Motorcycle Parking in San Francisco
When it comes to alternative modes of transportation, bicycles, public transit, and car-sharing are the most discussed options. Motorcycles, however, are often overlooked as a viable alternative to driving although they are highly fuel- and space-efficient vehicles. Average motorcycle mileage ranges between 40 to 70 MPG and small scooters can even reach up to 130 MPG. Although the overall average fuel economy of cars has improved from 20.8 MPG in 2008 to 24.7 MPG* in 2013, with typically much lower fuel economy in SUVs and up to 50 MPG in hybrid cars, it is safe to say that motorcycles are generally at least twice as fuel efficient as cars. On the downside, motorcycles fall behind in air pollution compared to cars and it will take time to require all motorcycles to be equipped with catalytic converters. The newest development are all-electric motorcycles that are, like their four-wheeled siblings, still limited in range but suitable for urban environments. The differences in space needs are more obvious: a motorcycle parking spot typically measures 4' x 9' compared to a 9' x 18' car parking stall.
The first bicycle driven by a petroleum fueled internal combustion engine, the Butler Petrol Cycle, was invented in 1884 by Edward Butler in England, two years earlier than the first modern automobile. The first mass-produced two-wheeler that was called a motorcycle was produced by Hildebrand & Wolfmüller in Germany, followed by several other motorcycle manufacturers in England and the U.S. Since the early years, the fascination with motorcycles has never ceased. While annual overall motorcycle sales in the U.S. have slumped from 1.1 million in 2005 to 450,000 in 2010**, motorcycles sales are pointing upward again. Smaller retro-styled motorcycles and scooters in particular are gaining popularity with younger people in urban areas where parking is scarce and gas prices are high, as is evident on San Francisco streets compared to 10 years ago***.
The City of San Francisco has significantly increased the number of designated motorcycle parking spots in recent years, particularly in Downtown. Some areas in Downtown in South of Market feature motorcycle only street parking along the entire length of a block. These spaces are conveniently located and fill up completely in the early morning, and when metered, cost 1/5th of the parking fee of a car space according to the SFMTA. On the Embarcadero, there are spaces right next to the Ferry Building, making it easy to commute by ferry or visit the area. Although I couldn't find any data on the exact number of spaces, motorcycle commuters presumably reduce congestion with every increase of motorcycle parking.
In the neighborhoods, a lot of motorcycle on-street parking has been added in the small areas in between curb cuts or at intersections where car parking wouldn't fit. This makes an efficient use of the remaining street space and prevents motorcycle parking on sidewalks or in between cars, which often results in knocked-over motorcycles or requires riders to feed two meters. Residents can request on-street motorcycle parking through the SFMTA. Motorcycle parking placed at intersections can even increase pedestrian safety at crossings due to improved sight lines.
In addition to designated on-street parking, there are many parking garages that offer secure motorcycle parking. Some garages even feature separate motorcycle entrances and exits to ease payment procedures and ensure rider safety.
How to find metered and free motorcycle spaces? In addition to useful phone app called Park the Bike, there is an open source map as well as an PDF-map (2013) by SFMTA, which only shows metered parking and might not be up-to-date. A list of parking spaces by neighborhood can be found here.
Though San Francisco's number of riders are still a far cry from any larger city in Italy (see the short clip of scooter riders at a typical intersection in Rome) or Asia, scooters and motorcycles are becoming a more and more familiar sight. Like bicycles, motorcycles reduce congestion and should be considered in any integrated transportation plan. Like bicycle riders, motorcycle riders are vulnerable. This aspect can only be addressed by better driver's and rider's education as well as good street design. Noise emission limits for motorcycles are defined by the California Vehicle Code and need to be enforced. Of course, there is more to motorcycling than risk and space efficiency. Just watch Peter Fonda in Easy Rider again and you will know.
* Michael Sivak, University of Michigan, NBC News 9/19/2013
** WebBikeWorld, 2/4/2014
*** Own anecdotal observation
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