Noe Valley Voice December-January 2000

Double-Park at Your Own Peril: Tickets Upped to $100 on 24th

By Steve Steinberg

Thinking of double-parking on 24th Street for a few minutes while you run in to get a latte to go? Better think twice. That cup of java could cost you $100 if one of San Francisco's ever-vigilant meter maids happens by while you're away from your car.

In an effort to improve the flow of traffic along congested Muni routes, San Francisco earlier this year doubled the fine for double-parking on certain city streets from $50 to $100. The city began active enforcement of the new tickets on Oct. 23.

Twenty-fourth Street between Church and Castro is one of the corridors where the hefty toll applies. However, the $100 fines are in effect only during peak commute hours -- from 6 to 9 a.m. and 4 to 7 p.m. So if you get caught at any other time, the good news is you only have to pay the regular $50 fine!

The new policy is part of Mayor Willie Brown's "Unclog the Streets" campaign, designed to improve public transportation. "If you're going to move Muni, you have to move traffic," explains Diana Hammons, spokesperson for the San Francisco Department of Parking and Traffic (DPT).

The city, says Hammons, particularly wants to change the habits of drivers of delivery trucks, who often double-park to unload their goods on busy commercial streets. "We hope the increased fines will encourage them to deliver at other than [the busiest] hours."

Traffic control officers will, however, be able to exercise discretion in handing out the $100 tickets.

"There have to be exceptions," says Steve Johnson, head of the DPT's enforcement division. "If someone's [double-parked] while picking up an elderly person, we're not going to give a ticket. A meter maid might just give a beep at a double-parked car, especially if there's someone sitting in the car." Johnson adds that the city wants to make traffic a little more convenient for everyone, but "in a humane fashion."

The new double-fine policy is being implemented on a trial basis and is set to expire in March 2001. However, according to Hammons, Supervisor Gavin Newsom has asked for a one-year extension of the trial period. Hammons also said that the decision to raise fines came after a yearlong investigation by a task force comprised of residents, merchants groups, and officials from Muni and DPT.

Originally, she said, the city wanted to increase the fines along all Muni routes, but officials realized that doing so might pose a hardship for small businesses, who are dependent on drivers being able to make deliveries. Hammons added that even though the fines have gone up, DPT has not necessarily increased its enforcement of the no-double-parking rule. Right now, she says, the main focus of the department is clearing double-parkers from the downtown area.

Not everyone thinks discouraging double-parking on 24th Street is such a great idea. Attorney Robert Roddick, outgoing president of the Noe Valley Merchants and Professionals Association, fears that commercial vehicles will simply move to residential side streets and double-park there if the penalties become too severe on 24th Street.

Under state law, Roddick says, delivery trucks have the right to double-park on any street and unload their goods unless there is a specific prohibition on that street. Roddick adds that if trucks move off 24th Street, residents might also see pushcarts filled with merchandise going down neighborhood streets on their way to area stores. He also worries that the city might increase the number of yellow zones on 24th--to obviate the need for commercial vehicles to double-park--making Noe Valley's already terrible parking situation even worse.

Roddick says the Merchants Association was not consulted about the increase in fines. "We did not feel there was a real problem and would prefer that the existing laws be enforced," he said.

Local merchants echo Roddick's sentiments, saying that double-parking is not the main culprit on 24th Street. Dave Kloski, manager of Real Food Company, thinks the city should zero in on people who illegally park in the yellow loading zones. "They're the ones who cause the double-parking in the first place."

Kloski also doubts that higher fines without tighter enforcement will have much of an effect. "People don't get caught enough," he says.

Marlene Dunleavy, owner of Noe Valley Video at 3936 24th St., puts double-parking way down her list, too. Stalled buses, trucks unloading, and people waiting to parallel-park their cars are much more of a hindrance to traffic, she says.

Finally, it seems that people who double-park may continue to do so despite the cost. One Noe Valley resident, calling herself Lola, who was double-parked just off 24th Street last month, said that normally she doesn't double-park, but that for quick stops, such as returning a video, she would still chance getting a ticket.

Janine, another Noe Valley resident, who double-parked on 24th Street in front of Manhattan Bagel to run inside to buy a cup of coffee, also said she would probably continue to run the risk of a $100 fine. "Sometimes you just gotta double-park," she said.

Next Year for Nickel Meters

In other traffic news, the Department of Parking and Traffic says it has entered into final negotiations with a vendor to install electronic parking meters throughout the entire city. The meters will replace the present mechanical ones and will accept nickels, dimes, and quarters, as well as debit cards.

In the early 1990s, San Francisco changed most parking meters so that they would accept quarters only. However, after citizens expressed anger at the quarters-only policy, the Board of Supervisors in 1995 passed an ordinance ordering DPT to install electronic meters that would accept nickels and dimes. After much bureaucratic delay, the process of installing the new meters should start in February 2001, according to officials at Parking and Traffic.