Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Will SFPark make us the Twitterhood?

If you're reading this and you're not in San Francisco, fine, you can accuse me of going all hyperlocal and you can just stop reading now. But what happens in our gentrifying downtown neighborhood may happen sooner or later in a downtown near you, so go ahead and read and be warned:

Look, if you think of a place where it costs "three or four dollars an hour" to park a car, you think of the densest priciest real estate around: City of London, Manhattan central. Now San Francisco municipal management are talking about doing the same to South of Market.

That means they want high-rolling high-tech Twitterers to replace us boring ordinary people who don't justify our shelf space sufficiently. (Cf. some bloviator in the WSJ welcoming Twitter on our behalf to our so-called "blighted area".) Basically it isn't enough for them to move sidewalk sleepers along with "quality of life" citations. Now we're seeing the start of an attempt to move along the lower and non-technological middle class with a high-tech parking system. All in the name of environmentalism and convenience. We should be, apparently, grateful.

Pricey parking around here means real money to, well, me. We have been parking on the street here for fifteen years using a South of Market residential sticker at the cost of a modest, though lately rising, annual fee to the city. (San Francisco residential parking districts are assigned letters of the alphabet. We enjoy belonging to the "U" parking district. Are you "U" or "Non-U"?) So, yes, we park on the street at the cost also of occasional break-ins (anyway we had several before 2004) and also, last December, at the cost of two consecutive hit-and-run side-swipings, but, OK, these things happen. Anyway, now apparently "SFPark" high-tech meters are moving in on us from several directions. Not here on our street yet, but they'll get here soon enough if not yelled about vigorously.

There's a good discussion here of why the parking proposal is godawful. The new scheme isn't even merely pricey. Even your money is no good if you're vulgar enough to carry it in cash. They're calling it "the world's most advanced parking management system," which should be enough to strike fear in anyone's heart.

Turns out SFPark depends on its customers having smartphones. We don't have those in our household. I don't know how many of our neighbors have them.

And, oh, look how busy you get to keep yourself if you have one:
"SFpark sensors, installed in on-street parking spaces and in City-owned garages, track when and where parking is available. Sensor data is uploaded wirelessly to the SFpark data feed, making this information available to the public via this website, smartphone applications, text message and eventually 511. Real-time information about where parking is available will help drivers find parking with less hassle.

Parking costs will often be lower than in the past. SFpark will adjust meter prices based on demand to encourage drivers to make trips in off-peak hours and to use parking lots and garages. While the price of high-demand spaces will gradually increase, the price of other spaces will decrease."
So basically if you have a smartphone and a car, you'll have to be watching your phone like a stock gambler watching the market to figure out when to make your move to score a low-cost parking space without taking out a mortgage to afford it. As if we needed one more tense competitive arena in our lives. It'll be like eating in casinos in Las Vegas, where in some of the nominally overpriced restaurants they look at you funny if you don't show up with some kind of a discount coupon. Or, I don't know, maybe more like the "Guys and Dolls" horse-race world:
"So where do you like for after the three o'clock commute towing on Thursday?"
"Don't know about Thursday but I hear Bluxome from Third to Fifth is running cheap this afternoon."
"I'll give you a tip, just me to you, don't spread it around: Heron from eight to ten tomorrow morning, only a quarter an hour."
"No kidding? That's a restaurant district."
"Only goes up when the Financial District gets off work and goes out for drinks. Lock in the rate and you're good until seven or eight at night."
"And then where do I go park?"
"Oh, lower Seventh, Harrison, I don't know."
"But my show is on then. And I hate going out again at 2 a.m. to move back to Heron for the rate drop..."
Meanwhile if you're a normal human without a smartphone, you just won't know what anything is going to cost. Everyone will beat you to the parking spaces. You'll be priced out and behind the 8-ball and crowded off of your own street.

BTW, weird to find that people delivering heartfelt defenses of our neighborhood here are referring to it either as "SOMA" or "Soma". Come on, it's SoMa or, better, "South of Market". Dammit, our neighborhood isn't a drug, it's a former social stigma, worn proudly the way Australians wear their convict history and East Enders preserve their rhyming slang.

Actually, though, if you're standing up for truly public parking spaces, you can call this place anything you like, U or Non-U. Fine by me.

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