Thursday, April 11, 2013

Examiner: "Let's start with the facts" on Polk Street

Today's Examiner editorial on Polk Street encourages readers to "start with the facts," even though the editorial itself is free of verifiable facts. 

Let's take its questionable assertions in the order they're made: As San Francisco becomes more and more densely populated, there is less and less room for the automobile.

Only if we continue on the path City Hall is now on will there be "less room for the automobile." City Hall and the MTA are pushing the Bicycle Coalition's anti-car agenda, including the Bicycle Plan, which takes away traffic lanes and street parking on busy city streets to make bike lanes. According to the DMV, there are now 458,093 motor vehicles registered in San Francisco; there were 446,184 registered in 2003. There are more than 35,000 cars driving into SF every weekday.

A small but vocal group of San Francisco residents and merchants is vehemently opposed to removing parking on Polk Street to make way for a bike lane. Members have organized well enough to persuade The City’s transit agency to rethink its approach to the proposal, after admittedly not being fully prepared to sell the idea during a March community meeting.

Actually, the MTA and Ed Reiskin have been working on this project proposal for months, maybe even years. What they weren't "prepared" for was a meeting packed with hundreds of people---not a "small" group---including a lot of small business owners on Polk Street, who were opposed to removing street parking on Polk Street to make bike lanes.

Let’s start with the facts. The plan for Polk Street involves more than just bicycles. The corridor happens to be one of the most dangerous in The City for pedestrians. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency says Polk Street from Sacramento to McAllister streets is among the 7 percent of city streets where the bulk of the most severe pedestrian collisions occur annually.

That's what the city says, but the MTA hasn't provided the public with enough information to know if it's true. It's just an unverified assertion by the MTA in support of a project that it really wants to do. Polk Street only qualifies for a brief mention on page 25 of the city's latest Collision Report on citywide traffic accidents: there were seven bike/auto accidents at Polk and Ellis over a three-year period. No indication of who was responsible for the accidents, but it's safe to say that cyclists were responsible for at least half of them.

Nor does any intersection on Polk Street make the list (page 21) of the most dangerous intersections for pedestrians in the city. 

If any street makes for a convenient comparison[with Polk St.], it would be Valencia Street. In the late 1990s, a trial project was rolled out on the Mission district thoroughfare to see what would happen if vehicle lanes were removed in favor of bike lanes. That “road diet” involved eliminating two of four vehicle lanes and installing bike lanes on both sides of the street, along with a median, in hopes of improving pedestrian and cyclist safety. According to advocacy group Bikes Belong, cycling traffic increased 144 percent in one year while total collisions decreased 20 percent. But perhaps most significantly---at least given the current Polk Street debate---two-thirds of area merchants said business actually improved after the changes took effect.

This is the Valencia Street Lie I wrote about the other day. There's no valid comparison with Polk, since no street parking was removed to make the Valencia Street bike lanes. And who exactly is Bikes Belong? According to the link provided: "Bikes Belong is sponsored by the U.S. bicycle industry with the goal of putting more people on bicycles more often. We have nearly 400 members—bicycle suppliers and retailers combining resources to improve bicycling in America." Not exactly a source of objective information about our streets.

Some more facts about transportation in the city: According to the city's Visitor's Bureau, more than 16 million tourists visit SF every year: 58% arrive by air and 28.1% by car, which means more than four and a half million tourists drive to the city every year. How do they get around after they get here? "Four in ten report taking taxis while in the city (38.1%). Other automobile options are popular amongst San Francisco visitors, with 35.1 percent using a personal car and 14.6 percent using a rental car." Odd but there's no mention of bicycles.

Hence, City Hall's anti-car policies are not only a massive inconvenience for everyone who drives in the city and bad for neighborhood businesses but if continued will damage tourism, the city's largest industry; tourists spend more than $8 billion a year in local businesses.

The only verifiable facts in the editorial are about the next public meetings to be held on the Polk Street project: Saturday April 27th from 10am-1pm (open house) and Tuesday April 30th from 5pm-8:30pm (open house).

The "open house" format is the same one the MTA used on the Masonic Avenue project. Over several hours, people can come in and view graphics pinned to the wall on different "options." There will be some MTA employees there to talk to, but this kind of process is designed to dilute neighborhood dissent, unlike the concentrated protest Polk Street residents were able to direct at Ed Reiskin last month.

The Bicycle Coalition is urging its members to "take action" by showing up at those meetings to support the "improvements" to Polk Street that will benefit only them:

Polk Street is one of the most dangerous streets for people biking and walking. Speak up for safety improvements at Polk Street Community meetings. This may be the last chance to weigh in on this project. We need hundreds of SF Bicycle Coalition members and supporters like yourself to be there.  

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