Tuesday, May 07, 2013

The Polk Street survey

A reader sends this in:

Rob,

I see Streetsbloggers are unhappy that MTA proposed new designs for Polk St.

MTA did a survey on Polk St., Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday

The statistics are very interesting.

410 people were surveyed in 42 hours. 56% of the people surveyed live in the area of the Polk St. project.

How survey respondents arrive on Polk St: 
5% by bicycle, 15% by car, 17% by transit, and 58% by foot.

Since 56% of respondents live in the area, no wonder they all travel on foot!

If you read sf.streetsblog.org they say again and again that 85% of people do not arrive by car on Polk St. That's true, but it's a distorted statement.

Streetsblog fails to emphasize that only 5% travel by bicycle. That means bicyclists do not play a large role in Polk St. traffic. Therefore bicyclists should not be given a disproportionate representation in the Polk St. design by having dedicated bike lanes.

This is something to repeat over and over again, that 5% of bicyclists cannot be equated with 85% of traffic on Polk St.

Rob's comment:
That most shoppers/visitors on Polk Street get there on foot is why the city deployed the pedestrian safety lie to justify taking away all that street parking to make bike lanes.

The survey is really an attempt to reassure the small businesses on Polk Street that removing all that parking to make bike lanes will be good for business. Not surprisingly, those business owners think they know better than Streetsblog, the Bicycle Coalition, and Ed Reiskin---who makes $294,000 a year---about what's best for their businesses.

Reiskin and other MTA employees---there are more than 5,000 of them---don't have to worry about parking for their customers or about street "improvements" that could reduce their incomes. And if the MTA board fires Reiskin, he'll get six months pay going out the door!

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17 Comments:

At 10:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why keep street parking then as well? Parking blocks sight lines at intersections and induces circling for spaces in which drivers pay less attention to the road and more on possible open parking spaces.

Less cars = safer streets.

 
At 12:29 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

Those stats say that one out of four people taking a private vehicle to Polk rode a bike there. So they deserve 25% of the roadway.

The 58% that are arriving on foot are not using the roadways, other than the intersections. Whether or not there is a bike lane is irrelevant to them. 17% arrive by transit, but this includes the 47 and 49 which run down Van Ness, so the bike lane is also irrelevant to them.

 
At 1:04 PM, Blogger Rkeezy said...

Less parking means more circling; not sure where you went to logic school. Less lanes, less parking all these mean more traffic, not less traffic as it seems the brilliant minds at the MTA have surmised.

There are less lanes on 7th Ave. and less lanes on Cesar Chavez. Each one of those routinely now sees cars sticking out in the intersection trying to make a left turn but can't since the lanes are all jammed up, or a single garbage truck completely disrupting traffic flow. Drivers make more unsafe decisions because of the changes, and somehow some people have believed that things are better. Not because it's backed up by data, but because it's what they want to believe.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias

 
At 3:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I truly suspect (and from "anecdotal" observation) that there is a fair amount of meter-feeding by owners/employees of Polk St. businesses. No wonder they would want to retain as many parking spots as possible. As difficult as it may be, there should be surveying of such meter-feeding.

 
At 4:30 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Right. It couldn't possibly because the business owners are really worried about losing parking for potential customers. There must be a nefarious motive underlying any opposition to bike lanes, because Bikes are Good and Cars are Bad.

 
At 12:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, Rob, it is because business owners are worried of losing spots for potential customers AND, I suspect because they want parking for themselves and then feed the meter all day. But the only way for you and me to know the truth is for the hard work of: identifying the owners (public records), determining how many drive to work, seeing where they park and seeing where their non-neighborhood-resident employees park. Then determine how many people really need to drive to Polk St. It's not Vertigo 1958 San Francisco anymore when Jimmy Stewart can pull right into a parking space right in front of Kim Novak's building. The City has changed and there are too many cars. A lot of younger people have realized this and car ownership is not as attractive as it once was. I have patronized and visited people on Polk St. for 37 years. I walk and bus it exclusively throughout the City. Setting aside the bike issue, I am concerned about the inability of the 19 Polk bus (carrying many passengers) to move unimpeded along Polk St. without having to wait while one car (1 or 2 passengers?) takes 3 minutes to parallel park. (And I do want cyclists to travel safely). Polk St. commerce consists of an amazing collection of small non-chain businesses that essentially are non-destinations, i.e., the small cheap Indian/Pakistani eateries can exist by serving tourists who WALK by, neighborhood residents who WALK to it and those like myself and my friends (not much younger than you), who can bus there, walk a bit and incorporate a stop in a store, all without clogging up the streets with self-serving cars in a rapidly increasingly dense place. One does not need to drive to Brownies. It serves the neighborhood, not the City. There are hardware stores in other neighborhoods. If you are young and frequent the plethora of bars on Polk, then you are most likely able to walk (or stumble) by foot or bus, and cabs are numerous in the street. Anyway, there are several large parking structures in the neighborhood already (Lombardi's building and the Aztec-themed(?) building at Pine (or Bush?)) If Brenda's is your DESTINATION, then there are plenty of parking structures in the nearby Civic Center area and several bus lines nearby. You're not going to be driving to Big Apple from the Excelsior--it serves the immediate neighborhood. You do't need to drive to Piccadilly Fish 'n Chips. If you can afford the pricy French/Italian restaurants of Upper Polk, then you can afford a cab. The Half-Off store draws in pople who amble along, not people from Bayview who will drive across the City. Plans would still allow for disabled parking and even then, there are alternatives (cab strips/ para-transit)for low-income disabled. I think the "trick" is to enable/encourage Polk to remain primarily a true neighborhood and not a destination like Hayes St., which has become a much nationally-heralded destination and subsequently an overpriced, highly gentrified street that has created an auto-congested location (along with the Octavia Blvd.) But neighborhoods are also about people and not just the businesses. I believe these are knee-jerk reactions by business owners and adjustments can be made. Shoppers in SF have been "forced" to do without plastic bags and have to pay for a bag; many now bring their own bags and have adjusted. Likewise, residents are going to have to adjust to fewer personal vehicles (besides bikes) as our population moves to and beyond the 850,000 mark. For those of us in our senior years, strides are being made in the senior transportation arena (see for example, ITNAmerica) and that is how we need to move to avoid pedestrian/bicyclist injuries/fatalities.

 
At 1:51 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Completely wrong. Those businesses don't need your advice about how their customers do/don't arrive in the neighborhood. Sometimes the best thing to do is nothing. The city should just leave Polk Street alone. Pave the street and go away. The safety issue is a lie the MTA and the Bicycle Coalition invented to justify screwing up the street for everyone but cyclists. The problem that Reiskin has: the MTA now has more than 5,000 employees, and he needs to give them all something to do, which is where all this "improvement" bullshit is coming from.

 
At 2:51 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

The city should just leave Polk Street alone. Pave the street and go away.

How is paving their street leaving them alone?

 
At 3:34 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

The city is supposed to pave neighborhood streets anyhow. You're suggesting again that Polk Gulch is obligated to accept all the MTA's bogus "improvements" with routine paving of that street.

 
At 3:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rob: The businesses don't rule the streets and relying on them to dictate how our PUBLIC spaces are used is the mistake.

 
At 9:32 PM, Anonymous Justin said...

1. Polk St is the major north/south bike route. There are really no other options:

http://tinyurl.com/polk-st-bike-route

2. For many reasons, it's important to encourage transportation by bicycle in San Francisco and discourage transportation by car. This is a vital step to reducing carbon in the atmosphere - all cities have to do this. And how many ways can you count that car usage harms people? Accidents? Pollution? Debt?

3. Encouraging people to bike means making an effort to make it a welcoming place to do so. We need to provide space via bike paths and bikeways.

Please folks - look to the future and get on the right side of this issue. Change is hard but you will be glad it happened!

 
At 10:43 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Cyclists are only a small minority in San Francisco, as the city's own studies show (see page 5 of the MTA's Mode Share study). Why should promoting cycling trump the interests of the other 96.5% of those who use city streets? Because of global warming? What San Francisco does to reduce its carbon output---worthy as that goal is---is of trivial significance compared to what China and India will or won't do.

If you're so convinced that you are on "the right side" of this issue, do you support putting it on the ballot for city voters to decide?

 
At 11:55 PM, Anonymous Justin said...

Cyclists are only a small minority in San Francisco, as the city's own studies show (see page 5 of the MTA's Mode Share study). Why should promoting cycling trump the interests of the other 96.5% of those who use city streets?

Amsterdam wasn't built in a day. Bicycle trip volumes continue to rise year after year. (SFMTA State of Cycling 2012 - page 5.) 20% of San Franciscans ride a bike at least occasionally. Why don't they do it more? The same survey found that "To get people who ride to bike more often, improve infrastructure." (page 55)

Because of global warming? What San Francisco does to reduce its carbon output---worthy as that goal is---is of trivial significance compared to what China and India will or won't do.

What would be significant is if San Francisco became a model low-carbon output city. Sure China has the most carbon impact as of very recently but it was the US for a long time before that. This is an ever worsening issue that has to be seriously dealt with now. And it should start with cities.

If you're so convinced that you are on "the right side" of this issue, do you support putting it on the ballot for city voters to decide?

Put what on the ballot? Asking voters if it's ok to remove a few parking spots on Polk St to complete the city's most major north-south bike route? And to increase everyone's safety and make the street more inviting at the same time? Surveys show time and again that San Franciscans support this. Sure - put your money where your blog is and get it on the ballot. I bet it passes by a landslide.

 
At 11:23 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Put the Polk Street project on the ballot, like the city allowed the Haight to vote on the Page Street traffic circles back in 2004. Put Cesar Chavez and Second Street on the ballot. Put Masonic Avenue on the ballot. Better yet, put all the present and future bike projects on the ballot for city voters to decide, since they all have citywide traffic impacts.

What "surveys" are you referring to? The occasional push-poll the Bicycle Coalition pays for?

The safety argument is a lie, since the city's own studies show that our streets have already been getting safer in the last ten years, which has nothing to do with the bike projects.

It costs a lot of money to put something on the ballot, but the mayor can do it by himself, and only four votes on the Board of Supervisors can do it. That's the way it should be done by City Hall, but they're rightly afraid that city voters would reject the bike projects.

Democracy can be fatal to special interests.

 
At 10:52 PM, Anonymous Justin said...

So everything you disagree is a lie now huh. People continue to get hurt on Polk St. The SFMTA proposed improvements will decrease that.

Here are some more "lies" for you... Bike lanes led to 49% increase in retail sales.

 
At 9:44 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

The MTA is undermining what little credibility it has with its deceptive, cherry-picked numbers in its attempt to show that cycling is radically increasing in the city. It has to convince the public of that to justify taking away street parking and traffic lanes on busy neighborhood streets to make bike lanes.

Yes, it's obviously a deliberate attempt by the MTA to deceive the public about a "surge" in cycling. Both the MTA's State of Cycling report and its annual bicycle count reports are written---poorly written, at that---as sales jobs on behalf of cycling, exaggerating both the number and the percentage of cyclists in city traffic. The little information they provide is buried in pro-bike advocacy.

On the other hand, the MTA's annual Collision Report and Transportation Fact Sheet avoid advocacy and focus on the facts, putting cycling in the context of everything else on city streets. Those reports show that cycling is in fact an insignificant factor overall in city transportation.

Exactly how many and why are people getting hurt on Polk Street? Is it a coincidence that the MTA's numbers on that were released just as it was trying to sell the bike project on Polk Street? Except for a brief mention of the Polk/Eddy intersection---seven cyclist accidents in three years there---why aren't any Polk Street intersections mentioned in the Collision Report? And who exactly was responsible for the accidents at Polk and Eddy?

The safety claim about Polk was made as an attempt to justify the Polk Street bike lanes and for no other reason, just like it was falsely made to justify the Fell/Oak bike lanes and the Masonic Avenue bike lanes. In all three instances, it's not true, which means that it's a lie.

 
At 10:45 AM, Anonymous Jonah said...

Rob,

Do you think we should have counted the number of cars crossing the Bay before building the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges? Would that have been a good way to show how much demand there was for those infrastructural improvements?

What about the number of people taking mass transit from Contra Costa and San Mateo to job centers in Oakland and San Francisco before 1970?

Think about that in the context of your argument for minimizing improvements for bicycling based on mode share. Plenty of cities (many with arguably worse weather - New York, Portland, Copenhagen, Amsterdam) have successfully increased cycling mode share by providing better bicycling infrastructure. It takes time, but it can be done.

I agree with your assessment that parking is important to merchants and residents - that is a fact - and that less on-street parking can encourage more circling and congestion. It is a tough nut to crack, and parking lots and parking garages with clear signage and adequate pricing and management are an important part of the solution - though they come with the added complexity of the need for and scarcity of private land. But categorically avoiding critical bicycle network improvements because the current percentage of cyclists is small, to preserve 100 on-street parking spaces on a given corridor, seems short-sighted to me.

Thanks for keeping this dialog open and public.

 

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