Polk Street bike, pedestrian plan scaled back to keep car parking 

click to enlarge Luis Montoya, transportation planner from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, speaks at an event describing the future of Polk Street on Wednesday. - ALEX LEBER/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Alex Leber/Special to The S.F. Examiner
  • Luis Montoya, transportation planner from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, speaks at an event describing the future of Polk Street on Wednesday.

After an outcry from merchants, San Francisco's transit agency has unveiled a new plan for Polk Street that backpedals from an earlier proposal to remove swaths of on-street parking to help improve the bustling street for bicyclists and pedestrians.

A new plan that was developed following a caustic merchant response during a March community meeting preserves most of the parking on the segment of Polk Street from California Street to Union Street — the stretch about which criticism was the loudest.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which has a goal of significantly increasing the number of bicyclists in The City, originally proposed eliminating parking "fully from one side and partially from the other" and removing street parking altogether along lower Polk Street to make space for dedicated bike lanes. The new proposal removes up to 20 of the existing 168 parking spaces on the Upper Polk segment, between California and Union streets, mostly near intersections. It also calls for a painted green bike lane along one side of the street and a shared bike lane with painted green bike sharrows on the other.

For Lower Polk, parking would be removed completely from one side of the street for a dedicated raised bike lane and a buffered bike lane on the other. About 89 of 161 parking spaces for this portion would be removed.

Both areas would see other pedestrian safety upgrades that include such things as more visible crosswalks.

Agency officials unveiled the new proposal Wednesday to media outlets during a presentation attended by Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, who represents the Polk Street area. Chiu, who had passed a resolution in 2010 setting a citywide goal of making 20 percent of all trips by bicycle by 2020, up from the current 3 percent, said he was open to the initial options and is now supportive of the revised plan.

Merchants on the corridor and the Middle Polk Neighborhood Association applied a considerable amount of pressure on Chiu, including posting fliers on shop windows blasting the parking removal plan.

Chiu praised the revised plan as a "balanced approach" that "will really dramatically improve the experience of Polk Street for residents and merchants, for pedestrians and cyclists and drivers."

Agency officials said they had no evidence to support merchants' worries that a loss of parking would hurt business. In fact, they had cited numerous studies showing how such improvements would boost economic activity along the corridor. A survey in March of 410 people showed 17 percent of people drove to the area, 7 percent biked and the remainder walked or took transit.

The agency plans to hold a July 25 community meeting on the proposal, and the agency's board of directors is expected to vote on it by spring 2014. Construction is planned to start the following year.

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