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Parking After the Street Sweeper Passes: Legal or Not?

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A flusher sprays the streets down with water. (Courtesy of S.F. Public Works. )

If you live or work in San Francisco, you know landing a 12-hour parking spot on the street is one of those little victories of daily life. It means you don’t have to run out and move your car every couple of hours to avoid the parking ticket. And you don’t have to slink into the parking garage, defeated in your search for a free spot on the street.

It’s a few more bucks in your pocket.

But how much risk is that small victory worth?

Ashley Ortiz asked Bay Curious: “If you see a street cleaner come through on a street cleaning day, can you park on the block before the end of the NO PARKING time frame that’s posted?”


In the interest of all parking scofflaws and saints, we set out to find the official answer.

A street cleaning sign in San Francisco.
A street cleaning sign in San Francisco. (Penny Nelson/KQED)

Walking The Parking Enforcement Beat

I made my way to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, where I met up with traffic enforcement officer Denise Golden. She’s funny, smart and 100 percent no-nonsense.

She says that while people with her job may not be the most well-liked, “without us, it would be chaos. People would never move their vehicles. It would be definitely a problem.”

I asked her Ashley’s question and her answer surprised me.

“Once the street sweeper has gone by, we do permit the vehicle to park curbside,” she says.

So — it’s legal!

But, beware. There’s a hitch.

Golden went on to say that, in many cases, street cleaning is a four-step process. So, even if you think you’ve seen the street sweeper go by, you may have actually seen another vehicle.

The Street Sweeping Process

The first vehicle in the street cleaning parade is the broom support truck. A worker picks up large items off the street – things like big pieces of wood or an abandoned chair — and chucks them into this truck. They’re looking for anything that cannot be vacuumed up by the street sweeper.

The parking enforcement officer typically comes just before the street sweeper.
The parking enforcement officer typically comes just before the street sweeper. (Penny Nelson/KQED)

Next comes the street flusher, which is used mostly on commercial streets like Market and Mission. The flusher has jets underneath the truck that shoot water on the roadway, loosening grime and grit.

Third in line is the parking ticket officer, citing cars that haven’t moved.

Finally, the street sweeper comes along with big brushes and a large tube that vacuums up all the remaining trash on the street.

After that final step, you can legally park.

You’re welcome.

Wait, Four Steps? Really?

I caught a ride one morning with John Sheehan, one of the city’s street sweepers, as he cleaned his route in Noe Valley. He was surprised to hear I’d been told street cleaning is a four-step process.

On his route, he said, it’s usually a two-step process: The parking enforcement person moves ahead of him and then he alone cleans the street.

Turns out the cleaning process changes based on a variety of factors, like which street is being cleaned, which district the street is in, time of year, if there are special events and what’s been requested.

But whether it’s a two-step or four-step process, the bottom line is: Wait for that ticket buggy and street sweeper to roll by and you’re in the clear.

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