Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Showdown at Polk Gulch

The Bicycle Coalition and its supporters have launched a counter-attack after Polk Gulch residents and businesses provided significant opposition last week to what City Hall and the Bicycle Coalition want to do to Polk Street---remove a lot of street parking in a neighborhood that, like all city neighborhoods, has a lot of small businesses.

Yesterday even the LA Times had a story on the conflict; the reporter was at that meeting:

An ambitious street redesign that many residents and business owners say could strip the majority of curbside parking spots from a 20-block commercial stretch, replacing them with bike lanes and miniature parks...But to the more than 300 vocal denizens of Polk Gulch, who packed a standing-room-only neighborhood meeting last week, the proposal is a commerce killer, one that would create "a freeway for bikes," with little benefit to shops along the route.

For years now City Hall has been pushing the anti-car, pro-bike agenda, which, not coincidentally, is the same as the Bicycle Coalition's agenda.

The Bicycle Coalition weighed in on Polk Street a few days ago:

If once a month, someone walking or biking on a street in your neighborhood was hit by an automobile or truck driver, would you support making it safer? This is the reality on Polk Street today, and the main reason we at the SF Bicycle Coalition have been advocating that the city repave Polk Street and improve safety for people biking and walking.

One accident a month adds up to only 12 such accidents a year, which is hardly a public safety emergency in this city. No intersection on Polk Street makes the list of most dangerous intersections in the city's annual collisions report (on page 8) that tracks all traffic accidents in San Francisco. Nor does the city provide an analysis of those accidents to show who was responsible, but the collisions report does tell us that recklessness by cyclists causes half their own injury accidents: "Fault for collisions seems to be evenly split among bicycle riders and motorists according to the SFPD collision reports" (page 25). The same is probably true of pedestrian accidents, but the city doesn't provide that information.

The safety claim is now used for all these anti-car "improvements" to city streets. The city is using it to justify screwing up traffic to make bike lanes on Masonic Avenue, taking away 167 parking spaces to make bike lanes. As the city's own reports clearly show, Masonic isn't unsafe for anyone, which made me comfortable calling that claim a lie in a recent post. The city also belatedly sent me some accident numbers to justify screwing up traffic on the Panhandle to make bike lanes, but the numbers were so unimpressive that I could see why the city never made safety its main argument for that project. Instead it was all about making cyclists "comfortable" riding on the Panhandle.

The Bicycle Coalition cites the previous outreach that the MTA has done on the Polk Street project---community meetings, walking tours, etc. But the reality is that most people ignore the government---local, state, federal---as much as they can, until it becomes impossible to ignore when it's getting ready to do something dumb and destructive.

More from the Bicycle Coalition:

The SFMTA released multiple design options for different segments of Polk Street late in 2012 and are in the process of getting even more community input on the designs before establishing a preferred alternative or two to flesh out in greater design detail for further review and ultimate environmental study and legislation. This approach for community planning and outreach is very typical for the city and most often during this process, one design option usually emerges that most people and organizations can get behind.

The "options" tactic used by the city on these projects is flim-flam and bullshit: they divide up a street into a number of sections with different "options" for public consideration. Funny thing is that when the bogus process is done, the city then chooses the option that removes the most street parking. (See examples here and here.)

The Bicycle Coalition polled its membership and surprise! They support the Polk Street project, whatever it turns out to be:  "When we polled our members in 2012, 72% of people cited lack of separation from motor vehicles as the top safety concern when riding on Polk Street." To separate bikes from motor vehicles, a lot of street parking will have to be eliminated.

On the MTA's website on Polk Street, the options are presented in an online survey, which highlights the city's pro-bike bias:

The three blocks of Polk Street between Union Street and Broadway are dense with small businesses and active for many hours of the day. The flat streets and stop signs at each intersection create the feeling of a calm neighborhood Main Street. However, the high traffic volumes present a challenge for cyclists sharing the roadway.

In other words, even though Polk Street works well for everyone as it is, the problem, according to the city, is that the traffic is a "challenge" for cyclists and makes them uncomfortable.

And "Traffic lights create vehicle queues that sometimes stop bikes and disrupt the pedestrian." But that's what traffic lights are for: to stop traffic---yes, including even bikes---to allow all users of the street to move safely. 

When cyclists get close to the Civic Center on Polk Street "fast-moving downhill cyclists find that they can hit green lights all the way to Civic Center Plaza, while in the opposite direction, cyclists struggle uphill---only to hit every red light." Doesn't everyone in Polk Gulch want to help cyclists hit every green light in both directions?

Isn't there a grownup among the 5,000 MTA employees who reads this stuff before it's released? 

The LA Times:

Audience members jeered when Edward D. Reiskin, the city's transportation director, couldn't say how many of the 320 curbside parking spots along Polk could be taken out under the plan. "I don't have that data," he said to loud boos, before going with "something like 170" maximum. The response from the crowd was more of the same.

Reiskin didn't have that "data" because he's waiting to see which option removing the most parking the city can get away with. Recall that Reiskin himself is a bike guy, who once promised the Bicycle Coalition that he'd like to slow down traffic all over the city to make cyclists more comfortable---and he hauls his five-year-old kid around on his bike in the city, which alone should disqualify him from running the MTA.

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