San Francisco transit agency vows to revise Polk Street plan following heated community meeting 

Polk Street merchants and residents packed Old First Presbyterian Church on Monday to protest removing parking spaces. - ANNA LATINO/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Anna Latino/Special to the S.F. Examiner
  • Polk Street merchants and residents packed Old First Presbyterian Church on Monday to protest removing parking spaces.

After hundreds of merchants and residents gathered this week to blast a proposal to remove parking spaces along Polk Street in favor of bike lanes, the head of San Francisco’s transit agency agreed to go back to the drawing board.

Amid the show of solidarity, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency transportation director Ed Reiskin said he would return with proposals “that would have significantly less parking loss.”

Reiskin had a bumpy ride Monday night. When asked for specific removal numbers, he admitted to not having them — which prompted laughter and booing from the crowd. The agency had proposed eliminating parking from one side of Polk Street and partially from the other side to make way for dedicated bike lanes.  

Merchants had spent weeks drumming up opposition to the proposal, even posting signs on their shop windows saying “Save Polk Street.” Business owners worry that loss of parking will mean loss of business.

“We really count on parking,” said Dan Kowalski, owner of the furniture store Flipp on Polk and Green streets. Any parking removal “we just think is wrong,” Kowalski said, adding that “Polk Street’s different; it’s different than Valencia Street.”

Dawn Trennert, head of the Middle Polk Neighborhood Association, which organized the Monday night meeting at the Old First Presbyterian Church, said the issue “was something that touched everybody in this neighborhood” and there “definitely was a major disconnect” with the plans. She estimated that nearly 400 people attended.

For the transit agency, the plans had been an attempt to repave the corridor and improve safety.

“It has one of the higher rates of pedestrian and bicycle collisions,” Reiskin said of Polk Street. “About once a month, a pedestrian, a cyclist, is getting hit by a car. That’s pretty high.”

Trennert said during the meeting that “bike safety is great; pedestrian safety is great. But we can’t do it at the expense of our outstanding individual merchant corridor that we have.”

Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, downplayed the meeting’s significance, saying it was “really focused on merchants’ concerns” and “far underrepresented” those supporting corridor

Shahum’s organization maintains that these improvements, such as dedicated bike lanes, would boost business.

That idea was laughed at during the meeting.

Shahum said she’s fine with Reiskin exploring other options, but, “It’s also important to keep this option on the table. We would really urge them to keep their eyes on the larger goals.”

The transit agency has a goal of an 11 percent decrease in auto trips in The City by 2018, which is supposed to be achieved by making San Francisco friendlier for walking, biking and riding public transit.  

The agency has yet to set a date for presenting new proposals for Polk Street.

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