Reduced Car Traffic for Subway Construction Praised by Businesses

Photo: Aaron Bialick

Many merchants often dread street construction projects because they fear it will keep shoppers away from their stores, rarely considering the impacts everyday automobile traffic has on business. They’re more likely to defend automobile traffic and parking based on the myth that most of their customers drive.

But on Stockton Street in the Union Square shopping district, the response to construction on the Central Subway project from some business owners is turning that illusion on its head.

“One of the unexpected surprises during construction is the merchants’ positive reaction on how the shopping experience has been improved with the removal of automobile traffic in spite of the significant construction in the area,” SFMTA Central Subway Project Manager John Funghi told the SFMTA Board of Directors yesterday.

During construction, access on Stockton Street is limited to people walking and biking, Muni buses, tour buses, and taxis, reducing the amount of noise and danger present on the road from private automobiles. Even with officers directing traffic and pedestrians rerouted into a temporary narrow passageway, the benefits seem to outweigh the negative impacts.

“I think any time you remove cars from the road, it does improve the pedestrian experience,” said Linda Mjellem of the Union Square Business Improvement District. “Construction’s never clean. There’s dust and noise, and I think everyone understands that.”

A lack of merchant support has historically been one of the largest obstacles to implementing projects to calm auto traffic, replace parking spots, or otherwise restrict car access in favor of more people-friendly streets. However, the tide seems to be turning as business owners see that the sky doesn’t fall.

One shining example is the “mega-parklet” promenade project that has been approved to extend the crowded sidewalks on Powell Street. A pilot project gained merchant support despite the loss of parking and construction is expected to begin later this year.

Ironically, restricting automobile traffic to improve speeds on the 30-Stockton and other Muni buses that use the Stockton corridor has been the flagship alternative offered by opponents of the massive capital project. Private automobile traffic has often been reported among the top factors slowing Muni service.

At the SFMTA Board’s last public meeting, Director Cheryl Brinkman pointed out that drivers seem to be adjusting to the changes on Stockton.

“When it was first closed to automobiles, Post Street was a mess the first week,” she said. “But as time went on, and cars realized they couldn’t go down Stockton Street and they had to turn left on Post, it’s dissipated.”

Even shoppers who do drive appear to be able to access the parking garage just as easily, noted Mjellem. “There’s nothing that would indicate that people are frustrated and that they’re not coming. They’re still coming,” she said.

  • mikesonn

    Removing private autos from Stockton won’t cost $1.6B and it won’t sink Muni into a financial pit.

    But you can’t take your picture next to an on-time bus…

  • Caleb

    SFPD/MTA: Please start enforcing the private autos prohibition on these blocks of Stockton. There are giant blinking signs everywhere and yet these people continue to drive on Stockton where it is indicated “bus/taxi only”, causing buses to be caught up for multiple minutes in traffic jams. Easy pickings for handing out citations here… snap to it!

  • Justin

    Just stop everything, and leave things as they are on Stockton — wah la — no big dig needed.

  • TomV

    Aaron, Agreed, the traffic hasn’t been too bad. I think some vehicles have stayed away and for those of us who have little choice, the delays have been localized and temporary. It’s nice to see the City handling a major infrastructure project well.

  • Anonymous

    And of course, the reason the stockton tunnel was built was to accomodate the original F line. But we have to do whatever Willie and Rose tell us to do, no matter how stupid, how wasteful or corrupt. Good thing they’ve got some sock puppets at the board to continue this mess.

  • Guest

    sadly we cant even try it out.. transit/bike boulevards… there are so many great things we could be doing if people would only give it a chance.

    oh and sadly as construction progresses, the 30/45 are going to have to reroute and be in the thick of the traffic =(

  • Anonymous

    Will there be a Sunday Streets along here?

  • mikesonn

    I think one is in the works for Chinatown, but it will probably be to the east (Grant St hopefully). I’d love to see Grant St from Bush (or south from Market) all the way up into North Beach at Union. Grant should be pedestrian only through Chinatown anyway.

    I spend more time walking in the street than on the sidewalk whenever I’m in Chinatown, which is often because I can usually walk faster than the 30/45.

  • mikesonn

    We are spending $1.6B to keep the Stockton tunnel open for cars – connecting a walkable transit rich Union Square to Chinatown where car ownership is probably less than 10%. Makes perfect sense.

  • doogiehowsah

    Can’t wait to ride the 3-stop subway to nowhere under here, so we can return Stockton to its natural state: multiple lanes of barely-moving cars! Hooray, SF!

  • Frosty

    Doogie, hate to nitpick but the final version will be 1.7 miles and have 5 stops, not 3: 4th & King, 4th and Brannan, Moscone Center, Union Square and Chinatown.

    The ChinaTown stop will be excavated but not built in the intitial phase, and I believe that will depend on funding not yet approved.

  • mikesonn

    Frosty, since we are nitpicking, you can’t count 4th and King as that is already a stop.

    There will be a station at Washington St (Chinatown stop) that will be the last operational stop. The tunnel will continue under Stockton (no tracks), turn at Columbus and they will take the boring machines out at Washington Square Park. The WSP site is suppose to be a future North Beach stop, but they aren’t allowed to even mention that because of federal funding restrictions on projects. So we’ll be looking at 20-30 years AFTER this phase of the Central Subway is built (so 30-45 years from now) for their to be a functioning station at WSP in North Beach.

    In the mean time, 30/45/8x service will be reduced, operating costs for the CS will further hinder Muni’s strapped budget, and that’s not even looking at all the deferred maintenance that Muni is accumulating because they need that money to match federal funding requirements.

  • doogiehowsah

    high-fives mikesonn

  • Frosty

    Mike, OK, yes, it is the WSP stop and not the ChinaTown stop that is conjectural. My bad. Excluding WSP, CS will link five stops (one existing and four new). Not three.

  • mikesonn

    Frosty, no worries. I think we all want to make sure the correct info is out there.

    I just added the rest since I was on a rant.