Tomorrow: Your Voice Needed to Support a Safer Polk Street

This is what the opponents of a safer Polk Street are fighting against. Image: SFBC

An important reminder: The SFMTA is presenting its latest proposals for a safer Polk Street tomorrow morning and Tuesday evening.

The proposal diagrams aren’t available to post yet, but SFMTA staff went over them at a press briefing, and explained that the safest proposals are still on the table, but they’ve added new options that would minimize the removal of parking at the expense of protected or buffered bike lanes on some stretches. They also said that all pedestrian safety measures like sidewalk extensions will be added in any scenario. And because of the parking spaces that would need to be removed for those safety improvements, taking out the protected bike lanes doesn’t seem to gain back many spaces. In other words, the new proposals would trade away a lot of bike safety for just a marginal gain in parking.

Meanwhile, the leaders of the so-called “Save Polk Street” faction — the people mobilizing against safety improvements — are sticking with their call to prioritize parking on a street where 85 percent of people arrive without a car. Their rallying cry: “Without your vote we will lose Parking on Polk Street forever!”

If you think safety should take precedence over a few parking spaces, head over to the meetings, which will be held at the First Congregational Church Fellowship Hall at 1300 Polk St (at Bush):

  • Saturday April 27th from 10 a.m.  to 1 p.m.
  • Tuesday April 30th from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
  • M.

    Tweet us with your question and our birdie will make sure your question gets answered.

  • Karen, things like bike lanes are proven to increase property values, yet at the Noe Valley meetings there were people asking “How will the city compensate use for loss of property value”.


  • M.

    Absolutely agree, Mate. Wanna hear more though as you know we’re stretched thin working on several fronts. Might as well put it out there now:
    We want to offer micro loans for businesses that might take a hit when Polk is repaved, regardless of what proposal gets through. We’re looking for people who have expertise in micro-lending. Spread the word! Contact: folks[at]

  • M.

    Do I know that? Ask yourself if, in 12 years, you’ll chose to do what I’m doing: it’s 24/7, sometimes demoralizing and downright frightening, always exhausting, always ‘showtime’ and essential to keep energy revved and negativity at bay. I’m in awe of those who do this sort of thing their whole lives.
    otoh, I’ve met so many of you wonderful people and there’s a terrific unity of spirit. I also know that our active helpers are gifting us all with time stolen from billable hours, family, friends, sleep, and partying. No one expects everyone to do that nor what I’m doing. Just a bit of the load carried by each.

  • M.

    The latest Marina Times article re. Polk is out and will be online shortly. A more nuanced report. I wrote a letter to the Editor but I don’t think it will be accessible online. Here are the last 3 paragraphs:

    “SPSC’s ‘alarm went to panic’ because they misinterpreted the proposals, then misinformed and incited a scapegoating mob. All storefront businesses must adapt in the face of global shifts. But tsunami though it may seem, it’s not riding in on bicycles – demographics prove quite the opposite.
    Lack of vision and resilience harms merchants more than any changes in the street scape could. Already, 85% arrive at Polk by means other than car. Bike Share will be here very soon. SFers own fewer cars, the first Walk to Work Day was a huge success. People throng to safe places to stroll and shop; Polk St. could be on a tourist loop. SF has one bike shop per sq. mile and 140,000/week make at least one trip by bicycle;
    SPSC’s businesses probably aren’t built with ‘low-common-denominator things’ but they demand we should for a publicly-funded project that will last for a quarter century and on which lives literally depend. Their obstructive tactics cost us dearly in dollars and lives and is shredding our social fabric, leaving only a legacy that those who shout loudest determine our future.”

  • Murph:

    I hadn’t seen anything, and didn’t really have a frame of reference for it so I’m not sure. It sounds like the number is about 20 a year of reported accidents, which does seem high especially if Karen’s numbers about other stretches is correct. I don’t think Karen helped the discourse by describing it as something of a war zone with people being “maimed and killed”. At least she didn’t mention any specific instances of maiming or killing, just accidents.

    I suspect this is more about the second thing that Karen brings up, that she desires a N/S path that is separated, It’s pretty disingenuous to make the current situation sound more awful than it is as a means to the end of wanting things for another reason.

    This is what makes it difficult to have rational conversations about this sort of thing. Street space is scarce, People desire different things for it. Mostly those desires are selfish, but rationalized for being “better” for one reason or another (environment, safety, economics), A lot of claims are made about what might happen if things change. Inflammatory statements are thrown out. I know I’ve done it and I’ve seen it from pretty much everyone on this board.

  • For comparison’s sake, I tried to determine streets that have similar ridership to Polk. I settled on Arguello and Harrison south of Division and counted their injury collisions. Both had roughly 5 bicycle injury collisions per year between 2007 and 2010. During the same period Polk Street had 4 times the injury collison rate. (Coincidentally, Arguello and Harrison both have bike lanes, though Harrison has gaps in places.)

  • Examples of maiming on Polk Street:

    “He was moving through the intersection of Polk and Geary when a car darted right in front of him. Things happened so fast that he could not avoid collision. Instinct seems to have brought his leg up to brace himself for the impact. Unfortunately, his leg went through a side window of the car and his body kept traveling until it totaled the outside of the car. The primary injury was a shattered hip socket. Although doctors managed to put his hip socket back together, the final
    result will be potentially severe arthritis in a decade or so. Johan was about done with physical therapy when we met. Amazingly, he’s
    walking pretty well now. Still, he’s facing a number of long term
    effects of the injury: physical, financial, and psychological.”

    “On July 24 last year [2010], a triathlete in training was biking home along Polk Street near Californa. A taxi traveling the same direction turned right suddenly, cutting him off. The cyclist — who didn’t want his name used because litigation is pending — braked to avoid the accident and flew over his handlebars onto his outstretched hands, shattering both elbows and his athletic ambitions. The driver wasn’t cited, but police determined he caused the accident.”

  • Example of bicyclist killed on Polk Street:

    “Police were looking for witnesses in a hit-and-run crash
    that took the life of a San Francisco bicyclist Thursday. Sarah Tucker, 26, of San Francisco, was heading down Polk Street at about 2 a.m.” [2006]

  • We’re comparing it to other streets, which I think it completely wack-a-doodle.

    Let’s make this comparison. If 20 people were injured enough to go to the hospital by a terrorist attack in Union Square, the City would shut down and go nuts.

    If 20 people went to the hospital in critical condition due to a flu virus…

    If 20 people got sick due to a gas leak…

    If 14 people are killed at a poorly regulated fertilizer plant.

    We’re so shut down mentally by the concept of traffic accidents that we don’t compare the damage done by them to other incidents with similar results. Similar to how we just shake out heads at thousands of gun deaths one by one but a Newtown shooting is a crisis.

  • Specific instances of maiming and killing of bicyclists on Polk Street given above.

  • Marc

    You have up hill and downhill the speeds are different. Hooking bars is one of the worst things you can do while riding. Collarbone, etc.

  • Joel

    There aren’t very many serious grades on Polk. If you are going so fast that such a scenario becomes a risk, you’re going too fast. Provided the lanes are wide enough, it seems totally doable. They’ve done this sort of configuration in many major cities already (Vancouver, Washington DC, Manhattan) – I’m not sure why SF requires so much useless buffer space for every next-gen bike project it pursues.

    I hope Folks for Polk will start advocating for this option if the opposition puts too much pressure on the SFMTA.

  • M.

    IMO, the analogy to Valencia isn’t an accurate one – and that’s a good thing. While Valencia’s ratio of ‘nuts and bolts’ stores* to latteria types has reversed, that extent of change (or G____n :-o) is unlikely on Polk. Valencia has several ‘nuts and bolts’ streets right nearby, e.g. Mission, while Polk is pretty much it for quite a way in either direction. So concern that the mainstays of Polk will die are just not realistic.
    We cite Valencia because it’s familiar and local but in fact more parallel examples exist elsewhere and please don’t ask me to name them. They exist all over the world. I know, I know. Global? Must be Communist.

    *i.e. hardware, produce, laundries, shoe repair, etc.

  • M.

    Rather than stopping at the word ‘safety’ or being shocked at the injury/death stories, good idea to move on to the nitty gritty of exactly how we create the smartest, safest route. I’ve started looking into it and of course for every hazard, e.g. right hooks, there are already-existing engineering solutions. We’re not going to tell the SFMTA how to design, but we don’t wanna do what the others do which is become one-word sloganeers. ‘Safety,’ they got it. It’s about how to maximize it so time to starting pitching specific ideas and solutions. If you’d like to contribute to our wishlist, you know where…

  • Ryan Brady

    The unattainable solution I have in mind is to turn roads into wide sidewalks with 4 lane (slow ^ fast ^ fast v slow v) bikeways in the middle. Just sayin we’ve got to compromise with the existing system.

  • Ryan Brady

    Only downside I can think of is that two cycle tracks instead of one makes crossing the tracks more difficult for people with parked cars.

  • M.

    We’re comparing the two most acceptable choices and the how-to’s, costs, all part of the probability of getting an excellent one that passes and has the least negative trade-offs as possible.
    How about you mail us your ideas and info? And try to come to the open house tomorrow.

  • M.

    Depends on how certain parts of completely buffered paths are designed, e.g. intersections. So, given a particular situation total buffer may not be optimal and/or prohibitively expensive. And the plus of widened sidewalks being off the table is that can open opportunity in specific stretches, varies the street, and frees up budget $ for crucial design elements. Compromise, name of the game.

  • M.

    When things are designed well, you can get some of the best of a few different solutions. And budget is *always* a factor. If you can save on lower priority items, there’s more latitude to make the top priority things great.

  • dat

    Looking at the “Save Polk Street” page, they’re saying the plan is to remove “more than half to all” of the parking on polk st. This is not the case, is it?

  • dat

    “Save Polk St.”‘s webpage says 60% arrive by auto. Which is it?

  • mikesonn
  • Joel

    Parking would only be on the other side of the street.

  • M.

    Agreed – both about the ideal and about making things real.

  • M.

    Hey, way better than the last one if one can read to the end. I took him to task about focusing on the dogfight in the first article, so this one’s way better, plus he published my letter in full. I can send it to you offlist.

  • Anonymous

    As pro-streets, I’ll be there, and I’m bringing my pitchfork. That seems the preferred approach, facts and debate being out of style.

  • M.

    This that *that* Dat, the intern?
    Briefly, no. Polk on-street parking is a small fraction of the parking available in the corridor and there’s plenty of very underutilized parking but it’s costlier. So, what’s just emerged is that it’s not really about the absolute number of spots, it’s about the cost. Residential parking is a different matter.
    One of our Folks has found an estimation that the rental value of land used for on-street parking spaces on polk is $3.6m per year.
    Hope to see you at the SFMTA open house tomorrow eve.

  • M.

    Here’s a pivotal fact extrapolated from DPH figures by one of our Folks: injuries on polk st cost us $18m-$28m per year including costs of care, lost productivity, pain and suffering, etc.
    Sorry to say, but being the blame-the-victim, would-be gladiator strutting, hate-big-government-spending culture that we are, those figures will, in the long term, carry more weight than endless documentation of human tragedy from collisions on Polk, IMHO.

  • mikesonn

    The Marina Times has set the bar pretty low then. There are no numbers (amount of actual spaces being removed, what % that is of the total in the area, and zero mention of the SFMTA study showing only 15% arrive via auto) in that whole piece except for “remove potentially hundreds of parking spaces”.

  • voltairesmistress

    M, I was just in the Russian Hill Book Store Saturday night. They still have a petition and flyers for parking (and against safety) prominently displayed on their counter by the cash register. I felt too tired that night for confrontation, pleasant or not, so I did not say anything this time. I guess I should have — again.

  • voltairesmistress

    Karen, you hit the nail on the head. I ride alone most of the time, and Polk is the great connector to my neighborhood. And why do ride alone? Because my spouse won’t join me. She has neither deep bicycling experience nor a keen desire to practice vehicular cycling a la Polk Street. In the next year or two we will become a family of three. I am reluctant to take a toddler in a bike seat as long as Polk remains as dicey as it can be at times. So there you have it — the great portion of the population that remains NOT on bikes because of fear.

  • M.

    No worries. Wait til you’re rested and grounded and call them. Tell them you’ve been a loyal customer and you really believe they’re misguided in their POV. That you’d love to nominate them for the PPP list (for future publication) if they will remain open to different options.
    As I’ve said, don’t be deterred from entering other stores just because they display those silly signs. The owners often were not told the truth, were too busy, and/or were intimidated into displaying and carrying the meaningless petitions inside the stores.

  • M.

    Challenge their methodology. If they even know what that means, they hate being called on facts. In case you think this is ‘meow’ I speak from experience. Most of them pull anecdotes out of the air. Gotta hand it to them, they’re inventive.

    It’s very clear they’re on the defensive now. We’ve taken the high road (pun) and they’re trying to re-positon themselves as the David in this equation now (see MT article). Here’s another point of logic for them: Can’t simultaneously claim to have had 400 legit attendees on March 18, and also that you’re just little guys…

  • M.

    Congratulations, Mistress and Wife. Get set for the ride of your life 😉
    I’ve repeatedly made the point that bikes sales are way up but the bikes end up on cars traveling to Marin on the weekends. Make it safe, and they will ride.

  • M.

    You’re kidding, right?

  • M.

    welcome to the world of yellow local journalism. I covered as much data as poss in my letter. I won’t go into the would-be-funny-if-it-weren’t-so-awful details, but the author heard from me. After that he agreed to publish my letter – with a reminder of the word limit. 😀

  • Anonymous

    Not about being there.

  • M.

    🙂 introduce yourself, get get filmed, and get a button.

  • M.
  • M.

    we’re not just taking an option, we’re shaping it. plenty of very talented people out there to consult.

  • M.

    no worries; don’t get sidetracked by that silliness.

  • M.

    run our numbers, Girlfriend.

  • M.

    and they know that. Took a look at footage from March 18. An alpha goon flinched when it was mentioned that this is actually about our kids and the future. At the Sat. open house, ‘Stanley Flipp Kowalski’ paraded his young daughter around on his neckless shoulders. Too silly.

  • His daughter won’t be able to afford to live in San Francsico


85 Percent of People on Polk Street Arrive Without a Car

Updated 4:36 p.m. If San Franciscans were to believe the hyperbole and fearmongering spread by merchants leading the “Save Polk Street Coalition,” removing even a small proportion of car parking along the corridor to make the street safer and more inviting will kill businesses. But new survey data from the SF Municipal Transportation Agency shows that […]

Debunking the Misinformation Propagated By “Save Polk Street”

It’s clear that the parking-obsessed, anti-bike lane merchants behind the “Save Polk Street” group have no interest in vetting information before making their case. Concrete facts certainly had no place in the fearmongering rhetoric spouted by street safety opponents at the March meeting they staged, encapsulated by Flipp store owner Dan Kowalski’s dishonest comparison of the Polk Street […]