Bernal Heights Proposed As Guinea Pig In Parking Permit Experiment

This story was originally published on Bernalwood, Bernal Heights' community-powered news source.

The SFMTA is moving ahead with plans to use Bernal Heights as the site of an experimental Residential Parking Permit (RPP) scheme that will no longer emphasize preventing non-residents from parking on neighborhood streets. Instead, under the new system, the RPP program will also seek to limit the number of cars residents can park on the streets of their own neighborhood.

As previously reported, the SFMTA’s Bernal parking survey showed that roughly 70 percent of the cars parked on northwest Bernal streets on a typical weekday afternoon likely belong to other Bernal Heights residents. Under SFMTA’s longstanding rules, at least 50 percent of parked cars would have to belong to non-residents in order to establish a new RPP zone.

Source: SFMTA

Yet after some residents organized a petition drive last year to establish a new RPP zone in northwest Bernal, the SFMTA moved its own goalposts. The 50 percent non-resident requirement was quietly disregarded, but SFMTA has not explained what the updated criteria for establishing a new RPP zone will be.

Since then, other San Francisco publications have shed more light on SFMTA’s intentions.  In mid-March, the San Francisco Examiner reported:

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is proposing a stricter cap on residential parking permits issued in The City, from four permits to a household to perhaps only two, or maybe limited to one permit per driver.

The cap might make it possible for more parking to be found on San Francisco streets in neighborhoods where visitors cars park in “high rates” and displace residents’ cars.

“I don’t think anyone envisions this as being a silver bullet,” said Hank Willson, parking policy manager at the SFMTA. “But it certainly has the potential to help.”

The permit cap and other restrictions are part of a new pilot being proposed for a section of north Bernal Heights and in the Dogpatch.

Does northwest Bernal Heights have “high rates” of non-resident parking?  We have no idea, because SFMTA has repeatedly declined to specify what the non-resident parking threshold will be under their new rules.

A few days after the Examiner article ran, SF Bay News reported that the proposed Bernal Heights scheme isn’t really focused on non-resident parking. Instead, it mainly targets other Bernal Heights residents:

Kathryn Studwell, SFMTA program manager of the Residential Parking Permit (RPP) program, said the transit agency will test out the pilots to measure if they improve parking availability in the neighborhoods and see how residents in the pilots react first before going citywide with the proposals.

One pilot the transit agency is proposing is on the northwest side of Bernal Heights, where the parking occupancy averages around 90 percent on weekdays and weekends, according to SFMTA documents.

The pilot would cap the number of permits from four permits per household to one permit per driver and two permits per household.

In survey conducted by the SFMTA, 95 percent of residents own a private vehicle in the area, but nearly 50 percent of homes do not have off-street parking.

These details were not shared with Bernal Heights residents when the initial petition drive was organized, and several neighbors have written to Bernalwood privately to complain about a SFMTA “bait and switch.” Because of the new, uncertain, and ambiguous rules, they say, the old petition should not be considered valid and a new petition should be required.

SF Bay News adds:

Both Bernal Heights and Dogpatch parking permit pilots would need to go before the SFMTA Board of Directors before staff can implement the pilots.

Studwell said she plans get the Bernal Heights pilot to the Board of Directors for approval sometime in the summer.

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Bernal heights guinea pig parking permit experiment