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

Polk will get a raised bike lane, but only northbound from McAllister to California Street. Images: Planning Department

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, conventional, and part-time bike lanes, depending on the stretch and side of the street.

In a blog postthe SF Bicycle Coalition wrote that it is “deeply troubled” that the SFMTA and Supervisor David Chiu have stood bythe lackluster design,” in which protected bike lanes were largely cast aside to preserve parking spaces for a vocal minority of merchants.

Noting the inconsistencies between officials’ Vision Zero rhetoric and the watered-down proposal to improve safety on Polk, which sees the second highest number of crashes of any corridor in the city, the SFBC announced it is launching a David Chiu/MTA Polk Street Body Count clock, a tracker that will count the number people hurt on Polk going forward.

Luis Montoya, project manager for the SFMTA, characterized the compromised safety plans as an appropriate balance. “I think people see that we’ve stuck to what we’ve said the project goals were of improving safety, addressing the specific crash patterns that we see, balancing the needs of the street,” he said.

Polk at California, where the configuration for bike lanes changes.

Between McAllister and California Streets, the northbound bike lane will be raised on a curb, with merging zones for drivers turning right at the streets that allow turns in the eastbound direction. The southbound direction will include a buffered, painted bike lane, running to the left of the curb or parked cars, depending on the block. Bicycle riders will be protected from right turning drivers on that side of the street with separate bicycle signal phases and right turn lanes for drivers.

On the northern stretch, between California Street and Broadway, the southbound direction will have a conventional bike lane running between parked cars and moving cars, while northbound will have a part-time bike lane, with parking banned along the curb during morning rush hours. That ban was originally proposed for the northern blocks between Broadway and Union Street, but Montoya said they will retain full-time parking there because parking bans could exacerbate the double-parking problems on that stretch. Instead, he said planners will add a number of loading zones and green “short-term parking” zones to keep stopped vehicles curbside.

At some intersections like Polk and Geary, conflicts in the southbound bike lane will be reduced by a right-turn pocket and bicycle signal phase.

“The resounding message from people who bike and walk on Polk Street is that the current design is a recipe for mass confusion and dangerous conflict,” the SFBC wrote. “The proposed bikeway zig zags between parked cars and the curb, stops and starts, sometimes completely disappearing for blocks at a time, leaving you hanging while biking and leaving drivers confused and stressed out.”

When asked about the SFMTA Board of Directors’ request for an option to institute a full-length bike lane as a pilot project, SFMTA staff said they weren’t sure what I was referring to.

Meanwhile, Polk’s pedestrian realm will get “streetscape enhancements” like greening and pedestrian-scale lighting, which Montoya said encompasses half the project’s budget. The full plans are available on the Planning Department’s website.

The Polk Street plans must still be approved by the SFMTA Board and the Planning Commission before construction in 2015.

Bulb-outs and colored crosswalks at Polk and Green Streets.
  • bobster1985

    If there’s a double-parking problem, the proper remedy is to cite and tow the double-parkers, not sacrifice the bike lane.

  • Greg Costikyan

    Quite often a double-parking problem results from delivery to merchants by trucks, who can’t find a place to park. In which case the remedy is not to “cite and tow,” but to designate some stretches of curb as commercial loading zone. But of course that means sacrificing some parking space….

  • Greg Costikyan

    This is, even if watered down, an improvement. And I was pleased to see a separated bike path going in on Polk between Market and McAllister on my recent visit to SF.

  • Gezellig

    Better than nothing in places, but sad.

    Vision Zero? Not so much.

    Zero Vision? Yup.

  • Gezellig

    If only that could continue and be on both sides for the length of Polk!

  • Gezellig

    Another option many places do, too, is to designate delivery loading hours.

  • M.

    There’s more green and yellow loading curbside but the idea of limited loading times was shouted down.

  • M.

    Some intersections will have changes to signaling and turning, but most, if not all, should get one of the simplest, cheapest safety measures there is: through-intersection striping. That would seem to be a given in light of crash location stats and NACTO and other worldwide practice. Answers as to why they’re absent from the Polk Plan have not been forthcoming >:-(

  • 2of3jays

    I don’t see any mention of traffic enforcement measures which should be first and foremost. Some heavy ticketing of all law offenders would go a LONG way – right away- to make this a safer corridor for everyone. Very disappointing.

  • M.

    Not their job. We’ve recommended to the SFPD several specific enforcement initiatives, and definitely for a minimum of 6 months after project completion.

  • Jamison Wieser

    SFMTA should just change their slogan to “Get a fucking car you asshole!”

  • Greg

    I agree. Just enforce all traffic laws on Polk and elsewhere in SF.

  • 2of3jays

    M: you are the most informed Articulate and balanced commentator on this issue. You. Must be working with a transportation oriented organization or be obsessed with Polk St. I mean that in a positive way. Your insight and grasp of detail is most helpful so, thanks !

  • murphstahoe

    I await your campaign for a tax increase to fund more officers for the SFPD traffic division.

  • murphstahoe

    Can I park my fucking car in Ed Lee’s fucking spot, you assholes!

  • Greg

    We currently have the highest (per capita) government spending of any city in the U.S. and that’s isn’t enough for the police to enforce the law? We need to increase taxes more for that?

    There are about 20 SFMTA officers at Drumm and Market/Sacramento every day standing around at the construction area. Does it cost more for them to ticket all the traffic law violators while they stand there?

  • Jake Wegmann

    Don’t blame SFMTA. Blame the politicians that knuckled under to the hysterical mobs. At the end of the day, implementing livable streets requires leadership, which is a fundamentally political act. That’s not the job of the staff people doing the actual on-the-ground work. They’re highly trained, competent professionals — as topnotch as in any city in the world — and they do the best work they possibly can given the circumstances they’re placed in.

    Sure, this stuff is really, really hard, and it takes a backbone. I get that. But the electeds should stop spouting off about “Transit First” and “Vision Zero” if they’re not willing to make the hard decisions that will make them a reality. Maybe the San Francisco Supes and mayor should just admit that Portland, Austin, Chicago, New York and some other cities are going to continue to be the real trailblazers with urban biking in this country.

  • Greg

    “Blame the politicians that knuckled under to the hysterical mobs”. Or maybe the politicians just responded to a majority of their constituents.

  • Riding a bike in a sandwich bike lane between parked cars and a driving lane is more dangerous than biking in the center of the lane. As a cyclist, it’s always safer riding in the traffic lane because you’re visible to cars. These watered down bike lanes will make cyclists less visible to vehicles, and will likely result in more accidents. Shame on the SFMTA for subsidizing a few parking spots with our safety. Does anyone really think these bike lanes are any safer than what we have now?

  • murphstahoe

    You don’t give yourself a lot of credibility when you indicate you think that someone from SFMTA can issue a traffic citation.

  • murphstahoe

    As a cyclist, it’s always safer riding in the traffic lane because you’re visible to cars.

    http://holierthanyou.blogspot.com/2011/12/millbrae-ave-collision.html

  • Jamison Wieser

    I could not agree more about the talented, professional SFMTA staff and sometimes wonder how they put up with political and public meddling and don’t go work for agencies in other cities which actually allow them to do their job.

    I don’t really care who’s responsible, SFMTA keeps placing a handful of parking spaces over bike lanes, transit, and $6 Muni fares into their budget to cover free parking. So long as SFMTA or whoever is running things keeps fucking us over for parking, they deserve the same. Call them on their bullshit enough and maybe the board of CEO will take a fucking hint and stand up to the politicians rather than caving on everything.

    Seattle is another city investing in bike and transit infrastructure. Unlike the SFMTA, Sound Transit isn’t building one-car platforms for two-car trains.

  • Jamison Wieser

    Protected bike lanes are safer than riding in traffic.

    Unless I’m missing something, there isn’t a single protected bike corridor running North/South in the North-East section of the city. I see a lot of car lanes, but they are too precious to take even a single lane away from.

  • Guest

    Or a minority of their constituents.

  • Chris J.

    Do we know which of the twelve supervisors to blame? Was there a vote on this issue?

  • murphstahoe

    The District 12 Supe

  • Gezellig

    The thing is it wasn’t a majority…it’s always a vocal minority with dubious aims that ends up derailing these things. Despite the evidence that over 80% of people arrive at Polk St. via non-car and support better ped/bike infrastructure.

    The problem is SF’s hyper-democracy setup where one person can do something like prevent all bike improvements citywide for 5 years because…Reasons.

    Meanwhile, places like NYC actually get things done because plans aren’t presented by NYCDOT as “Pretty Please?” but “So guys, we’re doing this. You can provide input but this is happening.” So, meanwhile in the past 5-7 years these are the kinds of things they’ve been accomplishing:

    http://blog.archpaper.com/wordpress/archives/67137

    Perhaps the most depressing part is some of NYC’s “Befores” look like the “Afters” SF is building.

  • coolbabybookworm

    It’s Chiu, no votes have happened.

  • Chris J.

    I don’t understand how only one supervisor can be responsible then. Did he have formal authority on this by virtue of being on some other government body? The board generally acts as a body.

  • coolbabybookworm

    You have to read between the lines, but the supervisor plays a large role in projects that happen (or don’t) in their district. Positive examples: Breed getting Fell and Oak bike lanes installed for bike to work day, the Mayor and Jane Kim getting the Folsom street pilot in the ground after Le Moulac’s tragic death, and Wiener securing funds from prop B and kickstarting the process to improve Castro street.

    SFMTA meets with stakeholders throughout the design process, and the supervisor and mayor’s offices carry a lot of weight in deciding what is and isn’t possible.

    This design still has to go before the SFMTA board for approval.

  • gneiss

    Supervisor Chiu is hoping to stay under the radar for his run at the Assembly. It’s pretty clear that he wants to position himself as the reasonable ‘moderate’ to counterbalance the positions of Supervisor Avalos, who is also considering a run. His advisers have probably told him that taking a strong stand against parking and with the “all powerful bike lobby” would lose votes and monetary support which he’ll need for his run. It would be interesting to find out who are the people providing him with money for his campaign. Perhaps some quid pro quo from the merchants on Polk?

  • murphstahoe

    Not Avalos – Campos, who is already declared, debates have already occured.

  • Bob Gunderson

    Well paid supervisors, mayor, transit agency, and we also get to weigh in on every single detail and come up with a “democratic” solution to street design. We get the best of everything!

  • sforick

    I attended last night’s meeting. The design is clearly a balanced compromise. Walking advocates were complaining that the project was too bike oriented.

    My concerns were more about SFMTA’s policy of mixing cars, bicycles and buses on major streets. The results are unsafe streets. Bicycles should be given routes of their own on a full network of streets dedicated to bicycles and local traffic only.

    The street designs being rubber stamped all over the city under the
    euphemisms of “traffic calming” and “streetscaping” are misguided in their
    application and SFMTA’s toolbox is flawed, for example:

    1) SFMTA wants to add more countdown pedestrian signals. Bad idea and a waste of money. Study shows pedestrians struck by cars at crossings increased by 26 per cent after the countdown timers were introduced. It also shows a 51 per cent increase in serious injuries and fatalities: http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2013/10/04/toronto_countdown_crosswalks_have_led_to_increase_in_pedestrian_collisions_study_finds.html

    2) I am concerned that traffic calming costs over 4 lives lost through delayed emergency response for every pedestrian saved, yet our politicians fight input to these projects by SFFD. These lives lost are as important as those of pedestrians:
    http://www.edmecka.com/Forms/tfc_calm.pdf

  • coolbabybookworm

    I’m concerned by your concern trolling.

  • sforick

    They don’t need to issue traffic citations, but If SFMTA is really serious about safety, it should task a portion of it’s army of parking control officers to educate and enforce the pedestrian and bicycle problem, and free up SFPD to focus the motorists. The PCO’s are already along the sidewalks and bicycle lanes in small vehicles perfect for the task. And they are already on city payroll.

  • c2check

    Fortunately there is a very car-focused street quite close to Polk, namely Van Ness. Wouldn’t Polk be a great option for a bike-ped focused street, then?

  • sforick

    Double parking is not going away in SF – there’s just too much
    delivery and commercial need. But enforcement will help raise awareness. Maybe double fines for double parking within 25 feet of a crosswalk or something like that would help. I see a lot of unnecessary double parking (cars picking up kids at the school on De Haro – double parked while a huge white zone go unused, seen that too with taxis around town). I did see a smaller fed-ex truck the other day that could actually fit in a yellow zone or parking space – encouraging.

  • murphstahoe

    It’s established the SFPD cops don’t know the laws regarding bicycles and pedestrians, now we expect to have the meter maids get it right?

  • jonobate

    And what would they do? Unlike police officers, they can’t even legally force someone to stop and talk to them.

  • jonobate

    We don’t need double fines, we just need enforcement. A small fine enforced regularly and consistently is far more effective than a large fine enforced infrequently and inconsistently.

  • jonobate

    You linked to someone’s Masters thesis and an article that notes that three different studies on pedestrian countdown signals came to three different conclusions. If I were uncharitable, I might think that you were cherry picking your sources.

  • sforick

    You’re right. I can dream :). They could be given more authority by the city, but I won’t hold my breath. Can’t they even focus on the double parking problem??

  • Gezellig

    Another thing Polk could’ve become is a one-way (southbound) for its entire length. After all, it already is this way south of Grove and neighboring Larkin is one-way northbound (in addition, Van Ness is of course two-way).

    By making it one-way you could remove a traffic lane while keeping parking to appease the parking trolls while still retaining space for a true protected cycletrack and other ped/bike improvements.

    There are just so many things SF could be doing it’s not.

  • coolbabybookworm

    Plus one-waying (but keeping it narrow) can simplify intersections and narrow the vehicle lanes making pedestrian crossing easier and reducing conflict points.

  • coolbabybookworm

    The PCO’s already dedicate much of their resources directing traffic around Market and other downtown intersections at rush hour to try and avert gridlock and collisions.

  • Gezellig

    Absolutely!

    Was this even considered? I mean maybe some of the car-first crowd wouldn’t be happy with it but c’mon they’d still be retaining TWO parking lanes, a car travel lane and it’d free up space for truly top-notch bike and ped infra. Plus, since all/most of the nearby streets are one-way it’s hardly a radical thing–drivers in SF are used to it and the grid can accommodate it well.

  • voltairesmistress

    After the six year old girl was killed on Polk, I thought the merchants there would feel ashamed, that Supervisor Chiu and the mayor would fear a voter backlash, and that the substandard Polk plans would get a re-thinking. Would things have been different if the girl’s parents were professionals with good incomes and fully conversant in English? Kind of like how things changed after Amelie Moullac died on the now re-worked Folsom Street? Increasingly, I think we need to organize a response team to protest egregious pedestrian and cyclist deaths by drivers. Critical Mass for the dearly departed. Because for me, our politicians are guilty of depraved indifference.

  • Gezellig

    I’m all for enforcement but to a huge degree the double-parking problem is so rampant because our infrastructure status quo highly encourages it basically everywhere. Including by these guys:

    http://sf.streetsblog.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2014/01/2014-01-21-17.45.46.jpg
    (http://sf.streetsblog.org/2014/01/23/whos-parking-in-the-fell-street-bike-lane-today-oh-its-sfpd/)

    http://sf.streetsblog.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2013/08/DSC_0088.jpg
    (http://sf.streetsblog.org/2013/08/21/at-safe-streets-rally-sfpd-blocks-bike-lane-to-make-point-of-victim-blaming/)

    Especially when we keep on building crazy-wide “buffered” Class II bike lanes that are the perfect width (and more!) for double parking in. After all, they’re not truly “buffered” by anything but easily ignorable paint.

    http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-gPwLneUNLQw/TxtE37HZyYI/AAAAAAAAAHU/8tDzD-9uqB8/s640/IMG_4107.jpg
    (http://sf.streetsblog.org/2012/01/23/caltrans-slims-the-sloat-boulevard-speedway-with-buffered-bike-lanes/)

    We’ve got to get more and better physical separation of bikeways. Anything less on these roads has long since been proven to be unacceptable.

  • sebra leaves

    Bike lanes on one way streets without buses and big trucks would be a safer solution for everyone.

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