Will the SFMTA Address Polk Street Safety?

If once a month, someone walking and someone biking on a street in your neighborhood was hit by an automobile or truck driver, would you support making it safer? This is the reality on Polk Street today, and the main reason we at the SF Bicycle Coalition have been advocating that the city repave Polk Street and improve safety for people biking and walking.

For about a year, the SFMTA has been working to address this problem in the same way it address other streets with public safety problems.  The city secured funding to embark upon a community planning process that will result in a new street design that address the project goals, namely to “implement aesthetic and safety improvements for all users of Polk Street between McAllister and Union Streets.”  The agency organized 5 community meetings and open houses, and at least 4 walking tours of Polk Street in the last year to get community input on the challenges Polk Street faces today and to get feedback on proposals that would help improve safety and the streetscape on Polk Street from McAllister to Union.  Some of these Open Houses and community meetings were organized directly with the Polk District Merchants Association to ensure a convenient time for merchants.  The meetings were widely publicized in neighborhood association websites, and the SF Bicycle Coalition and the SFMTA have also gone door-to-door to the over 200 businesses on Polk Street promoting all the outreach events. As a result, hundreds of people have joined this community planning process in the last year and the current proposals for Polk Street reflect a significant amount of public input.

2012 Polk Street Community Meeting

The SFMTA released multiple design options for different segments of Polk Street late in 2012 and are in the process of getting even more community input on the designs before establishing a preferred alternative or two to flesh out in greater design detail for further review and ultimate environmental study and legislation.

This approach for community planning and outreach is very typical for the city and most often during this process, one design option usually emerges that most people and organizations can get behind.

At the Middle Polk Neighborhood Association meeting on Monday March, 18, a large, though not unanimous, crowd of residents and merchants from the area (roughly California to Broadway, Van Ness to Leavenworth) made it very clear their belief that the loss of on-street parking on Polk Street would result in so great an inconvenience for customers, business operations, and resident quality of life that many businesses would not be able to survive.  The Save Polk Street Coalition states that “street parking is vital to Polk Street businesses” and on Monday, they got SFMTA commitment to develop a Polk Street option that minimizes the loss of parking on Polk Street.

If the SFMTA felt confident their design proposals are the best way to improve safety and the streetscape on Polk Street, what does a new design driven by preserving most or all on-street parking mean for safety on Polk Street?

Features of the design proposals

None of the elements of the SFMTA Polk Street design concepts are new or untested.  Separated bikeways, parking spots, sidewalk extensions, planters, bus stops and commercial loading areas – these are all found across the city, and in combination dictate how safe, convenient, attractive and enjoyable a street is for everyone.

Polk Street Options

The SFMTA survey gives a good overview of the design options – take the survey today  (http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/PolkSurvey) if you haven’t already.

Separated bikeways are included in many of the current Polk Street proposals – and the SF Bicycle Coalition strongly supports this important safety improvement on Polk Street, a busy, commercial street.  If you support improved safety for people biking, please send in a support letter today – sfbike.org/polk.  When we polled our members in 2012, 72% of people cited lack of separation from motor vehicles as the top safety concern when riding on Polk Street.

Bulbouts improve safety for people walking by shortening the crossing distance at intersections.  Parklets attract more people to an area and provide greenery and gathering places in a community.

Consider how important the safety improvements to Market Street, Cesar Chavez Street, or Fell Street have enabled you to ride a bike safely in San Francisco, and how the growth of a safe bike network across the city has encouraged you and the people you know to ride a bike in San Francisco. These elements that improve safety and livability require physical space on a street, and currently, Polk Street does not provide much of it for people biking and walking.

If you support the current SFMTA proposals that will improve safety for people biking and walking and encourage the city to not back down on making these changes to Polk Street, we need you.

You can ensure safety on Polk Street improves in a few ways:

1. Write a support letter today – visit sfbike.org/POLK to get started.
2. Attend the SFMTA Community meeting in April – Saturday, April 27th and Tuesday, April 30th. Details here
3. Join our Polk Street campaign list by emailing Neal@sfbike.org – we will keep you posted about the upcoming SFMTA meetings and other opportunities to make sure your voice is heard.

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