SFMTA, Chiu Stand By Unprotected Bike Lane Proposal for Polk Street

Updated 5:16 p.m. with corrections on the number of blocks.

The SFMTA is moving forward with a plan for Polk Street with a protected bike lane only in one direction of an 11-block stretch. SFMTA planners and Supervisor David Chiu maintain that the plan is sufficient to make the street safe enough to invite a broad range of San Franciscans to bike, though the design has been guided less by safety considerations than the desire to appease merchants who oppose the removal of any car parking.

On nine blocks of middle Polk, between Union and California Streets, the SFMTA's plan includes a bike lane only southbound. On the nortbhound side, curbside parking will be prohibited to make more room for bikes during morning commute hours only. Image: SFMTA

Under the “preferred” plan presented [PDF] to media and stakeholders today, nine of the 20 blocks in the project (between Union and California Streets) will have a conventional, green-colored bike lane in the southbound direction only, placed between parked cars and moving cars. Northbound, curbside parking will be banned to make room for bikes during morning commute hours only. At other times, the only provision for cycling will be green-backed sharrows in the traffic lane.

In the southbound direction from California to McAllister Street, Polk will have a raised, protected bike lane. The northbound direction will have a buffered, green bike lane that, depending on the block, will run either curbside (without parking) or next to the parking lane.

Altogether, the plan would remove an estimated 30 percent of parking on Polk, or 8 percent of parking within a block of the street. On the stretch of middle Polk between Union and California, where opposition to parking removal was strongest, those numbers are 10 percent and 5 percent. Many of the parking spaces would be removed for sidewalk bulb-outs and other non-bike lane improvements, planners said.

When Chiu was asked whether he thinks the plan would make Polk bike-friendly enough for a mother to feel safe riding with a child — a vision which he has promoted to pro-bike crowds, but hasn’t supported when it’s politically risky — he said yes.

“The solutions that the MTA is proposing really moves to the next level on both of these sections for the biking experience, whether it be for young people all the way to seniors,” Chiu said. “I do think that this moves forward the biking vision for the city.”

Chiu and SFMTA planners argued that because middle Polk is flatter and has calmer traffic, adding only the southbound painted bike lane and green sharrows would be sufficient. On Lower Polk, south of California, they said the stronger protection for bike lanes is more appropriate because of a steeper grade and heavier cross-traffic.

Lower Polk, between California and McAllister Streets, would have a raised, protected bike lane southbound and a buffered bike lane northbound. Image: SFMTA

“But at the same time,” said Chiu, “obviously, this is a proposal that addresses the needs of all stakeholders on Polk Street, from residents and merchants to pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers.”

SF Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum said that while the SFMTA’s latest proposals have “some improvements” over the previous ones, “the plan still does not reflect the agency’s own goals, as set out in its five-year Strategic Plan and Bicycle Strategy.”

“This proposal continues the unfortunate tradition of our city designing bikeways that encourage the strong and fearless, rather than being accessible to people of all ages, including families, who deserve to feel comfortable and welcome on our streets,” she said.

Chiu and SFMTA planners also argued that the data collected on the improvements that do go in will help make the case for future safety improvements.

When asked about the SFMTA’s finding that only 17 percent of people on Polk Street arrive by car (the agency apparently refined its data since it was first reported), Chiu said, “I do think that when this project is put into place, everyone will see that traffic safety and economic vitality can thrive and reinforce each other.”

In addition to traffic counts and crash data, the SFMTA will look closely at the project’s effects on sales tax receipts, said Seleta Reynolds, a planner at the agency’s Livable Streets subdivision. “I think this project offers us a pretty unique opportunity to evaluate those kinds of things… because we think it’s a pretty important positive outcome to talk about and inform everything we do here on out,” she said.

The SFMTA will present the plans at an open house meeting next Thursday, July 25, from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., at the Old First Church Fellowship Hall at 1751 Sacramento Street (at Van Ness Avenue).

  • mikesonn


    Buses have to move slower as they get caught behind more cars. This is especially acute on Market now since there simply is not enough room for buses and cars. Drivers also hit, scare by nearly hitting, etc. peds walking to and from buses. More cars in SF has resulted in a less pleasant experience for those of us who walk and take Muni.

  • Anonymous

    Plus cars block the intersection/cross walks by crossing when there isn’t room, creating a dangerous crossing situation for pedestrians, especially people in wheelchairs or with carts/strollers. This also blocks cross vehicular traffic, including buses. I see it almost every day on my bus-blocking bike commute on Market.

  • mikesonn

    3rd is routinely blocked by cross traffic slowing 30/45/8x routes. Not to mention the obscene amount of drivers using the “bus only” lane.

  • Greg

    I agree, let’s put a dedicated separated bike lane, car lane and bus lane on Market each direction. While we’re at it, let’s put a a parking lane, taxi lane and truck delivery lane too – plus a SFO runway! What? There’s not room for that? Oh come on – I don’t care about such silly things.

  • Greg

    I agree. Ped improvements should take a back seat to bikers

  • Greg

    As a regular walker on Polk, I’m against anything that increases bikers on Polk since I find them very dangerous to me and my family. I don’t care about saving parking – I only care about not making Polk more inviting for the bikers running through the stop signs and nearly hitting me and my kids.

  • mikesonn

    I hear Van Ness is lovely for a stroll.

  • Mark Dreger

    That wasn’t my point smart ass.

  • Anonymous

    Do you mean to imply that somehow, somewhere in San Francisco, bicyclists were given higher priority than motorists or pedestrians? If so, please explain.

  • Anonymous

    Your anti-bike opinion is totally at odds with the cold, hard facts.

    All the studies and statistics prove injury accidents involving pedestrians almost always involve motorists and almost never involve bicyclists.

    At least you admit your irrational bias.

  • Lizette Wanzer

    Hear, hear!

  • Lizette Wanzer



  • 1999’s Prop E expanded the city charter’s transit-first policy by filling in details. This included consideration of pedestrians and bicycles, a fact that was well-publicized. Voters approved it.

  • Mike

    Two points Rob:

    1) My point was that your simplistic use of a statistic comes no where near describing actual demand for bicycle facilities in SF – let alone latent demand.

    2) If you’re so concerned about limited space, then you’d advocate for measures that increase cycling along with transit, because it is a very efficient use of limited space – unlike car parking or driving, which is arguably the worst: http://s3files.core77.com/blog/images/carbusbike.jpg

  • Please provide us with some evidence of either “actual demand” or “latent demand” for bicycle facilities that justifies redesigning city streets on behalf of a small minority against the interests of an overwhelming majority of those who now use city streets.

  • Henry

    As a native of Polk, I’m for accommodating bicyclists, because like it or not, bikers will continue to ride on Polk either way. And this provides an opportunity for families to have their kids ride _somewhere_ since D3 is the densest with the least open space. This at least calms traffic down for EVERYONE, makes Polk more livable, and enhances access for families to open space.

  • Anonymous

    You tell ’em! I mean, you never see a child riding a bike, much less enjoying it. That would never happen. As for kids using their bikes for transportation and independence? Must have been just a fever dream of my childhood, we all know it’s impossible and a child’s natural, healthy state is sitting in the back seat of a car playing video games.

  • Anonymous

    Yes indeed, only mean, nasty streets that cater to automobiles in as suburban a fashion as possible are going to keep families in SF.

  • Guest

    This is an improvement but still a horrible design that still puts the cyclists in very dangerous situations. Cyclists have to watch out for right turning vehicles that cut the turn too close and or don’t look/yield to cyclists to the right of their vehicle. Cyclists going northbound will have to evade opening car doors from parked cars, pushing the cyclist out into lane traffic. Cyclists get pushed into traffic by taxis and other vehicles when they park (double parking) on top of the designated bike paths because there is no protection of the path (curbs or plastic bollards) from vehicles, only paint. There is also no safe way for cyclists to do a left hand turn. In order to do so a cyclist must cross into the ongoing traffic lane (be hopeful that a vehicle behind them sees them stopped in the intersection), and negotiate a left turn across oncoming traffic, while negotiating pedestrians that are in the cross-walk. All of these scenarios are very dangerous to the cyclist and to potential pedestrians in crosswalks and to drivers entering and exiting their parked vehicles.

    Most cyclists that I know of and that I see riding around in the city, tend to ride fast in order to stay ahead of the cars. The only way to stay safe in this city is to stay ahead of the traffic, because a driver is more likely to see you in front of them then behind them or in their blind spot. Ask anyone that rides a motorcycle and they will tell you the same. Motorists can tend to be pretty rude when a cyclist takes up a lane in order to protect themselves from opening doors of parked cars. I’ve had times where I’ve tried to take up only a third of the right side of the lane in order to stay safe from opening doors from parked cars when a car will dangerously pass me to my left because they are in a hurry. In my experience most car drivers do not respect cyclists in the street as they would motorcycle. So in order to protect myself I will sometimes have to take the whole lane in order to protect myself and anyone else around me. The last thing I want to do is to hit a pedestrian crossing the street or one that is trying to enter or exit their vehicle.

    After some very quick research there are ways of providing a very safe environment for cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers that have been proven to work and that have been implemented as a standard. This proposal seems to care more about the retailers and not the general safety of those commuting to/from/through the community. The additions of the bulb outs and street scape improvements only increase the amount of danger that a cyclist must go through. You can view this video to see what safe bike lanes and intersections should look like: http://youtu.be/FlApbxLz6pA. You can read more about it here:


Detailed Polk Street Designs: Plans for Safe Bicycling Still “Lackluster”

The SFMTA and the Planning Department presented detailed plans for Polk Street at the project’s final open house meeting yesterday. The new aspects include specific locations of bulb-outs, dedicated bicycle signals, left turn prohibitions, loading zones, and new trees and landscaping. Plans to improve bicycle infrastructure are still composed of a mix of protected, buffered, […]

Tonight: Final Open House on a Safer Polk Street

Tonight is the SFMTA and Planning Department’s final open house on the Polk Street redesign, the last chance to weigh in on the agency’s preferred design before it goes to the SFMTA Board of Directors for approval. As you can see from the above flyer, the parking-obsessed “Save Polk Street” group is still fighting against […]