The Clamor for a Better Market Street Grows Louder

Picture_2.pngA rendering of the 1900 unit Trinity Plaza development at Market and 8th Street

As we reported last week, several city agencies have begun to look at ways to improve Market Street when it is repaved, including an inter-agency process spearheaded by DPW and the Planning Department.  Yet, we’ve still heard nothing from Mayor Gavin Newsom that suggests he’ll make the transformation of San Francisco’s most significant street an urgent priority. 

Given the political capital he’s willing to spend on six car-free Sundays this summer, which we applaud wholeheartedly, we don’t understand why he wouldn’t marshal all the Market Street principals together, especially when his allies are calling for change and his political nemeses are rallying their troops to do it in spite of him.

Streetsblog San Francisco obtained a copy of a letter sent to Mayor Newsom several weeks ago by a group of signatories that don’t always see eye to eye on street issues (PDF).  In the letter they urged the Mayor to bump Market Street to the top of his list of priorities for this year. 

"Unfortunately today Market Street does not live up to its potential as a landmark boulevard.  Transit performance, vehicle traffic congestion, pedestrian and bicycle accessibility and safety, and economic vitality all are in a poor state along much of the Market Street corridor."

While it’s little surprise that advocates like SFBC, Livable City, and Walk SF would want the Mayor to act, we were heartened to read that the Chamber of Commerce, San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Central Market CBD, the North of Market/Tenderloin CBD, and the Market Street Association were all on board.

Though the letter is clearly more middle of the road than one coming exclusively from the advocates, it does list a number of targets:

  • Decrease transit travel time and improve transit reliability
  • Improve pedestrian circulation and safety
  • Create a safer, more inviting bicycle route
  • Accommodate necessary motor vehicle trips

Market Street Association Executive Director Carolyn Diamond said in an interview that she has heard less resistance to change from merchants over the last couple years.  She did insist that merchants are opposed to a total ban of cars on market street, but they are more and more amenable to time-of-day restrictions.

Diamond and other parties involved in the tumultuous battle over the Mid-Market Redevelopment Area Plan still feel the sting of a ten-year planning process that ended up shelved at the Board of Supervisors after vociferous protests from affordable housing and transit advocates, and the crucial resistance from Supervisor Chris Daly. 

Despite the the current economic situation, the death of the the redevelopment area proposal and the attached special use district approved by the Planning Department, a great deal of development in the Mid-Market area has been approved over the next five years; some of it is already being built.  A quick tabulation from Planning Department documents shows that at least 3,000 residential units have been approved for the next 4-5 years, the largest of which is the Trinity Plaza development, with 1900 rental units. 

In a precedent-setting deal brokered by Supervisor Daly and the developer, and with the Mayor’s support, the developer of Trinity Plaza, Angelo Sangiacomo, agreed to make 360 units of the new development rent-stabilized, relocate the current occupants of Trinity Plaza Apartments during construction, and rent to them at current levels when they move back in.  The development will have multiple ground level uses, including a market, and most expect it to have a dramatic effect on that section of Market Street.

SFBC’s Program Director Andy Thornley agreed that economic development is crucial for making the street a success for pedestrians and cyclists.

Mid-market revitalization is the main premise of Market right now.  SFBC knows that the point is not to make this car free and then see what happens.  What’s more important is to have a street that’s vital, interesting, safe, active.  A re-imagined Market works well for transit, bikes, peds and for the merchants who are there and the merchants who aren’t there yet.  We keep turning to the Mayor and saying here’s a great project that needs a leader.

A source in the Mayor’s office who insisted on anonymity said that incremental steps could work on Market Street:

Market should be improved and emphasis should be non-automobile trips, service vehicles, but I don’t think we are in any position to remove automobiles currently.  It’s premature until we’ve reached a critical residential threshold, more uses like restaurants, lounges, bars, nightclubs, that cater to evening users.  Some people have this idea that we can have a pedestrian paradise overnight, but you could end up with potentially desolate street life if you don’t allow automobile access. 

There’s no reason that Market Street couldn’t be incrementally converted, with the gradual elimination of private automobile trips.  One can imagine in the long run that it could be transitioned solely to transit, pedestrians and bicycles.  The key is a gradual transition.

Supervisor Daly isn’t waiting around for Newsom to take a leadership role.  Explaining why he chose to direct the SFCTA to study a car-free Market Street late last year, he said: "Given the progress we’ve made collectively on issues like climate
change, CO2, rethinking our public spaces, I thought it may be perfect
to give it one last try before leaving office.  Gavin had done his Sunday Streets thing.  I had the position that I wanted to see Market Street opened up to additional uses other than cars since before taking office."

When asked whether he believed Market Street could be transformed without Mayor Newsom’s strong leadership, he said he wouldn’t have brought it up if he didn’t expect to bring change before he leaves office.

"I’ve done plenty of major initiatives without strong mayoral leadership, it’s actually a specialty of mine.  I don’t know if there are many other electeds who could move a major initiative without the support of the mayor, but I’ve been proven to do it."

  • “Trinity Plaza … will have multiple ground level uses, including a market, and most expect it to have a dramatic effect on that section of Market Street.”

    Judging from the rendering, it will make it dramatically uglier.

    There is no law saying that new development has to have slick, sterile, modernist architecture. This design looks like the sort of thing Mies van der Rohe might have done 40 or 50 years ago. It is no longer the 1950s, and we should move beyond mid-century modernism.

  • Things would certianly move a lot quicker with Mayoral support. Timed restrictions on cars seems like a good next step. I would also agree that not having vehicle traffic late at night and early mornings would make the street too desolate.

  • Lars

    Car-free Market from 7 – 10 AM and 4 – 6 PM would be a great start/experiement. Of course buses, transit, and bikes, would still be allowed.

  • Peter

    What’s more important is to have a street that’s vital, interesting, safe, active.

    I like that kind of talk! 😀

    can’t say i’m crazy about the anonymouse City Hall quotage. if the Mayor wants to participate in the discussion, fine, but it’s got to be on equal terms with everybody else. if there is some compelling reason to grant someone anonymitiy – like their personal security – then fine, but absent that, let the chips fall where they may. if the story runs without comment from the Mayor, then it runs without comment from the Mayor by the choice of the Mayor – simple.

    but, good article.

    i think the interested parties should start sitting down with Daly and sorting out the issues — put down some stakes and get to work. that’s how democracy is supposed to work. we don’t need the blessing of His Highness to proceed.

  • CBrinkman

    ” i.e. restrict traffic from traveling more than a block or two without turning off, ”

    Yes! MTA could do that tomorrow; forced right turns for private cars at 8th and 5th heading down Market, no right or left turns onto Market from Montgomery or Battery etc. etc. Why do we have to study everything to death – try it, if it doesn’t work change it.

    I prefer the term Car Lite Market Street, instead of Car Free. There are not that many private autos going more then a block or two on Mkt but they mess things up but good, and they tend to be fancy expensive cars and SUVs….

  • Even if the political will is found to make Market Street less private auto oriented, it will fall upon the SFPD and MTA to enforce this…

    The design of the Trinity Plaza replacement project is somewhat constrained, as the condition of the deal was 100% replacement of rent controlled housing so as to prevent displacement of existing residents.

    The new building that is going up on Mission parallel to the SOMA Grand, blocking its westward views(!), is the affordable tower. Once that is complete, residents will be relocated from the Del Webb structures and they will be demolished and replaced with the artists’ rendering.

    The good part about the new design is that it has a hole in it. That part of Market Street is where the northern and westerly winds gain velocity as they come down the Hayes hill. That there is a hole in the structure means that it will be a less worse wind player.

    The problem with the coalition is that the Chamber of Commerce plays for keeps, and our advocates, not play for keeps.

    -marc

  • Pat

    Worldchanging had a good argument to apply to the question of Market becoming completely car free. It is a scientific study that shows removing specific roads in a major city will actually decrease traffic congestion. Interesting read:
    http://www.worldchanging.com/archives//008957.html

    Even if it were not completely car free, this next article shows that the way a street is built determines the speed of traffic. Even by the picture on the top you can see that a road with pedestrian-permeable edges will reduce the speed of traffic immensely. When a driver expects to see people in the street, that driver will drive more slowly, be more cautious or possibly even choose a different route. Well worth your time:
    http://www.worldchanging.com/archives//008746.html

  • Schtu

    I think Time of Day restrictions are a great idea. It would allow an incremental approach and the ability to fine tune traffic based on transit needs. I think it could also provide some insight into driver behavior for timed congestion pricing. (Which I personally do not think SF has the density to support yet.) I worry about creating a desolate street scape at night until a critical mass of housing and pedestrian activity can be maintained.

    Regarding Trinity Plaza, the fact that it is Modern is not its problem. If only it looked like Mies….

  • We have examples where there is “critical mass” of housing and transit investment, and there is no commensurate pedestrian activity after hours to speak of. See 3d and King.

    I do not believe it possible to plan for the kind of livable cities that comprise San Francisco’s real neighborhoods and arose organically because the city prioritizes the economic entitlements of developers.

    “Here we practice the art of the deal, not the art of the city,” as the architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable has put it.

    On the Homefront – After the Bubble – Will the Recession Derail Michael Bloomberg’s Grand Plans

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/15/realestate/keymagazine/15Key-lede-t.html

    -marc

  • Trinity’s 1,900 units being rentals might give a reader the impression they might not generate a lot of car trips, but the linked Chronicle article from 2006 says 1,200 residental parking spaces were planned. While less than 1:1, that is still a very large number of new cars to dump at 10th & Market.

    It would make vastly more sense to enact private vehicle restrictions on Market soon, before there are 1,200 new drivers in place to defend their right to drive whenever they want, wherever they want.

  • There is no need to drive on Market Street. There is no parking, almost nowhere to stop, and parallel streets that can take drivers where they need to go. For anyone wishing to visit a business on Market street, they have to park off Market and walk. So why all of the hesitancy? When Market street is repaved, it will be closed to traffic and people will have to get used to it anyway, so why not just extend that? Even if it is just a commute time ban, now is certainly the time to do it, before the road becomes a well paved invitation to cruise.

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