We were parking our car in front of the Science Church at Funston and Clement this weekend, and were totally flummoxed by the contradictory parking signs: on the poles, it said 2 hour parking was allowed; but on the curb, it said passenger loading only. Adding to the confusion: plenty of cars were parked in the passenger loading area. Clearly, either the sign or the curb was in error, and needed to be corrected.

“What a great opportunity to try out that new 311 on Twitter thing,” we thought, whipping out our (ancient, first-gen) iPhone. We figured we’d report the mismatch, they’d send someone out to fix it, and we’d be declared A LOCAL HERO. But instead, things got weird.

Apparently, it takes three people seven messages over two days to explain the secret rule of curb versus sign.We typed: “Signs near church at Funston/Clement say parking is OK, but contradictory curb markings say passenger loading only. Confusing!”

311 replied with a message that was, inexplicably, repeated twice: “Thank you for contacting SF311. Do you know the exact addresses to the signs?^KH”

Oh, we thought that providing the intersection was enough, but okay: “Those confusing signs/curb are in front of church at 300 Funston Ave,” we replied.

Their reply: “Satellite image of area is limited. Are you referring to the white zones, opposed to the signage? ^jr”

Satellite image? That is weird, but whatever. We are not sure why 311 thought we would care about the quality of their satellite image.

Our response: “Yes. White curb says no parking, but signs say parking is ok.” At this point, we were really not sure why we were still having to spell out that the signs and the curb were contradictory and therefore in need of correction.

Two tweets followed this one: first, “For complaints/comments for DPT pls call 415-553-1631. Thank you.^jr” … and then, “What does the sign read? A White Zone would take priority over an Street Cleaning Sign, for instance. ^SG”

Okay the reason we are writing to 311 and not the DPT’s weirdo number is because 311 is supposed to be for everything. Unless apparently it’s not, because JR doesn’t want to take our message. Unless apparently it is, because SG wants to tell us about the Street Sign Order of Operations Game.

At this point we did not recall what the sign said, exactly, but it was easy enough for us to turn to Google to find out. Apparently 311 has plenty of “limited” satellite data, but doesn’t know how to use Street View. We checked Street View (noting that Google’s cameras had captured numerous passengerless cars in the “passenger loading” white zone) and then replied, “Sign says 2-hour parking is OK, and lists street cleaning days. Curb says passenger loading only, 24/7. Unclear which is correct.”

At this point, it was about 2 days since our initial tweet. Three responses followed:

“Both are correct. 2 hour parking without residential parking permit. No parking during street cleaning at stated times. con’t^SG”

“White Zone is always passenger loading 24/7. The sign is reflecting the non-white zone area of the street. ^SG”

“Still confused? Please call 311 thank you. ^SG”

Oh. So the sign that stands at the edge of the white zone, pointing in the direction of the white zone, does not actually refer to the white zone. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be. And it takes three people seven messages over two days to explain the secret rule of curb versus sign. Got it.

So, yes. “Confused” might indeed describe a natural reaction to this exchange. “Irritated” might be another. We are so glad to see that making the jump to Twitter has done nothing to dampen the helpful charm of government work.

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