Safer Polk Street Supporters Rally for Neighborhood Meeting Monday

Opponents of the redesign want to "Save Polk Street" by maintaining the dangerous status quo. (Note: The meeting location listed on this flyer is outdated.) Photo: Blake Harris

With flyers stuck on storefront windows along Polk Street spreading misinformation about the SF Municipal Transportation Agency’s developing plans to make the street a safer, more inviting place to walk and bike, local supporters of the project are rallying neighbors and merchants to attend a public meeting on Monday. There, city officials including SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin and D3 Supervisor David Chiu are expected to attend.

The flyers, handed out to merchants by an entity calling itself the “Save Polk Street Coalition,” falsely claim that the SFMTA is “planning to remove 20 Blocks of street parking on Polk St. from Union St. to McAllister St.”

In reality, the project’s proposed options, which were developed with input from well-attended community outreach meetings in September and December, would only remove some portion of the on-street parking on Polk, which in total represents 7 percent of all parking within a block’s range of the corridor. Meanwhile, the commercial street would receive the kind of improvements that have been shown time and time again to invite more shoppers.

Madeleine Savit, a 61-year-old mother, architect, and urban planner who lives in the neighborhood, has been talking with shop owners and attempting to debunk misconceptions about the project with a flyer of her own, which reads, “SFMTA’s Polk Street proposals benefit all in our community.” She said the vast majority of upset merchants seem grossly misinformed, and estimates that “Save Polk Street” is led by a handful of people.

Madeleine Savit's flyer.

“People don’t know what’s going on. So the most vocal people are the minority,” said Savit. “The problem is, we’re not dealing with facts. We’re dealing with emotion and fear.”

SF Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum pointed to streets like Valencia, where bike and pedestrian improvements have revitalized businesses by inviting people to spend more time on the street. “It’s very clear that when other corridors in San Francisco have been studied the way Polk Street is right now, there have been great improvements not only to the walkability and bikeability, but also to the business environment and real estate values,” she said.

On Polk, parklets and bike corrals that replaced parking spaces in the last couple of years have drawn more foot traffic. After a parklet was installed in front of Quetzal Cafe on Polk between Bush and Sutter Streets, a study conducted by the Great Streets Project found that more people stopped to talk or window-shop, and overall foot traffic increased.

A parklet at The Crepe House and Bone Flowers on Polk and Washington Streets. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/sfplanning/7678131234/##SF Planning Dept./Flickr##

According to the SFBC, SFMTA bike counts along Polk also increased by as much as 79 percent between 2007 and 2011.

Additionally, studies in other walkable San Francisco neighborhoods have shown that merchants often overestimate the proportion of their customers who drive, and that those customers tend to spend less money than those who walk, bike, or take transit. A 2008 study by the SF County Transportation Authority of Columbus Avenue in North Beach found that motorists accounted for only a fifth of total spending and visited half as often or less than people who arrived via other modes.

“We have heard overwhelmingly — and the data shows — that Polk Street is not as safe and inviting as it could be,” said Shahum. “People want a Polk Street where they feel more comfortable walking, biking, strolling and shopping.”

The project will be discussed at a meeting of the Middle Polk Neighborhood Association on Monday, March 18 at 6:30 p.m. at Old First Church, 1751 Sacramento Street at Van Ness Avenue.

Savit said she hopes that neighbors who are supportive — or at least open-minded — about the project will be well-represented at the meeting.

“I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from people once they know what the truth is,” she said.

Supervisor David Chiu speaking at the first community meeting in September. Photo: ##http://www.sfmta.com/cms/opolk/PolkStreetCompleteStreets.htm##SFMTA##
  • Abe

    Thanks for posting the updated meeting location. Any idea why it was moved?

  • Henry

    I believe they’re anticipating more people than usual at their monthly meeting. When they usually hold their meetings at It’s A Grind, around 30-40 people usually show up.

  • Anonymous

    Remember guerilla parklets? Remember when parklets were supposed to be “public” space?

  • mikesonn

    Parklets are public space.

  • Anonymous

    It looked in the picture like an extension of the cafe. Can me and my friends hang out there all day without buying anything?

  • mikesonn

    Yes. Any and all parklets are public. There are signs stating that it is public space.

  • M.

    To say the opposition to progress has been vicious, is an understatement. One of the ringleaders screamed at me when I asked her to stop tearing down the pro-proposal flyers and they’ve gotten others to remove them. Their only tactic is lies and fear of all the stores going under if the proposals are passed. Shop keepers have told me they were harrassed by goons repeatedly coming in to make them post (more) flyers and have their ‘petitions’ at the registers. This is grassroots at its very worst and scariest. We need a ‘critical mass’ (no pun) of enlightened local residents at the meeting on Monday to be the face of real public opinion to politicians so the rabid thugs don’t hold sway over our future. As Polk goes so goes SF. Please spread the word

  • It’s good the neighborhood is now finally informed/getting informed (despite the SFMTA and City providing zero notice about it to the local residents) about this major change to the ‘hood and will, hopefully, have a major say in it. The local folks’ opinion should matter here – whatever it is.

  • I thought the Parklets were reserved for the homeless

  • mikesonn

    I’ve yet to see homeless in a parklet but I’m not sure what the view from Texas is like.

  • Re: the “thumbs down” – why is community involvement with the change to Polk bad? Residents shouldn’t have a say?

  • mikesonn

    “It’s good the neighborhood is now finally informed/getting informed (despite the SFMTA and City providing zero notice about it to the local residents)”

    This might be the reason as it has been roundly disproved.

  • reality check

    “Zero notice”? Please…

  • reality check

    When a group of merchants (in Melbourne, I believe) were shown via a study that people who walk and bike spend more in their business district than people who drive, they supported a project to remove parking in favor of bike/pedestrian improvements. Similar results have been found in other studies showing that people who walk and bike spend more than drivers, including along Columbus Ave in North Beach. One 20′ parking spot can store a car that carries 1.3 people on average every 2 hours or so, or it can store 12 bikes, or a couple dozen seats in a parklet, or provide space for people traveling on foot or bike. If merchants are smart, they’ll support this project.

  • whoa_hey_there

    Well what an absolute shit show and nightmare the meeting was tonight! A very ugly Polk street showed up, which is kind of how they would like to keep the street.

  • Anonymous

    Perhaps a cyclist boycott of Polk Street merchants is in order?

  • If the political heat is too unbearable because a small number of people are holding the area hostage by creating a great deal of pain, I would recommend the city put on hold moving forward with any plan for Polk Street for six months. Instead, it should institute an RPP on the lower portion of Polk Street immediately. (A big part of the pain they are receiving is that they have not already done this.) Every stretch of block east of Gough and south of Bush needs at least some price on parking, however nominal the current RPP rate might be. (Also, the holes in area G need to be filled in. Make the time limit around parks 4 hours instead of 2, but those blocks still need RPP of some kind to put a price on parking.)

    Then the city should focus solely on safety improvements. They should remove parking at the corners of all intersections on Polk to daylight them so that drivers can better see pedestrians. Any meter spaces lost should be replaced by placing meters on side streets. Meters should be unlimited in time allowed, should go until 10 pm, and should operate on Sundays. (Perhaps they already do?) Meter rates should be raised to the highest allowable amounts. If there are problems with double-parked trucks on a given block, commercial loading zones should be added. (And then DPT should heavily ticket trucks that don’t use them. $1000 would not be too steep a fine.) Commercial loading zones could turn into regular metering at night or into passenger pick up and drop off zones at night to keep taxis from double-parking. All this could be done very cheaply and quickly. Yes, some of it might have to be redone when a final Polk Street design is ultimately put in.

    As the new RPP zone is being implemented, the SFMTA should offer anyone who has a car legally registered anywhere within four blocks of the entire length Polk Street (no matter what RPP zone they might be in) a year of free Muni passes in exchange for not keeping a car in the neighborhood for one year. This means anyone accepting the year of free Muni would not be able to obtain an RPP permit for any vehicle for one year. (A year without a car nearby will be enough to show people they can get along without it.) Extend this offer for a six month window (people get six months to sign up for it.) In addition, set aside one parking space per RPP block for car-sharing vehicles, either so they can be located there or so they can be given preferential parking as they are driven around. (The city could also offer the transit and bike incentive packages I described for the NE Mission district for anyone donating their car to a San Francisco charity.)

    What this will do is create both sticks for car ownership (less parking, no free parking) and carrots for going car-free (free Muni, safer walking, convenient access to car-sharing).

    After these measures are taken, there are going to be fewer car owners parking on the street near Polk and so fewer people interested in preventing the transformation of Polk Street. SFMTA should take periodic surveys of shoppers over the next six months to determine how they arrived to Polk Street–foot, bicycle, transit, private car. This is the data store owners need in order to convince themselves losing parking is not going to hurt them.

    Admittedly the above does diddly-squat for bicyclists who really need this corridor, though the daylighting will help some. I don’t ride this street enough to know if they are other cheap, easy, quick things the city might do to help bicyclists in the interim on Polk besides making the southern-most blocks two-way for bikes ASAP. (These few blocks would help me a great deal.) Eventually there will be bike lanes on this street. The only question is how long it will take.

  • mikesonn

    I’m game and I know several cyclists that live in that corridor who will gladly take up that call as well.

  • Couple this with a procott. If someone puts a parklet in, choose that business. If they are SFBC discount sponsors, use that business. “Free speech” and all…

  • grw06

    The meeting was well advertised throughout the neighborhood
    (finally) and the folks that showed up were overwhelming against the SFMTA proposal. The folks that live around Polk street (most of which don’t drive) don’t want this bike oriented change. Why?

    You’re reaction to this is to boycott the Polk street stores. In other
    words, most folks don’t want this – but we do so we are going to protest and fight until we get our way.

    This is exactly why many folks in the Polk street ‘hood don’t want this change and why most folks in SF are not in support of biker
    oriented projects. It is because of that attitude. Too many folks in the SF
    biking community believe the way to act is to throw a tantrum if they don’t get their way – even if most other residents don’t want their way.

    You are, of course, welcome to protest and boycott. And sometimes that is needed and appropriate. But such attitude has resulted in much of the anti-bike feelings in SF.

  • mikesonn

    If a business would rather keep a parking space and put me in danger of being hurt (or even killed), I will not support that business. That isn’t an “attitude”, that’s survival.

  • a boycott is not a protest. It is not throwing a tantrum. It is the free market. Store owners do not have a “right” to my money.

    The people who want the bike lanes will clearly complain that the meeting was rigged. When we tried to get the park space in Noe Valley, the meeting was pushed back to 7 PM, which is the bedtime for toddlers, the parents of whom were the primary proponents for the project. There is no question the people who prefer the parking stay as is were more organized.

    Projects should not be determined by who can be the most raucous at a community meeting.

    If the people who support the project refuse to patronize the businesses of those who opposed it, that will tell the true measure of support for this project as a whole. If it puts a pinch on those businesses, it shows very clearly in the most democratic nature there is, that their opinion on how this project would impact them was wrong.

  • True. it was an ugly Tea Party like yelling down opposing points of view crowd.

  • mikesonn

    There was a study in San Francisco. It was done on Columbus. There is ZERO reason to go to Australia looking for data when it exists in our backyard. One of the biggest (and I feel stupidest) complaints by these *pro-parking in a dense city* people is that San Francisco is “different”. Well, it isn’t and here is the data.

    http://sf.streetsblog.org/2009/02/20/the-myth-of-the-urban-driving-shoppers/

  • I already boycott all the businesses on Polk Street because that street is unsafe and unpleasant to ride my bike on. My boycott has last four years and running.

  • whoa_hey_there

    i love the procott idea!

  • whoa_hey_there

    Also, I hear a lot of car v. bike dialogue in this. I am a pedestrian who cares about public space. I just want to live in a neighborhood with green space, places to sit and get to know your neighbors – something with a real community feel.

  • grw06

    Polk neighborhood toddlers are the primary proponents of this SFMTA proposal for bike lanes?

  • grw06

    Me too. I don’t drive much and I almost never park on Polk. I come at this very much from a ped perspective. Since I walk on Polk many times per day. As a ped in SF, however, I fear bikers since I – and my kids – nearly get hit a lot by bikes blowing through the stop signs at Green, Vallejo, etc.

  • grw06

    The other side is always the Tea Party

  • Anonymous

    @grw06 Cyclists (and cars) should always yield to pedestrians and I’m sorry that you feel unsafe crossing with them, however, statistically the number one killer of children is cars and something everyone should be aware of. I think it’s interesting, though unfortunate, that you feel unsafe due to bikes because for me it’s the opposite. I always see cars rolling stops signs, turning right without stopping, failing to yield, etc. in addition to the noise and exhaust that makes sharing the street with them, even from the sidewalk, unpleasant.

    Could the bikes you feel threatened by be rushing through stop signs because they feel unsafe sharing the road with cars? I (anecdotally) find that most “bad biking behavior” that I see is at high speed roads and dangerous areas where cyclists likely have a lot of adrenaline and have to act like a car in order to avoid harassment and death threats from drivers. A campaign of education plus bike lanes would help improve the safety for everyone by letting the cyclists relax a little more and not feel pressure to maintain the speed of traffic or get run off the road.

  • Anonymous

    Last night’s meeting (monday, 3/18) was a bunch of low-information merchants who in their hearts don’t think bicyclists are shopping in their stores, just passing through on a commute route. There are solutions out there that would allow merchants to keep all current car-arriving customers by moving much of Polk parking to metered, well-lit side streets and alleys, and by developing paid hourly off-street parking. But instead, they are opposing any change at all. They don’t trust the SFMTA, and they don’t respect bicycle riders as customers. We are invisible to them. Rather than a boycott, I would suggest two things:

    1) All current riders on Polk should make at least one stop there per trip. But when you purchase anything, tell the cashier, and preferably the manager or owner, “I arrived by bike. I am your customer. And it was not a thoroughly safe ride. Thank you for your support of a safer Polk Street.”

    2) Write or call David Chiu, the supervisor for the area to express your support of a safer Polk Street.

  • Understand your misunderstanding.

    the primary proponent for the park in Noe Valley were parents of toddlers – the people who benefit. The meeting was pushed from 6 to 7 PM. I sat in a room with Bevan Dufty who said “How can we get the supporters of this project to show up” and I said “Don’t schedule the meeting at bedtime”. That didn’t happen so the primary demographic that showed up were older people for whom the benefits were less obvious.

    I won’t say that this meeting suffered from that specific a scenario, but will say that just because the opponents of the project were more organized (and screamed louder) for one meeting does not make a general statement of community support for the project.

  • Anonymous

    I like this idea as more visible than a boycott, maybe a spin on the procott. Speaking of visibility, I’m not a big helmet proponent (if helmets save lives, shouldn’t we ALL be wearing them driving, walking, in the shower, etc.) but I do wear it nonetheless and when I’m in a restaurant or store or wherever I carry it with me. Kind of a pain, but everywhere I visit on bike can see how I got there and it increases cyclist visibility.

    This is also why bike racks are so useful. At this point it’s rare to see underused rack space, and it’s a nice visual reminder that people ride bikes.

  • grw06

    You don’t see very many bikes locked up outside stores on upper Polk when you walk through (relative to the number of peds and cars). Usually 2 in front of the bars at Vallejo. 1 in front of Nicks. The bike rack in front of the Cheese Store, Molte Costa et al are nearly always empty. Certainly the perception is that bikers are not a very large source of shoppers here. Merchants are coming at it from that perspective I imagine.

  • Anonymous

    The crowd was pretty articulate and everyone took their turn to speak – mostly neighbors and merchants. It was probably ten or fifteen times the size of regular meetings and spilled out into the lobby. People seemed to be upset that Ed Reiskin didn’t bring figures about the parking spaces that would eliminated, and when he threw in “wider sidewalks” they gave out a collective “no.” They pointed out that Polk Street had a significantly different customer base than Valencia Street and North Beach (none of which were asked to give up anywhere as much parking). Also that the plan didn’t seem to be coordinated with the upcoming Van Ness Avenue BRT reconfiguration, which would be just a block away.

    But it’s as much the neighbors as the merchants who are the bad guys – how do you boycott them? My own take as a resident is that I don’t want to see Polk Street looking like an empty mall at night when there are no longer bicyclists riding by, no people getting in and out of cars to go restaurants, fewer taxis. It’s be like a street fair after everyone has gone home.

    I think what everyone was especially put off by was that the four proposals made by the SFMTA were narrow in scope, skimpy on detail, and extremely insensitive (making Polk into a one way street would kill all businesses – also pretty much destroying taxi and bus service). Also that don’t seem to have been modified by the input from the workshops. No one from SFMTA will even say what side of the street parking would be eliminated from – and this would determine which of the current parklets, such as the successful Quetzal one, could stay and which ones would have to go.

  • grw06

    It was rude for folks to yell, boo and hiss at last night’s meeting. The louder folks might not be the majority – and they might be. SFMTA needs to find out what most folks here really want and consider that with this proposal.

  • Rude? It was SMART!

    When the Noe Valley thing was going down with all the yelling, I was sitting in the back thinking “Sweet, no way Bevan is going to side with these zanies”. Then I looked into his eyes and saw that he didn’t have to courage to buck them.

    If you want to stop something in this town, warm up your vocal chords.

  • I was at the Noe Valley meeting, too. It was the most dysfunctional civic experience in my half-century of living and has made me reluctant to participate in others. A true nadir in public process. I agree it was a complete loss of courage in the face of a few ugly, yelling people.

  • gneiss

    grw06 – this is a chicken and egg argument. The fact that the road is not set up for cyclists = not many cyclists stopping. Guess what, before Valencia was modified to a complete street there weren’t many cyclists stopping there either. Stop thinking of this solution as a bike vs. car thing. It’s actually a safety thing. Adding bike lanes and removing parking is part of an overall solution to help make streets safer by slowing down car traffic. If you don’t involve those elements guess what – cars drive faster and the street remains less safe.

    As a 45 year old dad who totes his daughter to school every day on a trailer bike, I can assure you that I am in the shopping locally demographic and would be thrilled if there are more safe corridors to bike and shop,

  • Out of curiousity – what is different about the customer base on Polk Street compared to Valencia Street or North Beach?

  • M.

    ANOTHER POLK MEETING; attend/spread the word:

    ​Folks for Polk would love for you to ​come to participate at the SF​MTA​’s​ ‘last community outreach.’
    It will be ​hosted by the Community Leadership Alliance this Tuesday 26 March from 4 to about 5:30 in the Main Library, Latino Room A.

    (Apparently it doesn’t appear online but the CLA’s leader, D. Villa-Lobos confirmed that the meeting will happen)

  • Neighbor and biker

    Try Bartllet and 22nd St

  • mikesonn

    Picture or it didn’t happen. Also, one parklet does not make a trend.

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