Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Proposed Mitigations for MTA's Fell/Arco Plan: One, Maybe Two, Might Be Feasible

Spaces not large enough for most vehicles without blocking driveways

Five parking meters on north side of Fell: important for Divisadero merchants

Arco access designed for two distinct entries and exits

Arco situated at prime Fell and Divisadero intersection


As reported earlier, the MTA has proposed a set of safety measures to address the dangerous traffic conditions on Fell Street near the Arco gas station and Divisadero Street. The city's plan includes posting a sign to warn motorists to not block the sidewalk at the Arco entry, striping the existing bike lane so it is more visible, and creating a curbside queue along the west-end of Fell for motorists waiting to get gas. The last measure involves removing four parking spaces in front of residences and two others between the Arco driveways. At an April 2nd MTA hearing about parking removal, the hearing officer issued a continuance and directed MTA staff to consider five primary mitigations for their plan. The feasibility of adopting these measures is considered below; only one, perhaps two, holds much promise.

  • Limit the no-parking period to specific hours rather than the current 24/7 proposal. This mitigation appears to be the most feasible as a compromise, although it has drawbacks. A few neighbors have proposed an effective period of less than 24 hours, perhaps from 9am to 9pm, for the six parking spaces. But leaving out the morning commute hours for those who travel Fell to get to jobs exposes them to the same risks that exist now. Opponents to a shortened time period offer two arguments against it: changing motorists' behaviors with variable traffic designs during the day is difficult and late night hours are risky due to limited visibility in the darkness.
  • Implementation of a Residential Parking Permit (RPP) area for the block of Fell between Scott and Divisadero. Adding this block to the current RPP system will be difficult and time-consuming. MTA regulations require that a new candidate block must be contiguous with an existing RPP area. The nearest RPP areas are 2 1/2 blocks away at Scott and Haight Streets and another at Divisadero and Page, 2 blocks distant (see map). More than 50% of the residents on the Fell block as well as on the linkage blocks would have to petition to join the existing RRP area. Once a petition is submitted, a fairly extensive review begins.
  • More outreach to Arco operators and management to engage them in a solution. Several neighbors at the April 2nd MTA hearing complained about extraordinary efforts by the city to accommodate a safety problem caused by Arco. But MTA staff and city attorneys -- as well as Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi -- have reported several attempts to engage Arco without a satisfactory response.
  • Elimination of the parking meters on the north side of Fell near Divisadero. Five metered spaces are currently in place: 2 for 30 minute periods, 3 for regular time periods. Removing meters runs counter to the city's attempts to preserve existing sources of revenue and secure new funds. While nearby neighbors might appreciate five more non-metered spaces, merchants on the busy and increasingly popular Divisadero corridor will likely take exception to the plan for reducing turnover in parking for customers.
  • Close access to Arco from Fell altogether and permitting Divisadero access only. This proposal seems to hold promise except Arco would likely resist it as much as possible. The current configuration of the pumps at the station serves the two different entries with easy access, but that arrangement would have to change for all vehicles to enter from Divisadero. Currently it is very difficult to maneuver from the Divisadero access to the pumps at the Fell side. With the current popularity of its low gas prices and lined-up customers, Arco has little motivation to undertake such a change. Adding more traffic and congestion to Divisadero runs counter to MTA's efforts to improve Muni travel times on primary bus routes. And it's not clear the city wants to pursue this option for various legal, political and regulatory reasons.
A Closer Look at the Existing Residential Parking. At the MTA hearing, 12 San Franciscans who travel on Fell Street -- in cars or on bikes -- supported the safety measures including the parking removal. Five neighbors opposed it. Previous to the meeting 41 individuals notified MTA of their support; no one registered opposition. In addition the North of the Panhandle Neighborhood Association board of directors supported the plan on a trial basis.

Those against the plan at the MTA meeting reported their observation that the area already lacked adequate parking and could not afford to lose more spaces. But, in effect, hardly anyone in the greater neighborhood can even use the parking in front of the residences just east of Arco. These four spaces are sub-standard in length and are large enough only for a mini-size vehicle; anything larger would block one of the driveways. As a result, the only neighbors who can use the spaces are the specific residents who live in those few buildings since they are allowed to park in front of their own driveways.

The fact that the spaces proposed for removal primarily serve just a few residents does not mean that parking should be removed, but it does provide some perspective on a problem that has no easy solution. As several supporters of the MTA proposal noted at the hearing, "Parking is not a right, but safety is." At some point, public safety for all road users in San Francisco must be weighed against the real difficulties for a few Fell Street residents who would lose parking spaces and for a neighborhood that might experience tighter parking.

MTA staff have not yet revealed their own assessment of the proposed mitigations or whether they are considering other options. They are certainly aware of the basic consensus among all westside neighbors: the current situation is dangerous and something must be done. Staff will likely present their review of proposed mitigations at an upcoming, not-as-yet scheduled follow-up public hearing. Nearby residents will be notified of the hearing, and the information will be posted on BIKE NOPA and other sites.


  1. Lets test out closing the Fell St. entrance for a few days, this is the only way to find out implications on traffic patterns. This is the easiest, least expensive and most effective measure.

  2. I believe that parking perpendicular to your own driveway is illegal per the California Vehicle Code, unless the juristiction develops a mechanism to regulate the practice. Obviously, this rule is rarely enforced, but it could be a consideration before claiming that these residents would lose "their" parking spaces.

  3. Hmm. Which is more important; 4 people being able to park in their driveways, or the safety of a thousand cyclists a day?

  4. @john: My point about parking in driveways wasn't meant as an argument for the spaces staying as permit spaces. I was suggesting that if the four parking spaces are really too small for most cars, then taking them away shouldn't be such a big deal (since the parked cars that would block the driveways would be technically be doing so illegally).

  5. Todd, I agree. I wrote that before there were any comments posted.

    Not to mention, if these folks have driveways, they have garages. They can park there.

  6. From the SFMTA Transportation Code, FYI:


    The owner or lessee of property shall be permitted to Park the owner's or lessee's vehicle across the private driveway of said property, provided that such vehicle displays a valid license plate registered to the address of that property with the Department of Motor Vehicles, and provided that such driveway serves no more than two family dwelling units. This Section does not permit the Parking of vehicles across sidewalks or in red zones.

    (SFMTA Bd. Res. No. 08-151, 8/19/2008)

  7. It absolutely makes no sense to me why members of the community are pitted against each other for the sake of ARCO?

    "Arco has little motivation to undertake such a change"

    So why is anyone surprised when - "MTA staff and city attorneys -- as well as Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi -- have reported several attempts to engage Arco without a satisfactory response."

    Please help me understand this. Are we being told that the City holds no leverage via, licences, permits, inspections, anything at all in its quill to compel Arco to mitigate a known public hazard of which Arco is the direct cause?

    "And it's not clear the city wants to pursue this option for various legal, political and regulatory reasons."

    What will be both the moral and legal implications to the City when one of us are killed or seriously injured.

    There may be a reason that Arco doesn't have to budge. If this is the case, so be it. As of yet, no one with the proper authority has issued an opinion supporting this one way or another.

    In the meanwhile and once again, it boils down to adding to the list of them vs. cycling community.

    There are times when it needs to be us against them. This time it needs to be us against Arco not our neighbors.

  8. Sean:
    My understanding is that Arco is operating a legal business within its property, and what occurs for traffic, cyclists, and pedestrians is not legally Arco's responsibility. Being a good neighbor is another matter. But I'm definitely not a legal authority who you want to hear from. Any of us can also contact the City Attorney's office:

  9. I've written the City Attorney and Mirkarimi. They don't respond back. Perhaps too busy eye balling the Mayor's desk.

    I've written to the SFBC and spoke at BAC meetings and the April 2nd MTA hearing in regards to this subject and in more broader terms regarding the lack of bike lane enforcement in general. To no avail.
    "Arco is operating a legal business within its property, and what occurs for traffic, cyclists, and pedestrians is not legally Arco's responsibility."
    Businesses can be fined for excess gum and debris being left by people, not necessarily customers on a sidewalk in front of their business. Businesses can be fined or be forced to pay for graffiti removal on their premises caused by others yet our City is powerless to compel ARCO to clean up a dangerous traffic condition caused by their customers?

    The last point I'll make and then I'll move on.

    After parking spaces are removed and bike lanes repainted. Does anyone honestly believe that there will be any enforcement?

    A meter maid or a cop will appear and the people blocking the bike lanes will disappear only to reappear when the meter maids and disappear.