Survey Shows Polk Neighbors Want Safer Streets First, Not Parking

A new survey shows that car parking is far from the top priority for people who live, work, and shop on Polk Street.

Updated 6:09 p.m. with comment from MPNA.

Polk Street’s dangerous conditions for people walking and biking are, by far, the biggest concern for people who live, work, and shop there — far more important than any lack of car parking, according to a new neighborhood survey.

The survey [DOCX] was conducted by the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development in partnership with the Middle Polk Neighborhood Association, which hosted a neighborhood meeting last March where the parking-obsessed furor drummed up by the a group of merchants called “Save Polk Street” overwhelmed discussion of facts with fearmongering.

“Middle Polk is extremely concerned about safety – pedestrian, bicycles, etc..” said MPNA Chair Dawn Trennert. “No doubt that would rank #1. The Save Polk Street issue about parking has a few aspects to it – but the primary one is concern over removal of parking.  Pedestrian and bicycle safety and parking are all important items for our neighborhood.”

Out of the 140 respondents to the survey conducted last fall, 48 said “the biggest challenge affecting Middle Polk” was the “unsafe environment for pedestrians and cyclists.” It was the top choice, while “not enough parking” was chosen by 16 respondents, making it the third-most selected choice. The second-biggest concern was the “presence of homelessness / loitering.”

The survey findings buttress an SFMTA survey released last March which found that 85 percent of people on Polk arrive without a car, and that those who do drive tend to spend the least on a weekly basis.

“These survey results reaffirm what so many residents, shoppers and commuters of Polk Street understand: this thriving corridor needs a transformation that places people first,” said Kristin Smith, communications director for the SF Bicycle Coalition. “The SFMTA must implement a robust pilot to demonstrate the benefits of safer and more inviting biking and walking conditions and ensure the Polk Street Project Improvement Project meets the real needs of Polk.”

Photo: ## Ratner/Streetsblog##

“We’re not surprised to see that safety is one of the community’s top concerns,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider. “Polk is one of the city’s most dangerous streets for people on foot. We know safety impacts the livability, vibrancy and economic success of our city’s commercial corridors, and this survey confirms that this is what our community wants.”

There’s little hope that Save Polk Street would reconsider its position in light of more empirical evidence that undermines it (data and facts haven’t worked so far). But this kind of hard data shows that officials at the SFMTA, and elected officials like Supervisor David Chiu, are making decisions that shape our streets based on a poor gauge of political support for safety improvements. Instead, in the case of Polk, they’re catering to a small but loud, irrational group.

The SFMTA Board of Directors hasn’t approved the Polk plan yet, and its members asked for an option to pilot a full-length bike lane. But as it stands, the proposal is a watered-down version of a redesign that has the potential to make the street feel more like Paris and less like Detroit, all to save a sliver of car storage.

“The survey results clearly reflect people’s serious concerns about safety in the Polk corridor,” said Madeleine Savit, who founded Folks for Polk, and has worked to build support for a bolder, safer plan for the street. “They also demonstrate the public’s wisdom that commercial vitality comes from substantive actions that are proven to enliven our streets.”

  • Chris J.

    It boggles my mind that any merchant there would be opposed to improvements like these. They’ll get more business if the area becomes more people-friendly. Those merchants, if they exist, are hurting their own bottom line.

  • murphstahoe

    For some merchants (who live nowhere near Polk Street) their bottom line might not be as important as “where am I – personally going to park”. Or, because that is how *they* get to the neighborhood they cannot conceptualize that anyone would get there in any other way.

    Typical lack of empathy. For all the blather about people being “anti-car” most people who are characterized as such understand the pros of car usage – even if you think that it nets negative. But those who are solely in the camp of “why are we bothering with bike and ped infrastructure” cannot even conceptualize that anyone would use those modalities.

    If you have a shop on a place like Polk, if you have some sort of distinct advantage (e.g. – you own the real estate) it’s almost impossible to fail with such low overhead and huge customer base, so you don’t notice how much revenue you are leaving on the street. Small businesses aren’t so clued in to maximizing profits as large corporations.

  • M.

    Most of us get very occupied and hunkered down into our livelihoods and so don’t keep up with latest facts. To a few Polk merchants – and certainly not most by a long shot – the wisdom they have is from back when ^parking=^business. That hasn’t been true for a long time if it ever was in cities – so they’ve been delayed in waking up to that. Now’s the time.

  • IHeartPandas

    Ok, MPNA/”Save” Polk Street — it’s time to show everyone that you genuinely care about human beings and their safety first, and not parking first. You have already wasted thousands of taxpayer dollars, as well as time, with your fear mongering. I encourage you to use this survey information in a productive way that prioritizes people’s safety.

    A good place to start will be using your Invest in Neighborhoods Initiative grant money (remember, this is taxpayer money) on safety improvements. I really hope that you put our money to effective use. You have the information that safety is paramount; you have the money from the grant. If it is true that “Middle Polk is extremely concerned about safety,” now’s the time to show it with meaningful change.

  • mikesonn

    I’m confused. Parking has never been the best option in the city (which you kinda state but somehow also say this is the latest fact(s)?). These people, like Murph said, are only concerned w/ themselves and how they move around. They are driving in from Marin or Pacifica and want to park so they do everything in their power, even at the expense of their own business, to make their commute as easy as possible. Their businesses will fail for many many reasons (bookstore anyone?), but they are definitely not doing themselves any favors by pushing away potential customers.

  • jonobate

    Both aspects are true. It’s certainly true that merchants are primarily concerned about how they get to work – there’s a merchant in my neighborhood who has ENUF flyers in his shop, and also parks at a meter outside his store during the day. There’s clearly an aspect of self interest at work there.

    But it’s also true that driving to a neighbourhood commercial streets such as middle Polk has become a worse option as more people have moved to the city. People I know who lived here in the 80s have told me that there was little worry about parking availability in those areas at that time. Parking was harder than in suburbia, but not by enough that you would be put off from making the journey.

    At that time, a store without easy parking would have been the odd one out, and people might have travelled to a different store instead. Now, parking is a pain on most neighborhood commercial streets, and the ones that are doing the best are the ones with with enhanced bike + ped facilities (e.g. Valencia), as we’ve reached a tipping point where the economic power of people who bike, walk and take transit to these areas is greater than those who drive to these areas. This is particularly true in the northeastern quadrant of the city where population is more dense.

  • Greg

    As usual, they are lumping together walkers and bikers where they shouldn’t be. Many folks in this hood prioritize walker safety over parking but we don’t believe that more bikes = more safety for walkers. It means the opposite. The city should not make changes for the tiny fraction of bikers to the detriment to the huge number of walkers in his hood.

  • murphstahoe

    “we don’t believe that more bikes = more safety for walkers”

    What do you base this belief on?

  • IHeartPandas

    “The city should not make changes for the tiny fraction of bikers”

    Polk Street is one of the busier bike routes in the city, as it the flattest, calmest North/South route. And it’s busy even though it’s not nearly as safe as it should be — the pavement is terrible, there are many double-parked cars and delivery vans, and the fast-moving cars turning off one-way couplets endangers people on foot and on bike.

    Adding bicycle routes is known to calm traffic on streets. The presence of bicycles slows down cars — this benefits BOTH pedestrians and bicyclists. See Walkable City by Jeff Speck or Cities for People by Jan Gehl if you’d like to learn more about this.

  • Where’s the evidence that Polk Street is now dangerous for anyone? The idea that the cycling community understands the interests of small businesses better than they do is ludicrous.

    The article notes that a previous study found that only 15% of visitors to Polk St. arrived by car. But that study also found that only 5% arrived by bike. So the conclusion should be that 200 parking spaces should be removed to make bike lanes?

  • murphstahoe

    “Where’s the evidence that Polk Street is now dangerous for anyone?”

    It was dangerous for this family. Or do they not count?

    The spaces should be removed to narrow the roadway and slow traffic. We could use that space for a duckling lane, but ducklings are only .0001% of traffic in San Francisco, a minority we should not cater to.

  • Mario Tanev

    The people who answered the survey who could have decided that increased safety for bicyclist could have meant reduced safety for pedestrians and ranked that choice lower. They didn’t. So even if we assume that they think bicyclist safety hurts pedestrians, it would mean that on the balance they believe pedestrian safety is much more important than parking, even when diluted by bicyclist safety. Which given how against bicyclist safety you are, must mean they REALLY don’t care about parking.

    Of course, most people realize that increased bicyclist safety improves pedestrian safety. It means bicyclists would not be riding on the sidewalks, that they would be riding more predictably, and most importantly, for bicyclists to be safe, that means that the sidewalks and intersections are protected from the real danger: multi-ton vehicles traveling at inhuman speeds.

  • If this had any grain of truth, the cities with the highest rates of bicycling would have the highest rates of pedestrian injuries. And yet, the opposite is true. Copenhagen has 37 percent of trips by bike, and its number of annual traffic deaths, among all modes, is approaching zero after decades of investment in bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly streets.

  • jd_x

    Rob Anderson wrote: “Where’s the evidence that Polk Street is now dangerous for anyone?”


    “The street with the fourth-most accidents was Polk Street, a north-to-south corridor that leads to the center of the city. A surprising 53 crashes occurred on Polk Street, or 4 percent of the city’s total.”

    And just a few weeks ago, a pedestrian death on Polk you might have heard about:

  • Rob, you’ve long shown a clear pattern of asking the same questions and having them answered, over and over again. We welcome productive and sincere conversation, but that’s not what this is.

  • voltairesmistress

    Greg, I believe your comment belongs in the “Divide & Conquer” section of that perennial best seller, Anti-Democracy for Dummies.

  • GC

    I can’t draw any larger conclusions from it, but the only time a car has made contact with my bike was on Polk St.

  • hp2ena

    The MPNA is looking for people in the neighborhood to join their steering committee to implement the grant. Anyone in MPNA’s boundaries should email Frank Cannata (frank “at” middlepolk “dot” org) to join, since they are planning on using the $ on banners to advertise Middle Polk as a special neighborhood.

  • M.

    Mikesonn, if there’s data you’re privy to as to where all of the merchants live their habits and motivations, do cite. Otherwise, we’ll have to use the facts that the survey confirms (‘recent facts’) to sway opinions and move policy toward addressing the most urgent issue – well being on our streets.

  • M.

    Many of the merchants on Polk rent and for some rents are increasing. Both are true: some are legitimately caught in the same rent squeeze as many residents of SF, and some have weak or nonexistent business plans that have left them more vulnerable to changes – including the roadwork itself.

  • M.

    Distilling the issue to the the simplicity you seem to prefer, RA: a *general* rule in urban infrastructure is that amenities can primarily service people in motor vehicles OR people not in motor vehicles. Therefore many/most of the same amenities benefit pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders alike. That’s just a fact, so let’s just head off quibbling specifics of degree, which streets deserve better treatment, etc.

  • Sure seems like a serious concern. I hope the Government is looking into it.

  • murphstahoe

    It’s fairly straightforward to go to the tax rolls, but I’m going to delegate that to the principals on this project.

  • murphstahoe

    “some have weak or nonexistent business plans that have left them more vulnerable to changes”

    I have more empathy with each passing year, but I can’t figure out how to empathize with a business owner who has a weak or nonexistent business plan. That’s not healthy for the business owner or the street as a whole. I sympathize with their lack of capability, but for their sakes perhaps they should focus their energies at something they are more adept at.

  • IHeartPandas

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Upright Biker

    Totally agree with your observations.

    And I wonder if it’s not so much that more people live here, but that more single people who live here own a car, and are more inclined to drive to a particular neighborhood to shop just to say they “shopped on Polk” or “shopped in Hayes Valley” or wherever.

  • murphstahoe

    It’s true. I don’t get it, but it’s true. We lived in Noe, and basically utilized Noe, Mission, Castro, and West Portal, all of which had short, straight shot MUNI lines. Getting invited to a party in North Beach was like going to the moon, and I was fine with that – the whole point of density was not having to travel more time than I spent at the destination.


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