Though much of the media reaction to Mayor Gavin Newsom’s Better Market Street Project is narrowly focusing on the traffic impacts of mandatory right-turns at two intersections on Market, the trial project will attempt to do much more to improve the public realm and public perception of San Francisco’s most iconic street.
"The new and improved Market Street will rival main streets around the world," said Mayor Newsom. "With input from the community, and the leadership of the five key agencies, we will identify specific solutions that work best for our main corridor."
The traffic changes at 8th Street and 6th Street are intended to reduce conflicts between cars, transit, bicycles and pedestrians, and the success of the restrictions will be measured by a stakeholder group that includes the MTA, the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (TA), DPW, the Planning Department, advocates like the SFBC and Walk SF, and business groups like the the Market Street Association, Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) and the Union Square BID. By bringing all the groups together, the Mayor’s office hoped to avoid the pitfalls from previous splintered efforts to improve Market Street.
Kit Hodge, Director of the Great Streets Project for the SFBC, said that some of the more reticent stakeholders concerned about the traffic changes got on board with the project when the Mayor’s office broadened the scope to include quality-of-life issues.
"What galvanized the stakeholders is the trial approach and the
placemaking approach, which reflects multiple looks on Market Street,
not just transportation, but seeing the street as a place," she said. "There are a number of other things happening beyond traffic changes, including ad hoc plazas on the sidewalks, art in buildings, music along the street."
Hodge said the Great Streets Project would continue collecting baseline data through next week and then would help the agencies with public feedback. She encouraged all interested public to use the many options for communicating with project organizers, including the website, 311, Twitter, and Facebook.
Astrid Haryati, the Mayor’s Director of Greening, will oversee temporary greening measures along Market in the pilot area, what are being dubbed Greenpods, and will help to expand the lunchtime concert series People in Plazas that coincided with the opening of the Pavement to Parks plazas.
San Francisco County Transportation Authority (TA) Senior Transportation Planner Zabe Bent said the holistic approach improving the street was important for garnering support from business groups and advocates. She said that with their involvement, the planners and transit operators could consider bold long-term improvements, such as Calm the Safety Zones, which would add high-visibility markings to the street and clearer demarcations between transit, pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles.
"The goal is to make sure that [we find] ways to
improve safety for bicyclists and pedestrians."
Bent said the MTA already has its half of the necessary funding from Safe Routes to Transit grants for Calm the Safety Zones and that with Board of Supervisor approval, the TA could release Proposition K money for the remainder. She hoped that the MTA could start laying down the treatments as early as November, but definitely by spring.
As part of the recent Strategic Analysis Report (SAR) completed for the Board of Supervisors, Bent explained, they have a placeholder in effect for additional pilots, which she said could mean "refining the existing pilot locations – or identifying additional improvements elsewhere."
She listed the intersections of 4th St, Sansome, and Battery as locations where stakeholders were concerned about conflicts between vehicles and pedestrians.
A further consideration for the TA and the MTA is the impact the restrictions will have on parallel streets in SOMA, such as traffic calming on Howard and Folsom to protect pedestrians there, depending on what comes of the evaluation process.
Though Bent said there is no guarantee that they would ban cars on Market Street, she said the TA had studied the scenario and could consider fundamental questions of how the street is used if there was a demand for it. She also said the trial was an important first step before the scheduled repaving of
Market Street in 2013, when agencies will need to have any significant engineering changes prepared.
"The TEP has identified Market Street as one of the main priorities for improvement. As TEP implementation moves forward, we could dedicate Prop K funds to restricting autos altogether, changing how automobiles use the lanes," she said.
Whether or not the approach will fundamentally change Market Street and make it into a grand promenade (as the Mayor hopes) could depend on a number of issues bigger than street changes, according to Bent. "Long-term land use and social services are not going to change in the next six months. Those are things that need a deeper look among the stakeholders."
MTA spokesperson Judson True pointed to the broader issues on Market Street as well, saying the MTA will analyze the impacts of the restrictions on Muni and will use this as an appropriate time to consider the long-term goals for how the street is engineered and how it functions.
"We’re really excited to be participating in this effort. The time is right to re-imagine Market Street in its entirety."