Eyes on the Street: Polk’s Extended, Unprotected Bike Lane Blocked By Cars

Photo: Chet Anderson

This week the SFMTA extended the southbound bike lane on Polk Street from Post up to Union Street. The stripes are in, and the bike lane symbols are still being stenciled.

Two Streetsblog readers have written in about drivers double-parking in the bike lane and even cruising in it. You can chalk it up to the newness of the lane up to a point, but as with the prevailing design of most SF bike lanes, the Polk extension puts people on bikes in the door zone, unprotected between parked cars and moving cars and routinely blocked by double-parkers. Some double-parking enforcement will be needed for the bike lane to provide any meaningful safety improvement.

The southbound bike lane extension is the first in a package of interim bike and pedestrian safety measures coming to Polk in the next few months, after the SFMTA Board of Directors approved the watered-down redesign earlier this month. Other improvements in the works include protected bike signals at four intersections on the southbound bike lane south of Geary Street, as well as painted bulb-outs. The full redesign is set to begin construction next spring.

Polk, looking south toward Pine. Photo: Henry Pan
  • cafeguzzi

    cry babies….

  • Golden Gate Shark

    very insightful comment

  • The thing is..a lot of detractors will be the ones openly flaunting the law. We cyclists need to keep phones handy for 311 (or the area police commander) and get tickets for all of them.

  • StrixNoctis .

    I doubt the newness of the lane has much if anything to do with the double parking if they’re clearly marked. The bike lanes on Valencia Street, for example, are clearly marked, have been there for years, and motorists have been using them as double parking lanes for years. The SFPD doesn’t do anything about it, and the SFPD even double parks in those lanes themselves.

    I suppose bike lanes are better than none, but when motor vehicle traffic is heavy & fast and the bike lanes are being used as parking lanes (Friday & Saturday nights on Valencia, for example), having to swerve in & out of the bike lanes raises the risks of collisions.

  • djconnel

    If I stopped to 311 every double parker on Valencia is be doing it every other block. I’m too busy just trying to survive. And the cops aren’t brain dead: they know this is happening. After all, as was pointed out above, they do it themselves.

  • Not hard to predict this would happen. Most “bike” lanes in San Francisco are really double-parking/loading/unloading zones (or, indeed, a plain old vehicle cruising lanes) that bicyclists are allowed to travel in only if no car/truck/van driver has any possible use for it at the time.

    Real bike lanes require physical protection/police enforcement/change in driver norms. The best answer is a physical structure that makes parking impossible/obviously egregious/likely to damage a vehicle, such as the three blocks of contra-flow lane on Polk near Market.

    As mentioned below, Friday and Saturday evenings on Valencia Street are completely ridiculous. On Fridays and Saturdays between 6pm and midnight, all the curb space from 14th to 24th street should be nothing but loading/unloading zones for passengers. (Or, better yet, car-free.)

  • M.

    It’s still better than before, not ‘perfect’. Drivers don’t drift to the right nearly as much and stay closer to the center line. More still to be done, more change possible.

  • These class 2 fisher-price my-first bike lanes are a waste of paint and offer little improvement. Going northbound is now much more dangerous and congested, and now going southbound is more likely to have cars blocking, and more likely to get doored then there were before. How is this better? We have our car-first merchants to thank for this useless compromise. There should be an official boycott of every one of the Save Polk Street Merchants. We’re never going to have safer streets by pandering and compromising to the opposition.

  • Yes we cry and we have a right to because obstructed bike lanes jeopardize our lives each day. Every 2 weeks one of us goes to the hospital and every 6 months one of us goes to the morgue in this city because our streets prioritizes empty cars over the lives and safety of everyone else. We’re not going to stop crying until our streets are finally made safe for all of us.

  • angermuller

    To me, it seems far more sensible / effective to put protected lanes in sections where the cyclist has to peddle up a hill—which is where it’s hardest to avert dangerous drivers; e.g. northbound between Civic Center and Sacramento, and vice versa for southbound bike lane.

  • the_greasybear

    The SFMTA continues to base its bike lane designs on a fatally flawed assumption: that San Francisco motorists will reliably choose not to intentionally break the law and double-park in bike lanes.

    In reality, a sufficiently large percentage of motorists shall always, everywhere and every time, chose to break the law such that our “bike lanes” simply disappear under their tires. It happens on every block on Valencia. It even happens regularly in “buffered” bike lanes, like those on Market with the beaten-down and missing soft hit posts.

    The SFMTA must acknowledge reality, and design our infrastructure such that bike lane blockages are too physically damaging to cars and trucks to attempt. The ‘honor’ system we currently suffer is failing because our motorists have no honor to which we can appeal or upon which we can safely rely.

  • Prinzrob

    Even without double parkers, bike lanes on the left of parallel parked cars are inherently flawed design as the driver’s side car doors push cyclists into moving traffic as opposed to a parking protected lane where any passenger side door issues (significantly less common) would push the cyclist toward the sidewalk. Also, with unprotected, left side bike lanes drivers are still legally entering and blocking the bike lane constantly to maneuver into a parallel parking space.

  • gneiss

    I doubt the supervisors realize this, but this is exactly why the groups who advocate for better infrastructure for people riding bikes are making the argument for protected infrastructure. The SFPD is simply uninterested in vigorous enforcement of bike lane parking violations and as a result, motorists see them as just a good place to get out of the flow of traffic to unload passengers. And since we don’t price meters appropriately and have much handicapped placard abuse, there is always lack of parking along commercial corridors that heightens the problem.

  • theqin

    I saw a traffic enforcement person get off a bike and seemingly writing tickets in front of the ferry building in the bike lane by the loading/unloading zone. Does anyone know what this was about? Was she actually ticketing drivers who were driving in the bike lane and/or unloading there?

  • theqin

    I should mention this was on Saturday during the farmers market.

  • M.

    I’ve been in many countries that have separated bike lanes of all sorts. Double parking on them still happens, though certainly less frequently. What’s totally different is the culture around it. It’s safer for a person on a bicycle to circumvent a double-parked vehicle because drivers around them are less aggressive and territorial. Infrastructure alone isn’t the whole story. As more people cycle here, it will change attitudes but that’s not going to happen overnight.
    The striping on Polk continues; now that the north bound side is narrower, I’m going to ask the MTA to paint prominent sharrows there, too.

  • murphstahoe

    You lost me at “peddle”

  • NoeValleyJim

    The PCOs have started ticketing people double parked in the bicycle lanes.

  • NoeValleyJim

    Every time I call 311 I am on hold for at least 10 minutes. I usually don’t have that much time to waste.

  • Jimbo

    as a scooter rider, i am super excited about all the new bike lanes in SF. it makes getting around on the scooter much easier than before as the bike lanes are mostly empty (except ocassional doubleparked car)

  • Jimbo

    most bike accidents are solo, not related to cars.

  • Jimbo

    or consider than only 3% of people commute by bike and stop catering to this vocal minority altogether

  • Since I’ve yet to feel menaced by the scooter mafia, I’m perfectly willing to let you scoot along in the bike lanes. There’s a bit of self-preservation on the scooter/motocycle side that makes for more awareness.

  • Every 2 weeks on average in this city there is a collision between a bike and a car that sends a person to the hospital because we have a car-first mentality that prioritized empty cars over the safety of everybody else.

  • Since this story is about Polk, why are you talking about commuters?


Four Protected Bike Signals Coming to Polk Street By May

Today the SFMTA announced details about the first package of safety upgrades coming to Polk Street in the next few months. They include signals at four intersections that will give southbound bike traffic a separate phase from drivers turning right, making Polk the second street in SF to get the configuration. By May, the SFMTA said it would install the bike signals at […]