Proposition H, which would require, among other things, that a substantial amount of new parking be added to the city.
Proposition H, pet project of billionaire and heavy Republican-contributor Don Fisher, is a confusing, purposely misleading, 60-odd page mess of a document that singlehandedly undermines and reverses the city’s transit-first policy, which has been a fundamental keystone in city planning for years now. Supporters like to cast Prop H as being a very reasonable measure, arguing that San Francisco needs more parking. It has gone by names such as “Parking for Neighborhoods” and “Regulating Parking Spaces”, but these names hide some of the most dangerous and atrocious loopholes of this proposition. Despite the name “Parking for Neighborhoods”, Prop H would require a massive increase in downtown parking and would actually decrease public street parking in the neighborhoods.
In general, I always advocate basing one’s votes on an individual, informed thought process, rather than simply following elite cues. That said, examining the list of official supporters of election initiatives can sometimes be useful. In this case, the short, partisan list of Prop H supporters casts immediate suspicion on the measure:
- San Francisco Republican Party
- San Francisco Taxpayers Union
- San Francisco Chamber of Commerce
Proposition A supporters, on the other hand, include:
- San Francisco Democratic Party
- San Francisco Bicycle Coalition
- Walk San Francisco
- Rescue Muni
- Livable City,
as well as many other educator groups, advocates for seniors and the disabled, and environmental advocates. I am not claiming that Prop A is perfect. Truly robust Muni reform would involve changes to work rules that Prop A doesn’t address, but we cannot always let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Prop A would give more flexibility to the SFMTA to turn Muni into a more reasonably run system, and I would like to see it as the beginning of a more thorough, long-term reform process.
I’ve already posted about these two propositions before, but certain points bear repeating. Prop H is written to sound as though it confers favor upon “low emission vehicles”, but the California standards cited in the measure would actually confer this favor on vehicles such as Hummers, which are hardly low emission in the sense that most of us understand the term. In addition, one of the most pressing issues facing San Francisco is a shortage of affordable housing. Proposition H would call for parking to be bundled with newly constructed units, thus forcing people to purchase more expensive housing that includes parking, even if many of us would prefer a more affordable unit that doesn’t include parking.
Even if you find Prop H’s increase of downtown parking to be tempting, it’s important to keep in mind the long-term picture. Building more parking (and allocating more space for cars, in general) will tempt people who might otherwise take transit into driving — so there will be more cars on the streets. The result will be slower Muni, more pollution, and more traffic congestion — not just downtown, but also in the neighborhoods. As Muni service worsens, even more people will switch to driving, leading to a feedback loop of increased congestion.
Proposition H would take our transit-first Baghdad by the Bay — with its European charms and Mediterranean graces — and turn its vibrant downtown into a fortress, a Los Angeles-like haven for parking, pollution, and congestion. It would appropriate public amenities — street trees and bus stops — in order to carve out additional sections of pavement that private residences could use as driveways. This would actually reduce the amount of publicly available parking in the neighborhoods, because curb space which is now used for on-street parking would be absorbed into private driveways.
If we flood new downtown buildings with larger parking garages, many more people commuting from within the city and in the greater region will drive to and from work everyday. Currently, there already is a long line of cars waiting to get onto the Bay Bridge each evening. The line can stretch for several blocks into the area north of Market Street. There is even a line on weekends. If we pass Proposition H, and the increased parking supply downtown encourages more people to drive, how long will this line of cars become? Will it extend into North Beach? Fisherman’s Wharf? Or even further than that?
How much traffic congestion can we take before we stamp our collective foot and say “enough”? And when that happens, how short-sighted will we feel to have placed a selfish desire for more parking above the interests of our Fair City?
When Election Day rolls around in a few weeks, I urge you to cast a vote for cleaner air, better transit, and a more livable San Francisco, and to encourage your friends and coworkers to do the same. Volunteer to spread the word, or even just strike up a conversation with your fellow transit riders while waiting at the bus stop. Future generations will thank you for your forward thinking and clarity of vision.
For more reading on Transit, not Traffic: Yes on A, No on H, you can also check out the following links:
- My earlier posts on Proposition A and Proposition H.
- Read about volunteer opportunities for the “Transit, Not Traffic” campaign.
- Exposing the myth of “Parking for Neighborhoods”
- Transit, Not Traffic
- Fix Muni
- SPUR campaign
- Rescue Muni posts on Prop A and on parking
- Beyond Chron article (October 2007)
- Beyond Chron article (July 2007)
- SF Bay Guardian article
- SF Weekly Article
- SF Chronicle article on Prop A, written by Supervisors Peskin and Elsbernd.