Republicans and a Tech Billionaire Want to Make San Francisco More Car-Friendly

A bicycle backlash hits the City by the Bay.

(Photo: Suzanne Dehne/Getty Images)

Jul 16, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Kristine Wong is a regular contributor to TakePart and a multimedia journalist who reports on energy, the environment, sustainable business, and food.

Over the past few years, San Francisco has become one of the nation’s more bicycle-friendly cities, reserving roads for pedal pushers, turning parking spaces into pop-up parks, and raising meter rates and parking fines on drivers who still insist on braving the city’s increasingly bike-congested streets.

Now comes the backlash.

The local Republican Party and tech billionaire Sean Parker (Napster, Facebook) are helping bankroll a November ballot measure that would put the brakes on bikelandia.

The Restore Transportation Balance initiative calls for a five-year freeze on parking rates at public garages and meters as well as on parking ticket fees. It also would prohibit new parking meters in neighborhoods absent a request by a majority of affected households and businesses. The nonbinding measure’s backers also want representatives of drivers and the disabled to be appointed to the city’s transit authority board.

“Over the last 10 years, San Francisco’s moved in a really progressive direction in terms of transit prioritization, parking reform, and bicycling,” said Gabriel Metcalf, the executive director of SPUR, a San Francisco urban policy think tank. “What we’re seeing now is the right-wing backlash against those measures.”

Indeed, it was the city’s move in January 2013 to impose parking meter fees on Sundays that prompted the formation of Restore Transportation Balance, according to Jason Clark, a leader of the group and vice president of the Log Cabin Club of San Francisco. (The city rescinded Sunday metering in April.)

“A group of us got together and said, ‘We’re really mad,’ then crunched some numbers,” said Clark. “Since 2009, parking fines have gone up 40 percent.”

“The city has been crushing people who choose to drive,” he added. “They’ve been enacting punitive measures.”

But Metcalf said that by encouraging cars, the ballot measure undermines the city’s efforts to fight climate change and improve neighborhood vitality. “It makes the city hostile to walking, which, along with transit accessibility, are the hallmarks of successful urban places,” he said.

Clark, who said he doesn’t own a car and takes the bus every day, counters that the measure—funded with a $49,000 donation from Parker and $10,000 from the San Francisco Republican Party—gathered 17,500 signatures to qualify for the November ballot. Its supporters include business owners, neighborhood groups, and civic leaders.

The proposed policies will help the disabled, he argued, and residents who must commute to downtown jobs from low-income neighborhoods lining the city’s southeast edge. Because the proposal will make more parking available, he said, it will also help to ease traffic congestion, reduce carbon pollution, and ensure that buses stay on schedule.

Metcalf said he’s more focused on building support for a $500 million bond measure that's on the November ballot that would upgrade bus service and BART subway stations. The money would also be used to install better-lit, wider crosswalks for pedestrians and add 27 miles of bike lanes and paths to the city’s existing network.

“We have the opportunity to take a major step forward,” he said. “It’s part of a vision for revitalizing our transportation system.”