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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At 1:01 PM, Anonymous ENUF said...

We need more parking garages on Polk. Does anyone actually shop at Lombardi's? No! They need to turn that parking lot into a free public garage. Does anyone shop at the Jug Shop? No! That needs to be a free public lot. Stop with the parklet madness as well, we need more parking not more space for hipsters. The SFMTA just removes parking and then says they need to charge more for the few spots left. NO! NO! NO!

At 4:02 PM, Anonymous sfthen said...

Merely by claiming Valencia St is a convenient comparison to Polk shows how little these people at the Examiner know about the City. Otherwise they might have noted that order to accomodate the bike lanes on Valencia here in supposedly "transit first" San Francisco the MTA eliminated a complete Muni line, the 26.

Does the MTA plan to do the same with the 19-Polk in order to repeat this "success"?

Similarly the survey showing a supposed "business improvement" did not include data from the many shops, stores and restaurants that went out-of-business subsequent to introduction of bike lanes.

At 4:41 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Yes, city neighborhoods need more parking for visitors to make them "destinations" so that people can shop and eat at neighborhood restaurants. The Ninth and Irving neighborhood is a good example, with a metered city parking lot that straddles the block next to that excellent shoe store---where I buy my running shoes---and the Wells Fargo bank.

My neighborhood---the Divisadero corridor---is seriously lacking in parking for visitors, which would help the restaurants and shops on Diviz.

The derelict Harding Theater---"saved" by Planning Commissioner Olague and Supervisor Mirkarimi in 2004 to continue to blight the middle of the neighborhood---could be demolished to make a city parking lot, complete with their new parking meters.

The city would get a new, profitable parking lot---the city owns 20 parking lots, by the way---and the neighborhood commercial strip would get some much-needed parking.

At 6:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do San Francisco planners and SFMTA staff not travel to other cities? Chicago has a thriving downtown with LOADS of parking and it certainly has not stopped a huge amount of pedestrian energy and even biking. Take the famous Hancock tower.... the base of the Hancock is a two level pedestrian plaza with shops and restaurants, but hidden above the 3 story lobby is 18 floors of parking in the lower portion of the tower below 30 floors of offices and about 40 floors of residential units. I love to point out to people that the dark glass windows on the bottom floors of the Hancock are not condos or offices BUT parking. (the garage is entered by a ramp in the rear).

All over downtown Chicago, in addition to subways, elevated trains, and numerous bus routes are dozens of dozens of parking garges (usually underground or hidden above retail spaces so the street life is still intact), and guess what? People from the entire metro area come to Chicago's downtown to shop and dine and spend their money.

What drives me nuts about what is happening in San Francisco is they are taking away the parking, but S.F. does not have the transit infrastructure of a city like Chicago, and yet, Chicago has the transit AND provides parking as well. Go figure?

At 10:29 AM, Anonymous Munifollower said...

The 26 was cut because of Newsom using the Muni operational budget as a personal slush fund for the SFPD. It had nothing to do with the bike lanes.

At 10:50 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Yes, it's all about bikes in SF, while Muni is chronically underfunded, as the city pours money into the bottomless Central Subway money pit.

This short-sighted approach to transit is matched with an aggressive pro-growth policies from the Planning Dept. Developers love it because city progressives call it "smart growth"! Thousands of new housing units but no corresponding investment in Muni---and developers are discouraged from providing parking for the new housing units! Developers love that, since it makes their projects more profitable.

At 11:47 AM, Anonymous Munifollower said...

Way to steer off course there, Rob. Nice rant though.

At 12:01 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

My comment was in response to the comment before yours, which came in in the meantime.

Traffic issues are intimately related to planning and development policies. In SF an aggressive pro-development City Hall policy is provided a PC patina as "smart growth"---or "dense development" or development along "transit corridors."


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