SFMTA Directors Favor More Car Restrictions to Improve Market Street

The idea of getting more private automobiles off Market Street is gaining serious traction at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA). Following the success of measures diverting cars off Market at 6th and 10th Streets, the SFMTA Board of Directors today showed a broad consensus favoring potential pilot projects that could further reduce the impacts of cars on and around Market.

“Those two forced right turns gave us an increase in transit speed by 3 to 5 percent,” said Director Cheryl Brinkman. “I know that some of the things we choose to do…might be considered onerous by some motorists — to have to not be able to travel on Market Street — but I think right now the transit conditions on Market Street are already onerous for every transit rider.”

Five ideas for pilots were presented to the board by staff as trials for the Better Market Street Project. Two in particular stood out to directors who said they could be effective and feasible during the construction of the Central Subway.

One project would attempt to reduce blockages caused by cars waiting to turn right from Market onto New Montgomery Street by prohibiting that turn altogether. That could help speed up Muni and provide some breathing room for the high volumes of people on foot and those on bikes. However, an SFMTA document [pdf] pointed out that “the unintended effect may be to have more vehicles stay on eastbound Market Street and create a new problem at 2nd Street.”

The other project would calm motor traffic on Sixth Street by removing a prohibition on curb parking during peak hours in the northbound direction, which mostly encourages drivers to speed.

“A trial removal of the peak-period tow-away lane restrictions on the east side of 6th Street between Folsom and Market streets may improve pedestrian safety and comfort by decreasing the pedestrian crossing distance across 6th Street and by increasing the separation between pedestrians and moving traffic,” the SFMTA document said.

“If the project is successful, curb parking spaces could conceivably be converted to other uses such as parklets to increase the amount of open space in the area,” it added.

Director Malcolm Heinicke said he was originally skeptical of the forced right turns but is now convinced that “it’s feasible to eliminate everything but transit, bikes and taxis on that corridor.”

“That’s my clear way of saying these initial pilot projects are certainly okay by me,” he said.

San Francisco Bike Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum said the organization is “encouraged by what seems to be a clear desire from the SFMTA Board of Directors to prioritize speeding up transit travel on Market Street while improving safety for the growing number of people walking and bicycling there.”

“The SFMTA should be commended for the improvements made recently on Market Street and encouraged to keep up this momentum for progress,” she said.

Directors Cheryl Brinkman, Joél Ramos, and Bruce Oka also stressed the need for experimentation to improve the corridor.

“I’m eager for the day that we have no more private vehicles on Market Street,” said Oka. “I am not going to hold my breath on it, but I have seen so many near collisions and the pedestrians are not safe because the traffic is so congested in some parts. The sooner we get them off of Market Street, the better it’s going to be for everyone.”