Merchants, bicyclists continue to wage battle over Polk Street redesign 

click to enlarge The SFMTA’s engineering division is meeting Friday about a contentious plan for Polk Street that has pitted neighborhood merchants against cyclists. - GODOFREDO VASQUEZ/2012 S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • Godofredo Vasquez/2012 S.F. Examiner file photo
  • The SFMTA’s engineering division is meeting Friday about a contentious plan for Polk Street that has pitted neighborhood merchants against cyclists.

San Francisco's popular Polk Street corridor is on the road toward a significant transformation to make it safer for bicyclists and pedestrians. But the redesign remains a contentious debate pitting merchants against bicyclists.

The battle comes to a head Friday with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency's engineering division meeting on the plan, followed by a possible vote as early as next month by the agency's board.

Nearly three weeks since her mayoral appointment, District 3 Supervisor Julie Christensen finds herself in the middle of the controversy. She has met with at least three groups continuing to fight over the plan, after some say her predecessor, David Chiu, lacked leadership on the issue.

"Two years of work has been done on this," Christensen said. "I'm coming in on the final act."

She has yet to take position on the SFMTA's recommended compromise plan but noted "there is still a lot unhappiness" on all sides. "I'm trying to determine if that's a true statement, is this the best we can do," Christensen said.

After some merchants voiced concerns over a potential loss in parking spaces, the agency modified the plan to retain most of the parking. But some, including the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, argued the revision was at the expense of safety.

The amended plan "is a missed opportunity to make one of San Francisco's most dangerous streets truly safe," coalition member Chema Hernandez Gil said. Gil claimed the "half-hearted approach calls into question The City's commitment to achieving Vision Zero," a goal to stamp out pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities on city streets by 2024.

The coalition's biggest complaint is that the new plan no longer includes protected bike lanes along the corridor from McAllister to Union streets.

However, Mitchell Bearg, owner of Bow Wow Meow and a member of the merchant group Save Polk Street, called it a "well-balanced" plan to address all the issues. He noted that the group would like to see the elimination of a no-parking tow-away zone between 7 and 10 a.m. Monday through Friday for a part-time bike lane northbound between Pine and Broadway streets. "They sense it's not necessary," Bearg said. Referring to the parking concerns, Bearg said it was not just a merchants' concern but a neighborhood concern, with families and older people in the area preferring to drive to the area.

The $12 million project will result in the removal of 100 parking spaces on Lower Polk between Pine and McAllister streets, and 10 spaces on Upper Polk between Union and Pine. Work is set to begin in spring 2016 and finish in winter 2017.

Polk Street northbound between McAllister and Pine would receive a raised bikeway and the remaining northbound stretch would be marked with sharrows. In the other direction would be a painted green bike lane. Other roadway improvements would include bulb-outs, signal timing and new lighting.

Another group, Folks for Polk, is threatening to a place a Polk Street design initiative on the November ballot if a final plan doesn't include at least a pilot program offering protected bike lanes.

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