Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sunday Streets Comes to NOPA: 330 Parking Spaces Removed, Expected "Terrible Inconvenience" Not So Much Afterall

No parking here on Grove Street or anywhere else along 11 blocks

74 Free Spaces Waiting at City Center Plaza

Open but empty, 7am Sunday morning

The Quick Read:
  • Sunday Streets coursed through 11 blocks of the North Panhandle
  • 330 parking spaces removed for car-free streets
  • 200 free alternative spots offered at nearby parking lots
  • All households along route notified of free parking
  • 100 households obtain passes
  • Fewer than 20 actually used them
What happened? Where did everyone park? Maybe parking isn't so tight after all.

Sunday Streets promoters like to tout the unique features of the event: block after block opened to people to play and stroll, visit and bike, hear live music and sell lemonade, if they wish. Tens of thousands of San Franciscans endorse that view, repeatedly, by taking to the streets for every Sunday Streets event of the year. But a smaller number of residents complain about the streets closed to cars -- the block-after-block stretches closed to traffic and cleared of parking under threat of towing. An opportunity to see and use our public streets and public parking spaces in a new, exuberant way? Or, an inconvenience and hassle for residents who rely on the parking lanes to store their private vehicles? How did it play out in the North Panhandle?

The Sunday Streets route encompassed eleven blocks -- a diagonal wiggle from the Panhandle at Central Avenue to Divisadero Street at Golden Gate Avenue. Although corner groceries, popular cafes and restaurants, are sprinkled along the blocks, the route is mostly residential. The blocks, day and night, are usually full of parked cars -- an approximate count tallied 330 parking spaces along both sides of the 11 blocks. That's a lot of parking for one neighborhood to relinquish. Especially when SFPD's standard operating procedure for big events like Sunday Streets is to clear the streets beginning at 11pm the night before. From that time until 3pm on Sunday, no privately-owned vehicles were allowed to stop on the blocks.

No one wanted residents to get their vehicles towed -- not the Sunday Streets organizers, not the North of the Panhandle Neighborhood Association (NOPNA), and certainly not neighbors with cars, trucks, or vans. (Perhaps some churlish sorts hoped the cash-strapped city would get some bucks from tickets and fees for towing and storage). The point of Sunday Streets is to enjoy our public streets in a new way. No one who shelled out a few hundred bucks for a towed car in the early hours of the morning is going to enjoy the car-free event.

NOPNA and Sunday Streets developed an outreach strategy and an alternative parking plan for the neighborhood:
  • NOPNA and Sunday Streets began outreach in the spring with talks at meetings and articles in the NOPNA newsletter, hand-delivered to each of 3500 households, and periodic email blasts
  • Central City Plaza at Masonic and Geary and City College San Francisco, John Adams Campus agreed to open three free parking lots to neighbors with special parking passes*
  • NOPNA copied and hand-delivered 800 fliers to every household along the Sunday Streets route . Fliers warned of tow-away hours and offered free parking passes via online
  • Volunteers posted Sunday Streets signs in laundromats, cafes, and grocery stores
  • NOPNA volunteers contacted each church, care center, and housing center about the parking restrictions; each was offered free parking passes in advance
  • Sunday Streets volunteers posted SFPD No Parking/Tow Away Signs every ten to twenty feet along both sides of every block on the route: attached to utility poles and, if necessary, tree trunks at least 72 hours before the event began
  • Volunteers placed No Parking notices under windshields of parked vehicles along the route as much as possible
Nearly 100 neighbors requested and received parking passes to use at one of the three lots. At 10 pm Saturday night, the evening before the event, only five vehicles were parked in the City College lots. One-hundred twenty spaces remained empty. At 7 am the morning of Sunday Streets, five vehicles found spaces among the 74 available at the City Center Plaza lot. Eight more were at City College. Perhaps there was coming and going between 10 pm and 7 am, but, really, not many over a Saturday night.

Why weren't the 200 spaces used? We emailed the question to the pass holders; two dozen responded. Six used the lots, several expressed their appreciation, a few found it "super convenient" with no hassles. Although one neighbor found alternative parking nearby, he found it a "huge hassle" and he saw several neighbors' vehicles getting towed from streets that were "poorly signed." (One irate resident telephoned at 3am to vent her frustration over being towed. On Sunday afternoon, another neighbor said his vehicle was towed from a block that had no signs or none that were visible).

Lessons Learned? Arranging alternative parking, notifying residents, and managing the parking pass distribution was a time-consuming undertaking. Was it worth the effort? Yes, this time. No one knew how great the need or use would be on this first outing. NOPNA wanted people to enjoy the event, and made the effort to mitigate the difficulties. (Whether people used the free lots or not, everyone received advance notice of the parking restrictions, resulting in fewer tickets and tow-aways). But based on the experiences of other neighbors, those 20 or less who used the lots could likely have found parking after a search on nearby streets. Providing alternative parking for churches and for those with special needs remains important, helpful, and ... neighborly.

Much appreciation to all who helped bring Sunday Streets to the Western Addition and our neighborhood, including
Susan King, Sunday Streets Coordinator -- for her always impressive contribution
SFMTA, SFPD, Recreation and Parks, Dept. of Emergency Management, the Mayor's Office
NOPNA Board of Directors and President Jarie Bolander
City College of San Francisco, John Adams Campus and John Rizzo
City Center Plaza, Adam Miller and Doris Liang McDowell, Lubert Adler Mgmt. West, Inc.
Daniel Frattin, Attorney, Reuben & Julius
NOPNA volunteers
SF Bicycle Coalition, YBIKE, the Wigg Party, St. Cyprian's Episcopal Church -- staff and volunteers -- and so many others for all their work to make Sunday Streets a success

* Note: For many the most convenient parking option would have been the DMV lot on Fell street, but the state agency seldom makes use of their lot easy or free. It was not available for Sunday Streets.


  1. Nice article. And a "thank you" to all that helped!

  2. Thank you for the info. It sounds pretty user friendly. I guess I’ll pick one up for fun. thank u

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