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Polk Street merchants angry about plan to remove parking spaces

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Rita Paoli, owner of City Discount, says her business is reliant on four-wheeled customers. - ANNA LATINO/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Anna Latino/Special to the S.F. Examiner
  • Rita Paoli, owner of City Discount, says her business is reliant on four-wheeled customers.

Polk Street merchants are up in arms over what they call a “radical agenda” to eliminate more than half the parking spaces along the bustling commercial corridor to reduce collisions with pedestrians and bicyclists.

Since last week, a group of merchants along upper Polk Street have posted signs on their shop windows asking passers-by to “Save Polk St.” from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Polk Street Improvement Project.

The draft proposals are scaring merchants and raising their blood pressure. The fliers ask for help to “stop the radical agenda” of the agency and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition over plans to “remove 20 blocks of street parking from Polk St. from Union St. to McAllister St.”

To make way for dedicated bike lanes, parking could be eliminated “fully from one side and partially from the other” and street parking could be eliminated altogether along lower Polk Street, according to the transit agency’s community presentation. The plan is to implement the changes in 2015 but to first have a temporary trial run on a few blocks during the America’s Cup this summer.

“It’s going to kill business,” said 90-year-old Rita Paoli, owner of City Discount, a kitchen supply store at 1542 Polk St. “Go pick up a few dishes. Just weigh them. You try and carry them.”

Paoli, who with her late husband owned the once-famous Paoli’s restaurant in the Financial District, said her customers drive in from all over The City and beyond. “I have never had bicyclists come in here and buy any plates,” Paoli said. “Rent is high. Cost of merchandise is high. If I don’t have volume, I’m locking up.”

Paoli’s concern is the driving sentiment among many Polk Street merchants, according to Dawn Trennert, co-chair of the Middle Polk Neighborhood Association. “It’s all very bicycle-driven,” Trennert said.

But Leah Shahum, head of the bike coalition, cited a number of studies that show that when similar improvements are made, business increases. Such is the case along Valencia Street in the Mission district and in different areas of New York City.

The loss of parking is inevitable if such improvements are made.

“With a limited right-of-way there’s only so many options you have,” said Shahum, adding that there are 360 parking spaces along the affected part of Polk Street. She also said the transit agency has identified areas on cross streets where up to 60 parking spots could be installed.

According to the SFMTA, there were 53 pedestrian and 69 bicycle collisions on Polk Street between Union and McAllister streets from April 2006 to March 2011.  

Merchants have scheduled a community meeting at 6:30 p.m. March 18 at It’s A Grind coffee shop on Polk and Washington streets to discuss their concerns.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com