Spend any time driving in San Francisco, and you’ll notice that there isn’t a lot of parking. Then, just before you give up and put the car in a garage, it dawns on you that while there aren’t that many spaces, there also aren’t that many parked cars. Instead, driveway after driveway chops up the curb, leaving the street space unusable. Curb cuts are everywhere, of course, but San Francisco buildings seem particularly fond of them.
The obvious impact is that these curb cuts take away parking that could serve many different users of the neighborhood – residents, visitors, and shoppers, and put it into private hands. But there are a lot of other reasons to dislike curb cuts. They increase conflicts between pedestrians and vehicles, they set up hazardous situations as cars back out onto busy streets, they encourage sidewalk parking, and they can often leave a street without room for the trees and other amenities that improve the way pedestrians experience the street. Moreover, the garages they lead to take up space that could be used for a variety of things that add to street life, like storefronts or stoops.
The desire for off-street parking in some areas is certainly valid. However, because there isn’t a price attached to installing a curb cut, we see the type of “overfishing” that plagues any unpriced resource, with some buildings sporting rows of 4, 5, and even more garage doors fronting city streets. Fortunately, this is starting to change - the city is soon going to start charging at least $100 per year for installing a cut, and there have also been efforts to slow new installations in North Beach. Hopefully these measures will lead to efficient use of the city’s curbsides.