Parking and Better Neighborhoods: Getting It Right

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Rethinking San Francisco's Parking Requirements

As part of the Planning Department's Citywide Action Plan (CAP), the Better Neighborhoods Program is working in several neighborhoods to encourage more housing and good urban places. Where the proximity of transit and services makes it possible to live with fewer cars, the program is proposing revisions to density, parking and other controls to develop places that make the most of these advantages. This policy paper, the first of several, examines the city's parking requirements.

Parking Lot

In a city with a limited supply of land, parking is a trade off to carefully consider.

San Francisco established its residential parking requirements in the 1960's, requiring at least one parking space for every new dwelling. Since then, nearly every new house, apartment, and flat has been built with its own parking space.

This requirement has had a dramatic effect on San Francisco's physical character and quality of life. There was a commonly held belief, borrowed from suburban cities, that cars would become the primary way to get around and that parking should be provided accordingly. This was a dramatic departure from the city's long-standing practice of building compact, urban and walkable places. Today, we are designing places as much for parking as for people and funneling more and more traffic onto our streets. The result is a city that is becoming more about cars and congestion and less about the character and human comfort that makes San Francisco so special.


Housing Density


Much of San Francisco's housing is clustered in the older, more urban neighborhoods in and around the downtown. These areas are relatively dense, and support a wide variety of retail and neighborhood services. They also enjoy relatively frequent and reliable transit service. Together, these amenities make it easy to live with fewer cars.

Our parking requirements fail to recognize that many parts of San Francisco work well precisely because they support a lifestyle less dependent on cars. Many places were built before the advent of the automobile, are easily accessible on foot and by transit, and have a variety of neighborhood-serving shops within an easy walk of home. They rely on a critical mass of people and activity in close proximity, providing access to a wide variety of goods and services close by. If we can revise our parking requirements to build on these urban qualities, new development can add to the character of our city, rather than detract from it.

Car Ownership




These areas were built before current parking requirements were adopted and work quite well without them. Vehicle ownership rates here are far below the one space per unit requirement, reflecting a careful balance between easily accessible transit and services, and a limited supply of parking.

Because alternatives to driving are so abundant on core transit streets, dedicated off-street parking for housing is hardly necessary. The negative effects of parking are most dramatic here, where curb cuts and garage entries slow transit service and degrade the quality of commercial areas. What parking is built on transit streets should be at corners where access can be provided via a side street. Instead of building parking, mechanisms should be created to allow development to invest in street and pedestrian improvements that make alternative modes more attractive and accessible.

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