New app will create dangerous parking distractions for drivers

In San Francisco, driving in circles is a right of passage for car owners. It is a competitive, sometimes full-contact sport. Even drivers that possess a coveted lettered area parking permit don’t always get celebrity parking.

An application, developed with help from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, claims to have the ability to help drivers eliminate the eternal search for street parking in the city by using sensors that SFMTA installed under metered spaces and in city-owned parking garages to detect where available spots are.

In an ideal world, the driver would be able to use this app to eliminate the need to circle endlessly in search of an open spot.

In the real world, however, where using a cell phone without a hands free device is illegal and cell service in the city is spotty at best, the app won’t give most drivers any relief from the dizziness and frustration of trying to park.

This app will only add to the already dangerous amount of distractions that dominate San Francisco’s streets.

Not only will drivers have to keep a look out for pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists, taxis, busses, those weird go-kart things, jaywalkers, pets, strollers, children, the radio, their cigarettes, coffee, texting, twitter, facebook check-ins and great-grandmas on the phone; but they’ll also have to deal with the temptation of picking up their iPhone to check for parking.

In response to concerns about the havoc an app that offers cell-guided parking could cause in already congested and often dangerous areas, city officials have released safety tips for app users.

The tips include guidelines that instruct drivers to pull over when using the app, locate a spot and then park. But, where, exactly, is a driver supposed to pull over?

The project, called SFpark, is backed by $20 million in funding from the Transportation Department and the Federal Highway Administration. It’s looking to ease the congestion that arises with limited parking, but runs the risk of creating hazards.

Even with the new app in place, and even if drivers use it safely, the city still has a finite number of parking available. The app takes into account 7,000 metered parking spots and 12,250 spots in city-owned garages, but doesn’t lessen demand or increase open spots. It also won’t end the perpetual problem of arriving at a spot right as it gets taken.

For now, city drivers should continue praying to the parking gods — for spots and patience.