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San Francisco

Illegal Parking

Data Analysis
By Stephen Braitsch & Beaudry Kock • Published on 5/20/2023
By Stephen Braitsch & Beaudry Kock
Published on 5/20/2023

Parking enforcement is a critical public safety function. Parking on sidewalks and in accessibility zones forces families with strollers and people with disabilities into traffic. Blocking bike lanes create hazards for people biking, while double parking creates dangerous conditions and slows transit. You've likely experienced all of these unsafe conditions and more if you bike, walk, or take transit in San Francisco. Anecdotally, things seem to be getting worse. So we decided to dig into the data: What is the SFMTA doing to enforce parking violations that impact public safety?

The SFMTA writes approximately 1 million parking tickets each year, citing about 300 different ways you can illegally park a motor vehicle on San Francisco's streets. This project analyzes over 19 million illegal parking citations issued by the SFMTA since 2008, as well as 300 thousand complaints. We analyzed the data to answer some critical questions:

1
Does the SFMTA prioritize public safety over revenue generation?
2
Does the SFMTA prioritize enforcement of citizen complaints for public safety issues?
3
Is the SFMTA cracking down on repeat offenders?
4
Is the SFMTA consistently enforcing violations in our busiest retail corridors, every day of the week?

The SFMTA must rethink its parking enforcement strategy. We need enforcement that prioritizes keeping streets safe for everyone instead of harvesting revenue from street cleaning violations. The SFMTA must focus on safety-related violations, enforce them quickly and consistently, increase fines for repeat offenders and make citizen reporting easy and effective for safety-critical violations.

Parking Enforcement
by the Numbers:
Revenue over Safety

The data shows that, year over year, the two most aggressively cited illegal parking violations are street cleaning and overtime parking violations. These two violations alone account for over 70% of all SFMTA enforcement activity, despite having no impact on public safety. Meanwhile, the rampant violations that affect people who walk, bike or take transit – blocking a bike lane, sidewalk, bus stop or accessibility space – together constitute just 5% of all enforcement activity.

Violations that are an easy
revenue stream for the SFMTA
Violations that affect public safety
and our most vulnerable residents

Violation
Citations
Total Fines
Percent of all Citations
Street Cleaning
32,032
$2,786,784
42.52%
TRC7.2.22
32,032
$87
42.52%
Overtime Parking
19,273
$1,819,726
25.58%
TRC7.2.20
TRC7.2.23B
TRC7.2.23A
TRC7.2.30B
TRC7.2.60
TRC7.2.30A
TRC7.2.29
TRC7.2.28
PK6.01G
TRC7.2.30D
TRC7.2.30C
TRC7.2.65
7,550
7,427
3,497
425
169
71
65
33
20
7
7
2
$99
$89
$98
$89
$73
$98
$76
$92
$100
$89
$98
$81
10.02%
9.86%
4.64%
0.56%
0.22%
0.09%
0.09%
0.04%
0.03%
0.01%
0.01%
0.00%
Prohibited Parking / Driving Area
4,628
$491,750
6.14%
TRC7.2.41
TRC7.2.40
TRC7.2.25
TRC7.2.46
TRC7.2.43
TRC7.2.45
TRC7.2.42
V21113A
TRC7.2.55
PK6.01H
PK3.02
TRC7.2.62
1,557
1,387
1,256
162
106
74
61
10
7
4
2
2
$108
$108
$108
$87
$81
$87
$108
$93
$108
$100
$100
$79
2.07%
1.84%
1.67%
0.22%
0.14%
0.10%
0.08%
0.01%
0.01%
0.01%
0.00%
0.00%
Commercial Loading
3,816
$412,128
5.07%
TRC7.2.26
TRC7.2.83
2,589
1,227
$108
$108
3.44%
1.63%
License, Registration & Insurance
3,481
$473,297
4.62%
V5200
V4000A
V5201A
V5201C
V5201B
V5204A
V5202
V5200A
2,422
592
226
118
101
12
7
3
$121
$209
$121
$121
$121
$121
$121
$121
3.21%
0.79%
0.30%
0.16%
0.13%
0.02%
0.01%
0.00%
Blocking Vehicle Access
3,431
$370,035
4.55%
V22500H
V22500E
TRC7.2.70
TRC7.2.34
V22500A
V22526A
V22526B
1,525
1,278
539
57
20
10
2
$108
$108
$108
$99
$108
$108
$108
2.02%
1.70%
0.72%
0.08%
0.03%
0.01%
0.00%
Improper / Unsafe Parking
2,373
$153,365
3.15%
TRC7.2.35
V22502A
TRC7.2.51
TRC7.2.32
V22502E
V22523B
1,752
288
205
81
46
1
$61
$79
$68
$73
$79
$254
2.33%
0.38%
0.27%
0.11%
0.06%
0.00%
Pedestrian / Cyclist Right Of Way
2,041
$301,586
2.71%
V22500F
V21211
V22500B
V22500L
V22522
1,330
299
206
196
10
$108
$162
$108
$430
$298
1.77%
0.40%
0.27%
0.26%
0.01%
Transit Fare Evasion
1,872
$234,000
2.48%
TRC7.2.101A
TRC7.2.101C
TRC7.2.101B
1,860
10
2
$125
$125
$125
2.47%
0.01%
0.00%
Public Transit & Passenger Loading
1,696
$290,548
2.25%
TRC7.2.38
TRC7.2.27
V22500I
TRC7.2.39
V22521
717
496
413
69
1
$108
$108
$368
$108
$108
0.95%
0.66%
0.55%
0.09%
0.00%
Blocking Emergency Access
426
$45,729
0.57%
V22514
V22500.1
V22500D
394
31
1
$108
$99
$108
0.52%
0.04%
0.00%
Accessible / Disabled Parking
174
$93,132
0.23%
V22507.8A
V22507.8C
TRC7.2.44A
TRC7.2.66A
TRC7.2.44B
TRC7.2.44C
TRC7.2.66C
TRC7.2.66B
99
33
26
10
3
1
1
1
$430
$430
$866
$866
$866
$866
$866
$866
0.13%
0.04%
0.03%
0.01%
0.00%
0.00%
0.00%
0.00%
Speciality Vehicle Parking
77
$8,316
0.10%
TRC7.2.37
TRC7.2.52
58
19
$108
$108
0.08%
0.03%
Commercial Vehicle Restrictions
11
$1,188
0.01%
TRC7.2.84
TRC7.2.54
10
1
$108
$108
0.01%
0.00%
Permitted Parking / Driving Area
3
$300
0.00%
PK7.03U
3
$100
0.00%
Excessive Idling
2
$216
0.00%
TRC7.2.86
2
$108
0.00%
Unpermitted Commercial Activity
1
$108
0.00%
TRC7.2.81
1
$108
0.00%

SF311 is Inadequate
to the Task

SF311 is San Francisco's reporting platform for non-emergencies and allows residents to report illegal parking violations via their phone or the SF311 website or app. However, the app is poorly designed and the data it generates is not well used by the SFMTA.

The SF311 app (below) provides a basic reporting interface that prioritizes vehicles blocking private driveways over those that block the public right of way. A better approach is demonstrated by Safe Lanes, a free app we built in 2019 to provide a faster, more accurate way to report illegal parking violations to SF311. Safe Lanes prioritizes safety critical violations, alerts the user to repeat offenders and automatically reads the license plate and location data in the photos you take. To date, over 30,000 illegal parking reports have been submitted to SF311 via Safe Lanes.

Even when the SF311 app is used, few complaints result in a citation. Of the approximately 250 illegal parking complaints submitted to SF311 daily, fewer than 25% result in a citation. The SFMTA needs a data-driven, dynamic enforcement strategy that responds faster and ensures more complaints result in a citation. One way to approach this is to automatically assign the nearest parking control officer (PCO) to each complaint as they come in and have PCOs on standby in known hot spots. Instead Shawn McCormick, director of parking enforcement at SFMTA, explains how he uses low-fidelity heat maps to guide parking enforcement at a recent hearing at City Hall.

The SF311 app, despite a redesign in April 2023, continues to prioritize blocked private driveways over safety-critical parking violations that block the public right of way.
The Safe Lanes app provides a more accesible interface and prioritizes safety-critical parking violations that block the public right of way.

Response times are also poor and weighted towards the needs of property owners. In 2022, the SFMTA received 21,982 complaints for vehicles blocking a driveway and 14,332 complaints for vehicles blocking the sidewalk. The average response time to a blocked driveway violation in 2022 was 4 hours, 16 minutes and 27 seconds while the average response time to a blocked sidewalk violation was 5 hours, 23 minutes 38 seconds. All of these response times are too high, but it is unconscionable that it takes the SFMTA a full hour longer on average to respond to sidewalk violations that impact public safety.

In addition to revamping their reporting tools and response times, the SFMTA should also explore incentives for reporting egregious violations. The Citizens Air Complaint Program in New York City has shown such programs to be highly effective at increasing reporting and reducing infractions. The SFMTA must provide the public with effective reporting tools that prioritize safety critical violations, and then respond in minutes, not hours. Until they do, they will never earn the public's trust or know the full scale of illegal parking violations in San Francisco as most people won't waste their time using a platform that outright ignores their concerns.

Repeat Offenders
are Everywhere

There are approximately 466,000 registered cars in San Francisco and approximately 456,000 people drive into the city each day. We all make mistakes: it’s easy to forget to feed a meter or move your vehicle for street cleaning. However some drivers clearly could care less about parking restrictions and continue to rack up thousands of citations and hundreds of thousands in dollars in fines.

Citations
License Plates
More than 1,000
35
More than 500
183
More than 100
3,798
More than 10
405,076
More than 1
1,627,432

Repeat offenders are not just harming themselves. In the most extreme cases, drivers who repeatedly disregard minor infractions can go on to cause significant harm to others: in March 2023, for example, a driver in Washington D.C. with 43 speeding tickets slammed into a Honda sedan, killing all three passengers inside. It is a statistical inevitability that the more drivers disregard codes and put vulnerable road users in harm’s way, the more likely serious injuries and deaths and become. Drivers who repeatedly endanger the public must be held accountable.

To better target these problematic repeat offenders, who pose threats to both safety and public order, the SFMTA needs to harden its enforcement strategy: it could raise fines for these serial violators or even push for the revocation of driving privileges. But first, they should be accelerating infrastructure improvements which make it harder if not impossible to illegally park a vehicle in the first place. As this interactive map of the 50 most egregious repeat offenders shows, repeat offenders in some locations are likely commercial delivery drivers who could benefit from more loading zones. Similarly, if the SFMTA built actual protected bike lanes that use concrete barriers instead of plastic sticks, fewer drivers would be able to park in them.

SFMTA's citation dataset unfortunately does not include photographs of violations so we've included a street view to help you understand the environment where the violation took place.

Enforcement is Inconsistent
on Retail Corridors

We analyzed illegal parking behavior on 14 major retail corridors Valencia StreetPolk StreetHaight StreetFillmore StreetClement StreetGrant AvenueColumbus AvenueMarket StreetUnion StreetThird StreetUnion SquareInner SunsetThe Castro and Fisherman's Wharf and found:

  • Parking enforcement is very inconsistent throughout the week
  • There is almost no parking enforcement on Sundays
  • Citations for non-safety violations outnumber safety-critical violations on average 5 to 1

San Francisco's retail corridors are its most active public spaces aside from its parks and must be safe and accessible for all visitors. The SFMTA must prioritize parking enforcement along retail corridors and ensure that businesses have abundant space to accept deliveries.

Valencia Street

Market St to Cesar Chavez St
0 Citations
Safety Citations 0%
Non-Safety Citations 0%

Polk Street

Market St to Beach St
0 Citations
Safety Citations 0%
Non-Safety Citations 0%

Haight Street

Webster St to Stanyan St
0 Citations
Safety Citations 0%
Non-Safety Citations 0%

Fillmore Street

Golden Gate Ave to Jackson St
0 Citations
Safety Citations 0%
Non-Safety Citations 0%

Clement Street

Arguello Blvd to Park Presidio Blvd
0 Citations
Safety Citations 0%
Non-Safety Citations 0%

Grant Avenue

Broadway to Market Street
0 Citations
Safety Citations 0%
Non-Safety Citations 0%

Columbus Avenue

Beach Street to Montgomery Street
0 Citations
Safety Citations 0%
Non-Safety Citations 0%

Market Street

Steuart Street to Castro Street
0 Citations
Safety Citations 0%
Non-Safety Citations 0%

Union Street

Lyon Street to Van Ness Ave
0 Citations
Safety Citations 0%
Non-Safety Citations 0%

Third Street

Mission Bay to Meade Ave
0 Citations
Safety Citations 0%
Non-Safety Citations 0%

Union Square

0 Citations
Safety Citations 0%
Non-Safety Citations 0%

Inner Sunset

0 Citations
Safety Citations 0%
Non-Safety Citations 0%

The Castro

0 Citations
Safety Citations 0%
Non-Safety Citations 0%

Fisherman's Wharf

0 Citations
Safety Citations 0%
Non-Safety Citations 0%

Conclusion

The data is clear: the SFMTA’s parking enforcement strategy is on revenue-generating autopilot. This is a shame, because parking enforcement is far from being just a costly irritation for absent-minded drivers: it is a critical tool for keeping everyone safe on our streets. The SFMTA must reform its reporting tools, tighten response times, and focus enforcement actions on safety-critical violations and the most egregious repeat offenders. Most importantly, the SFMTA Board, the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors must apply and maintain pressure on the organization until this is done.

Acknowledgements

This project took four months to produce and required researching hundreds of violation codes and geocoding over 14 million handwritten addresses so they can be accurately plotted on a map. This project would not have been possible without the financial support of Alice Duesdieker, Andrew Casteel, Andrew Sullivan, Beau Smith, Ben Donahue, Dan Federman, Donovan Lacy, Emily Murphy, James Ausman, Jay Bain, Kenneth Russell, Kurt Nelson, Leah Culver, Marc Hedlund, Matt Hill, Maureen Persico, Michael Howley, Michael Smith, Molly Hayden, Natalia Kutygina, Peter Belden, Robert Fruchtman, Ruth Malone, Steve Lustgarden, Steven Solomon and Vanessa Gregson.

The raw SFMTA citation data can be found here and SF311 illegal parking complaint data can be found here.