Parking-First “Save Polk Street” Crowd Attacks Van Ness BRT

A rendering of Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit. Image: SFMTA

“Save Polk Street” has aimed its parking-first agenda at Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit. A couple dozen speakers protested the project an SFMTA hearing last week, distributing fearmongering flyers [PDF] claiming that removing some parking and banning left turns would “kill small businesses,” back up car traffic, and make the street more dangerous.

Dawn Trennert at a meeting about Polk Street last year. Photo: Paul Skilbeck,

The long-delayed Van Ness BRT project was already approved two years ago by the boards of the SFMTA and the SF County Transportation Authority. Last week’s hearing was on specific street changes [PDF], like removing parking for station platforms and pedestrian bulb-outs. No action was taken by the hearing officers, but the street changes are expected to go to the SFMTA Board of Directors for approval in October.

The speakers and the fliers distributed weren’t explicitly associated with Save Polk Street, but many of the same faces and familiar inflammatory rhetoric could be found at the hearing.

Dawn Trennert of the Middle Polk Neighborhood Association, who has been seen at past meetings wearing a “Save Polk St.” t-shirt, spoke at the Van Ness hearing and echoed many of the same refrains calling for the preservation of parking and unfettered car movement.

“Many of our members have expressed extreme concern over the Van Ness BRT, and how it will impact our neighborhood, because they can’t park on Van Ness, and they’re used to parking on Van Ness, because they need to make left-hand turns, and they can’t do it on Van Ness to visit the nearby streets like Polk Street,” said Trennert. “Polk Street is faced with its own very grave issues with splitting up portions of Polk for bicycle use only, reducing parking on Polk.”

Save Polk Street, a group of car-obsessed merchants, successfully watered down plans for protected bike lanes on Polk in favor of preserving parking. The group has ignored statistics — like SFMTA studies showing that 85 percent of people arrive on Polk without a car, or a count of 4,300 parking spaces within a block of Polk between Union and McAllister Streets. Only 1,900 of those parking spaces are on-street, and on-street spaces along Polk and Van Ness make up a fraction of the total.

Most of the complaints about Van Ness BRT were about removing parking and banning left turns, and claimed that transit doesn’t need the estimated 30 percent speed increase. Some also complained about removing five of 16 bus stops to streamline the route.

One woman said the project will “invite vagrants to sleep in my neighborhood underneath the bus shelters,” although this is not currently a problem at the existing bus shelters. The buses on Muni’s 47 route “are perfect now, they’re fine,” she said.

Speakers also denied findings that parking occupancy on Van Ness was underutilized much of the time, and forecast a double-parking disaster when two of Van Ness’ six traffic lanes are reserved for BRT. Critics also said that banning left turns would create car congestion on Polk, as drivers would have to make three right turns instead. One man, echoing the flyer, said that doing so could also endanger pedestrians in crosswalks.

That ignores that left turns are the single greatest factor in pedestrian injuries on deadly Van Ness, according to the Planning Department’s WalkFirst website. “One-quarter of pedestrians injured in San Francisco are hit by a left-turning vehicle, over twice the proportion of people injured by vehicles turning right (10%),” it says. The hearing agenda included a proposal to create separate right-turn signal phases at nine Van Ness intersections, separating turning vehicles from pedestrians, as well as bulb-outs. The reduction in traffic lanes is also expected to calm traffic.

At the top of the anonymous anti-BRT flyer [PDF] is a claim that BRT construction — phased over two years — will kill businesses on Van Ness, just like the 13-year construction of the BART and Muni metro subway hurt mid-Market (though the flier erroneously refers to “Upper Market”).

It also says that the shift in traffic lanes around boarding islands, resembling those on Market and similar streets, will be a dangerous “wiggle,” and likens these deflections to the “S-curve” that was built for the Oakland approach to the Bay Bridge during construction of the new eastern span. The S-curve received major media attention in 2009 after a truck drove off of the ramp into the Bay.

The changes at the hearing are expected to be approved at an SFMTA Board hearing on October 7.

A scan of the flyer distributed at last week’s hearing.
The second page of the flyer.
  • M.

    ‘Dawn…is clinging on to an outdated model of urban planning…’ That would presume that she knows anything about urban planning. Listening to her as she tries to take down a hapless developer proves she’s utterly ignorant. All she’s ‘clinging on to’ is power.

  • sebra leaves

    Good point. Blame your state representatives for allowing exceptions to the state regulations and blame your federal representatives for funding these projects.

  • Fran Taylor

    That was the #42-Downtown Loop, discontinued in 2001.

  • sebra leaves

    There are reasons for wide lanes and faster traffic on some city streets. Van Ness is an extension of the 101 Freeway designed to carry cross town traffic.
    Emergency first responders object to making streets more narrow and taking out street lanes and have voiced their concerns. Forcing traffic to weave in and out of parking lanes from block to block to “calm” it, (you have to see the drawings to understand it, because it makes no logical sense.) rather than driving in a straight line, will force ambulances and fire trucks to slow down and create a very dangerous situation for everyone on the road.
    When asked how business will be supplied by trucks when parking is removed from on Van Ness, people were told, “we’ll figure that out.” (See Castro Street now to see how well that works and ask the merchants how well they are doing).
    Now that parking has been removed from many public streets we have a lot of double parked delivery vehicles, and a lot more traffic jams. That may make some people happy but it makes a lot more people mad.
    The folks who live and work in the area around Van Ness, Polk, Larkin, and Gough Streets, are ground zero for the fight. The more money SFMTA throws at projects like the Van Ness BRT, the less likely they are to win at the polls.

  • Alicia

    Forcing traffic to weave in and out of parking lanes from block to
    block to “calm” it, … will force ambulances and fire trucks to slow down and create a very dangerous situation for everyone on the road.

    Do you have any evidence of this or is this just your conjecture?

    When asked how business will be supplied by trucks when parking is
    removed from on Van Ness, people were told, “we’ll figure that out.”

    That’s unfortunate. There are easy ways to deal with that, including changing the times of deliveries.

  • Jamison Wieser

    “Now that parking has been removed from many public streets we have a lot of double parked delivery vehicles, and a lot more traffic jams. That may make some people happy but it makes a lot more people mad.”

    And justifiably mad too. Double parked cars and trucks are constantly blocking the bike lanes and sharrowed traffic lanes, creating traffic jams and forcing bikes to merge into traffic.

    Drivers get mad because cyclists are getting in their way and they are slightly inconvenienced by having to slow down, and cyclists are mad because the owner of that car or truck is putting them in harms way.

  • Jamison Wieser

    “The folks who live and work in the area around Van Ness, Polk, Larkin, and Gough Streets, are ground zero for the fight. The more money SFMTA throws at projects like the Van Ness BRT, the less likely they are to win at the polls.”

    Historically voters have nearly always choosen to remove freeways and improve transit. More specifically it was voters who approved the sales tax increase being used to fund high-capacity transit along four-corridors: Third Street/Bayshore, Stockton/Central Corridor, Geary and Van Ness. The corridors had been identified as priority projects by the County Transit Authority (TA).

    They were identified from study and planning work funded through a previous sales tax increase and the four-corridors plan requires update and approval every two years by the TA board and that’s made up of the 11 members of the Board of Supervisors.

    If you wish to frame it as throwing money around rather than consistent re-authorization of funds votes levied on themselves for the very specific purpose they were approved for, then the way the money is being thrown is towards the SFMTA by the Board of Supervisors.

  • Jamison Wieser

    Exactly what “rail ready” means is ambiguous. Creating a dedicated transit corridor that does nothing to preclude rail conversion would be once interpretation.

    About a decade ago, one of the Geary Citizens and Advisory Councils had the TA to study a “rail ready” Geary. There would be a massive cost increase and time to build rail and wire that would go unused for decades.

    Cautionary Tale #1:

    Seattle built their downtown transit tunnel “rail ready” which only added to time and cost converting to rail because the track hadn’t been installed properly (they had to be torn out completely and replaced), plans had changed (there are a pair of unused tracks at the convention center station because the route was changed and rather than coming to a dead end there it takes a different turn so it can continue. There are two northern extensions are currently under construction and a third being designed) and technology itself had changed with low-floor light-rail becoming more common. During the two-year closure the road bed (not the platforms, elevators, escalators, etc.) was also lowered to provide level boarding, and the wiring had to be rebuilt for rail compatibility.

    Cautionary Tale #2:

    One of Geary BRT’s big opponents (David Heller, president of a merchants association) seemed really pleased to have transit advocates on his side fighting against BRT. Nearly a decade later it still hasn’t been built, “rail-ready” or otherwise.

  • Jamison Wieser

    Van Ness Avenue is the official Highway 101 corridor.

    Which makes it a very important north-south corridor for motor vehicle traffic traveling both to and through the city.

    Busses, sometimes multiple busses, stopping at almost every other corner, often during a green light, sometimes for more than one cycle, blocking the rightmost traffic lane, blocking anyone trying to make a right turn, all create traffic congestion for motor vehicle traffic in addition to slowing down Muni service.

  • Jamison Wieser

    Even if the majority of a business’ customers do not drive those businesses would suffer a hardship for deliveries if parking spaces were removed. It would undoubtedly result in double parking nightmares since delivery trucks have no recourse or alternative.

    That sounds like a threat. But it’s a silly argument to make in the first place. Many arm-chair traffic engineers and merchants likewise said narrowing the streets and removing lanes along Valencia and Jefferson was going to cause “double parking nightmares” and somehow merchants have been able to thrive and grow.

    If a business cannot manage without customers or deliveries double-parking being forced to double-park does not belong along a highway.

    Likewise a businesses that caters so specifically to motorists it would suffer by loosing a few unreserved parking spaces per block does not belong on Van Ness. They are doing their own customers a disservice by inconveniencing them when they could be located somewhere with plenty of parking, especially reserved parking, like having their own lot.

    The corridor already has more people passing by them on foot going to or from transit than park and it would be increased by better transit service and pedestrian facilities. It’s in the interest of residents, visitors, the city overall, businesses themselves and fellow merchants to make Van Ness more walkable, Muni-able, and congestion free.

  • Jamison Wieser

    In the business world if your costs for deliveries go up it typically means you have to pass those costs onto your customers.

    Delivery companies do not calculate costs so specifically that pricing is differentiated from block to block.

    Removing a few parking spaces per block won’t doesn’t make a difference to UPS, FedEx, and/or any other company delivering merchandise company that doesn’t care about the legality of double-parking anyway that in the case they are ticketed they will pass that cost on to any single customer instead of raising their overall flat, regional, or tiered pricing.

    In the aggregate a merchant is effected just the same from a double-parking ticket whether it be given in front of their own business along Van Ness, as it is in front of another along down the street, or along Valencia, Jefferson, Market, the Embarcadero, Haight, Divisadero, Folsom, any given street in Modesto, etc.

    This is also the right-most lane where the traffic already effects Muni disproportionately than motorists, because traffic can merge left to avoid both busses and delivery vehicles, does it really matter which?

    Anyone inconsiderate enough to block traffic on a state highway and critical throughway probably doesn’t care if they are blocking one, two, or sixteen lanes to begin with. At least the majority of travelers, and the majority of those in a walkable distance on Van Ness won’t be obstructed by those double-parked delivery trucks.

    Creating a speed incentive to take transit (I’m generalizing with “transit” because GG Transit runs service on Van Ness and it could in the future be shared with some form of light-rail streetcars as well) over driving, which mean more cars off the road.

  • The Geary corridor was created by rail, making the “rail-ready” soundbite absurd from the get-go. They diluted its supposed meaning very early on, and ditched it entirely about a decade ago.

  • San Francisco is an economic powerhouse right now, but transit is too poor. So how does Los Angeles manage to build rail?

  • Tausendjähriges Reich

  • Justin

    Or even one BRT Line???

  • Marvin Papas

    How is parking on Sunday’s a Nazi dictatorship?

    Get the net, buddy.

  • planning5

    Difficult to find drivers who’d work the graveyard shift making deliveries to businesses and residences. And difficult to find people to take delivery at those hours. Stores like to get their deliveries mid-morning so they can have things in stock for the afternoon. Utrecht on Van Ness seems gets a big palet of supplies delivered just before the weekend sometime in the morning.

    I wonder if UPS and FedEX were invited to participate in the planning of the Van & Polk Street projects, and what their input would have been/was as to the best placement of designated unloading spots. One bulb-out was elimated at the corner of Polk & Vallejo because the trucks couldn’t make the wide downhill turn, so there was some input somewhere.

  • planning5

    Actually a Van Ness shuttle from Market to Union or Bay and back – like the Castro shuttle – would greatly allieviate the crowding on the 47 and 49 buses (I take these several times a day). it would be a relatively inexpensive low tech interim solution until the BRT is built. More efficient use of Muni funds than 83X Mid-Market Express.

  • hp2ena

    That would be a great idea. It even existed from 1988 until June 2001 when the 47 was a trolley bus line and actually ran articulated coaches (it actually ran from North Point to Howard/10th). It was restructured when the 42 was discontinued; the 47 was converted into its existing alignment. Hopefully the BRT service plan will include the existing 47 and proposed 49L, as well as a shuttle from Market to Bay.

  • Jamison Wieser

    Geary was created by rail and it was removed. That’s the story of a massive number of busy American streets now crowded by congested traffic and crappy transit service.

    Rail won’t ever be coming back for most of them, but Geary has a better chance than most. With what’s on the table for Geary and Van Ness – BRT or nothing* – the sooner it’s built the sooner ridership growth create a capacity problem to mandate rail.

    It’s also not like rail isn’t under consideration already. There’s the matter of where a second Transbay Tube would run once it got to the city and Geary BART is a serious contender.

    * well not nothing, but the of the four corridors it took 20 years for the T’s initial operating segment to open and it’ll be closer to 30 by the time Central Subway and both BRT lines are finally done so we wouldn’t be looking at rail anytime soon.

  • Jamison Wieser

    LA had seen about a decade of solid improvements all over the county (subway, light-rail, express/limited busses, traffic management as well) that lead to enough public support the 30/10 ballot measure: approve a 30 year sales tax, the federal government will advance loans to fund construction of 11 designated projects (there are some road improvements in there too) in 10 years instead of 30 as the funding becomes available each year when taxes are collected.

    The economic stimulus of first the construction jobs and then the benefits from the project increases revenue from that sale-tax to pay off the loans, plus some. There’s also the savings from locking in pricing for contracts sooner and the savings from doing it all now rather waiting for inflation to increase costs.

    Several years on the experiment seems to be working that it’s become a Federal program called Fast Forward America which new projects can apply for. Even before it went federal San Francisco received has already received one of these loans before that for the Central Subway.

  • Donald

    It is quite literally faster to walk up Van Ness than it is to take the bus and the reason is single occupancy cars blocking busses with many tens of people in them. Thus, one persons parking convenience outwaighs , say, 30 people’s efficient transportation. You folks should be ashamed of yourselves. That said, there is an obvious (and probably better) solution: let Van Ness remain a miniature highway, but take all auto traffic off Polk and put BRT there.

  • Donald

    They get near-infinite funding and they build it underground. If we got ourour per capita share of the region’s transportation funding, we”d be able to do that too.

  • Bruce

    Awesome idea, but how would all the Marin commuters get to the Broadway Tunnel and Civic Center? Gough isn’t one-way until Sacramento and it’s already congested climbing up Pac Heights.

  • The question underlying the question is, How does L.A. get “near-infinite funding” while the state’s economic powerhouse goes begging?

  • Justin

    Might be difficult, but definitely NOT impossible at all, it’s doable. I can understand maybe the concerns of doing it on graveyard shift and so fourth like the safety concerns at night. However one would still be able to get their things in before sunrise and have it ready to go. Though yes probably not all businesses can or would want to do it, as I said if they did though just imagine how less stressful it would be and the reduction there would be in double parking that screws up traffic flows especially during rush hour, and probably no parking tickets, who doesn’t want that, don’t know of any DPT officers that patrol in the early morning hours I know of. It’s just one big solution that can be beneficial to freight, businesses and all transportation users in reducing congestion, just saying…

    Oh and maybe to make it more interesting or as an incentive those who make deliveries during the grave yard shift can be paid more to do it just like and I’m assuming that people who work the night and graveyard shift of any job gets paid more generally I think

  • Jamison Wieser

    Forcing traffic to weave in and out of parking lanes from block to block to “calm” it, (you have to see the drawings to understand it, because it makes no logical sense.) …

    Right now cars are forced to weave in and out of the right lane to get around busses stopped to board. It seems to me like a lot of motorists simply count the number of lanes, without considering how fast traffic moves along them.

    Are three lanes of congested traffic preferable to two lanes of smooth flowing traffic?

    …rather than driving in a straight line, will force ambulances and fire trucks to slow down and create a very dangerous situation for everyone on the road.

    Is there a reason emergency vehicles wouldn’t use the center transit lanes on Van Ness like they do on Church Street?

    Living a couple blocks away and with three friends living along that stretch I’m there almost every day, often more than once, and had the unfortunate opportunity to see a lot emergency vehicles using the lanes.

    Most of the time there’s only one or two vehicles on any given lane at peak. Off-peak they are often more empty than not. The Muni operators either were trained, or just follow the law and common sense, to safely cozy up their vehicles so there’s room for emergency vehicles to weave side-to-side to get around them.

    If emergency vehicle access is so important, why not have dedicated lanes only with the only drivers in them being trained to give them a clear path?

  • Duane

    The city of SF is no functioning with any hint of sanity. At some point someone will be killed thanks to all these new lines painted every which way. It is like the guys who paint the streets are drunk and can no longer paint a straight line.

  • Duane


  • Duane

    On the one hand you have SFDPW acting as fascists and on the other hand you have these new ridesharing drivers acting like anarchists. Sounds like an eventual war that will only hurt those not involved with either.

  • Duane

    I HAVE AN IDEA….how about some of you MOVE to the suburbs. Then you can have your nice peaceful existence and leave the rat race of the city to those who wish to live in the rat race. It is this suburban mentality that abhors any thing that smells of chaos which is destroying San Francisco.

  • Vegetal

    It seems you don’t know what fascism or anarchism actually means.

  • robert bardell

    Upper Market Street merchants definitely were harmed by the cut-and-cover construction of the Muni Metro portion of the Market Street Subway west of Van Ness. Duration of construction was less than 13 years though.

    “Veer” better describes how traffic lanes will behave near BRT station platforms than “wiggle.” Nothing like a relatively high speed S-curve is planned.

    Van Ness sidewalks, now 16 feet wide, will be narrowed to 9 feet, with most of the 7 feet next to the roadway being turned over to street trees, bike racks, and “rain gardens.” Some of this infrastructure currently exists near City Hall. Of course, this will lead to conflicts between pedestrians and bicycle scofflaws, who, lacking the skills needed to ride on Van Ness, take to the sidewalks instead one block down to Polk.

    BRT station platforms will be 120 feet long, enough to accommodate two 60 foot articulated buses. Tech buses will not be allowed in the BRT lanes. Private autos will find Van Ness more difficult to traverse during commute hours with fewer lanes and all those tech buses. We can only hope that too many cars do not divert into residential neighborhoods as a result.

    BRT is poised to receive full funding. BRT opponents can only hope that the Arts Commission sticks to its guns and refuses to approve any canopy/shelters for the platforms. The FTA is unhappy with this impasse and has threatened to withhold funding if it is not resolved.

  • Gezellig

    “Of course, this will lead to conflicts between pedestrians and bicycle scofflaws, who, lacking the skills needed to ride on Van Ness,”

    Oh, please. Clueless elitism alert. Something’s wrong with the *public right-of-way* when only those with elite skills need apply. Btw, even that doesn’t always work out so well:

    “take to the sidewalks instead one block down to Polk.”

    And what if your point of origin and destination are on Van Ness?

    This kind of thing happens all the time. Let’s say you’re on Lombard/Van Ness and need to go 3 blocks south to Union/Van Ness. If you’re on a bike you have three main choices:

    1) ride on Van Ness. Few opt for this, for very understandable reasons.

    2) Be forced to walk your bike the distance despite being in possession of a bike and the only hindrance to actually using your bike as intended being the utterly hostile infrastructure.

    3) Bike the 14% grade up Lombard to Polk, bike 3 blocks south on Polk, then cut back down a 13% grade on Union to Van Ness. Of course parallel Franklin is flatter but it’s a one-way street so no dice (btw, the near-lack of contraflow lanes in this city is yet another common reason for sidewalk riding).

    4) Realize the infrastructure doesn’t serve your mode so use coping strategies such as sidewalk riding.

    Let’s fix the infrastructure instead of blaming the victims here. Build good infrastructure and if someone still ends up on the sidewalk *then* throw the book at them.

  • robert bardell

    I’m glad you agree with me (point 1) that most bike riders lack the skills to ride Van Ness safely. I guess this makes you a clueless elitist too.

    The suffering involved in walking your bike 3 whole blocks is almost inconceivable. It makes the Bataan death march look like a walk in the park, but who in their right mind takes their bike for 3 block journey?

    Is your conditioning so bad you can’t hack a one block ride up a 14% grade? Is your skill set so weak you can’t handle a 13% down grade one block? Perhaps you should rethink your commitment to bike riding or practice, practice, practice.

    Too bad your bike riding skills aren’t as great as your sense of entitlement. You want to go from point A to point B on Van Ness, but you’re not skilled enough to ride on the Avenue itself and are too wimpy to pop up one block to Polk, so you’ll ride on the sidewalks, pedestrians be damned. After all, the only thing that matters in this world is what you want.

    The Van Ness BRT project will fix the infrastructure on the Avenue: new pavement, new bulb-outs and bulb-ins, new signals, and a center-running BRT line. It will not be a bicycle-friendly place though unless a bike rider is good enough to “be a vehicle.” Low-skilled, poorly conditioned bike riders should put the bike away for Van Ness trips and walk or take the BRT. They should save the bike for rides consistent with their skills and conditioning.

  • Mark

    There is little reason for the Geary BRT now, as the transponders and light controls in place, combined with the new buses and boarding techniques have now sped up the travel times so much now that spending the money will not have close to the travel time impact they claimed when asking for funding. To take away lanes will make traffic miserable along Geary. Do your homework.


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