SFMTA Presents Design Options for a More Livable Polk Street

Proposals for one section of Polk. Images: SFMTA

Planners at the SF Municipal Transportation Agency this Saturday unveiled options for redesigning Polk Street as a better place for walking, biking, socializing, and transit. The proposed concepts [PDF] show different ways to arrange the limited amount of street space for traffic lanes (which serve buses on Muni’s 19-Polk line), bike lanes, expanded pedestrian areas, and spots for vehicle loading and parking.

Planners divided Polk into four sections, each with a set of possible configurations, and listed each proposal’s pros and cons for the different modes of transport. Proposals include curbside bike lanes separated from motor traffic by parklets, buffer zones, and boarding islands (though some proposals include removing the bike lanes or making them part-time only on the calmer stretches). Pedestrian space could be expanded by adding “mega parklets,” like the one spanning several blocks of Powell Street, and re-making intersecting alleys to “activate” them as pedestrianized public spaces. Corner bulb-outs would also be added at the most dangerous intersections along lower Polk. Transit could be sped up with more bus bulb-outs and boarding islands, though one proposal would actually convert Polk to a one-way street and re-route one direction of Muni’s 19 bus onto a parallel street, an idea transit advocates are still debating.

“Polk has been identified by the city as a high-injury corridor for pedestrians,” said Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe. “It has many wide, one-way cross-streets whose high-speed traffic poses the greatest risk. There are many opportunities for bulb-outs and other traffic calming. You can see how much more pleasant the street is where there are bus bulbs now. Traffic calming, greening, and more sidewalk space were the priorities our members identified on our walk along Polk.”

SFMTA planners said traffic signals could also be re-timed for slower speeds to calm traffic, and that each intersection along the corridor would receive pedestrian countdown signals. Although there’s interest in diverting car traffic off the street to decrease congestion and speed up the 19, they said physical barriers couldn’t be used without also impeding buses, and that forced turns which rely solely on signs and enforcement (like those currently in place on Market Street) are too ineffective to be considered. However, planners did say bus-only, car-free zones, perhaps with more visible design treatments to deter cars, could be proposed later in the process.

Unlike the popular proposal for Second Street, which includes raised bike lanes separated by planted buffer zones and boarding islands, Polk isn’t wide enough to use the same design and provide buffer zones wide enough to fit curb ramps, SFMTA staff said. As one possible solution, the proposals show hump-shaped buffer zones that could be mounted by wheelchairs.

Planners said the proposals were developed based on input from community meetings and walking tours over the past two months. Given the limited amount of space, all of the concepts would remove car parking from one or both sides of the streets for at least part of the day. According to the SFMTA, the on-street parking on Polk between McAllister and Union Streets (the project area) makes up just 7 percent of the parking supply along the corridor, defined as the area within one block of the street.

Planners expect to present a preferred design concept early next year, and may propose a pilot project that could be implemented by next summer, though it’s not clear what that would look like yet. Construction of the finished capital project is scheduled to begin by early 2015.

The SFMTA has posted an online survey on the proposals where you can submit feedback until December 28. The agency will also hold a second open house to explain the proposals this Friday, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at Velvet Da Vinci, located at 2015 Polk Street between Pacific and Broadway.

  • voltairesmistress

    Residential parking in the Polk Street area is very tight, spilling over into all metered areas as soon as the meters stop running.  This effectively makes it impossible to use Polk Street businesses after 6 pm every day or on Sundays, if one is in a car.  During the day, however, one can use Polk Street businesses easily via any mode.   Mornings there’s an overabundance of metered parking.  Seems like a perfect commercial area to install smart meters and to extend meter times to evenings and Sundays.  Eliminating all or some of the parking spots on Polk will merely intensify the existing need to change how metered parking is managed.

  • I don’t see any delivery trucks illustrated in the street plans, even though they’re frequent in a commercial district like Polk and they have a big impact on car speed, transit speed, and bike safety when they block a traffic lane or bike lane. Any thought to an option where they remove parking and create a center lane where trucks can stop for loading?

  • IMO the main problem with Polk is the poor connection with the Marina and Cow Hollow. Southbound from these neighborhoods, it is a steep climb either via Octavia and Green, or via Francisco and Polk. 

    We need a north end wiggle. Might be something like Octavia to Greenwich or Filbert, then east to Franklin. South on Franklin (yes, against the traffic, in a separated cycle track that takes away parking on one side) to Green or Vallejo. I think the cycle track could be one way, since northbound is not an issue. Seems to me that removing parking from a few blocks of Franklin would be less of an issue than completely re-doing Polk. 

    My impression is that ridership is not that high in Marina/Cow Hollow. A better connection southbound might help with that. 

  • mike

    There is a north end wiggle: Greenwich to Octavia to Green to Polk. Moving the route from Octavia to Franklin is possible but it only saves maybe ten feet of climbing and puts one on a very busy street, going the opposite direction of existing traffic and dealing with cars turning off it to head west on Filbert, Union, or Green. I think the extra bit of climbing is worth it to be on Octavia, which is much quieter and calmer.

    But overall, I agree that Polk is THE way to head south over the ridge that spans the north end of the city here, making the project to improve Polk very important.

  • Bruce Nourish

    Why not move 19 Polk one block over to Van Ness for its north-south segment? If not now, then perhaps it makes sense to plan to make that switch when the Van Ness BRT project is complete (admittedly, that’s years away). 

    There’s no obvious reason (to me, at least) why it’s necessary to operate buses at one-block route spacing, and Muni’s decision to can 24 Valencia suggests they agree. Eliminating transit from Polk makes figuring out how that street works for other road users a whole lot easier, and improves the effective frequency of transit on Van Ness.

  • Bob

    It makes more sense to do this on a less busy street like Larkin.  Otherwise you will negatively impact Polk businesses by decreasing parking which folks use to shop, have to deal with bus and must go through super busy area with peds.  Polk at Vallejo is insanely busy – channeling more bikes thru there is lose-lose.  Plus, you have lots of trucks on Polk in the morning delivering.  

  • mikesonn

    “No one goes there, it is way too busy.”

  • Anonymous

    “There’s no obvious reason (to me, at least) why it’s necessary to operate buses at one-block route spacing”

    Wow, you’re concern for the elderly and physically challenged is heart-warming.


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