SFMTA Drops Protected Bike Lane Proposals for Most of Polk Street

The SF Municipal Transportation Agency has taken protected bike lanes off the table for 14 of 20 blocks of Polk Street under its latest design options [PDF].

On 14 blocks of Polk Street, from Geary to Union Street, the SFMTA's most ambitious proposal only includes conventional bike lanes. Protected bike lanes are apparently off the table. Image: SFMTA

The agency, it seems, has backed down from making bicycling on Polk safe enough for a broader range of San Franciscans, in order to placate merchants who have vociferously opposed removing a small percentage of parking to make room for safety improvements that could actually boost business on a street where 85 percent of people arrive without a car.

Instead, the SFMTA’s most ambitious proposal for Polk between Geary and Union Streets only includes bike lanes that, depending on the block, would run either curbside (without parking) or in the door zone — the kinds of bike lanes that only make a relatively small percentage of people feel comfortable enough to ride.

No longer included are options [PDFpresented by the agency in December which would have provided bike lanes that run along the curb consistently, with some stretches protected from traffic by parking lanes.

“The city is setting its sights too low if they’re not committing to a truly family-friendly bikeway that really does offer people of all ages and skill levels a safe place to ride,” said Leah Shahum, executive director of the SF Bicycle Coalition. “We know Polk Street is already one of the more intimidating places for people walking and biking, and we also know there’s a major problem with dooring.”

In all, the SFMTA now provides three design options for the two sections of Polk — north and south of Geary. For both sections, the SFMTA has included an option that would essentially maintain the status quo for bicycling conditions, making no changes to the bike lanes except for some new green paint.

In terms of the amount of parking that could be removed, SFMTA staff said the range for these options is between 4 to 14 percent of the 2,100 on-street spaces within a block of the corridor. (When off-street parking is taken into account, for a total supply of 5,100 spaces, our calculations put the range at 1.6 percent to 6 percent.)

On the six-block stretch of Polk south of Geary to McAllister, the SFMTA does provide an option for protected bike lanes that would eliminate northbound motor traffic (precluding a potential re-route of the 19-Polk onto the street) and preserve much of the parking. Another option for that stretch would create buffered bike lanes with mixed levels of protection, running curbside on some stretches, between parked cars and moving cars on others.

Regardless of the options chosen, SFMTA planners said they would add all of the proposed pedestrian safety upgrades, like corner bulb-outs, re-timing traffic signals for slower speeds, and daylighting to improve visibility at corners.

This vision for Polk, drawn up by SFMTA staff and Dutch bike planners in 2011 for the ##http://sf.streetsblog.org/2011/09/22/think-bike-workshops-offer-a-dutch-touch-on-three-key-corridors/##Think Bike workshops##, shows what protected bike lanes on Polk could look like.

The SFMTA presented the designs to the public at an open house on Saturday, and will hold another one Tuesday evening. In the last hour of Saturday’s meeting, the venue was packed with what appeared to be a crowd with fairly mixed opinions. Most of the comments written on the boards, seemed to stem from passionate beliefs that safety should come before car parking.

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

The final outcome of the Polk project will set an important precedent as the SFMTA looks to implement similar improvements on other streets where adding protected bike lanes may mean re-allocating space dedicated to car parking. The agency will have to stand behind its 40-year-old transit-first policy of prioritizing walking, biking, and transit ahead of private automobiles, as well as its goals of reaching a 20 percent bicycle mode share by 2020.

As SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin has put it, “We have a very clear policy mandate.” But Reiskin has also acknowledged that preserving parking on Polk means “there may be some trade-offs in terms of some of the safety or other benefits.” By backing away from the safest option in order to preserve more parking, the agency is showing the limits of its policy mandate under Mayor Ed Lee.

SFMTA planners said they’re still fielding input on the proposals, and that the ultimate decision on the selection of design options will be up to the SFMTA Board of Directors.

“We’re still asking people to take a bit of a leap of faith with us on removing something that they think is essential to their business,” said Seleta Reynolds, section leader for the SFMTA Livable Streets subdivision. “Until we can really demonstrate repeatedly that those kinds of projects really can work in a city like San Francisco, I think it maybe is too much of an ask for some folks, and one that is not fair for us to push.”

The SFMTA’s second open house meeting on the Polk proposals will be held Tuesday at 5 p.m. at the First Congregational Church Fellowship Hall at 1300 Polk St (at Bush).

One option for six blocks of lower Polk, from Geary to McAllister, would created parking-protected bike lanes and only allow one-way motor traffic on those blocks.
Another option for lower Polk would create buffered bike lanes that run either curbside or to the left of parked cars, depending on the block.
  • M.

    OK boycotts aren’t stupid, they’re ineffective, in the same way embargos make the innocent suffer. I’m reading about the history of street initiatives in SF now cause I haven’t experienced it as you all have. Regardless, if you care about outcomes there’s no choice but to cultivate optimism, steer clear of stereotypes and bitterness, and keep the successes front of mind. Frustration is understandable but mostly I see plenty of finger-pointing toward those off list and very little self-reflection. I’ll try to bow out now. SFStreetsblog is addictive, but too much time spent here.

  • M.

    Good on ya for your efforts. Very glad to hear of them. But the others view us as an ideologically monolithic wall just as you’re viewing them and so it goes

  • Anonymous

    And I see you pointing fingers at people on streetsblog, apparently because we’re failing to do exactly what you insist we should. Look, you do your thing. I don’t suppose your approach can hurt, even if it fails. I’m doing my thing, which included signing your group’s sign-up sheet (the guy was cagey as to who/where you were). But make no mistake–time will be the judge of what is “ineffective” and what is not, and once Polk gets repaved, the judgment will be obvious to all.

  • mikesonn

    Where is your list? You’ve been talking it up for over a week. And a boycott of bad Polk street businesses won’t hurt the innocent. The Save Polk Street signs do a pretty good job of pointing those that want their parking over our safety.

  • mikesonn


  • voltairesmistress

    M, I get tired of “conversations” with people who don’t marshal facts, just wild prejudices. Russian Hill Bookstore’s owner is a case in point. But today, for instance, I had a lively discussion and friendly disagreement with my cabbie who wanted to marginalize bicyclists. We parted on friendly terms, and I think he liked the tip too, but I told him to watch out for me out there and all the other cyclists. How can he now justify to himself hating bicyclists in his lane when one of them might be his customer the next day? As they like to say on “Homeland”, I’m playing “the long game” — for a change in attitudes towards biking and bike riders.

  • I had this discussion with someone at the meeting. She had been passed on the right, and right hooked that cyclist, who then punched her car. I asked if there was a bike lane, and she said yes. She muttered something about keeping the bike lane clear, then I drew out the diagram for her. She then of course claimed that she *HAD* merged into the bike lane but the cyclist then went between the parked cars and her car.

    Which makes that particular bike lane the only non-door-zone bike lane in San Francisco, I guess. We’ll find out soon enough, I video taped the conversation and she mentioned where the turn was.

  • It doesn’t have to be a lot of people, it just has to be the RIGHT people. Surely you know this if you are an actual citizen of the United States.

  • Their pocketbooks

  • bourbon

    Is anybody making stickers?

  • @Greg – Complete and utter nonsense. The opposition was screeching “Agenda 21” at public meetings and fussing over a laundry list of complaints about bikes (but not cars, which do the same things), and even disparaging the life and limb of bicyclists before I posted that remark.

    Besides, I’m just one voice. None of the parties involved in this stupid conflict are willing to mention unfortunate truths about cars. I’m totally off-message, and I can certainly always count on someone like you to point that out.

  • @disqus_y1CPwEpQUN:disqus – Did C.W. Nevius talk to you? His article didn’t mention Folks for Polk at all, which seems a deliberate omissions. A case of the media, not the participants, framing this as an ideologically monolithic wall. I’d say that letters to the editor are called for.

  • M.

    Hi, Jim. I’m breaking my decision not to comment ’cause you addressed yours to me. After this, I’m reachable at folks[AT]folksforpolk.org
    A: No, he didn’t but he seemed to be onto the existence of a bigger campaign. I’ve been told by Chiu’s asst. that Chiu knows about us; when we’ve got all our numbers, I’ll visit him. I attended the supe’s parking hearing at City Hall yesterday and they’re familiar with our effort, as well.
    Our petition recipients have been getting signers’ comments and notifications of new signers. As to Nevius, I’ll follow up w/ a letter to him.
    When other media skewed my interviews I contacted them and called them on it. Results include a broader take in the last Marina Times and they requested a letter from me which they printed in full.
    Media as loving fights over facts? Duh. But they do respond.
    So, I’m disappearing from here again; the impotent anger is a drag. You know where to find me. Write if you’re ready to participate or keep it productive.

  • Anonymous

    Here is a generalization for you: 80% of drivers fail to use their turn signal. Those who call on cops to ticket jaywalkers should also ask for vigorous enforcement and fines for car drivers who fail to properly signal, or disobey the 2-second rule for stopping distance.

  • Anonymous

    If bike improvements are not made as a result of SPSC members lobbying SFMTA, and somebody gets killed on a bike that wouldn’t have if the improvements ad been made – then there should a civil lawsuit against SPSC members and business owners individually, as well as Ed Reisken (assuming he deliberately chose to not make necessary improvements).

  • Anonymous

    There is not enough housing density around Polk to adequately fill Polk Street with foot & bike traffic alone. Cars increase road safety to some extent, by their presence. If there wasn’t the steady flow of traffic, criminal elements would flourish. Until SF gets more cops, CCTV, and 100 times more serious about catching and prosecuting criminals, pedestrians and cyclists need cars in a symbiotic safety-in-numbers relationship.

  • Anonymous

    Cars increase road safety? What? That claim is obviously false.

    First, the statistics on injury collisions prove cars pose a mortal threat to pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users and even other motorists.

    Second, the claim cars on Polk Street somehow constitute what Jane Jacobs referred to as “eyes on the street” is not supported in reality. Motorists’s senses are dulled while inside their vehicles–e.g. they usually cannot hear anything said outside their vehicles. They aren’t observers of what’s happening on Polk Street the way a resident sitting at an open window would be–when motorists are actually paying attention, they only observe a narrow slice of street life–the red lights, the jaywalkers, lane jockeying, open parking spaces, etc. They’re not looking for petty crimes along the periphery. They can’t.

    Indeed, motorists are *already* too distracted by their machines–and all the various gadgets and displays and noises inside those machines–to avoid causing hundreds of injury collisions each year in this city, many of them along the Polk corridor. There is just no way we can look at such road users as some sort of Jacobsian citizen safety patrol. No way.

    Cars engender danger on streets like Polk, not safety.

  • Greg

    If you leave even inches between your car and the curb, bikers will go there – even if their right foot is walking on the sidewalk as they bike past you – then they smash your car for daring to not leave them enough room to pass on the right. They do this at intersections both where there is an official bike lane and where there isn’t. At many intersections it’s impossible to get your car really close to the curb to physically block out bikers from passing on the right – of course you should try and get as close as you can – but if you leave even a couple feet, they will pass you on the right. Some really foolish bikers out there. We are now dealing with the bandwagon folks people. They are biking now because it’s trendy. They use to drive an SUV because that was trendy.

  • mikesonn

    All those drivers pushing their way through crowded intersections! Give them an inch and they’ll force their way through throngs of people! Hell, they use to just use Muni when it was trendy, now everyone wants the latest Prius. It is just fad.

  • voltairesmistress

    Jim, cm rider collided with this pedestrian on a church st sidewalk. In my 44 years of riding I have not seen one positive gain from critical mass. Have, however, seen much gain from other bike and ped activism. So, no, I don’t attribute any political results to cm hooliganism that I have witnessed.

  • voltairesmistress

    If it takes a cm ride to create a transformative experience, that rider has not spent any time on the streets. Simply riding most days will convert most of us into advocates. The attendant dangers do that.

  • Anonymous

    lulz, have you been in a critical mass before? It’s not a tour highlighting how terrible our infrastructure is and how stressful it is to bike most days. It’s about the experience of taking back the streets and that IS transformative, even though it’s temporary.

    Now I do think cm has its problems and pedestrians are often given the short end of the stick, but it’s a really neat experience to bike with hundreds or thousands of people. Here’s an interview about it from January if you’re interested:


    The history is that without critical mass the sfbc would still be a small marginal voice and not the 12,000 member org that it is today. I’m not saying that’s true, but that’s the story that gets told.

  • I think your best bet is to follow the rules, move to the right when turning right, look where you’re going, take your turn, and don’t sweat it. If you still end up with angry bikers pounding on your hood, that’s rather bizarre. I travel all over the city on a daily basis and rarely have any problem with cyclists or drivers.

  • Are the cyclists ready to start paying licensing fees to upkeep “their” lanes the way cars do? Remember the streets are not free.

  • gneiss

    As usual Sebra, you are woefully misinformed. Motorist do not pay user fees for the upkeep of roads in San Francisco. City residents pay for our streets through sales and property taxes. In fact, much of the current round of street upgrades are coming from the $248 Million Street repair bond passed by city voters in 2011: http://www.sfexaminer.com/local/2011/11/street-repair-bond-passed-san-francisco-voters.

  • Filamino

    I saw nothing biased about Nevius’ article. He states the facts – both sides have legitimate concerns about the existing plans and there will have to be a difficult decision to be made which one to choose. He is doing what professional journalists should be doing: stating the facts and letting the readers decide their opinions. Just because he didn’t take the pro-bike side doesn’t make it an anti-bike article. Sheesh.

  • Filamino

    “Chinatown, with locals avoiding it all together.”
    Disgustingly racist. Just shows the complete ignorance of not understanding the dynamics of Chinatown and the community.

  • @5c6e74f9c4be18e3e0b82b7e5f4c701f:disqus – Sheesh yourself, you completely missed the point. Nevius quoted the SFBC and a bicyclist but completely ignored Folks for Polk. This makes it seem as if it’s bicyclists vs. plain ordinary regular people, a narrative you seem to have bought into with your wording about “both” sides, one of which is “the pro-bike side.”

  • Zachary Christian Flood

    Hello everyone. It seems like this thread is long dead but as someone who just stumbled upon this on page, I wanted to throw in my two cents. I grew up in the city and am about to move back after college. I’ll be attending school in civic center and living in the marina. Franky, I would love to bike to school everyday, but I won’t. Biking in this city is hell. I’m not some hipster fixie kid. I don’t have an awesome bike. I wish I could bike here like I did in college: on protected paths. I can’t justify the risk of sharing a lane with cars twice a day for years, I’ve just seen and heard too many horror stories. If i could bike along Polk St. everyday in safe manner, guess where I’d spend a great deal of my time and my money?


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