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Politics & Policy

San Francisco adds street parking back to Geary Boulevard project

A view of angled street parking near Geary Boulevard and 16th Avenue in San Francisco, on Wednesday, July 12, 2023. SFMTA adds back parking spots to Geary in response to merchant fury over transit improvement project plans. | Source: Isaac Ceja/The Standard

City officials have scaled back a plan to remove parking spots from one of San Francisco’s major commercial thoroughfares after an uproar among merchants, who fear the changes could put them out of business. The plan is intended to make space for transit-only lanes on Geary Boulevard.

Instead of losing 70 parking places, as a previous plan for the Richmond District stretch of Geary called for, the street will lose just 31 spots under a revised plan by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. That comes out to a loss of about one space per block. Officials said they found 17 new spaces by relocating three bike-share stations and replacing parallel parking with angled parking on some streets off Geary.

The plan calls for safety improvements like extending the curb into the street for easier bus boarding and increased visibility of pedestrians, turn restrictions, expanded bus zones and other changes to curb space for merchant loading. Transit-only lanes would be added east of 33rd Avenue, converting angled parking spaces to parallel ones between 28th and 15th avenues. 

Cars are parked on Geary Boulevard near 18th Avenue in San Francisco. | Source: Isaac Ceja/The Standard

However, local merchants were enraged when the plan appeared to be moving forward earlier this year. They said cutting parking could cause a significant drop in business among their customers who drive. Some said they were still recovering from the loss of business during the pandemic, and the project should be delayed until 2025, when construction on water and sewage pipe replacements is scheduled to begin. 

The SFMTA board is expected to vote on the proposal and whether to delay the removal of some parking spaces in August

Following the protests from merchants, the transit agency in June changed the plan by freeing up 17 more spaces on neighboring streets. 

“This is in addition to replacement parking previously identified, for a total of 39 new parking spots to offset the 70 to be removed along a two-mile stretch of Geary,” said spokesperson Stephen Chun in an email. 

Some businesses, like tiki bar Trad’r Sam and Joe’s Ice Cream, can also seek city funding to rebuild the parklets outside their shops into a parallel format, a change the conversion would make necessary.

Cars are parked near the Joe’s Ice Cream parklet near Geary Boulevard and 18th Avenue in San Francisco. | Source: Isaac Ceja/The Standard

But it’s not clear if merchants will be happy with the latest changes. David Heller—owner of the Beauty Network, a shop on Geary, and head of the Greater Geary Boulevard Merchants and Property Owners Association—wants assurances that the city won’t make further adjustments to the number of parking spaces.

“There’s a small business community that’s really not doing well right now,” Heller said. “If anything, they should help us gain parking spots."

The project began as an effort to speed up transit like the center-running lanes like those finished on Van Ness Avenue in 2022. But after that effort suffered numerous delays and problems, the SFMTA decided to dramatically speed up the timeline of the Geary Boulevard project by installing side-running lanes instead. A first phase of the project with similar upgrades on Geary and O’Farrell between Stanyan and Market streets Downtown was completed in late 2021.  

But Heller argued that the SFMTA should delay parking removal until after the completion of pipe upgrades that are expected to start in 2025 and last three years. Supervisor Connie Chan, who has backed merchant concerns, agreed. But, in the meantime, she said she approves of the recent changes.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” Chan told The Standard. “I don’t think the merchants are asking for a lot.”

Lian Chang, a Richmond District resident who is involved with the pedestrian safety nonprofit Walk SF, just wants the project to move forward. 

“An indefinite delay of the project is basically killing the project,” Chang said.

The SFMTA was scheduled to present the changes at a Geary Community Advisory Committee meeting held online on Wednesday at 6 p.m.