San Francisco Chronicle
Parking meters tell story of S.F. recovery
If you want to catch a glimpse of San Francisco’s uneven recovery, look to the city’s 21,000 parking meters.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, cars busily streamed through Stanyan Street in Cole Valley on the eastern edge of Golden Gate Park, dueling for prime metered parking. Some who snagged a parking spot headed toward the park across the street. Some arrived to catch the UFC payperview at the parklet outside Kezar Pub. Others walked north toward the vibrant row of local shops on Haight Street. Four and a half miles away, parking was at a surplus on a quiet corridor of Sansome Street near the Transamerica Pyramid.
At a stoplight, as a woman and child finished taking pictures in front of the triangular skyscraper, a man popped out of the sunroof of a white BMW to take his own
“There’s more people parking in the neighborhood, a lot more people out and about.”
Cyril Hackett, owner of Kezar Pub on Stanyan Street
selfie in front of the tower. Cars trickled past Sansome and into adjacent streets with more activity. But few cars stopped to park.
“I wouldn’t call it dead. (But) I wouldn’t call it busy,” Nigel Brim, a downtown cleaning ambassador, said as he observed the corner of Sansome Street and Pacific Avenue near the end of a Saturday shift.
A Chronicle analysis of more than two years of city parking data found that while citywide parkingmeter transactions, any time someone makes an initial payment for parking, have rebounded closer to matching their 2019 monthly totals, there remains a wide variance in meter transactions within the city’s neighborhoods.
The city’s meters, mostly concentrated in its northeast neighborhoods, account for a fraction of the city’s total parking spaces and reflect one data point in the broader picture of how people move around the city. Still, the peaks and valleys of meter usage mirror the city’s various stages of the pandemic.
Last April, in the early days of shelter in place, citywide monthly transactions declined to 23% of April 2019 figures. Monthly transactions rose to 65% last July as the state was well into its first crack at reopening the economy.
By December, meter transactions were at 89%, a pandemic high, before declining to 73% in January as the city scaled back reopening amid a surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.
Parking meter use has steadily increased since then. Currently, monthly citywide transactions are 86% of what they were in April 2019.
In an effort to examine where in the city people are driving during the pandemic and whether the city’s habits have changed, The Chronicle analyzed more than two years’ worth of parking meter data from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.
Most parking meters in the city are enforced Monday through Saturday between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. at varying rates and time limits, according to Muni. The city lowered meter rates and removed time limits between last April and June, possibly skewing figures for those months.
As the pandemic changed how San Franciscans work, live and play, it’s also affected which parking meters in the city are seeing the most action.
For example, meters appear to be in greater use in residential neighborhoods near Golden Gate Park these days than most of downtown, where meter activity has declined as much as 39% due to the growth of remote work.
Monthly meter transactions in some ZIP codes, such as Chinatown’s 94108 and 94109 encompassing Polk Gulch and Russian Hill, have actually bounced back to prepandemic levels.
Meter transactions in the city’s 94117 ZIP code, which includes the Cole Valley and HaightAshbury neighborhoods, were at 88% of transactions compared with prepandemic levels.
Cyril Hackett, owner of Kezar Pub on Stanyan Street, said he saw a rise in customers — and use of parking meters on Stanyan Street — the weekend after St. Patrick’s Day. That’s also when the pub owner noticed “a sea change in people’s attitude.”
That weekend, Hackett spent hours greeting customers, including several regulars who hadn’t visited the pub in more than a year.
“It couldn’t have come at a better time,” Hackett said. “Because I mean, we were in dire straits like everybody else.”
Though the pub’s customer base is still “not near back to the numbers where we were,” Hackett said there are more weekend crowds now.
“There’s definitely more people in the neighborhood, there’s more people parking in the neighborhood, a lot more people out and about,” Hackett said. “It definitely is more difficult to find parking in the neighborhood.”
In the Inner Sunset, parking meter transactions on the blocks of Irving Street between Seventh and 27th Avenues saw almost as many transactions this March as before the pandemic. Transaction rates were at 92% of prepandemic figures.
As more people have become fully vaccinated this spring, business has picked up at some local establishments, such as San Francisco’s Hometown Creamery on Ninth Avenue off Irving Street.
“It’s seemed like a slow revival, but compared to other parts of the city that I've seen, I feel like this Ninth urban corridor has done pretty well,” said Saadi Halil, the creamery’s executive chef and coowner.
On Sansome Street in the Financial District, transaction rates in April were at 52% of prepandemic figures. Metered parking during the recent Saturday afternoon was noticeably more plentiful near Schott NYC, a highend clothing store on the 600 block of Sansome Street, than on Stanyan Street in Cole Valley. Nearby lots that charge $15 for weekend parking were almost empty.
The corridor has historically been much busier on weekdays when masses of people descended on downtown for work. Harland Spinks, manager of Schott NYC, said the store has seen an uptick in monthly sales as more of the store’s loyal customers travel downtown for purchases.
Sansome Street looks different than it did before the pandemic, though. Now, “there’s just fewer people down here,” Spinks said.
“People don’t really have a purpose to come down here,” Spinks said, “unless they're going to have a nice dinner, or they need to buy something, like a leather jacket.”