Drastic Planning Effort Needed to Prevent Traffic Nightmare: SFMTA

The streets of San Francisco will be choked by 600,000 more vehicles by 2040 if no action is taken to improve the current transit infrastructure, according to a forecast from the San Francisco Transportation Plan 2040.

To avoid unprecedented gridlock and crowding on buses and trains, Muni is considering the Transportation Demand Management Ordinance, a program meant to encourage sustainable travel options by placing more planning restrictions on new developments.

SFMTA Transportation Demand Management Manager Carli Paine discussed the  ordinance at the May 5 meeting of the agency’s Citizens’ Advisory Council, in the run up to the Planning Commission’s vote to adopt the ordinance on July 7.

Current planning efforts to encourage sustainable travel are hindered by a complex mixture of planning code requirements, limited ability for policy enforcement and a lack of staff dedicated to sustainability measures.

The goal of the Transportation Sustainability Program is to “keep people moving as the City grows,” according to Paine. The ordinance is meant to reach the goal by lowering vehicle miles traveled associated with new developments.

“We can’t add capacity for cars. Even if we could, that’s not one of (the City’s) goals,” Paine said.

Under the ordinance, development proposals will be graded on a point system based on the vehicle miles traveled associated with the new project.

Developers will have to choose a combination of 26 sustainability measures that lower the project’s point total to zero in order get approval.

The sustainability measures are ranked by effectiveness. The measures that will reduce the most vehicle miles traveled like adding bicycle parking or removing parking spaces will count for lots of points. Easier measures like posting wayfinding signs will give developers a low amount of points.

Daniel Weaver, the council’s chair, did not attempt a vote to endorse the ordinance because only eight council members were present (the minimum for a successful vote) and Susan Vaughan would not support the ordinance before receiving more information.

Vaughan feared that the ordinance’s path to adoption would be similar to what happened with the Transportation Sustainability Fee at a Board of Supervisor’s meeting last fall.

“It wasn’t until (the Transportation Sustainability Fee) was about to be passed by the Board of Supervisors that we found out—not here at the council, but in the press—that there are all kinds of discounts that developers were getting,” Vaughan said. “I want to make sure that we know all the details of what’s happening here.”

Vaughan also raised concern that developers could evade the ordinance by building more developments with fewer than 10 units, the ordinance’s lower limit of application.

Wade Wietgrefe, a senior planner with the Planning Department, countered that projects with fewer than 20 units make up only three percent of the 6,500 projects in the Planning Department’s current pipeline.

The ordinance was presented to the Planning Commission on April 28 and will go back to the commission for an adoption hearing on July 7.

Residential Parking Permit Evaluation and Reform Project

Hank Willson, parking policy manager at Muni, briefed the council on progress on the Residential Parking Permit Evaluation and Reform Project, a project to improve the city’s parking permit system.

“There’s a limited amount of curb space—curbs aren’t getting any longer—but there are more and more people and types of transit that need access to the curb, things like commuter shuttles and tour buses,” Willson said.

The council did not vote on the item because the agency is still gathering feedback about its draft policy during community meetings scheduled throughout May.

Since the program is still in its planning phase, much of the discussion concerned potential measures to tackle the various parking challenges the city faces.

The range of parking access throughout the city varies widely due to density and demand. In permit areas A and C, located around North Beach, 40 percent of residents reported searching for parking for more than 15 minutes, according to a department survey.

Program planners are considering increasing the price of the 3rd and 4th parking permit a household buys as opposed to the program’s current flat cost structure.

Despite the increased price on additional permits, Wilson was quick to point out that the department is legally not allowed to profit from the permit program.

Planners are also considering adding technical improvements to the permit program such as tying permits to license plates rather than stickers, allowing residents to pay for permits on a monthly basis rather than annually.

Meeting Recap

  • The council bade farewell to Peter Albert who is retiring from his current position as urban planning initiatives manager following 30-year of employment at Bay Area transit organizations.
  • The council heard about the Transportation Demand Management Ordinance, a bill in the planning process that would track and discourage vehicle miles traveled at new developments with more than ten units.
  • Muni and Planning representatives discussed the measures the agency is considering to tweak and improve the residential parking permit program.
  • The meeting closed with brief reports from the Operations and Customer Service Committee, the Engineering, Maintenance and Safety Committee and the Finance and Administration Committee.

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