Noe Valley Voice March 2005

Diagonal Parking On Castro Likely to Have a Trial Run

By Elliot Poger

When Isa Muhawieh opened his hair salon at the corner of Castro and Jersey in 2001, he noticed that there was a lot of pavement in front of his shop, but not much parking. So he decided to do something about it.

Four years later, the East Bay resident and Noe Valley merchant finds himself at the helm of an effort that's been under way, on and off, for almost a decade: the push for diagonal parking on Castro Street. And after nine years, it appears that the idea is on the verge of becoming least for a little while.

The History

As Muhawieh found out when he consulted Carol Yenne, president of the Noe Valley Merchants and Professionals Association, several attempts have been made to switch from parallel to diagonal parking along Muhawieh's stretch of Castro Street.

A group of area merchants and residents, having noted the street's unusually wide traffic lanes between 24th and 26th streets, began collecting signatures in 1996 in support of diagonal parking. They reasoned that the extra-wide traffic lanes were a waste of valuable parking space--space that could allow the number of cars parked per block to almost double.

The idea of diagonal parking is simple, given enough pavement and political will: Instead of parking parallel to the curb, drivers park their cars at a 45-degree angle. In this arrangement, the cars stick out further into the street, but more parking spaces can fit along the same length of curb. The exact number of spaces varies depending on the block; bus stops, fire hydrants, and driveways eat up precious curb footage.

By April of 1997, Castro Street attorney Robert Roddick (who was then president of the Merchants Association) had collected more than a thousand signatures in support of diagonal parking along Castro, between 24th and Clipper streets. There was some neighborhood opposition, but the signatures were enough to convince the Department of Parking and Traffic, as well as the Department of Public Works, to evaluate the proposal.

In the end, it was opposition from Muni that killed the project. Muni engineers claimed that electric trolleys on the 24-line along Castro Street might have to steer so far around the parked cars that the buses would lose contact with the overhead power lines.

The Idea Resurfaces

By the time Muhawieh moved Isa's Salon from 24th Street to Castro in 2001, the Roddick petition was history. Although Muhawieh noticed the unusual width of his part of Castro Street, he didn't know about the previous attempt at conversion to diagonal parking. Nor did he know that others in the neighborhood were still interested in the scheme.

Through his conversations with Yenne, he learned about the previous failed attempt. Soon after, he attended a Friends of Noe Valley meeting at the library just up Jersey Street, where he was surprised to meet neighborhood residents who were already planning to organize another try at diagonal parking. They were looking for a volunteer to head up their efforts, and Muhawieh stepped in.

With the encouragement of then-newly-elected Supervisor Bevan Dufty, Muhawieh began an investigation. Suspicious of Muni's claims that buses would have a problem driving around diagonally parked cars, he organized volunteers from Friends of Noe Valley to meet early one morning and park their cars diagonally immediately after the street cleaner drove by. With video camera and still camera in hand, he documented that buses could drive past the cars without any trouble.

"Once I made that movie," Muhawieh recalls, "that really got Bevan's attention." Supervisor Dufty made arrangements for a group of neighborhood merchants to meet with Muni officials. At this meeting, Muni officials performed their own test (using traffic cones instead of volunteers' cars), and diagonal parking made the grade.

With their tests satisfied, but still with reservations, Muni agreed to diagonal parking on a limited trial basis. Muhawieh proposed both sides of one block for a year; Muni agreed to one side of a block for six months. The block chosen for the test was the east side of Castro between Jersey and 25th streets; it was deemed suitable because it has no driveways and no bus stops (which could complicate matters). It also happens to be the block on which Muhawieh's salon is located.

With Muni's cooperation finally obtained, proponents were set to obtain final approval from city government for the six-month trial.

A Few Bumps in the Road

In mid-January of this year, Yenne and Muhawieh, along with a representative from Supervisor Dufty's office, went in front of the Department of Parking and Traffic to request its approval of the test. But public sentiment was not quite unanimous.

A resident of that same block of Castro Street, Mitchell Schoenbrun, showed up at the DPT hearing to argue against the change. Armed with a petition of his own (signed by 18 other residents on that block), he maintained that diagonal parking would cause safety, noise, and traffic-flow problems. Drivers pulling out of parking spaces into a narrower traffic lane would present a hazard to both drivers and pedestrians, he said.

Schoenbrun also argued that Muhawieh's proposal would ultimately reduce, not increase, the amount of parking available to residents. He noted that the plan contained language leaving open the possibility of installing parking meters at one or more of the rearranged parking spots at the end of the six-month trial. Merchants generally like metered spaces because of the increased turnover (cars are usually limited to two hours), but for the same reason, residents tend to prefer unmetered spaces.

For his part, Muhawieh emphasizes that there will be no meters installed as part of the test. Even after the test is complete, he says, meters will be installed only in front of businesses that request them, and only after a City Hall hearing where residents as well as merchants can air their views.

The Future May Be Diagonal

Despite the opposition, in February the Department of Parking and Traffic approved the test of diagonal parking on this one block. The next step will be a hearing by the City Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee of the Board of Supervisors. (Residents of the 1400 block of Castro will be notified by mail at least 20 days before the hearing.) If the committee approves the test, it will move on to the full board for a vote.

Approval by the Board of Supervisors seems likely, given DPT's recommendation. For now, though, many who have followed the saga of diagonal parking on Castro Street over the past nine years will believe it when they can park in it.

In addition to his duties for the Voice, Elliot Poger works as an occasional volunteer in the office of Supervisor Bevan Dufty.