S.F. Examiner File PhotoThe San Francisco Bicycle Coalition executive director Leah Shahum

SF bike lane wins national recognition

The new Polk Street contra-flow bicycle lane took top honors in a national bike advocacy group's America's Ten Best Bicycle Lanes of 2014.

San Francisco's protected Polk Street bike lane won the recognition from PeopleForBikes despite tough competition, the group wrote, as the rate of newly constructed protected bike lanes doubled in the U.S. from 2013. A contra-flow lane means the bike traffic is moving in the opposite direction of the vehicle traffic on the roadway.

“These streetscape projects honor our city's commitment to keeping all who use our roads safe,” said Ed Reiskin, director of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

PeopleForBikes is comprised of representatives from the cycling industry, retailers and advocates. To hear officials tell it, this is a rags-to-riches story — or, a chaos-to-safety story.

Polk Street near Market Street was a stressful ride among traffic, with numerous bus routes and active loading zones, the SFMTA noted in a news release. Now the bike lane protects cyclists along its three blocks length.

“The biggest obstacle to better biking in the United States is that most Americans simply haven't gotten a taste of what 'great' feels like,” PeopleForBikes wrote. “[This section of] Polk Street is barely a third of a mile long, but no one who rides it will ever fail to realize how nice a bike lane can get.”

The project, completed in May, is one of many funded through a $248 million voter-approved bond. Tyler Frisbee, the new policy director at the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, said safety improvements will soon proliferate “along the entire stretch of Polk Street.”

But for all of its successes, the Polk Street bike lane is also exemplary of another San Franciscan achievement — extraordinarily long approval processes.

The bike lane was in various phases of planning for 15 years.

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