For nearly two hours Friday, the future of Polk Street was debated at City Hall as merchants, residents and bicyclists continued to fight over whether the relatively flat 20-block north-south route should have protected bike lanes.
The debate strikes at the very heart of San Francisco's core transit principals, which include increasing the popularity of bicycling and stamping out pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities by 2024. Some argued if The City is serious about these goals then it would implement protected bike lanes, while merchants in the area argued the community didn't want them and it would mean their businesses would suffer.
Given the sharp division, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which is spearheading the $12 million project, has recommended a plan that attempts to strike a compromise and keeps 70 percent of the parking, eliminating 110 parking spaces on Polk Street. The proposal has a shared-road green bike lane for the entirety of the southbound stretch. Northbound between McAllister and Pine streets would receive a raised bike way, and the remaining stretch would be marked with “sharrows.”
“Why exactly is a cycle track that is going to benefit thousands of cyclists being hijacked by a few dozen merchants over 200 parking spaces?” asked Ziggy Tomcich during Friday's nearly two-hour transit agency hearing.
The SFMTA board of directors could vote as early as Feb. 17 on the proposal. It's unclear if the board is willing to amend the plan at this point, after the agency has worked on it since 2012 and held more than 50 community meetings. New mayoral appointee to District 3, Supervisor Julie Christensen, who represents the Polk Street area on the Board of Supervisors, said on Wednesday she had yet to take a position but noted “there is still a lot of unhappiness.”
Tomcich is among those hoping the plan can change to include protected bike lanes. So is the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, which is calling the proposed plan a “missed opportunity.”
Dan Kowalski is the owner of the Polk Street business FLIPP, a furniture store, and a member of Save Polk Street, an organization of merchants and area residents who have seemingly succeeded in defeating the proposal of protected bike lanes, which would have led to the loss of hundreds of parking spaces. Kowalski said the group has been “really flexible,” noting that they did agree to “give up some parking.”<p>
“I have customers all over The City,” Kowalski said. “For me, not having that parking available could be very detrimental.”
Dawn Trennert, head of the Middle Polk Neighborhood Association, which helped organize the opposition to the protected bike lanes, said, “Our residents are crying out for places to park. Street parking is very hard to come by in our neighborhood. It already is at a critical level.”
Gregory Arenius, who lives near Polk Street, said the concerns over parking shouldn't outweigh safety concerns.
“Do we value parking or do we value people's health and safety?” he said. “I don't think that convenience of drivers should carry more weight than people's lives. Put safety first and build the safest possible Polk Street.”
Work is set to begin in spring 2016 and finish in winter 2017.