Finally! Polk Street Bike Lanes By Leah Shahum

The newest major additions to the city's growing bike network are finally in place on Polk Street. Take a ride on this important north/south bike route to feel the difference where bike lanes were added between Turk and Post Sts. and wide curb lanes added between Post and Vallejo Sts. This change, made possible by removing one of three traffic lanes, was approved by the SF Board of Supervisors in May 1999 and finally implemented in late April this year for a six-month trial period.

Polk Street was promoted more than two years ago by the SFBC in a package of bike route improvements. Others improvements that were passed back in July 1998 along with Polk St. were Arguello Blvd. (where bike lanes are expected to be painted in the next few months), a few blocks of Sixth Ave. (where we're still working to get a key section of Seventh Ave. striped also to make this connection more worthwhile), and two blocks of Cesar Chavez Ave. during the day. The streets denied bike improvements were Second St., Fifth St., Howard St., Seventh Ave., and key blocks of Fell St. But we're still working on those!

While the Polk St. striping is a significant success, it will still take work from supporters to make sure it lives beyond this six-month trial period. If Polk St. follows the success of Valencia St., we should see an increase in bike use, a decrease in injury accidents among all types of road users, and improvements to the overall neighborhood and shopping environment.

"One traffic lane in each direction is always better," says Lee Cole, owner of Skates on Haight, a shop on Polk Street. "It makes the street seem like a place to walk and shop."

Still, some vocal merchants on Polk St. may lobby against sustaining the bike/ pedestrian improvements. We are working to show them that calmer, safer traffic conditions on Polk St. will likely help their businesses.

"It's just so much more fun," Laurie Stoerkel says of riding on Polk St. now. "You get to see things you may never see otherwise. I would never think about stopping and shopping on Polk St. if I weren't on a bike. I can actually look because I'm on a bike and I go slow enough. I can see a blouse in the window and stop and buy it."

More people visiting businesses by bike means more open parking spaces for other customers, as well as more space on the bus for more customers. Not to mention that people traveling by bike and foot are more likely to frequent the local shops on Polk. At the SFBC's request, the city's Department of Parking and Traffic has added pedestrian counts to its usual "before and after" tallies of bikes and cars when bike improvements are made. We expect the number of people on foot will only be enhanced by the recent changes.

Your help will make a big difference in keeping the Polk St. bike lanes and wider shared lanes in place for good. Here's what you can do:

And stay tuned for details on an upcoming event we're organizing to show bicyclists' support for Polk St. businesses. If you'd like to get more involved in this Polk St. campaign, call Leah at 431-BIKE, x-2.