Skip to Navigation Skip to Content

How to Find Free, Priceless Parking Spots Hidden in Plain Sight

 Dear Parking Guru,

I have a question for which I have gotten three different answers from three parking enforcement officers, and I googled for hours with no luck. I then found your 7x7 blog. You seem to be the most straightforward and knowledgeable source of all things parking. Can you please give me some advice about this parking spot on the corner of California and Mason?
 
In the photo is my car, the blue Jetta, underneath the cable car stop sign.
 
There is no paint on the curb and I've observed all parking signs. Nothing leads me to believe that it's parked illegally as there isn’t any restrictive sign within 100 feet of where I am parked. But I'm still a little unsettled, as it's next to a Cable Car Stop sign. Do you have any insight to settle my nerves? Thanks!
 
Just In Case
 
Dear Just In Case,
 
Excellent question! With the minimum price of retrieving a towed vehicle being $453.75 (not including the fine for the ticket), your apprehension and nervousness about parking in a spot that everyone is afraid of parking in is completely justified. Your first step of checking for any restrictive signs within 100 feet of your car shows that you are not a rookie. Checking the curb color is the correct next step. Checking the SF Transportation code to see if there is even a citation listed for blocking a cable car spot (there is not) would be a good move, but you lose no points in my eyes for not having done so. And, it would not be definitive.

What you have uncovered is actually a totally golden spot. Because of that very sign, 100 percent of drivers seeing that spot will question it, and scratch their heads. Ninety-nine percent will avoid parking there because of it. And that's what makes it golden. It is a totally legal spot in a crowded area that most everyone will avoid.

Out of curiousity, and mostly for my own entertainment, I checked it out on Google maps, having a hunch that the street view would show that spot as vacant. And I was right. But, I noticed something interesting. The older Google view shows a temporary MUNI stop sign there, which would actually make it an ilegal parking spot. However, that little red sign is no longer there and it is no longer a temporary MUNI stop. So is totally legal.
 
I double-checked with a crackerjack supervisor at SFMTA, and the question generated quite a discussion around the SFMTA water cooler this morning. Two supervisors and I looked at it on Google maps and came to the same conclusion. Another supervisor in the field was contacted and checked it out in real-time and reported that the temporary MUNI bus stop sign is no longer there, and it is in fact a legal spot.
 
The cable car stop sign’s purpose is to let people know where to gather to board the cable car. The cable car will typically stop, for passengers to board, in the middle of the intersection. It can’t pull right up to the curb, so you are not blocking the flow of traffic if you are parked there, as you would be if it were a regular bus stop. But, if it were a regular bus stop, the curb would be red.

While I had the rare opportunity of having three supervisors on the line, I asked a follow up question. What if it actually still is a temporary MUNI bus stop, but the sign fell down or got knocked off? What would the policy be.  They stated that if there are no other markings like a red curb, then you would be safe to park there and would not be cited. And, all new signs must be posted for 72 hours before they are enforceable.
 
This same golden principal can be used for construction signs. When looking for a spot, empty spots next to “No Parking Construction Zone” signs are often avoided as people are afraid of getting towed. However, these signs are put in place at least 72 hours before construction begins, and are not enforceable during that period. They are also supposed to be taken down as soon as the construction project is finished, or the permit has expired, whichever comes first. But, they are often left there for days, and sometimes weeks after they have expired. These golden spots are hidden in plain sight.  For most of last month, I had a regularly “reserved spot” on the corner of Mission and Steuart. Each day I went to do business in the Financial District I headed there first, and every time there was a spot available just for me. There is one on another street nearby just like it, which is accompanied by a broken meter. That one is not even golden…it is priceless.

I have been creating a long list of these golden, platinum, and priceless spots for years and sharing the list with people who share one of their own with me.  All of these spots are going to be featured as a setting on the app in one of the next updates. But you can only be guided to the list if you've found and shared one of your own. I would love to share them with everyone, but this has kept the growing list pure for the last seven years. So keep your eyes open, because there are scores of them, sprinkled throughout these 49 square miles, hidden in plain sight.   

Thanks for the awesome question. Happy parking!

To check out VoicePark, the free app that guides you by voice, in real-time, to the nearest available on-street, off-street, (and soon...golden) parking spots, click here.