Driving S.F., San Francisco
San Francisco is famous for its hilly streets and while they add to the overall scenic atmosphere of the city, they also are a challenge for those trying to tackle the sights on foot. We did quite a bit of training on the treadmill at the gym before we went and it was still tough. I didn’t drive on this particular trip but did ten years ago and you have to learn to take the down hills slow or you’ll bottom out. Take your time whether behind the wheel or on foot.
San Franciscans have a reputation for being really lousy drivers. Having lived here virtually my whole life, I can say that it is a very well-deserved reputation. It's not like in Boston with aggressive drivers. Quite the contrary - if you're driving aggressively, then at least you're paying attention!
No, San Francisco drivers are just clueless. And the advent of the cell phone has not helped matters. 9 out of 10 times you see someone doing something really stupid in a car, they are on a cell phone! And if you are one of those people who drive yapping on your phone, don't assume that I'm talking about the other guy! Chances are you've been in several close calls and were too busy gabbing away to notice! Shut up and drive!
In San Francisco, a yellow light means drive like hell, because the light's about to turn red! Red light running is a way of life here, unfortunately, and you should exercise caution both driving and walking - especially in the Castro District, where drivers are notoriously stupid (even by SF standards).
Things have definitely become more uncivil on the roads in the past decade. The primary cause is that many freeways were torn down because of earthquake damage, and, thanks to SF's liberal squabbling and Willie Brown's cronyism, it is now 15 freakin' years later and all that traffic is still choking city streets! The Octavia Street off-ramp and boulevard project has relieved some of the pressure, but if you drive in the northeast quadrant of the city, you should expect heavy traffic.
San Francisco is a complex network of narrow one way streets. Driving in the heavy traffic areas of San Francisco is tough, even for a local, which is why I rarely use anything but public transportation to get into the City.
Not only do you have to watch out for pedestrians who cross against the light, cars pulling out of blind garages, other drivers talking on their cell phones, and double parked cars, you have to concentrate on which way the streets go, are they one way or two?
It's enough to drive you to drink (but don't drink and drive)...
San Francisco has a few hills. This makes driving with stick shifts a little more fun. Also, it creates some real problems for big trucks. The photo shows a 31.6 percent grade beyond the intersection.
You park perpendicular to the curb on the hills and do a little mountain climbing out to crawl out of your car, always weary of the potential of the car door to slam shut, by a combination of gravity and wind, to deliver a substantial blow to an exposed limb.
Many big rigs have gotten stuck at the spot in the photo. They have three choices.
1: Move forward over the cliff and get stuck on the grade break (with front wheels on the slope, rear wheels on the relatively flat intersection, and undercarriage resting firm on the pavement).
2: Try backing blindly up the 21.6 percent slope that led them into this mess. Many loaded trucks can not so this.
3: Make a right turn onto the narrow sidestreet. It is 30 feet wide with valued parking on both sides. This maneuver will usually sacrifice a couple of parked cars.
If you are coming to town with a good size truck, don't be fooled by a rectangular street grid. Some of these streets are steep.
If you have a car, curb your wheels. Not only will this prevent runaways (I've seen some), but will also prevent a parking ticket for failing to do so.
Embrace BART. Learn to love the MUNI. Public transit is your friend. Driving San Francisco is a challenge at best and an expensive headache in every other way. Parking is scarce and costly and there are lots of rules and regs to trip up the uninitiated.
If you just can't park your keys, here are a couple of things you'd better know (and do reference the attached website):
• The grades of the some of the streets are insanely steep. If you have a manual shift and aren't expert at managing hills without rollback, don't even think about it.
• Curb your car correctly when parking on an incline/decline or be ready to fork over a nasty fine.
Facing uphill with a curb: wheels turned left.
Uphill with no curb: wheels turned right
Downhill: wheels turned right
Always set the brake
• Know the curb color-coding system (green, yellow, blue, red) for where you can/ cannot park or blow your pub fund on another fine
• Most downtown meters have only 30-minute or one-hour limits
• Take a good, long look at what your hotel will soak you for parking. The Marriott Marquis was $56 a day for valet and $32 a day for off-site (meaning you don't touch it again until you check out).
As I was saying, embrace BART, love the MUNI...
First of all: in the USA, it is legal for drivers to make a right turn even when there is a red light.
In Boxing, Philadelphia was made famous with Joe Frazier and the "Philadelphia Left Hook" punch.
Well in San Francisco, the impatient, young professional population is known for having the San Francisco "right hook." What I mean is that San Franciscans are constantly driving in a hurry looking for a parking spot and often make right turns very quickly.
While walking here on Judah and 9th Street, I nearly got "hit' by a San Francisco driver turning impatiently right having nearly not noticed me.
Be careful especially on intersections where there will be cars making right turns. Another area where I nearly got hit by a car was on Pine and Sansome Street. This is an especially dangerous intersection because Pine is one way and Sansome is one way. One way streets that have right turns going onto other one way streets are where people run the greatest risk of getting hit by a car.
San Francisco drivers are also bad because, well, they aren't San Franciscans. Those of you who are tourists, if you need to read a map, please pull over in the name of safety.
As pedrestrians, look at drivers who appear to be on the cell phones while driving, younger drivers distracted by friends, young professionals in a hurry, and tourist drivers driving while reading maps. You'll notice a lot of drivers doing other things than driving. Be careful about them. I once saw a woman driving while putting on her make up!!!!
It's a zoo in the roads of San Francisco. Always be careful when crossing streets.
I almost forgot, another risky area are down hill streets where a car can turn right.
San Francisco is a city of steep hills. Sometimes you wonder why parked cars (on grades even more vertical than the one in the photo) don't flip downhill, one after the other, like dominoes.
When parallel parking on a hill, remember to set your hand brake tightly and curb your wheels.
That is, when facing downhill, turn your front wheels sharply TOWARDS the curb, and when facing uphill, turn the wheels AWAY FROM the curb.
If you have trouble remembering which direction is correct, think "Whenever possible, hit a pedestrian." That is, turn the wheels so that if the car were to roll, it would move away from the street.
Beware of street cleaning and parking time limit signs. Don't think it is your lucky day when you see a block with abundant parking in an overcrowded neighborhood. Watch for those signs. They are not often visible from your line of sight. They could be stuck in an overgrown tree, down at the bottom (or top) of a steep hills, or nearly completely faded. The City aggressively enforces the street cleaning tickets.
California law states that pedestrians have the right of way. So when driving the streets of San Francisco, always be aware of pedestrians. Be especially careful driving around the Fisherman's Wharf area, near the Safeway store and Bay Street. Some step off the curb and in front of your car without any fear, maybe too overcome with the sights&sounds. Some are merely vagrants who stumble drunkenly down the middle of the road, unheeding of any danger. On Market Street, the pedestrians are not as clueless.
First of all, I would not recommend driving in San Francisco, especially around Chinatown, Union Square, Pier 39 and Embarcadero because parking is scarce and expensive. You can explore the city by using what we call BMW (Bart, Muni, and Walking). But if you insist on driving, please be wary of the one way streets, especially around the financial district. Buying a map that indicates one way streets is very helpful. Trust me, I've seen many tourists, and some locals, go against traffic with fear, bewilderment and embarassment on their faces . Be watchful of black and white street signs bearing "One Way" with the corresponding arrow. If you find yourself against traffic, well you pretty much declared yourself a tourist or an absent minded local, :))>. If everybody is honking at you, it's not because you're a hottie (well, maybe you are), you're going the wrong way! Don't panic, just turn on the next street. If you can't make it to the next street, ease your car to the curbside and wait until traffic passes, then make a quick U-turn. If you can't make a U-turn, find a driveway and do a three-point turn. If the police sees you, you're pretty much under their mercy, you will either get a warning, or a ticket. Oh, by the way, watch out for the hills too, they're very deceptive. You don't know how steep they really are until you're actually on one. Again, don't panic, and hope that the car you're driving has enough power and the car rental company checked their brakes periodically, :)). If you happened to be driving a car up a steep hill with a manual transmission, well, start praying that no one is right behind you. A tip for starting on an uphill (from my old UPS handbook): USE YOUR HANDBRAKE to stop you from going backwards, once you feel the car is going forward, release the handbreak and off you go. ENJOY!
In San Francisco, there's a very fine line between being "someone who rides a bike" and being "one of those crazy 'bike-people.'"
There are, unfortunately, many people in this town who take bike riding WAY too seriously, and think they're making some sort of 'stand for the Earth' by riding a bicycle. That's all well and good, but some of them take it too far - viewing cars and motorists as "the enemy" - and will openly challenge drivers in right-of-way situations. This is, of course, very very stupid.
I'm always amazed at the stupidity of many cyclists, who insist on riding without a helmet or, even worse, riding at night with no lights! Red light running is even more prevalent among cyclists than drivers.
As you can imagine, accidents occur frequently. I have seen many a car vs. bike accident, and I can tell you that in at least half of them, it was the cyclist's fault. But don't try to tell that to the 'crazy bike-people.'
You may have heard of "Critical Mass" - a large bike rally held on the last Friday of every month. It's been the scene of some bad fights in the past between idiot cyclists and motorists, though things have toned down quite a bit in recent years.
For your own sake, keep an eye out for cyclists.
P.S. Renting a bike can be fun - especially riding around Golden Gate Park, and double especially on Sundays, when most roads are closed to car traffic. But if you ride on the streets, please be very careful. The laws of physics are not in your favor!
It is very easy to get a parking ticket in San Francisco.
San Francisco is a very condensed city and parking is hard to come by most times. Be careful where you park. Check to see what the time restraints are and always pay the meters. It is very easy to rack up a LOT of parking tickets. And at $40+ a piece, it is not worth it.
When you are down in Fisherman's Wharf, be weary of the parking attendants (not the ones that take your money, but the birds that leave you a present).
These had to be some of the biggest seagulls I have ever seen, so watch out! They like to flock everywhere down on the wharf, and your car will not be safe. Some rental-car agencies are rather strict about the condition of the car coming back from rental, so make sure there the birds have not scratched your paint!
North of the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge, especially in the Marin County, San Rafael and Mill Valley Counties, beware of racoons and deers crossing the streets slowly as in a pic nic evening. They do this venturing in family groups and stare at your beams instead of fleeing. Be nice, avoid them
Parking in S.F. can be problematic. In the more congested areas the little available parking may be expensive. In downtown, it is usually best to take MUNI or BART and not worry about where to put your car.