Chronicle Op-Ed: Make Polk Street More Like Paris, Less Like Detroit

Spotted in today's Chronicle. Photo courtesy of Bryan Goebel

We’ve gotta spotlight this op-ed that appeared in today’s edition of the SF Chronicle calling upon the SFMTA and city leaders to make Polk Street more like “a Paris street, where people saunter and stay for hours, not just one errand.”

“For that to happen, it has to be engineered away from the Detroit model — maximum vehicle parking, maximum travel lanes — to a human model – maximum pedestrian and bike safety,” wrote Kurt Wallace Martin, author of the Bay Bikers blog on SFGate.com.

The article actually appeared on Bay Bikers last week, but the Chronicle editorial staff apparently saw fit to give it space in its print edition. The paper deserves recognition for publishing such a progressive vision for Polk Street — a political battleground in the movement to change the cars-first status quo on San Francisco streets.

Martin continues:

Having lived in both Paris and Detroit, I’d say Polk is more a Detroit-style street, designed and built for motorized convenience. People not protected by their vehicles are scared on Polk. They wait at intersections, looking both ways more than once before hurrying across. (The dangers are real: Polk averages one pedestrian and one bicycle accident per month.) Polk is perfectly placed on the map to be an engaging landing spot between Market Street and San Francisco Bay. It’s a street not crazed with traffic like Van Ness, and not hilly like Larkin – a street that should tie the neighborhood together. But Polk feels more like Van Ness than it should…

The real problem for Polk is the lack of vision and execution that help a city transform from the Detroit plan to the Paris one. The San Francisco Metropolitan Transit Agency has a strategic plan and bicycle strategy. MTA officials say that they plan to create “a safe, interconnected bicycle circulation network that supports bicycling as an attractive alternative to driving.” But where is the drive to make better, connected streets not just an idea but the standard?

The agency’s “preferred alternative” for Polk makes some concessions to pedestrians and cyclists. But it won’t change the nature of the street. It won’t make Polk a destination.

Minor changes to Polk Street leave it on the Detroit side of the ledger – OK for brave bike riders and pedestrians who move fast. But not a cornerstone for a vibrant, livable city. Would that kind of standard look like the current agency designs? Somewhat. But given its location in San Francisco, how wonderful would Polk be if only pedestrians, bikes and delivery vehicles could use it from Union to Broadway? It would instantly be one of the nicest streets in the city.

Here, here! With pieces like this surfacing in San Francisco’s mainstream media, it’s only becoming more evident that the merchants on Polk vocally fighting changes that would make their own street a memorable destination — all to save a little bit of car parkingdon’t speak for all San Franciscans.