Top 10 Unwritten Rules of Parking

1) Street Cleaning

You can move your car onto the sidewalk while the street-cleaning trucks go by, as long as you stay with your vehicle. You can move your car back after the trucks have passed, regardless of what time it is. (This unwritten rule has been formally adopted into the San Francisco Traffic Code.) There is no street cleaning on holidays, unless specifically stated. If you can't determine whether the street-cleaning trucks have passed, call the Department of Public Works at 282-5326 and ask them why they bother cleaning the streets at all.

2) Driveways

A driveway begins at the "curb cut," which is the point where the curb starts to slope downward. It is illegal to park past the curb cut and it's also illegal to park into the red paint. However, these violations are only ticketed when they are called in as a complaint by the driveway's owner. And as with all complaints, the meter maids won't give you an inch of latitude. Will your car be towed? That's solely up to the complainant. Which means you can be towed even if you're not blocking anything, or if you've slipped over by a measly inch. Note: The mini-red zones on either side of the driveway must have the DPT or SFPD stencil. There are lots of fakes out there, so if there's no stencil, ignore the red and go by the curb cut.

3) Meters

You can park at a broken meter, but the time limit still applies. If you have a valid disabled placard, don't bother paying meters at all. And although the law says it's illegal to "feed the meter" as if it were a slot machine, it's highly unlikely you'll get caught.

4) Crosswalks

There are "marked" and "unmarked" crosswalks. For marked crosswalks, your bumper can extend a few inches into the line. Some meter maids give you all the way to the inside edge of the line. For unmarked crosswalks, the safest rule to go by is not to extend beyond the "property line" of the corner building. But whatever you do, make sure your bumper does not cross into the sidewalk ramp, or you've just gone from a $50 crosswalk ticket to a $275 disabled-ramp ticket.

5) Red Zones

The law states that it's illegal if any part of your vehicle is in the red, but most meter maids give you a few inches (unless it's a "hazard," meaning that your car is an obstacle to vehicle or pedestrian traffic; or unless the violation is called in as a complaint, in which case they don't give you a millimeter). Again, a legitimate red zone must have the DPT or SFPD stencil. If it doesn't, the curb was probably painted by some jerk-off vigilante, and you can park there.

6) Yellow Zones

Yellow curbs, meant for commercial delivery vehicles, are no longer good places to break the law. There's a zero-tolerance policy for cars in yellow zones, and the frequency of tows has increased. (And no, your $100K Porsche SUV is not a commercial delivery truck.)

7) Green and White Zones

For green zones, if the effective times are not posted, it's a 10-minute time limit, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday. For white zones, it's a five-minute time limit, but despite what the law says, you do not have to stay with your vehicle. If the effective times are not posted, assume they are the same as the hours of the business you're parking in front of. Apartment buildings are 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. unless otherwise stated. And be warned: "Tow away" white zones are especially dangerous.

8) Fire Hydrants

Fire hydrant violations are $50. All hydrants in the city are considered to be functioning, even if they appear old and rusted, or if there is no red curb. If there's no red curb, the law states you can't be within 15 feet of the hydrant, but most meter maids go by a 3-foot rule. It's doubtful you'll be towed for any fire hydrant offense, a sensible policy since San Francisco has never had any notable fire disasters.

9) Grace Period

Because everybody's clocks are a bit off, most meter maids give an approximate 10-minute grace period for nonhazards (offenses such as street cleaning, meters, and residential permits). For example, if a metered zone is in effect from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., they generally don't start ticketing until 8:10 a.m., and stop ticketing at 5:50 p.m. And if you do get ticketed, you have a decent shot of appealing it by arguing that the meter maid's clock was incorrect.

10) Free Parking

There might be places to park next to your own building that you don't know about. For instance, if you have a staircase that juts out, you can park parallel up against it. This is known as parking within your "property line," and it's 100 percent legal. If you're unsure where your property lines are, contact the Bureau of Street Use and Mapping at 554-6700. If you're unsure whether parking in front of your building makes you look like white trash, well, yes, it does.

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