Tepid Response from SFMTA, Mayor on Car-Free Market Resolution

Bicyclists still have to contend with a mess of private auto traffic on Market Street, especially below 5th Street. Photo: Myleen Hollero/Orange Photography

In a unanimous vote, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors this week passed Supervisor and mayoral candidate David Chiu’s resolution calling on the SFMTA to initiate more pilot projects on Market Street to further restrict private auto traffic and make it car-free on a trial basis in advance of the 2015 redesign. The 11 votes were a strong message to the SFMTA that it needs to take more immediate steps to calm private auto traffic on parts of Market Street that are a mess for Muni, and a danger to bicyclists and pedestrians.

The vote comes at a time when a growing of number electeds and mayoral candidates are backing a car-free Market Street. Asked to respond to the passage of the resolution, SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose said the agency “is committed to making Market Street more efficient for Muni, safer for pedestrians and even more user-friendly for cyclists.”

“We are currently exploring pilots that can be used to test concepts down the road,” he said. Those options include deploying a traffic control officer to New Montgomery to “help coordinate the flow of pedestrians and vehicles” and installing a green right-turn arrow signal at New Montgomery on eastbound Market Street “which alternate when cars and pedestrians have the right of way.”

Drivers turning left onto Market from Montgomery (which turns into New Montgomery) are an ongoing problem, because they use 2nd as a cut-through to the Bay Bridge, creating a backup on Market that sometimes delays Muni all the way up to 6th Street.

Yesterday, a number of parking control officers (PCOs) had already been deployed to Market Street, including the congested 3rd/Kearny/Geary and New Montgomery intersections. At New Montgomery, some drivers had trouble complying with the PCO’s orders. I witnessed an angry SUV driver hop out of his vehicle in the middle of the intersection, and confront the PCO in a threatening manner. He backed down after an SFPD unit pulled up, but then nearly ran over a cop, and was ordered to pull over. I wasn’t able to witness the conclusion.

On Third Street at Market, “drivers are constantly running the red light,” one of the PCOs told me. “This is one of the worst intersections on Market.”

The two back to back signal lights for northbound traffic crossing Market and then Geary are sometimes confusing for drivers. The first light for Market turns red, while the light for Geary just behind it remains green for a few seconds. Seeing only the green, drivers sometimes dart across Market when the signal they should be obeying is actually red.

While deploying PCOs may help, the SFMTA’s response thus far doesn’t fully address the resolution, which states: “Additional near-term pilot projects on Market Street should test further diversions of private automobiles from Market Street in both directions as well as other strategies to reduce Muni delays and improve the safety and attractiveness of Market Street for people walking and bicycling, while still supporting the business and cultural environment.”

The resolution also notes that other pilots the SFMTA is considering “are not poised to make significant impacts on Muni performance.”

“It’s good to see the SFMTA taking some steps, but we need to see more pilots more quickly,” said Judson True, an aide to Chiu.

In reality, it would seem that only Mayor Ed Lee has the power to make changes happen more quickly on Market. Without his support, the SFMTA lacks resources and political power. During last week’s question-and-answer period at the Board of Supervisors, Lee gave an ambiguous answer to a question by Chiu on whether he supports more private auto restrictions on Market.

Lee said he’s behind finding ways to improve Market “for all users” and “supportive of initial trials and pilots,” but skirted around the issue of more immediate private auto restrictions. A phone call and email to the Mayor’s Press Office were not returned.