A Safer Polk Street vs. Preserving a Sliver of Parking

On-street car parking on Polk Street, between Union and McAllister Streets, makes up just 7 percent of the 4,300 parking spaces within a block of the street. A new NIMBY group wants to "stop the radical agenda" of improving safety on Polk because it could remove some of that 7 percent. Image: SFMTA

A new entity that calls itself the “Save Polk Street Coalition” has come out against the developing plan to improve safety for people walking and biking on Polk Street because it would entail removing some parking spaces.

The group’s website, which doesn’t identify any of the businesses or residents it claims to represent, decrees: “STOP the radical agenda of the SFMTA.” The sky-is-falling rhetoric continues:

Street parking is vital to Polk St. businesses. If you eat, live, work or shop along Polk Street this WILL affect you! If you want the restaurants, shops and services on Polk Street to survive make your voice heard. Save Polk Street from this misguided experiment!

First, let’s clear this up: The notion that car parking is what brings customers to shop in walkable San Francisco neighborhoods has been debunked time and time again. Customer intercept surveys on Columbus Avenue found that just 14 percent of people arrived by car, and those people tended to spend less than people who arrived by other means. Pedestrianization projects like the proliferation of parklets and temporary bans on parking on Stockton Street in Chinatown have drawn more people to streets while subtracting parking.

To boost foot traffic and make the street a more inviting destination, re-purposing public space from automobile storage to improve conditions for walking and biking is a solid strategy. And by making it easier to get to Polk without a car, fewer visitors would need to occupy a parking space in the first place.

This is the banner for the "Save Polk Street" website. A more accurate statement of the group's goal might read: "Save car parking on Polk Street so it will stay dangerous."

Still, it must be pointed out that the number of parking spaces which these not-in-my-backyard types are so worked up over is an exceedingly small amount of parking along the Polk corridor. The area has a huge parking supply, and the SFMTA’s project would only put a tiny dent in the number of spaces. Of the 4,300 parking spaces within a block of the Polk project area, Polk’s on-street parking makes up just 7 percent, according to the SFMTA. Even counting only on-street parking spaces within the area, Polk’s share is still only 17 percent.

The SFMTA’s conceptual proposals — which are based on public input from community planning meetings — would only remove some of that 7 percent. In fact, contrary to the opponents’ claim that the agency is “planning to remove 20 blocks of street parking,” most of the proposals still include car parking.

The benefits, meanwhile, would be protected bike lanes that all ages would feel comfortable riding on, vibrant public spaces that invite people to stay, and a safer street for everyone.

The “coalition” claims that it “welcome[s] customers to the area regardless of how they arrive, but know[s] that many people come by car. Walk, bike, drive, or MUNI – the diversity of travel modes reflect the diversity of our community!” As if driving will be impossible after a fraction of 7 percent of the area’s parking supply is removed.

As for welcoming people who walk or bike, the group opposes even a trial project that would take place on just a few blocks and last only a few weeks, according to the SF Chronicle. The only thing these parking-obsessed opponents have to fear, it seems, is that the trial will be successful enough to warrant a permanent change.

There’s hardly a more “radical” agenda than one which defines “saving Polk Street” as preserving infinitesimal amounts of storage for private automobiles at the expense of a vision for a more livable street that’s based on input from the community.

  • mikesonn

    s/Polk street/San Francisco/


  •  1)  The City has done nothing to inform or involve the actual residents
    of this ‘hood about this plan (intentionally I suspect – so that the SF
    Bike Coalition drives this process).  They couldn’t even be bothered to
    mail notices to the community or post signs about their plan.  

    How will this benefit the community?  The community WALKS here.  You
    don’t need to bike three blocks.  This is a very dense ‘hood that you
    WALK.  Why should the ‘hood be changed to cater to folks that want to
    bike THRU this ‘hood – commuters?  Why should the actual residents pay
    the price so that bike commuters have a flat street?  Keep in mind that
    you can walk to most jobs from this ‘hood as fast as you can bike down
    Polk and across Market (to must jobs in FiDi/SOMA).  More bikes in this
    ‘hood INCREASES danger to residents and folks here shopping.  No bikes
    stop at any stop signs on Polk – they don’t even slow down.  The
    crosswalks are packed here – much denser than the Mission.  We don’t
    need more bikes speeding through the intersections here and we don’t
    want street lights at every intersection. 

  • mikesonn

    “The community WALKS here.”

    Yuup! Thank you for furthering the argument for removing the parking.

  • If the community WALKS – then why do they care about parking spots?

    As for more bikes increasing danger to residents, if you believe that despite all the data showing the exact opposite, please stop by my bridge selling emporium.

  • Anonymous

    I’m tired of people saying they’re not aware that anything’s been planned. They might even still be in the outreach phase. Everyone personalizes it like “well, the Mayor didn’t send me a letter on his personal stationary so I’m just feeling really left out and sensitive about this right now.”

    While I didn’t go to any of the meetings that have already taken place I was certainly aware of them, I took the survey that was still available until a week ago (http://www.sfmta.com/cms/opolk/PolkStreetCompleteStreets.htm). I live in D6 and know that Jane Kim has been advocating for improvements to Polk (at least on the D6 end of the street) so maybe that’s how I found out about it, I can’t remember.
    Anyway, they haven’t even finalized the plan so most people don’t even know what they’re complaining about! 

    It’s nice to hear someone who is not lamenting the removal of a few parking spaces and acknowledges how important walking is to the area, but I think you’re missing the point as far as biking goes. Obviously, not all trips to, from, and around Polk street are just 3 blocks and lots of people want to cycle on a safe Polk street and we all deserve that option. Of course cyclists should yield to pedestrians in cross walks, but assuming that all cycling is reckless is anecdotal hyperbole. Cyclists improve the safety and feel of an area because they bring more eyes to the street and reduce the noise and emissions from cars in addition to being more likely to spend more and to spend it at local businesses.

  • Please don’t even Go there, bikes lanes, Had absolutely nothing to do with the revival of Polk street, the bars and bars alone were the primary revival catalyst of Polk street, every one knows that’s a Fact.
    Those Merchants you claim let Polk fall into ruin in the first place? Your absolutely right, the drug dealers, drug addicts, run down boarded up property on lower Polk, graffiti everywhere had absolutely nothing to do with it!

  • Anonymous

    @twitter-756264109:disqus wrote: “You think I don’t see the bigger picture, I really DO see the bigger picture, you just assume anyone with an alternate thinking does not. I know cars are not healthy, I know we depend on foreign oil, I know there are alternatives like green energy. but shoving your ideals down someone elses throat is not the way to change someones mind, especially since we actually agree in most parts.”

    Didn’t realize commenting on this forum was shoving my ideas down your throat.

    Also, it’s not clear we agree. You say a lot of good things in the above quote, but your actions speak louder than your words: you are here opposing changes that will actually move us towards the society you say you support. For me, anybody’s actions always trump their words. It’s the same for you and your bicycling. You say you are a bicyclist, yet you are here opposing changes that make it safer to bicycle. So again, your actions here trump whatever you say about being a cyclist.

    In the end, I just don’t get what you are so riled up about. Your tone makes it sound like it’s going to be the end of the world if this happens. But as countless examples across the city have shown (and the reason the MTA is pursuing this in the first place), these types of changes always improve the area for both locals and visitors. What are you so afraid of? Seriously. I’m trying to understand what you really think is going to happen. And when you answer that question, then see if you can think of an example that supports it.

  • Anonymous

    @twitter-756264109:disqus wrote: “At over 900+ comments on a biking forum I’m going to assume you are a little fanatical when it comes to Not liking cars and loving Bikes”

    Wow, I actually didn’t realize I had posted that many times. Hah.

    And by the way, this isn’t a “biking forum” but a livable streets forum. Yes, biking is a big part of that, but no more so than walking and public transit. I actually am more of a walking “fanatic” (to use your words) than a biking “fanatic”. And not liking cars isn’t the right phrase. I’m concerned about car-abuse. That is, cars have a place in our society, but it’s not how we currently use them. They should be a part of our design, but at the periphery not the center. They are not appropriate for the vast majority of transport in an urban area like SF. Sure, for emergency vehicles, the handicapped/disabled, the occasional move, etc. they are appropriate. But for driving to work, getting groceries, running errands, going out, etc they are highly inappropriate.

    But regardless, how does being passionate about something (evidenced by the number of my posts here) make me fanatical? And do you think I spend any less time here than you do on the very blog you maintain? Does that make you a fanatic about Polk St? And is this all getting too personal? Answer: yes. So let’s keep the discussion about the issues and not each other. And to follow my own advice, apologies if you thought I was accusing you of lying about being a bicyclist. I still stand by the fact that you don’t sound like one, but I honestly don’t know. I just had to point out how this, in my experience (remember, I do have 900+ posts here), is how it always goes down: some new poster comes online and says they are cyclist but then actively opposes all new bike infrastructure or traffic calming measures. I’ve just seen it too much online, and almost never in real life, for me not to point it out.

  •  Polk Street Gazette is concerned that the people going to the bars, the bars, and the bars won’t have a place to park their cars, their cars, their cars, when they go to drink, to drink, to drink, and then drive, drive, drive home.

  • Calmdown

    It nice to read a reasonable response as opposed to “Bikes good, cars bad”.

  • mikesonn

    @b82239bfa53be8fbc5e6c4e92e33a16c:disqus Not sure where you’ve read “bikes good, cars bad” on this blog.

  • Anonymous

    Except for the size of their footprint, the bike lobby is no different from the highway lobby.  Whether it’s a six-lane freeway or a bike lane, just ram it on through, community input be damned.

  • Planning5

    The community does walk and it patronizes local shops as it walks. Not so most of the bicyclists – unlike on Valencia Street – who pass through on the way to Crissy Field or onto Fisherman’s Wharf. Of the ten new bicycle racks at Washington and Polk, not more than one is ever utilized at one time.

    The number of parking spaces being removed are close to 400 (320 from one side of the street plus other selected ones). 

    No neighborhood in San Francisco – not Valencia Street nor Castro in their current plan – has ever been subjected to this magnitude of experiment. It calls for an enormous leap of faith on the part of the merchants and the residents. 

    SFMTA has definitely not done their homework and outreach and explained in detail and statistics why this will be good thing for everyone in the long run.

    One of the studies often cited here at SFStreetsBlog comes from SoHo in Manhattan, where parking spaces were proposed to be eliminated to allow for more pedestrian – not bicyclist – right of way. And what’s left out is that SoHo is served by five major subway lines on three of its perimeters – the equivalent of Cal Train and BART coming through along Van Ness and Larkin. 


    Others cite studies done in Holland, which unlike Polk Street is flat as a pancake. And Holland’s approaches to these problems comes out of a completely different culture and tradition than ours – which is currently wedded to the ideals of free capital and Ayn Rand individualism, with a sprinkling of goodhearted dissidents to keep it honest.

    Anyway, it’s sad that two communities – the bicylists and the Polk neighborhood – who should be working for the common good – have been set against each other by the SFMTA’s lapses and minimal preplanning and poor ambassadorship.

  • the greasybear

    Planning5, bicylists and the Polk neighborhood are right now working for the common good, and have *not* been set against each other by the SFMTA’s purported “lapses, minimal preplanning and poor ambassadorship.”

    Don’t believe the hype.

  • Mwbsf

    This project will not be “pedestrian friendly” at all.   Signed, Haven’t Driven A Car Since 1968

  • mikesonn

    FTFY: This project will not be “pedestrian friendly” at all.   Signed, Completely Disconnected From Reality Since 1968

  • Mom on a bike

    @p_chazz:disqus Stop trying to highjack the thread by repeating the blatantly false accusation that anything’s getting ‘rammed through’ ‘community input be damned.’ Come on. You appear to be more thoughtful than this.

    You want an example of what got rammed through our city, community input be damned? Car-oriented streets with parking spaces up and down them. You do know that we once had a network of streetcar and cable car lines, don’t you? Then one day, they disappeared.

    It’s important to remember history, even if it all seems too long ago to be relevant. That’s the real irony of the situation: The loudest naysayers make their ‘truthy’ arguments hoping we’ll fall for this crap because most of us are too young or too new to SF to remember–when in fact, they’re old enough to remember how things used to be.

  • Mom on a bike

    @yahoo-3BRDZZAAA42RXG2BZF6RQTVGYY:disqus @126b653808c656ee5bfa9d7d1fb21d0f:disqus You are clearly unwilling or unable (probably the former, given the ‘truthy’ nature of all opposing arguments) to understand the habits of most city cyclists. Most of us aren’t out for a training run in the Headlands or hurrying to work. We’re ‘bik[ing] THRU this ‘hood” to get somewhere nearby…or perhaps stopping there for lunch? Who knows? Often the journey is the reward. 
    This is just another way to show that worrying about whether more cyclists will just pass through, or whether more cyclists will use the bike lanes or bike racks or whatever…is just dumb, because cyclists are really more like fast pedestrians than people on two-wheeled vehicles. Would you ever be opposed to nicer sidewalks, for fear of more people walking through your neighborhood? How ridiculous would that be? 

  • coolbabybookworm – I first heard about this plan a couple months back from a local merchant – I live four buildings off Polk and reached out to David Chui about it.  His message to me was – we are essentially done with our planning on this,  we had several community meetings on it already, they are supportive, where were you?  Since then he seems to have backed away from that since the community has actually found out and are reacting.  I didn’t need a personal letter from Chui re: this but ANY type of notification about it might be nice.  I get notices when an eatery 3 blocks away wants to see beer!  I should get a notice when the are making this huge change to my hood.  And there is nothing you can say that will convince me cyclists improve the safety of an area – not in SF.  I live and walk here daily.  They don’t.  I love the idea of getting rid of parking and making Polk more ped friendly and even increasing biking there.  But only if we can get bikers there that are willing to follow the rules, not so hostile, etc. I don’t see that happening here given the SF bike culture that has been created here. 

  • Rocker – sounds like you need to do a better job of keeping up on current events. It really casts a poor light on your participation as a citizen – some people make things happen, some watch what happen – apparently you just ask “what happened?” The outreach was there. It always is. “There was no outreach” is code for “we didn’t get what we want”.

    I suppose I don’t need to tell you that the earth is round, not in SF. Because it isn’t. Facts be damned.

  • ilove94109

    San Francisco has it’s own Tea Party – the Bike Coalition..wolves dressed in environmentally friendly clothing. A small group who wants to push their agenda to the larger group and severely impact and take away our rights and livelihoods

  • mikesonn

    Let’s talk percentage of ROW space dedicated to each use. Oh wait, you don’t have any numbers, just a *gut feeling*, right? They’ll come fer yer jerbs next, just you wait.

  • “All I wanted was for the taxpayers to keep paying for my free parking, and they’re getting tired of it. Sob! Boo hoo!!”

  • I have a new email sig! “San  Francisco has it’s own Tea Party – the Bike Coalition”

    Name one “right” that has been taken away. Just one…

  • M.

    Yes, Murph. The G word.

  • Rocker, you just shot yourself in the foot. The community walks there. That is precisely why there is a need to make it safer and more pedestrian friendly. (face palm) No one has ever argued or proposed cars, parking and traffic makes for safer walking…except you. LOL.

  • NoeValleyJim

    What do people think of organizing a boycott? I think that putting some political pressure on the merchants here is likely to get their attention. What do others think?

  • NoeValleyJim

    What an ironic comment, given how the March 18th meeting went down. Who is the San Francisco Tea Party now?

  • Anonymous

    @Polk Street Gazette : Your journalistic negligence in correctly reporting facts is reprehensible. It would appear your ultra-conservative agenda is obscuring not only your view of the facts, but also is affecting your commonsense.

    First, SFMTA has been conducting meetings with Polk St organizations and businesses since September 2012.

    Second, SFMTA has actively sought input from Polk St businesses and organizations since September 2012.

    Third, I have a photograph of the president of the Middle Polk Street Association wearing a Save Polk St T-shirt at the March 18th meeting to which the SFMTA was invited. So while they might not organize “Save Polk St” (Parking Spots), they publicly support the group.

    As to commonsense: If it ain’t broken, then how come Polk is one of the city’s most accident-afflicted streets?


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