Delayed Again, “Better Market Street” Could Move Bikeway to Mission Street

Better Market Street project managers announced today that construction will be pushed back another two years to 2017, and one of the three options to be studied will include protected bike lanes on Mission Street instead of Market Street. Images: Better Market Street

The latest news from the Better Market Street project could be a setback for implementing a safe, accessible bike network in San Francisco — not just because construction has been pushed back to 2017, four years past the original date — but because one of the three proposals that planners will study involves building a protected bike lane route on Mission Street instead of Market, while re-routing Muni’s 14-Mission bus line on to Market in the downtown stretch.

The SF Chronicle reported on the proposal today, saying that protected bike lanes on parallel Mission would be easier to engineer and “far safer” for bicycle riders compared to Market. Routing the 14-Mission onto downtown Market, meanwhile, would allow more room for buses than the 9-foot-wide bus lanes on Mission, where Muni drivers today must often occupy two traffic lanes to squeeze through.

But by abandoning Market as a priority bike route, the Mission Street option would go against a primary principle of bike planning: Improving the most direct routes, which people are naturally drawn to use. Market Street, the city’s wide, main thoroughfare, serves as the most convenient and direct east-west bicycling route from downtown to the Wiggle. And with bicycles comprising a significant share of the vehicles on Market, it’s been claimed as the busiest bicycling street west of the Mississippi.

“Bikes are a critical part of the current and future economy, social safety and transportation on Market Street,” said Kit Hodge, deputy director of the SF Bicycle Coalition. “The companies that are now moving to mid-Market depend on great bicycling access. It would be odd for the city to roll back its own mid-Market revitalization efforts back by limiting biking.”

As Department of Public Works spokesperson Mindy Linetzky told the Chronicle, “This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rethink and improve San Francisco’s premier street. Market Street is San Francisco’s main street. It should look and work like one.”

So will the vision for San Francisco’s “premier” street include bicycles?

A rendering of Market Street with a raised, protected bikeway.

Protected bike lanes on Market are still one of the three options [PDF] to be studied in the Better Market Street project, along with a proposal that wouldn’t add protected bike lanes on Market or Mission. In a statement, DPW Director Mohammed Nuru said, “All three options have their pros and cons, and deserve further exploration.”

“Adding Mission Street to the mix opens up new opportunities, such as making Market Street the city’s true transit spine and allowing traffic signals to be re-timed on Mission Street to better accommodate cyclists,” he added. “But more study is needed to see what would work best to promote safe and efficient travel.”

The pros and cons of the Mission bikeway proposal. (Click to enlarge.)

One factor behind the Mission proposal may be that it’s seen as a way to cut the cost of rebuilding the curbs on Market. DPW Project Manager Kris Opbroek told the Chronicle that “the curbs (on Market Street) were built of granite and meant to stay. We don’t take moving them lightly.”

But if that is the case, “That approach does not sync up with the high-level calls from the mayor and other decision-makers about making Market Street our grand boulevard, doing it right, and making it a world-class street,” said Leah Shahum, the SFBC’s executive director. “If it is about money, then they’re backing away from the vision.”

Randy Shaw, director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, said he sees protected bike lanes as an integral part of revitalizing Mid-Market by inviting more activity and shopping. “The vision of Market Street — you have to have bicycles. It’s not going to work without bicycles,” he said. “This isn’t the Better Mission Street Plan.”

“In terms of connecting to the Tenderloin, you basically are taking the bikes away from the Tenderloin,” added Shaw.

Whether the Mission proposal would have any bearing on other proposals in Better Market Street, such as banning personal cars on lower Market or creating more inviting public spaces and faster surface transit, is unclear.

While Mission deserves to be looked at for bike improvements, Shahum said, “It doesn’t make sense to kick the can and push off the problem with a-whole-nother set of challenges on another street.”

One apparent challenge in the proposal would be connecting the re-aligned routes for Muni and bicycles to their respective established routes heading into the Mission District. To use a Mission Street bikeway, riders would presumably get to Valencia and upper Market Streets possibly via Otis (currently a one-way street) and McCoppin Streets, either through a narrow shortcut or by making extra turns. This change would come despite the new left-turn bike signal at Market and Valencia, and the straight shot that Market provides to the Wiggle. Market, along with Valencia and the Wiggle, comprise some of San Francisco’s most heavily-cycled routes.

Buses on the 14-Mission line, meanwhile, would theoretically have to make left turns off of Market and Mission in either direction, plus another right turn, slowing down the already-sluggish line. New overhead power lines, which have been cited by the SFMTA as prohibitively expensive in other transit projects, may also have to be installed.

Hodge pointed out that safer bicycling options can entice Muni riders to try biking and help relieve overcrowding on buses. Placing bikeways where they’re visible along busy Muni corridors seems like a good way to maximize that effect. “By making biking through key areas even more accessible and welcoming, you’re going to take people off of Muni and open up seats for people who really need it,” said Hodge.

Hodge also emphasized the SFBC’s frustration with the latest delay for Better Market Street, a widely-anticipated project that was originally expected to begin construction this year. The announcement from project managers that the construction date would be pushed from 2015 to 2017 comes three months after DPW’s Opbroek was grilled for repeated delays by Supervisors David Chiu and Scott Wiener at a hearing. At the time, Wiener called the multi-agency project “the latest manifestation” of the city’s poor track record on timely implementation of transportation improvements that both save lives and improve quality of life.

“Clearly, [the project] needs a lot of help to get back on track,” said Hodge.

In the meantime, Hodge said the SFBC is urging the city to implement new pilot bikeway projects on Market this summer, building on the success of past pilots like the traffic diversions at Sixth and Tenth Streets and the green, post-separated bike lanes west of Eighth Street. As examples, the organization is calling for more forced turns for cars on westbound Market, as well as banning right turns on to Market from cross streets, to reduce car traffic. Green-backed sharrows have been widely cheered since they were implemented along the Wiggle, the SFBC says, and more should be added along Market.

After years of prolonged discussions, said Hodge, “The city really can’t throw its hands up and give up on finding the best possible solution for biking on Market Street.”

“Improving Mission Street in addition to Market Street for bicycling is very appealing, just as we have long sought upgrades to the bike lanes on Folsom and Howard Streets,” she said. “But the demand for safe and comfortable biking on Market Street for all kinds of people remains strong and will only grow stronger in the coming years.”

  • Gneiss

    This new proposal seems to me to be a way for the Better Market Street project to continue to spend money on consultants and studies and say they are making ‘progress’ rather than start the work already.  This project was expected to be completed by 2015 with work to start this year and yet here we are – still in the conceptual design phase.  It means at least another 4 years of a disgracefully surfaced Market Street and millions spent on consultants all because the city is perfectly happy spending our money coming up with designs ad infinitum in an attempt to build consensus.

    Can we just get on with it already?  Geesh.  It is just like the BRT on Van Ness, another clear example of how our local government can’t get infrastructure projects done in any reasonable amount of time.

  • Anonymous

    @d6369e8a8a3a00e79bba94ce88d22503:disqus , it sounds like Mission is the street you take and like and that’s great, you should keep doing that. But that doesn’t mean it’s a better option for a lot of people just because you find it the fastest. I’m not concerned with being fast, there are a lot more factors (both conscious and unconscious) to the routes I take. Part of Better Market Street is to do “place making” and make it a destination in itself and most of this conversation is about how to get people to move through market the fastest. Well we also want people to slow down, linger, and enjoy their trip as well. Karen above brings up the good point of exhaust as well. I don’t always agree with the bike coalition, but I think their goal of maximizing the amount of people served by bike routes (rather than maximizing the improvement for a select group of cyclists, i.e. safety is more important than speed) is the way forward. With that in mind I think Market is still the better choice and without cars it will be much better.

    Anecdotally I commute on bike from 5th to market to Sansome (and then some) and it is the case with a lot of north of market streets that you can’t get to them easily from any street other than market and even on market it’s a tough turn. Of course I could do mission to 2nd to market to sansome but the point is that I don’t want to and likely wouldn’t change my route even though I’m coming from SoMa. The other (big) factor for me is most of the cross streets like 4th, 3rd, Montgomery etc. are one way arterials that I will always avoid on a bike.

  • the greasybear

    Question: How can we depress the rate of bicycle commuting in San Francisco?

    Answer: We can induce people to stop bicycling by making it less efficient, less convenient, less reliable and less safe.

    First of all, let’s make the commute times significantly longer, and less predictable. Let’s replace a simple and natural straight line utilized by cyclists for decades with a new, artificial maze. That will add extra time, and introduce unpredictability to travel times. Nothing forces a mode change like being late for work! Maybe we can even, as Wai Yip Tung suggests, forcibly separate the commuters from their vehicles for a stretch. I predict a city plan that requires cycle commuters to dismount and walk their bikes for an additional block will be especially effective in reducing the rate of bike commuting.

    We can also reduce the number of bike commuters by making their commute more hazardous. Let’s require right turns, and left turns in mixed traffic. Left turns amidst motorized vehicles are always hairy affairs on a bike, and should be enough to pick off the more timid cyclists. Let’s also shunt cyclists onto the one-way SOMA motor speedways for a block or two, and require some northbound commuters to backtrack a little bit on the newer, less safe Market Street while we’re at it! Safety third!

    I can totally see how, by enacting these proposals, we can efficiently meet the goal of reducing the percentage of bicycle commutes by 2020!

  • David

    @twitter-14678929:disqus People aren’t riding on Mission because there is no bike infrastructure there, not because it’s an inferior route. Mission has more street width for cycletracks, allowing for a continuous route that doesn’t cut into an existing pedestrian realm. Also, under the Market St. plan, cyclists would still have to merge with traffic at BART entrances.

    Note that not having dedicated infrastructure on Market St. doesn’t preclude cyclists from using Market.

  • mikesonn

    Um, why can’t we demand (and then GET) both?!

  • Gneiss

    Yes!  Let’s spend another 4 years studying that option too!

  • mikesonn

    Gneiss, we are already going to get screwed on time: see above column. Lets just tell them to give us both.

  • the greasybear

    David:
    For decades, San Franciscans riding bicycles could choose from a full complement of streets without any bike infrastructure. Market, Mission, Howard–which route into and out of downtown has always had the most bike traffic? The simplest and most direct route, of course–Market Street. 

    Perhaps a more dangerous Market Street, coupled with a cycle track south of Market, will induce a switch from the most natural pathway for bicycles. Perhaps not.

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