Scott Wiener, free parking & merchants – Could the solution be a bike path?

Why the silent treatment from Supervisor Scott Wiener? Really. Several Castro residents have written Scott carefully thought out letters begging him to do something to protect bicyclists riding the official City bike path on 17th St. between Church & Noe. He has not answered their letters. No position taken whatsoever. Silence.

We have two letters from a temporary aide claiming that Scott wants this problem solved without removing the abandoned Muni tracks. But they don’t endorse the only other way to solve the problem: remove a lane of free parking to make room for a protected bike path. That’s like refusing to pick heads or tails on a coin flip.

This noncommittal attitude is wrong in face of the fact that women and children are being hurt trying to ride bicycles on 17th Street in the heart of his district. Wasn’t it the gay community that first coined the expression silence equals death? We need an honest mature call on this bike path versus parking question. And we ain’t getting that.

“Free” parking on 17th Street. This is the lane of on street parking that could be turned into The City’s best bike path.

In light of the silence from our Supervisor and SFMTA we are forced to the public record.

Wiener’s transportation habits center mostly around Muni and walking, although he does own a car. “I hate driving. I mean, I drive when I need to in the city but I don’t like it.”

He doesn’t ride a bike, but said his 72-year-old father is a “big cyclist” who still goes on 40 to 50 mile rides. When he was younger, not riding a bike was in some way a rebellious act since his father was always nudging him to ride.

“I’m very supportive of biking in the city but I just don’t do it myself,” said Wiener. “I thought about possibly getting a scooter, which I guess is going part of the way.”

Although he supports the concept behind the SFBC’s Connecting the City project, an ambitious plan to build out a network of fully separated connected bikeways, he said it would have to be on a case-by-case basis.

Q. To bring San Francisco’s bike network to the next level, and to make San Francisco a world-class bicycling city, the next step for the city is to create continuous, separated, cross-town bikeways that are safe and comfortable for people of all ages and abilities to move around town by bike. In many cases, streets will have to be reconfigured to make room for safe and inviting bikeways, by reducing the number of conventional travel lanes and/or converting on-street parking space into dedicated bikeways. Would you support the establishment of cross-town bikeways that are safe and inviting for all users, even if it means dramatically reconfiguring Market Street (with lane reconfiguration and some parking loss) and San Jose Street (with traffic signals and lane reductions and other measures) and 17th Street (with some parking loss) and Monterey Street (with some parking loss and/or travel lane reduction)?
A. I support the establishment of cross-town bikeways, including on the referenced streets, and will need to see the specific plans before taking a firm position on specific bikeways. We need to ensure that parking spaces lost in commercial areas where merchants depend on available parking for their business, are replaced (e.g., the way parking is being replaced to implement the bike plan in the Upper Market area). — SF Bike November 2010 Supervisor Candidate Questionnaire, Scott Wiener answers.
And there you have it. And in case you think this is a fluke, it is not. Here’s another interview where our Supervisor expounds on this particular point.

Parking issues, however, are another story. Wiener does not support extending parking meter hours and is reticent about removing parking.

“I’ve not spoken to a single merchant in my district who supports extending it. They believe that it will injure their businesses,” he said.

When asked why he thinks they feel that way, he said, “There is sort of a Gestalt sense in the city that there’s been this continual movement of making it harder and harder to drive and park and more expensive and brain damaging and that it’s, you know, part of a strategic movement toward a reduction of cars in the city, which is partly true.” — “D8 Supervisor-Elect Scott Wiener Holds Promise on Livable Streets Issues” by Bryan Goebel in StreetsblogSF December 8, 2010.

During the next six years the Castro Street remodel came and went with no bike path included at all. Everett Middle School converted their playground into a gigantic parking lot and started renting to a church which attracts hundreds of drivers on Sundays. And the SFMTA unleashed the median parking program facilitating yet another flood of private cars into the Castro.vlcsnap-2016-09-10-11h39m07s907

Everett Middle School hosting RealitySF Church on Sunday. This used to be open space where neighbors could play on the weekends. Now its free parking for the church.
Dolores St. on a Sunday. This is four full lanes of free parking all weekend long with no CEQA or Environmental Impact Statement or mitigation of any sort.

Both of these later programs created several hundred free parking spaces in the heart of the Castro with not a single word of protest from Supervisor Wiener, Chairman of the congestion management agency for the County (SFCTA). — Wait, I hear you asking the obvious question. Whats wrong with more free parking? That’s a fair question that deserves a good answer right here now.

The High Cost of Free Parking,” by Donald C. Shoup. Dept of Urban Planning, UCLA, 1997. — “Free Parking Comes at a Price” By Tyler Cohen, NY Times August 14, 2010. Basically a review of Mr. Shoup’s book but wonderfully clear and concise. (From our links page.)

SB: It’s been over a month since the deaths of Kate Slattery and Heather Miller. Mayor Lee has finally issued an Executive Directive to accelerate safety improvements. But why did it have to wait until two people died on the same night? That horrible night didn’t really highlight that the areas where they were killed are dangerous; we already knew that from the slow trickle of deaths and injuries. Why do we wait until some tragic spectacle to react?

W: The scale of what we need to do is very large and so sometimes it’s easy to have inertia. We also know that we have cultural issues within our city agencies where at times things just don’t move and are very methodical. But we also know that each of these Vision Zero projects are controversial; not within the transit community, but when you’re talking about traffic calming measures that reduce lanes and slow speeds, there’s often pushback and we see it everywhere. We’re getting pushback to our plans for Upper Market. There was pushback on some of the South of Market project. We have pushback on Mission. Pushback on Taraval. Pushback on Geary. Everyone is entitled to a point of view… but that pushback makes the process go slower. There are times when the MTA doesn’t want to pick too many fights, so they pick their battles. They have huge battles on Taraval and Mission and there’s a variety of reasons why these projects move so slowly, but there’s more and more a sense of urgency within the bureaucracy and City Hall to make the projects go faster. — “Streetsblog Talks with Scott Wiener” by Roger Rudick in StreetsblogSF, August  15, 2016.

All through Supervisor Wiener’s comments run the theme of fear of push back from proponents of private automotive transit and free parking on public thoroughfares. It would be simple to castigate him for his obvious deference to the car constituency but that’s too easy and won’t solve the problem of bicyclists being harmed for lack of space on the road.

The truth is that we’re a city of sinners and there are no saints here. Cars have an irrational hold of many of us. Once car owners get used to free parking in front of their home or business or house of worship they will fight to keep it. Logic, the environment and even women and children be damned!

Like Charlton Heston and registered to vote in the district. Here’s two quick examples from the bike lane project on Masonic Avenue in 2013 which illustrate the ferociousness that can arise in these cases. A blog and an entire cache of protest letters.

The other problem with free parking is that it can’t be protected. These break ins are at epidemic rates with complete impunity. Police can’t protect unlimited numbers of cars.

So yeah, I do wish Scott was Superman and he could just muscle us onto the road in complete safety and tranquility. But I am starting to realize that it is going to take more voices speaking up in the neighborhood including the voices of our local merchants to complete the 17th Street bike path right into the Castro.

In that spirit I will be posting more support materials and continuing to reach out to other stakeholders to provide political cover, support and perhaps even financial resources to this effort. As shrill as those fighting change can be the truth is in our corner for this round.

A completed protected bike path on 17th Street will generate much more business for local merchants than a small number of parking spaces. And it will protect women and children as well. And it is supportive of higher property values. If you haven’t pushed Scott Wiener on this, please consider giving him a call or writing him a letter. Ask him to get out of the middle of the road.

Would you like this running from Church St. to Castro Street? Is it worth 44 parking spaces?

And I guess we’re halfway there. After all he isn’t writing us back to say that his priority is free parking. So he knows that’s not politically correct or defensible either. So we just need him to pick a side and fight for it. And if you know any local merchants, give them an earful as well. They have a tendency to seriously underestimate the number of customers who choose bikes, Muni & walking to get to their stores. We need to educate them and get them to fight for their bicycle riding customers.

Otherwise we end up with this happening over and over and over with no end ever.


  1. I really object to the armchair pseudo-psychology about Scott Weiner. Maybe Scott Weiner is keeping the parking spaces because he wants to find compromises between bicycles and cars? After all, that’s what his constituents want!!

    Liked by 1 person

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