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UncategorizedFood delivery services are clogging the streets and blocking...

Food delivery services are clogging the streets and blocking traffic

New apps, new companies are bringing food to your door — but they’re also blocking the bike lanes and creating traffic nightmares

48hillsblockedtraffic
The SF Bicycle Coalition is collecting pictures of drivers blocking bike lanes; food delivery vehicles are making the problem worse

 

By Steven T. Jones

FEBRUARY 6, 2015 — Competition for restaurant deliveries is heating up in San Francisco, exacerbating the problem of cars double-parking or blocking bike lanes just as city officials pledge to crack down on such traffic-snarling infractions.

In my Mission District neighborhood, an increasing number of restaurants have started to display discount cards and other promotional schwag from GrubHub, the food-delivery industry leader with a Wall Street market capitalization of about $3 billion.

Apparently, the company is trying to promote deliveries and increase its market share as competitors vie for the business of San Franciscans who are too busy or lazy to cook their meals or make their way into the restaurants.

The field of food delivery companies includes Caviar (an aggressive upstart that was purchased last year by Square, the online payment company started by a Twitter founder), SpoonRocket, Seamless (a GrubHub partner), Munchery, Foodler, Postmates, the impending launch of well-financed UberFresh, and smaller competitors, not to mention some restaurants that still do their own deliveries.

That adds up to a lot of cars picking up food from restaurants along busy traffic corridors.

Yes, some deliveries do use cyclists, but private automobiles are a big and growing part of the mix, with Uber now expanding its business to allow its quasi-taxi drivers to deliver meals when they aren’t picking up passengers.

On arteries like Valencia Street, a prime route for bicyclists, the trend threatens to worsen what is already an obstacle course, particularly during evening meal times. Many of the restaurants are serial offenders that regularly leave delivery vehicles in bike lanes, slowing everyone down as cyclists are forced into the traffic lane.

At Gajalee Indian Restaurant on Valencia, drivers picking up delivery orders regularly block the bike lane. And with Gajalee’s new display of $5-off coupons for deliveries from GrubHub, it’s a problem unlikely to improve anytime soon.

“I got four or five tickets from blocking the bike lane in the last couple years,” Gajalee manager Kobi Mohan told us. “It’s a cost of doing business for us.”

San Francisco Municipal Transportion Agency spokesperson Paul Rose said the agency is aware of the problem and trying to address it: “As SFMTA is made aware of a problem area/location, SFMTA engineers are sent to the location to evaluate parking management and options such as curbside marking/signage.  SFMTA Enforcement reaches out to the proprietor of a business and explains the problem and identifies workable solutions. If all avenues have been evaluated and addressed and there is no change, increased Parking Control Officer presence will occur, until compliance is achieved.”

But Mohan said he’s been told the cars he uses for deliveries and stocking his restaurant aren’t allowed to use the center lane to parking temporarily and he’s been given no legal options, so he still uses the bike lane and just hopes to avoid too many tickets.

“There’s nothing we can do,” he said, explaining that he needs deliveries to make his business function.

Rose said the agency is aware that this is a problem that is getting worse as more companies get into the business of delivering meals, groceries, and a range of other products.

“With the advent of Internet shopping, etc., deliveries of products, including food deliveries, has and will continue to increase,” Rose said. “SFMTA needs to be creative in street design and management and ensure all stakeholders are included in the planning and discussion.”

While big delivery companies such as UPS, FedEx, and even many beer distributors have city permits that factor in the cost of blocked lanes and specific rules for minimizing the disruption, food delivery services mostly follow the tech industry’s disruption model of asking for forgiveness later instead of official permission up front.

We contacted GrubHub and Caviar for comment and didn’t hear back by press time.

In December, Mayor Ed Lee announced plans to crack down on drivers who block traffic, and Rose told us the effort was aimed primarily at SoMa and facilitating commuter traffic headed to the Bay Bridge, with a half-dozen additional parking control officers deployed on Thursdays and Friday to issue tickets for blocking traffic.

 

“The enforcement of vehicles double parking is not a new initiative. The SFMTA has a zero tolerance for passenger vehicles that double park.  Enforcement has utilized several approaches in mitigating double parking, such as complaint driven incidents and continuous communication with PCOs. Double parking citations continue to increase,” Rose said. “In addition to the enhanced enforcement of double parking, Enforcement has increased its focus on bike lane violations, which have the same impact and fine amount as double parking.”

But SFMTA figures show relatively few citations for blocking bike lanes compared with double-parking, even with December’s uptick in citations for both. There were 2,391 double parking citation in December, up from 2,036 in November; and 187 citations for blocking bike lanes, up from just 132 a month earlier.

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition has tried to highlight the issue with its new #ParkingDirtySF campaign, urging members to send in photos and information when they see someone blocking a bike lane. It has compiled that information into a top 10 list of the worst corridors for blocked bike lanes.

Not surprising, Valencia Street tops the list, with the restaurants that line that otherwise bike-friendly corridor creating regular conflicts between cyclists and either diners or delivery drivers.

“People who double-park cars in bike lanes and crosswalks are not just causing an inconvenience, they are jeopardizing people’s safety as they bicycle and walk. Stepping up enforcement on this dangerous activity should be an easy place for the Mayor and the SF Police Department to send the message that safety is a priority on our streets and to put action behind their Vision Zero commitments,” said Leah Shahum, who is stepping down as SFBC’s executive director to go study Vision Zero in Europe on a Marshall Memorial Fellowship this spring.

As city officials try to deliver on their Vision Zero goal of eliminating all traffic deaths on the streets of San Francisco, the speed and convenience of driving may give way to safety concerns. And your order of chicken tikka masala may be slightly delayed.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
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  45. On Valencia, wouldn’t it be a pretty easy solution (logistically, not politically, of course) to remove the parking spots in front of these restaurants and turn them into no-parking loading zones? It would at least solve the double-parking problem, although it would introduce a lot of traffic crossing the bike lane back and forth.

  46. No, on Valencia the center lane is used for parking.

    But bike lanes on the side are always going to get abused. Some streets are just not well suited for bike lanes.

  47. Good comment. And I would say most of them transplants talking about ” san francisco values”. Never heard a person born here say that. And I ain’t going anywhere.

  48. Could go one step further, and swap the center turn lane with a center protected bike lane, akin to the one on Pennsylvania Ave in DC. It would be a more efficient use of street space.

  49. It depends. Many of the popular restaurant areas are also residential areas. People who drive to work should be able to park near their home without needing to worry about meters. They should be able to be in their home without running out to feed meters every hour.

    The only way I could see it working is if RPP owners don’t have to feed meters.

  50. This would be a good case for implementing variable pricing and charging for evening parking in SF. SF is one of a few major cities that do not charge for evening parking. Evening hours would create greater turnover of spaces to make it easier for customers and employees who drive to find a spot. These hours would also give the delivery person a greater chance of finding a space when picking up orders at a restaurant.

    MTA has already researched, piloted, and analyzed on the positive effects of SFpark, so why not expand that program much further? Berkeley has implemented variable pricing along some of its commercial strips to much fanfare and success. Perhaps, SF needs to conduct another trial of SFpark, but this time with evening hours.

  51. I’m really surprised more delivery companies aren’t using motorcycles for this, park between cars, don’t block the lanes. A bike with a big topcase can carry a surprising amount of cargo.

  52. Who knew the Guardian had a fossil fuel vehicle driving over the streets of San Francisco? News to me. There’s a great foto of the van here: http://sfppc.blogspot.com/2009_07_01_archive.html, which is where I found this news nugget:

    Who stole the Guardian’s van?

    The San Francisco Bay Guardian reports that somebody cut through the chain-link fence in its parking lot and drove away with the company’s van. It happened Monday night or Tuesday morning. Writes editor Tim Redmond:
    Kinda crazy — it’s ten years old, it’s all beat up — and it has the Guardian logo all over it and a Best of the Bay mural on the side. Hard to hide.

    It’s value is probably more sentimental than economic at this point, but we miss it — after all, we used the van as the cover of our Best of the Bay issue back in 1999, when it was brand new. We commissioned the van-mural, designed by Tim Racer at Racer-Reynolds Illustration and painted by Rich Ayer at Signmakers, and we’d hate to see the artwork chopped up or painted over.

    So if you see it, call SFPD burglary at 553-1261. Or call us.
    SFist.com jumped to the conclusion that the SF Weekly stole the van. The SF Weekly denies it and blames the obvious suspect, PG&E.
    Posted by San Francisco Peninsula Press Club at 12:05 AM 2 comments: Links to this post

  53. So, Z? How much do you spend on lunch each day $50? $200? Though, it is somewhat irrelevant since even many expensive “quality” restaurants offer delivery.

    Instead of trying to come across as an elitist bourgeois overly-privileged blow-hard how about posting something relevant to the topic? Or better yet, leave the Bay Area and move down to LA where you belong.

  54. I wish I could be you, eating in only the finest restaurants. Never having to lower yourself to have a pizza delivered to your door.

  55. I see a new progressve cause in the making: “Down with pizza delivery! Down with pizza delivery!”

  56. zRants, yes, and also you won’t get a ticket from a passing cop or DPT goon when you block a driveway. That takes a phone call to DPT and a wait until they arrive.

    So in practice the best place to park illegally is in front of a driveway, especially since many are only used a couple of times a day. Or even never in the case where people store junk in their garage.

  57. The double-parking I find most annoying, is when there is a nearby parking spot or driveway. One may temporarily park in or across a driveway and leave a message, but few people do that. Rude behavior and laziness are rampant in this city that no longer cares. At least that is how growing too big too fast feels to me. Selfish thoughtless behavior is the norm.

  58. A SFPD cop told me that you should leave your hazard lights on when parking illegally to show that your intent is only very temporary.

    So the city’s LE clearly understands the realistic need to park illegally given the lack of parking infrastructure. And their enforcement priorities appear to endorse illegal parking, including even double-parking and blocking a bike lane, as long as it is necessary, brief, and you put your hazards on.

    Also note that many double “parked” vehicles actually have a driver in them and have the engine running, meaning that the car isn’t really parked at all, only stopped.

  59. WC, no I don’t think we should build more street parking as that is impossible. We should stop taking it away, however, as well as build more off-street parking. Nobody would double park if we could park underground like at some WholeFoods stores.

    Market rate housing is built with one car parking space per unit. In fact I believe that is in the planning code. And given that the people moving here and buying market rate homes will probably all have a vehicle, we are going to have to ensure that we can enable those people to use their cars.

    Transit first does not mean transit only. It means balance. right now the city is investing nothing in vehicle infrastructure.

  60. My point was more that one delivery vehicle making 20 deliveries a night probably takes ten private vehicles off the streets even by your own numbers.

    You might as well try and argue that Muni buses or tech shuttles don’t reduce traffic either. We should be supporting consolidating vehicle miles into larger vehicles.

    Steven was trying to argue that these new vehicles are a net gain in vehicle miles. I see no evidence for that and in fact the exact opposite is more likely to be true.

  61. Taking out parking and not building more is part of a transit-first approach that I support. When that leads to more double-parking, I think about potential solutions, see above.

    People double park and block bike lanes because of the acculturation of an entitled mindset by anyone behind the wheel of a car. If the city stepped up enforcement, I expect we could do a good job improving behavior.

    There is plenty of infrastructure for 100.000 new residents and more, as long as you don’t think the only possible solution is building enough street parking for each one to drive his own car everywhere. Poor people don’t have a monopoly on transit, bicycling and walking, last I heard.

  62. Putting aside your straw man that I “want zero tolerance on only the behaviors that they personally dislike, while wishing for total tolerance for their own transgressions.”….

    I do agree that double-parking on a few streets in SF is darn-near a necessity for certain activities. But on most streets, if a driver needs to drop someone or something off/pick someone or something up, the driver can pull off the road to do so. Might be into a restricted curb space, might be into a driveway: Which, though also illegal, inconveniences and endangers far fewer people than double-parking does.

    If someone double-parks on a street where there are plenty of opportunities to pull out of traffic, penalties should be even MORE massive.

  63. Russo makes an excellent point, Sam. SFMTA data shows that less than half of all trips are now taken by private vehicle, so your assumption that every delivery driver is offset by one less car on the road simply isn’t true. At best it’s a 50 percent increase in traffic and probably more than that once you consider that even those who usually drive will often walk to a local restaurant for dinner.

  64. Guest, we agree, the city should invest in transit now. Having people, jobs and not enough transit isn’t such a bad thing, though. Hardly nightmarish, anyhow.

    Sam, San Francisco and London put in most of their population growth at almost exactly the same time, mostly in the late 19th and early 20th century. San Francisco was at 500,000 by 1920, well before the mass advent of the automobile after WW2.

    We can agree that you shouldn’t analyze San Francisco as were it a medieval city, like http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gruy%C3%A8res

  65. A century ago, London was the most populous city on the planet and SF was a small hick town.

    London grew before cars and SF grew because of cars.

    The same rules don’t apply here that apply in a medieval city whose streets are the width of a horse and carriage, or two.

  66. There are all kinds of epidemics of bad behavior on the streets, including cyclists who blow through stop signs and lights to pedestrians who obliviously jaywalk while texting.

    And everyone wants zero tolerance on only the behaviors that they personally dislike, while wishing for total tolerance for their own transgressions.

    There is a third view, which ways that in any city where there is pressure on space, we must allow some leniency for the “technically illegal but understandable” behaviors of drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.

    Double parking is a necessity in many cases because, unlike the suburbs, there is no reasonable expectation that we will be able to park right outside the place we are picking up or dropping off fifty pounds weight of whatever.

    And that is why cops will usually give a pass to delivery vehicles, cabs and so on when they briefly double-park. And unless you are a big fan of broken windows policing, you ought really to understand that.

    I defy anyone to find a place to drop off people on Valencia Street that doesn’t break some law or other. There is only one real parking lot in the Mission, on 22nd, and that is useless if your destination is 16th or 30th.

  67. Pretty obvious I guess, but it’s not just food delivery, and not just on Valencia. There’s been bad double-parking in SF for decades, but there seems to be more of an attitude that it’s perfectly OK to stop one’s car in the middle of the street (or pull over just a bit, still blocking traffic) and turn on your hazards and it’s all good. It is IMO the most selfish thing one can do while driving, as it inconveniences and endangers many while often serving the need of one or two selfish, narcissistic, oblivious people. The penalties, therefore, for non-commercial double-parking should be MASSIVE. While I hate commercial double-parking, I’m a little bit more accepting of somebody who has to do his job than some jerk who needs to pick up his dry-cleaning or get herself a latte.

  68. London made the substantial investment in transit a century ago. San Francisco has no substantial investment in transit in the earliest of planning stages. Adding population and jobs under such circumstances is inviting a nightmare scenario.

  69. But Steven, people like you constantly advocate for taking out parking and not building parking. But then when that leads to more double parking, you cry foul again.

    Nobody double parks or blocks a bike lane because they want to. We are not building out infrastructure for those 92.000 new residents and, since most of them will be affluent (poor people can’t afford to move here) they will mostly have cars.

    PS: Nice to see you have a paid gig now. Between you are Marke, Tim is using the prosperity of this site to help ex-SFBG’ers and it’s always good to see colleagues helping each other out.

  70. You make it sound like the only people creating these alleged obstructions are commercial entities that you personally have an ideological issue with.

    Confirmation bias? Or just plain good old-fashioned prejudice and bias? Sane thing really.

  71. “…you have to assume that motor vehicles will be involved in the shopping experience.”

    Actually, no. Not everyone drives to markets and restaurants. Walking and public transportation play a huge role. My girlfriend and I shop and eat out all the time and we haven’t owned a car in a decade.

    SpoonRocket and the like create quite a hazard in the bike lane along Valencia’s restaurant row. So do Uber and Lyft drivers merging into the lane, eyes fixed on their phones as they fiddle with their apps.

  72. Why would a quality restaurant full of customers and want to, or feel compelled, to offer delivery services? No high quality kitchen would do such a think as it compromises the quality of their food. I would not eat in a restaurant that delivers.
    By the way, for those who missed the news items on the subject, many buses have spy cameras mounted on them and people watching behind the lens handing out citations to drivers.

  73. is all of SF just a city of whinners and complainers now? or is it just this blog?? BOO HOO someone else is making money, and it’s NOT me!

  74. Yes, double-parking has always happened, but it becomes a bigger problem as the population using finite roadways increases. San Francisco plans to add 92,000 new residents and even more new jobs over the next 25 years, which is a nightmare scenario if they aren’t willing to place some controls on unfettered automobility.

  75. Oh, please. There has never been a time when Mission St. didn’t have a couple of double-parked vehicles every block, blocking up traffic – either deliveries (and not authorized beer distributors) to taquerias and corner stores, or people just picking up their takeout.

    Yeah, it’s a problem – it’s been one for years. The only reason you’re writing about this now is that you think the “wrong” local businesses might be doing the same thing San Franciscans have done for years. Only old-time residents get to break the law around here!

  76. Exactly – we are getting more delivery trucks but less people picking up their own take-out food in their vehicles. Net effect- zero.

    Or positive since, if anything, it is more efficient to use one vehicle working flat-out to deliver food than have everyone clogging the streets picking up their supper.

    And yes, SFMTA seems to have gotten the idea that the solution to every traffic and transit problem is to take out parking. Well now the chicken has come home to roose because that has a direct effect on the amount of double-parking, blocking bike lanes and parking on the sidewalk. If a vehicle needs to stop, it will stop. We’re just quibbling about where that should be – designated parking spaces or wherever they can.

  77. The real problem with Valencia is the re-design they did ten or more years ago, reducing the number of traffic lanes. Since then it has become almost impossible to pick up or drop off people or items without blocking the bike lane. It is literally the only place to stop (just for a minute) to do your business.

    Moreover, the sidewalk on Valencia gets so crowded at nights that you get people walking in the bike lane because there is no other way to make reasonable progress when walking.

    Bike lanes may be trendy but they are actually an inefficient use of street space. Their main utility comes from the ability to make quick stops in a vehicle – far from the original intent, but inevitable.

  78. The city should revisit the proliferation of parklets on Valencia and other busy corridors, which is exacerbating the problem. They are nothing but land grabs by restaurants or cafes that get to expand their seating space (even though they are supposed to be open to all, reality is quite different), all for a piddling sum.

    I’ve always thought Muni drivers should be deputized by DPT, issued with GoPro style video cameras mounted on their buses (cost: under $500) to capture offenders like those blocking bus lanes, and incentivized with a commission on the fines.

  79. Two things stand out to me. One is the restaurant owner’s statement that “he’s been given no legal options, so he still uses the bike lane and just hopes to avoid too many tickets.” He has a legal option: Use two people to make deliveries. The driver drops off the passenger carrying the food, then goes around the block while the delivery is made to the client. The driver picks up the passenger and it’s on to the next delivery. The second thing is the statement “It’s a cost of doing business for us.” I’m a bicyclist. You are putting my life in danger every time you do this. The cost for repeat offenders should climb precipitously, making it nonviable as a “cost of doing business.”

  80. Another reason why vintage 1980s style bike lanes aren’t useful anymore.
    We need to work faster at adding protected bike lanes like the short stretch on Polk north of Market.

  81. Agreed, mostly. But also eliminating lanes leaves no room for error. Its like the transit nuts are clogging the arteries of SF. And of course, the sharing economy foodies are like lard in those arteries.

  82. Who didn’t see that coming? One of the first questions merchants bought up when the SFMTA started eliminating parking was the delivery issue. The more people rely on delivery services instead of doing their own shopping, the more delivery vehicles you will have. So, the question is, which creates more havoc? People driving to a restaurant and parking as they used to do, or having the food, and whatever else they require delivered? Either way, you have to assume that motor vehicles will be involved in the shopping experience. Until people no longer require food, there will be motor vehicles involved in the food industry. The SMTA needs to deal with the real world, and quit trying to re-order it.

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