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Is San Francisco Getting Performance Parking or Not?
Parking in San Francisco - about to get even harder? Photo by Marcin Wichary.

Parking in San Francisco - about to get even harder? Photo by Marcin Wichary.

Greater Greater Washington is reporting that performance parking may be coming to San Francisco, but I’m not sure it’s quite so clear.

For those who don’t know, performance parking is basically the idea that you want to price parking more like a market good than we currently do, with the target being that there are always just a few open spaces. That maximizes both revenue and ensures that there is always a parking spot available, if you’re willing to pay. The current low cost of parking means that you can rarely find a spot, circling cars worsen traffic, and cities are giving up potential revenue.

The CBS 5 report that GGW links to does frame the discussion as performance parking, pure and simple. The discussion is all about raising the price of parking, particularly in high-demand times, to fill 85% of spaces and uses the same rhetoric of efficiency and revenue enhancement.

The Chronicle article, however, doesn’t seem to be describing quite the same set of changes. In this telling, the performance parking is hinted at—the story opens by asking the reader to “Imagine there always being at least one parking space open on any San Francisco residential block”—but there is another strand of the story as well. According to the Chronicle, San Francisco is considering creating “‘parking benefit districts,’ a boutique approach to parking in which residents decide how much to charge for parking in their neighborhoods, the boundaries for paid parking and what perks should come to those who pay premiums to park.” It sounds not necessarily like performance parking but the devolution of parking policy to the neighborhood level.

This, unlike performance parking, is not as desirable from an urbanist perspective (it might be really good from a democratic perspective or an equity perspective, I’m not sure). When one of the changes that a neighborhood could make is to “create 24-hour parking restrictions for outsiders, but have exemptions for themselves,” that’s not a good thing. That’s a way of privatizing public space, decreasing total mobility across the region and turning neighborhoods into much more insular places. The entire exercise of devolving that parking policy to the very local level is an invitation to NIMBYism that we don’t need.

So does anyone know whether San Francisco is actually pursuing performance parking or whether they’re doing something very different?

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