San Francisco conducts an in-depth parking census

June 4, 2014

San Francisco has one of the largest vehicle densities in the world – about 10,000 registered vehicles per square mile, according to SF State University geography professor Jason Henderson. Still, it has a comparatively large number of publicly available parking spots, 441,950, a majority of which are on-street rather than in garages.

Census findings

90% of on street parking spots are non-metered (248,700), according to the San Francisco Municipal Transport Association (SFMTA) census.

More parking spots are in the densely populated downtown areas– 35,000 per square mile. In contrast, neighborhoods have 10,000 parking spots per square mile.


The census was conducted via aerial photography and interns counting spots on roads. So this census is more accurate than the one in 2010, which took a random sample of 30% of blocks in the city, to arrive at the total number of parking spaces. The census did not count the hundreds of thousands of private parking spaces in garages.

The data will help refine the SFPark app, which will enable drivers to find parking spots easily. Other parking app developers will also benefit from the data, according to VoicePark CEO David LaBua.

SF should have more paid parking

Many feel that the large number of available parking spots that are free, should be paid. “A source of San Francisco’s parking problem is you have some of the most valuable land on Earth and it’s free, and people complain there’s not enough,” says Donald Shoup, professor of urban planning at the UCLA.

Advantages of paid parking

Charging for parking that is currently free will help reduce congestion and discourage people from buying additional cars. “If you charge for it, people might not have five extra cars,” says resident Bruce Osterwell, who owns a car.

Studies show that if more parking spots are available, people are encouraged to buy more cars. Morever, each parking spot is about 140 square feet. Considering the hundreds of thousands of parking spots in a 7 x 7 mile city, that leaves less room for people.

Most car rides in the city are short – 68% of trips are under three miles. Getting people to shift to bicycling and using Muni will help prevent the gridlock that will result eventually.

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Category: Miscellaneous, Regulations

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