Growing Momentum for a Car-Free Market Street Ahead of 2015 Repaving

Photo: ##http://orangephotography.com/##Myleen Hollero/Orange Photography##

An unprecedented planning effort is currently underway to redesign Market Street, and transform it into a grand car-free thoroughfare in 2015, when it’s scheduled to be repaved. But why should we have to wait that long for a car-free Market Street? There is a growing momentum to do more aggressive trials that would inform the Better Market Street planning process, and divert more private automobiles off Market to improve conditions for people who ride transit, walk or bike.

“I do think that now is the time to accelerate our efforts to improve Market Street,” said Board of Supervisors President David Chiu.

The District 3 supervisor and mayoral candidate introduced a resolution [pdf] yesterday that calls on the SFMTA to implement more “near-term pilot projects, including increased private automobile diversions, to speed up transit along Market Street while improving the safety and comfort of people walking and biking, and supporting the local commercial and cultural function of the street.”

His comments at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting followed a q-and-a session with Mayor Ed Lee, who was asked by Chiu if he supports more trials to improve Market, and specifically what “on the ground pilot programs should happen soon while the long-term planning process goes on.”

Third Street and Kearny is often congested with private auto traffic during peak hours, delaying Muni and creating unsafe conditions for bicyclists and pedestrians. Drivers, fresh from the Bay Bridge, continue to drive like they're on a freeway, instead of an urban street. Photo: Bryan Goebel
A frustrated 30-Stockton driver gets stuck in the intersection at 3rd/Market behind private auto traffic. Photo: Bryan Goebel

Lee said he is “supportive of initial trials and projects” and that the SFMTA is working on more experiments, including allowing all-door boarding on surface transit vehicles from Van Ness to Market (50 percent of Muni delays on Market are due to slow boarding), “new and expanded bicycle treatments,” and “improved crosswalk conditions” for pedestrians, especially at 6th Street, which has been identified as one of the city’s most dangerous intersections for walking.

“The staff of the MTA is getting a real important message from both the leadership of City Hall and the leadership of MTA that it’s time to move forward more creatively and in a timely way,” said Leah Shahum, the executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. “I think this is pretty significant.”

Further details and a timeline for more improvements were not released, but Lee said any new trials would have to involve “input from multiple stakeholders.” The talk concerning reducing more private autos centers mostly around preventing turns onto Market Street, and not the cross traffic, which accounts for 85 percent of the private auto traffic on Market. Calming the cross traffic is definitely another concern among advocates, though.

Since the SFMTA implemented the required right turns at 10th and 6th streets, which are now permanent, conditions for transit, pedestrians and bicyclists have improved. The green protected bike lanes along stretches of Market also provide bicyclists with some dignified space, but it certainly isn’t enough.

The initial trials have also helped lead to a shift in public opinion about Market Street. A majority of the top mayoral candidates now support a car-free Market Street, and many residents and merchants who were originally opposed to the trials have come around to supporting them.

“I’ve not heard a lot of negative feedback to date, so that’s a good sign,” said Ken Cleaveland of the Building Owners and Managers Association of San Francisco, who supports more trials on Market Street, as long as people are allowed “to get accustomed to it gradually.”

While the two required right turns “did reduce traffic a little bit, they haven’t fixed the problems that I see every day on Market Street,” said Tom Radulovich, the executive director of Livable City. “There is a fairly small number of autos, and especially autos trying to turn right on Market Street, that plug up that right lane for buses and bicyclists trying to move through.”

Fifth, 4th and 3rd Streets and New Montgomery are congested during peak hours and Radulovich suggested prohibiting turns at those intersections, or “just making them free of private cars.”

At Montgomery, frustrated afternoon drivers will often turn left, and get onto 2nd Street to cut over to the Bay Bridge. That often creates a line of cars stuck at the intersection, bringing Muni traffic to a halt in both directions (sometimes all the way to 6th Street), and making conditions difficult for bicyclists and pedestrians.

One solution being talked about is to deploy a team of traffic control officers to the intersection to prevent cars from blocking the box, or to just ban the turn entirely, and make the last block of 2nd Street at Market open to northbound cars only.

Aside from reducing more private auto traffic, other ideas for speeding Muni include painting the transit lanes red, and extending the transit-only lane eastbound beyond 5th Street.

“Given these opportunities, we need more pilots now,” said Chiu. “I believe a viable vision for the future of Market Street is a world class avenue that draws its success from the huge number of people it attracts through transit and taxis, on foot and on bicycle, and without private automobiles except for delivery vehicles.”

  • Sfwom1

    Please, PLEASE!!! let me live to see this.

  • Walker

    I’m all for this and can’t wait for more of these measures. But I have to say, I’ve been threatened as a pedestrian way more from Muni and taxi drivers than I ever have from private drivers. Like the @$#*! cabbie at Davis and Market today.

  • Anonymous

    Can they get rid of the chains that block pedestrians on the North side?  I don’t see the need for an obstacle course at each intersection.

  • Anonymous

    This is a terrible idea. Just look at the K Street Mall in Sacramento. A desolation of boarded up stores populated by the homeless.

  • Anonymous

    @pchazzz I see your K Street and raise you 16th Street Mall in Denver.

  • Anonymous

    @pchazzz I see your K Street and raise you 16th Street Mall in Denver.

  • mikesonn

    @pchazzz:disqus I’ll toss in State St in Madison to sweeten the pot.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think there’s a huge risk of that, in the long run, if it can be executed well. Look at the big new shopping mall: lots of people, few cars. However, it requires dealing with the boarded-up buildings of lower Market. If that “Cityplace” mall were built, and the other buildings reactivated– and the junkies moved away– there would be no shortage of people.

  • Anonymous

    @murphstahoe,  I’ll see your Denver and Madison and raise you Main Street in Salt Lake City and St. Louis Centre and I’ll even throw in Commercial Street in Atchison Kansas.  Trying to revitalize fading downtown commercial centers by turning them into downtown malls was largely a failure.  Getting rid of cars is no guarantee of a liveable streetscape.

  • Anonymous

    Quick poll. San francisco is more like…

    a) Denver, Boulder, Madison

    B) St Louis, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, Atchison Kansas

    More seriously – Market is already a place that attracts bikes and repels cars, and pedestrians are required to be there.

  • Masonic will be the death…

    Or read as…

    This is a terrible idea. Just look at K street. And by this I mean ignore the impact of the weakened purchase power of the average Sacramentoite through the double punch of the housing market decline, and lack of new unsecured consumer credit lines which is what caused a middle class city to shun expensive boutique brands. Instead I just want you to think that making the area pedestrian only killed a poorly conceived mall, with renters hawking wares outside of the price range of the newly maxed out Sacto consumer.

  • Anonymous

    K Street has been a disaster since the 70s when the mall first went in. Then in the 80s light rail was supposed to be its salvation, but no, it is still a disaster as are many other ill conceived downtown malls. The point is that getting rid of cars is no panacea. It might work, it could work but there is no guarantee that it will work.

  • Anonymous

    Even the iPhone was not guaranteed to be a hit.

    It’s a democracy. And that includes pushing ideas you think will work. I used to spend every weekend in Sacramento, and I grew up in Boulder, so I know the differences.

    I predict this would be a home run.

  • The K Street mall’s problem has more to do with the fact that there is no housing in its vicinity in downtown Sacramento. Instead, Sacramento has built endless sprawl.

  • Anonymous

    Housing, shmousing. How many people arrive via transit on K St. every day? Is it less than a hundred thousand? If so, it’s not really a good comparison.

    Add together everyone arriving on BART, a dozen converging Muni lines, AC Transit, Greyhound, heck, even buses from Marin– there’s no shortage of pedestrians. Housing is just the cherry on top.

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