Wednesday, October 14, 2009

San Francisco Parking Case Study - Noe Valley Whole Foods

Parking has become a big boogeyman in the Bay Area lately. Lately? Seems like we've been dealing with this forever.

Today's Streetsblog post discusses the need to convince merchants to follow the recommendations of a 40 page study from the MTA regarding extending meter hours. It includes a quote from someone from the Noe Valley Community Benefit District, Debra Niemann.

"What they should do is give 10 percent of the profits from doing that back to the CDBs, since we're doing the services that the city should be doing," said Debra Niemann, community representative for the Noe Valley Association CBD. "The least you could do is give some of it back." While Niemann is generally opposed to extending parking hours, she said such a change would cause her to drop her opposition.

If Niemann just wants the money, and she's running a bluff, I'm down with that. But if she's actually opposed to extending the hours on 24th St, here is a case study for her to think about. The plan is to extend the meter hours on 24th St to 9 PM, Midnight on Friday/Saturday, and start enforcement on Sundays.

We have a spanking brand new Whole Foods in Noe Valley. I ride my bike home down 24th Street daily and have had a chance to witness what is going on there on a daily basis. Suffice to say it's a bit chaotic. The lot at the Whole Foods is somewhat small for the target demographic. 24th Street is metered however, which extends the available parking for patrons of the store - and the rest of the street's businesses which now benefit from having WF as an anchor driving traffic.

Whole Foods has two people working fulltime in the parking lot directing traffic.

By "directing" I mean putting up a cone that says "LOT FULL". Usually this gets put in place somewhere that still allows a car to stick its nose into the lot while keeping it's butt in the street. 24th on bike has become an urban assault run, passing cars blocked by other cars and keeping a keen eye for anyone making an unsignalled change of direction as they struggle for parking.

Note that my picture was taken at night - 7 PM to be precise - after the parking meters are no longer enforced. Back when I used to live on 24th St and had my own car, I would frequently park on 24th St rather than look for parking if I got home after 6 PM - in fact if I were driving I would specifically target a 6 PM return so I could jump into one of the many open spaces that were turning over while they were metered. Suffice to say, I didn't follow up my parking with a trip to several local businesses (this being back in the bad old days - driving to work meant "Stopping at the Grocery Store not located on 24th St, Palo Alto Bikes also not on 24th St, etc...").

The result of turning off the parking spigot at 6 PM is chaos on 24th St and a disincentive for people to come to the street (by car - maybe that's a good thing, but I digress) more than an extra couple of quarters are. And really, can people shopping at "Whole Paycheck" be complaining about paying as much as a dollar or two for parking? The gas to drive to a WF in some "non-socialist city" probably exceeds that, and the fact that if they are forced to pay a buck or two ensures that they will actually be able to find a spot rather than be gridlocked on 24th St seems like a "good thing".

Of course, this being Noe Valley, some people find their own solution. This solution is a particularly bad one...

Yes, this car - stopped in the bus stop for the 48 bus 50 yards down the street from Whole Foods, was being loaded up with Whole Foods shopping bags. Hey, at least they were the green WF reusable shopping bags!

This solution would in theory be a pretty good one...

One problem. I rode through the WF parking lot - unfettered by the "LOT FULL" sign - every day for the first week the store was open. Apparently the parking attendant is not required to put out a "BIKE RACK FULL" sign, because I saw no such sign, but the racks were full every time. My wife added a few datapoints, taken midday, and saw the same thing.

Fortunately, the cyclists still have parking meters to lock up to.

Nonetheless, I think Whole Foods would be served to put in more than what amounts to eight bike spots in their lot, given that the bike rack for 8 bikes takes up less space than one car spot. Let's see - put in parking for one - or parking for 8 or more. Sure, those cyclists don't buy as much per trip (or at least they can't carry as much - I don't put an SUV driver past a car trip for a gallon of milk and nothing more), but eight cyclists will outspend one driver, and they'll return more often, and be loyal since they are disinclined to make big Costco runs in the interim.

I'm generally concerned that this rack will see little turnover because it's probably populated somewhat by employees, which is a good thing but maybe WF could put another rack in a secure area for them to use.


Jym said...

=v= The basic issue is, as usual, the city's willingness to accommodate cars by allowing them to pile up in the streets and park in bus stops, crosswalks, and on sidewalks.

If motorists knew they would actually have to obey a law or two, they might actually figure out that it's better to walk, bike, or take the J Church.

Jennie Lanics said...

In San Francisco you can now find affordable parking