San Francisco has a problem1.
There’s no parking for the people who live here. Tourists, sure. Parking for them is a veritable cournacoupia of meters and garages and, for some reason, red curbs and other people’s driveways. But for its residents, San Francisco is a wasteland.
In my neighborhood, Alamo Square2, you can easily spend upwards of half an hour looking for a parking space in the late afternoon or evening. On several occasions, I’ve spent an entire hour circling my neighborhood in ever-widening concentric circles blasting ever-angrier music looking for a parking spot.
If you’ve never lived in a large city, you might think I’m exaggerating. I am not.
And when you do find a parking space, you wont get to keep it for long. Most streets in San Francisco are swept on a weekly basis – some more than once per week. You’ve got to repeat the parking journey once or twice every week, and that’s not including the times you actually use your car for something other than looking for parking.
This results in a secondary problem: hundreds of frustrated drivers slowly weaving through the streets at all hours of the day trying to find parking. And people looking for parking aren’t attentive, safe drivers, either. They are distracted, unsafe drivers. To find a parking space, you have to be constantly scanning both sides of the road rather than paying attention to minor details like, say, other drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists. Is that a driveway? Is that space big enough? Is that curb red? Are there any fire hydrants near that spot? Where’s the sign that tells me when this side of the street is swept? Are there any signs hidden in the trees that invariably have some bizarre requirement that I’ll get a ticket for? Is that person leaving or did they just park? Why am I sweating so much?
I think the situation can be made a lot safer with a single stripe of paint. Take, for example, this fairly typical parking scenario:
There’s a nice big spot not 20 yards ahead, right? Wrong — it’s two driveways. And you wont be able to tell until you’ve driven closer and looked away from the road to check.
What if instead of looking at buildings and signs and curbs, you could keep your eyes on the road? What if we added a bright stripe that delineated the areas that you could park?
You can instantly tell from far away that what appears to be a rare and precious parking space is, instead, off-limits.
The benefits of this simple stripe would be many: Drivers looking for parking would be able to keep their eyes on the road and drive more predictably, with fewer erratic stops. That’s safer for everyone.
Again: Look, two parking spaces in the distance!
Nope. Two driveways. But add in the stripe:
And now you can easily see from far away that you can’t park there instead of needing to slow down and look away from the road to check.
Then again, it’s a cheap and practical idea, which means San Francisco would never even begin to consider doing such a thing. Instead, they’d probably just remove half the parking spots and turn them into parklets or organic free-range snail farms.