In recent years, the San Francisco Planning Department has taken the stance to eliminate parking in many new housing development projects. In other words, many of the new multi-family residential buildings currently under design or construction in the City will not have on-site parking. The proviso to this requirement is that there be good access to public transit and that the location is in an area with quick access to a commercial center. Of course, the advantages and disadvantages of not having on-site parking are obvious, but their impact is often ignored.

In the ten years that my family and I lived in Europe, first in Berlin and then in Barcelona, we did not own a car. However, we lived in the central part of those cities and, therefore, had quick access to the metro, busses, regional trains, and taxis when we needed them. The economic aspect of this situation was clear. We saved tons of money in fuel, insurance, maintenance, and parking costs. Reducing our carbon footprint and not contributing to air and noise pollution covered the environmental protection component. And although we did not exactly cover the third component of sustainability, which is social equity, our experience helped us better understand why adequate transit is so crucial to so many people who do now own a car nor have the ability to pay for a taxi if they are running late, or have children with baby buggies, and so on. However, since we worked from home, we did not have to worry about running late for the office or carrying tools to various job sites to work as gardeners, plumbers, electricians, or other service industries.

In San Francisco, a city that prides itself in its awareness of social justice and equity, we often focus exclusively on the environment and assume that it covers social equity somehow. However, that is not the case at all. And even though I like the idea of reducing traffic, which equates to lower carbon emissions, fewer traffic-related accidents, and other benefits, the fact remains that there are people whose livelihood depends on their vehicles. In the Mission District, for example, where many of the new residential buildings are being built and the ones eliminating on-site parking as discussed above, the impact on social equity is much more severe than we know. For example, many residents cannot afford to buy and rent the new condominiums and apartments being built. Also, many residents work around the City and Bay Area in sectors, such as construction, gardening, repair services, and other fields, which require them to use a vehicle, which means they need a place to park that vehicle at the end their workday. And although they are not going to move into these aforementioned buildings with no on-site parking, those new residents who do move in, and own cars, will take up more desperately needed on-street parking spaces.

Again, I like reducing vehicular traffic as much as possible. Still, I also believe that the way to get there is through a comprehensive plan that incorporates all residents’ needs, not just those of us who are fortunate enough to work remotely from home or jump into a taxi or ride-share when we need it quickly. Fortunately, there is still time to accommodate the needs of all community stakeholders, include them in sustainable planning and design, and satisfy the third component of sustainability, which is social equity.

Life without Cars

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