Yielding to Cars-First Merchants, SFMTA Board Approves Polk Plan As Is

Photo: Frank Chan/Flickr

The SFMTA Board of Directors voted unanimously yesterday to approve the watered-down plan to redesign Polk Street with a protected bike lane along one side of the street for 10 of 20 blocks.

The board rebuffed efforts by member Cheryl Brinkman to preserve the possibility of adding protected bike lanes along the upper half of the corridor before the project is constructed. Instead, the board added the condition that SFMTA staff would report on the impacts of the redesign a year after it’s completed, when they will consider extending protected bike lanes in a follow-up project.

The decision came after a four-hour hearing, where hundreds of people spoke. Roughly half called for a bolder project that puts safety first, and the rest — many of them merchants — opposed the project in order to preserve car parking.

The board did not discuss the block of Polk between California and Pine Streets, where Mayor Ed Lee’s optometrist successfully lobbied to remove bike lane protection from the project six months after it was presented to the public. When asked if he’d taken any action on the project, Mayor Lee told Streetsblog last week, “We shouldn’t promote bicycle safety over pedestrian safety over cars and parking. I think they’re all going to be important.”

Supervisors Jane Kim and Julie Christensen, whose districts share a border along Polk, weighed in at the hearing.

D6 Supervisor Kim took the stronger stand for a safer Polk, calling on the SFMTA to “prioritize people over cars and to model Vision Zero for the rest of the city.”

“As someone who’s a beginning cyclist… if you want more people like me driving less, I’m going to want to see protected bike lanes,” said Kim. “That’s just the reality.” With heavy motor traffic and steeper grades on nearby streets, she said, “Polk Street is the only corridor that we can have a protected, green bike lane for the entire north-south” route. She also said she was “disappointed” about the removal of the bike lane on the block between California and Pine.

Christensen, who was recently appointed by Lee to fill David Chiu‘s District 3 seat, called on the board to approve the project as-is, so as not to delay the pedestrian safety improvements or undergound utility work, and “continue to debate the merits of changes further north.”

Unlike Kim, she did not make the case that a safer design should be an urgent priority. “We have thousands of people storing their cars on the street,” said Christensen. “While we want to discourage them from doing that, that is not going to change overnight.”

Half of one side of Polk will get a protected bike lane under the approved plan. Image: SFMTA

Under the approved plan, 92 percent of on-street parking spaces within a block of Polk will remain, as will 70 percent of parking on Polk [PDF]. In total, there are more than 5,000 parking spaces within a block of Polk (on- and off-street), of which Polk’s existing 320 spaces account for just 6 percent [PDF].

Eighty-five percent of people on Polk arrive without a carAnd as Brinkman has pointed out, those who do drive to Polk rarely find a parking spot in front of their destination, since Polk’s parking meters don’t have SFPark.

None of that seemed to sink in with SFMTA Board member Gwyneth Borden, who argued for the “compromise” on Polk by citing the 1986 General Plan‘s first priority: “That existing neighborhood-serving retail uses be preserved and enhanced.” According to Borden’s interpretation, that means keeping curbs lined with car parking, not bike lanes.

Gwyneth Borden. Image: SFGovTV

“I’m not saying other things aren’t important, because clearly they are — safety is paramount,” she said. “But we forget cannot what makes San Francisco San Francisco — our neighborhoods.” (So apparently what makes our neighborhoods our neighborhoods is curbside parking on every block.)

“I don’t think what we’re proposing is favoring the car,” added Borden, who went on to say that “there’s a sense of self-righteousness” among many people who bike and don’t drive. Meanwhile, opponents of the redesign said that removing parking spaces for bike lanes would be an affront to business, the elderly, community, and families.

As for those self-righteous people on bikes, Kelly Eastman, a Polk neighbor who said she bikes to businesses along the street, told the SFMTA Board that by approving full protected bike lanes, “You might be saving my life, or the life of someone here today. Please take that chance.”

SF Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Noah Budnick said that as the SFMTA measures the impacts of “the improvements that were approved today,” they will be “the foundation to build on.”

“The MTA’s data-driven approach, I predict, is going to show that safety improves, traffic is reduced, businesses thrive, and will back up the case for extending pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements for the entire length of the street,” said Budnick.

SFMTA Board member Joel Ramos told Streetsblog he thinks the clout of merchants on Polk led to a more “incremental, comfortable” approach than the city’s stated commitments to Vision Zero and increased bicycling would call for. The improvements “are a lot,” he said, and “ultimately, we’ll be able to learn whether it was enough or not.”

  • M.

    – ‘There’s going to be a preview of this at the northwest corner of Broadway and Polk…’
    Bulbouts and other measures force drivers to slow down.
    -‘it’s kind of wait and see how all of these interfaces work out.’

    No ‘wait and see.’ *We* can influence how all those issues are resolved.

  • M.

    Another consideration is the number of people with families holding down two or more jobs and who have to get from one to another not only safely but quickly and at times that public transit aren’t running frequently.

  • M.

    It wasn’t strictly the same individuals but protesters gotta protest. At meetings for every issue, you see the same people with too much nonconstructive time on their hands who are angry at the world.

  • M.

    Engage him and Julie C. at our pub talk: http://bit.ly/FFPScott

  • M.

    Yes! Easy to forget that political leadership is not just the mayor. As I pointed out above, there are still many design decisions ahead that can influence safety, etc. We can’t fall prey to the media’s proclivity for wars. Perseverance is key; we’re over the hardest part now. Thank you, Cheryl, for *your* perseverance, vision, eloquence, and courage!

  • M.

    And we intend to make the design such that it will be a no-brainer once everything else in place.

  • M.

    SF, City of Interest Group Silos.

  • M.

    Appalling the lack of moral hazard on this; shattered lives are seen as just the cost of doing business. Opponents never have to experience the consequences of their stance – unless they or someone they love is hit. Otoh, if a business closes, you can bet they’ll scapegoat the design.

  • M.

    As I’ve written ad nauseum, there have always been plenty who supported the best but they were lied to and understandably intimidated. It’s late in the game, but you can help Folks for Polk engage them in the next phase. We have nice big stickers all ready for their windows…

  • M.

    Ah, that’s you! Bravo! You’ve got them on the defensive. Keep it up, we intend to get that block back. @folksforpolk

  • M.

    The dividing line was CA and uncontested for a very long time, if not from the start. A big reason for that was that the Middle Polk Neighborhood Association staked their boundary there (yes, srsly). But that didn’t stop them from frequent aggressive incursions south of the border.

  • M.

    I’m certain that they didn’t understand that what they did was wrong, if not illegal.

  • M.

    Why don’t you ask them to, gneiss? @Hiura_Optometry.

  • M.

    We’re going to get that block back.

  • M.

    It’s getting repaved at the same time as the lower portion. At first, they had no plans to stripe it immediately after construction but we pressed them on it and got a verbal agreement that they would. Up to us to make sure that happens. folks@folksforpolk.

  • M.

    See above. Help us make it happen, Mario.

  • M.

    And the rest of the stretch will be as pretty as possible with no angry bullies to stand in the way.

  • M.

    Evidence counts, right? As if. Anyway, let’s get into gear for the next round.

  • M.

    That’s what this really involves – stewardship of our future. Not only re. infrastructure but the process of how that infrastructure is decided, whether people use the agency they have, and how we engage. FFP’s catchphrase: ‘Not just about a street. Advocating healthy infrastructure of both public space & public discourse. Making it happen through the Polk Street initiatives.’

  • M.

    Amend that to: ‘It’s a very nasty B__d who forces people to plant their faces into the asphalt on which a protected bike lane could have sat.’ (note: edited for P.C. 😉

  • M.

    Create the change you wish to see in the world. We’re getting that block back #Pine2CAOnPolk @Hiura_Optometry @SFMuniverse.

  • M.

    Important to get the positives out of a bad situation and ask, ‘What good is there in this that I can work on?’ And there is. Alot. http://bit.ly/FFExpectns And see above.

  • BBnet3000

    He was going straight off the NACTO website (see the supersharrow in Long Beach CA on the top pics) http://nacto.org/cities-for-cycling/design-guide/bikeway-signing-marking/shared-lane-markings/

  • cwalkster

    “Eighty-five percent of people on Polk arrive without a car”
    is misleading.
    MTA’s survey has the breakdown of people arriving to Polk St. by
    foot – 58.0%, transit – 17.3%, car – 15.1%, bicycle – 4.9%, other – 2.7%,
    didn’t respond – 2.0%.

    When the pie is sliced differently the result is –
    95.1% of people arrive to Polk St. without a bicycle.

    Every time A Bialick obscures the data, people are reading false information.

  • cwalkster

    “While the people who are protesting the loss of parking are complaining that these measures are ‘anti-family’, ‘anti-elderly’, or
    ‘anti-disabled’ they are exactly the reverse.”
    This does not make sense.

    Many people with mobility impairments use walkers, wheelchairs. Everyone does not use mobility scooters. Today a driver can take a family member, friend to Polk, take out the walker, wheelchair, help them a short distance to visit a merchant, doctor, restaurant.

    With the new raised cycle track there is no stopping on Polk St. The driver cannot drop off a person with mobility impairments near their destination as before.

    How does forcing people with walkers, wheelchairs to travel further make it “pro-family”, “pro-elderly” and “pro-disabled” as you claim?

  • Steve

    I think your number obscures the issue more than Aaron’s does. One side is claiming a critical need for parking — yet 85% arrive without a car — relevant to know. The other side is claiming a critical need for a safe travel lane where they won’t get injured or killed, on a main north-south route that can lead to many destinations other than Polk itself. Why would the fact that fewer people arrive (i.e. shop) on Polk by bike be relevant to the need for safety for those who travel on it?

  • NoeValleyJim

    A protected bike lane would fix all of these issues with double parking. Most if not all of the delivery vehicles can park in alleys.

    My 9 year old can easily cycle the Polk Street grade, she routinely bicycles from Noe Valley to Glen Park BART.

    We shouldn’t design the street to fail before it even starts, which is what the current plan guarantees. No one is going to decide to start bicycling that didn’t already ride because of the new Polk Street design, because the sharrow zone is too intimidating to new riders. The few extra blocks of door-zone bicycle lane are just a bone thrown in an attempt to appease us. They do not advance Vision Zero or 20/20 goals.

  • NoeValleyJim

    If you were being honest with yourself, you would know that trying to drive someone to Polk Street with the expectation that would be able to find ready curb side parking is a fools errand. No one who knows the neighborhood would actually do that, because it is almost never available.

    If you are going to discharge a passenger curbside with the new design, you would expect to double park, just as you do now.

    Bicycling improvements will make the street safer, as study after study and real world experience has shown. This will make the street more family and elderly friendly more than anything else.

  • murphstahoe

    Interesting. Those protesting the change claim that the changes will increase congestion.

  • Gezellig

    Exactly. Complete Streets have never been about only one mode:



    Also, as for the specific mode of biking, claiming low bike percentages on a street poorly designed for biking is like pointing out low percentages of people on a freeway are going by transit.

  • NoeValleyJim

    You have to be blind to see self-righteousness amongst the cycling advocates and not from Save Polk Street.

  • NoeValleyJim

    I wish that were true but it is not David. It comes out to protected bike lanes for 25% of Polk, non-protected bike lanes for 50% and nothing for the remaining 25%. We currently have non-protected bike lanes for 50%.

    So the gain was 25% (or about 10 blocks) of protected bike lanes overall. Not nothing, but not that much.

    And nothing will happen in a few years if we sit back and take this decision. MTA will do nothing unless we compel them to do so. They in fact will never revisit this, unless we get a very bicycle friendly Mayor in 2020.

  • You’re comparing an imagined street where slightly raised bike lanes somehow makes it impossible for someone to drive up to the sidewalk vs. imagined streets with no cars on them at all as anyone can just pull up to the curb outside a business.

  • @BBnet3000 – Actually I think Noah’s comments duly focused on the only thing that could salvage this project, the data that the SFMTA gathers, per Director Brinkman’s amendment. Surely you’re aware how crucial the data-gathering done by Janette Sadik-Khan’s DoT was in New York to fend off the groundless opposition to liveable city treatments.

  • @NoeValleyJim – I don’t doubt that there are people in the SFMTA quite willing to comply with Director Brinkman’s amendment. (Possibly the folks who came up with the original, pre-watered-down treatment.) The question is how to connect those who want that to happen with making it happen.

  • @Gezellig – The continuous “ribbon sharrows” have been abandoned as a Request To Experiment (RTE) option by the MUTCD. Oakland has tried these out on 40th Street. Personally I think they’re confusing because of their resemblance to bike lanes (despite the sharrow stencil).

  • @cmu – Which two streets?

  • @cwalkster – Um, newsflash, this has never been a bikes-only project. Never. It has always been about livable streets.

    Instead of ranting about Aaron, how about taking the mainstream media to task for misrepresenting this as a bikes-vs-everyone issue? They even whipped up a #PolkBikeWar Twitter hashtag for the event.

  • BBnet3000

    Lets hope it takes fewer years to complete Polk than it has to complete the 8th/9th and 1st/2nd Ave protected lanes in New York. Its been between 5-7 years on those and we’re still waiting.

  • Gezellig

    So the example in the first Figure 9 in the image below (the one with the continuous ribbon) is no longer doable?



    Yeah, clearly a protected lane is preferable. I believe the continuous supersharrows in Oakland and Long Beach were done because of opposition to a road diet involving protected lanes on arterials.

    I would be interested in how a continuous (or continuous with dashes) supersharrow ribbon on a non-multilane street such as Polk would work. I think drivers would still be aware they could drive there but a ribbon or dashed green ribbon would be a more prominent visual reminder than the occasional (only a few stencils per block) Wiggle-type green sharrow boxes.

  • Gezellig

    Yes, I was specifically referring to the top Figure 9 example (the one with the continuous ribbon) in this NACTO guide:



    Basically what I’m asking is that since the decision to do sharrows has been made, is there leeway to still push for them being more frequent stencils or even a ribbon (or dashed ribbon).

  • njudah

    The SFMTA board is a pathetic joke. They will say one thing and do another. They are stooges for Mayor Lee and his 1% and can go to Hell.


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