Polk Street community meetings over parking loss for bike lane turning ugly 

Merchants are concerned about plans to remove parking for a bike lane. - ANNA LATINO/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Anna Latino/Special to the S.F. Examiner
  • Merchants are concerned about plans to remove parking for a bike lane.

A plan to create a bike lane on Polk Street has led one city transit official to call parking supporters’ behavior “offensive.”

The vice chairwoman of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency board of directors had some choice words Tuesday for the community after a March 18 meeting organized by Polk Street merchants that drew hundreds of people opposed to the loss of parking.

“I took offense at the behavior of a lot of the participants there,” said Vice Chairwoman Cheryl Brinkman. “I feel that booing and jeering is not constructive at all.”

The transit agency, which oversees bike policies in The City, has proposed removing parking spaces from one side of Polk Street to install a bike lane.

Brinkman suggested not everyone at the meeting was against the plans, but rather “intimidated to speak up because that was probably one of the worst public meetings that I have ever been to, and I feel like I’ve been to some bad ones.”

Brinkman called on the transit agency to stand its ground and select the “the best proposal to move forward, not the one that most minimizes parking loss.”

“If a proposal is transformative and helps us meet our goals for transportation in The City, we can’t be frightened of it,” Brinkman said.

Board member Jerry Lee advised a less adversarial approach.

“I really don’t think that we should say it’s one or the other and jam the process through,” he said. “We have to remember that we say this is a transit-first policy, but we don’t have a transit-only policy.”

Mitchell Bearg, owner of Bow Wow Meow, said the parking loss “will be incredibly damaging and change the neighborhood.”

“The plans as they are would probably create more traffic, people spending more time in their cars, thus creating more danger,” he said.

Cyclist Nik Kaestner — who’s also the director of sustainability for the San Francisco Unified School District — said The City has a solid vision.

“For streets like Polk Street, we know that these safety improvements actually improve the economics of those regions,” Kaestner said. “We’ve seen it on Valencia Street.”

Transportation Director Ed Reiskin agreed to go back to the drawing board after the well-attended meeting.  

“There may be a way we can achieve a great part of the safety goals and with less parking loss,” Reiskin said, adding that while agency surveys show parking accounts for 15 percent of trips to Polk Street businesses, it is still “significant” because those merchants have small profit margins.

Community meetings are ongoing for the next two months. The agency is working to finalize plans in time for when the Department of Public Works is scheduled to repave Polk Street in 2015. The ultimate decision is up to the agency’s board of directors.


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