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What is the Problem with Parking?


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Citywide Action Plan > Parking > Problems

In neighborhoods with good access to transit and services, parking works against their advantages as urban places–it encourages driving, takes up space and makes things more expensive. As parking is built where real alternatives to driving exist, more people are encouraged to drive and those San Franciscans that must drive find it ever more difficult and expensive to do so.

It Degrades The Quality of Urban Places
Our best urban places have streetfronts unbroken by garage doors and parking. Storefronts line shopping streets without interruption. Sidewalks are undisrupted by driveways and curb cuts. Streetfronts, even in residential areas, are given to active uses, not parking, and made to feel lively and safe. Large amounts of parking challenge all of these things, making it nearly impossible to build great streets and wonderful urban neighborhoods.

It Generates Traffic
People are rational: they get around by the most convenient and reliable means. Every parking space we create makes it more attractive to drive. The problem is that our streets are reaching capacity. There is no room to expand them, short of knocking down buildings. By encouraging people to drive, parking puts more cars on our streets–and further degrades their quality, worsening traffic and delaying transit service. We can never build enough parking, because the more we build, the more people will choose to drive.

It Takes Up valuable Space
San Francisco is in a housing crisis and has a limited amount of land for new development. Parking reduces the amount of housing a parcel can accommodate by as much as 25 percent. If we build just one parking space for every new dwelling unit needed by 2020, we will need 130 acres of land just for parking. If parking is provided on-site, we will need to build higher. In a city where space is scarce, giving it up for parking is a waste.

It Makes Housing Less Affordable
A parking space adds $20,000 to $30,000 to the cost of building a unit of housing–upwards of $50,000 in some parts of the city. These costs are very real; they are passed directly on to residents. Forcing people to rent or buy parking raises the cost of housing–which means fewer units get built. That's money that people could use for other things, especially lower income San Franciscans who struggle with the rising costs of living here.

The buildings below both have a density of 100 units to the acre.

This building, built before parking requirements, provides one parking space for every four units. It has a scale and character that is typical of San Francisco.


This building provides one parking space for every unit. It is four stories taller than the other building. At street level, the building offers little aside from views to parked cars.

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Last updated: 4/29/2011 12:50:33 PM