Noe Valley Voice February 2001

Curb Your Sidewalk Parking

By Alison Pence

Parking is so scarce in Noe Valley these days that people are getting desperate. They're not only parking in their driveways. They're parallel-parking on the sidewalks.

Well, it is my sad duty to report that both tactics are illegal, and may get you a $25 ticket.

Last month, at the urging of a Voice reader, I called Mission Police Officer Lois Perillo (who writes our monthly Police Beat column) to get the lowdown on sidewalk parking.

First of all, the California Vehicle Code, Section 22500, decrees that no one shall "stop, park, or leave standing any vehicle, whether attended or unattended, except when necessary to avoid conflict with other traffic or in compliance with the directions of a peace officer, in any of the following places:...(f) On any portion of any sidewalk, or with the body of the vehicle extending over any portion of the sidewalk" in San Francisco.

"The sidewalk is for pedestrians," Perillo explains. "The handicapped, elderly, dog walkers, and people with strollers are especially endangered when they can't walk on the sidewalk and have to detour into the street." She adds, "If something should happen to a pedestrian because of a blocked sidewalk, we [the city] could even be held liable."

Still, Officer Perillo admits, cars in driveways that leave plenty of room on the sidewalk are rarely ticketed for this offense. When they are, it's probably because a disgruntled neighbor has called the Department of Parking and Traffic (DPT) to complain.

According to Perillo, DPT's general policy is that if they have to come out to ticket a car blocking the sidewalk, they will ticket or post a warning on all the cars parked illegally in that block, not just the primary offender.

Perillo explains that a driveway is considered a "temporary structure" and is technically only for access to and egress from the garage. Also, the driveway ends at the building line, which is usually the front steps of the house or, in some cases, the shadow of the bay window.

This "shadow" could be a legal spot for a motorcycle, but it won't handle a car--even the smallest Miata. If you have a Pathfinder nine-seater wedged up to your garage door, chances are it extends past the building line. If someone on the street calls Parking and Traffic, beware.

And if Officer Perillo should catch you in the act of driving up over the curb and onto the sidewalk, to park or do anything else, she will give you a huge ticket. The citation is more than $100, she says, and a moving violation. It is also a point on your driving record. Hello, traffic school.

Access and Awareness

These parking rules may seem harsh, but imagine what life is like for people who use a cane or wheelchair.

One elderly resident on Church Street I talked to, who prefers to remain anonymous, gets around Noe Valley in a "scooter," a motorized wheelchair. When she meets a car parked on the sidewalk, she says, "Sometimes I've got to go out of my way, and it's not nice."

It's actually more difficult to negotiate a big car hanging out of a driveway than to get past one that is parallel-parked on the sidewalk, she says. "Our new neighbors at the corner have two cars that stick out of their driveway. I know it's hard to park, so I don't blame them--and they probably don't know about me yet. But I have trouble getting around their cars."

My friend Terry Byrne is a dog walker for Party Animals, a grooming shop. He says, "I have had to step out into very busy traffic to get around cars parked on the sidewalk. The moving cars are not expecting to see me, the dogs are terrified, and it's very dangerous. Sometimes I have to double back or cross the street to get through."

Byrne also takes issue with the people who say they will only be a minute and park in a driveway. "It only takes half a minute to get killed." he says.

DPT spokesperson Diana Hammons agrees that pedestrian safety is the main goal of the parking law. She says her department uses a training video that shows a blind person trying to get around cars parked on the sidewalk.

But the city is also concerned about leaking oil and gas making the sidewalk slippery, and about drivers not being able to curb their wheels. "Noe Valley, in particular, is a hilly area," says Hammons. "When vehicles are parked on the sidewalk, there is no curb to prevent runaways."

However, Vicki Rosen, president of Upper Noe Neighbors, speaks for most Noe Valley residents when she says, "Parking in driveways saves spaces out on the street. If the driveway does not obstruct pedestrian traffic, parking should be allowed."In her view, "People should be considerate and not parallel-park on the sidewalk, but the police should use common sense and distinguish between a driveway and a sidewalk."

Still, it doesn't look as if we'll see a change in the law or any more leniency from our parking watchdogs. Hammons says the fine for parking on the sidewalk is currently being reevaluated, based on its higher incidence in San Francisco neighborhoods. "In fact, we may raise the rates to discourage people from doing it." M