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Parking Quiz Answer! The Day Parking in SF Changed Forever

Mayor Lapham Tests the First Parking Meter in SF, courtesy of the San Francisco History Center & the San Francisco Public Library

A couple of hours ago, David LaBua, author of Finding the Sweet Spot, asked you fine readers when the first parking meter was installed in our fair city. Here, we unveil a little history lesson that answers just when parking on the streets of San Francisco changed forever.

When was the first parking meter installed in San Francisco?

A) 1849

B) 1930

C) 1947

D) 1962

E) 1979

Answer: C)  August 21, 1947 at Polk and Bush


Says David: With over 24,000 parking meters blending virtually unnoticed into the urban environment of SF, it may seem as though parking meters have always been around. You would have to be in your 70’s to remember those pre-meter days.

It was shortly after the end of WW II, with San Francisco’s population exploding, that the streets had become snarled with traffic. The City also was in need of a cash infusion in order to continue to provide services and a decent quality of life for its 120,000 new residents since the beginning of the war.  It was the perfect storm.

On August 21, 1947 the 29th mayor of San Francisco, Roger Lapham, took the helm of the movement to bring San Francisco into an era of transit modernization.  Along with the plan to install parking meters, he also endorsed the dismantling of the cable car system which would further bring San Francisco into the “Modern Age”.

However, word of this plan resulted in San Francisco’s first critical mass meeting involving transportation.  At this meeting the San Francisco Federation of the Arts, many women’s civic groups and the California Spring Blossom and Wildflower Association created the “Committee to Save the Cable Cars”, and named Mrs. Frieda Klussman to head the committee.  They created an amendment to save the cable cards that was put to a vote by the people. In the November elections, the amendment to protect the cable cars passed 166,989 to 51,457.

Interestingly, the introduction of parking meters, seemed to have gone under the radar.  I can find no historical documentation about any civil or uncivil unrest, protest, or protest of their installation.  Ten years earlier, in Oklahoma City, vigilantes destroyed the parking meters several hours after their installation.  I’m no conspiracy theorist (I prefer to call it healthy skepticism), but could this have been political strategy?  Introducing these two controversial changes with the hope that one would take top controversial billing, thereby creating a smokescreen to the other.  If so, it was an absolutely brilliant move.

Perhaps there was no protest to the installation of parking meters because they were seen as a reasonable way to create vehicular order in a bustling city and it was a reasonable way for the city to make a little money.  And, it could never have been foreseen that the price of getting a parking ticket or getting towed would be the equivalent of a day's wages.  Had we paid better attention back then I believe we'd have a new colorful expression that could be frequently used to this day: “We got Laphammed”.

For more parking facts and to learn how to never get a parking ticket again click here.