Market Street: Transit Paint Upgrades Coming, but Car Bans Still Missing

This post supported by

New intersection markings could help reduce the number of drivers “blocking the box” on Market this spring, but the SFMTA has continued to postpone proposals to get cars off Market altogether. Photo: Bryan Goebel

Despite calls for more measures to get cars off of Market Street, and the benefits brought by the forced turns already put in place, the SFMTA still has yet to propose any new restrictions on private autos.

Market will have its transit-only lanes will be painted red, and cross-hatched markings will be added to discourage drivers from blocking intersections. Photos via SFMTA

Market will have its transit-only lanes will be painted red, and cross-hatched markings will be added to discourage drivers from blocking intersections. Photos via SFMTA

The agency does, however, plan to make some paint upgrades to help keep Muni moving this spring or summer. Existing transit-only lanes will be painted red, and a cross-hatched paint striping telling drivers not to “block the box” will be added at intersections where cars chronically back up and block cross traffic. SFMTA staff told its Board of Directors this week that the agency and the SFPD would also develop a plan to step up nearly non-existent enforcement of transit lanes and box-blocking on Market.

Yet the agency has repeatedly delayed its promises to put forward proposals for new forced turns or potential bans for private autos on Market, to the frustration of car-free Market champions like Malcolm Heinicke, an SFMTA Board member, and Supervisor David Chiu, who introduced his second resolution urging the SFMTA to move the efforts along. The resolution was approved unanimously by the Board of Supervisors this week.

“I want the people who ride those buses on Market Street to have something close to the experience I have underground of a real right-of-way and real capacity,” Heinicke told SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin at a meeting on the agency’s Strategic Plan and budget Tuesday. “I’m not suggesting any malice or obfuscation here, but my question is, what’s the delay?”

Heinicke had requested that SFMTA staff present a proposal for car restrictions at the previous planning meeting one year ago, and Reiskin said it would come by this winter, but then postponed it to Tuesday’s meeting. Now, Reiskin says the proposals will be ready to be considered as part of the SFMTA’s two-year budget, which is scheduled to be finalized by March.

Reiskin chalked up the delays to the complications caused by ongoing projects like the construction of the Central Subway. “While we have identified some preliminary proposals along with costs and impacts, there’s more work that needs to be done to figure out the interaction with all the various projects that are currently happening on Market Street.”

“I share the frustration, and take responsibility for the fact, that we don’t have something by now,” he said.

Heinicke has suggested that the complications of traffic diversions could be avoided by instituting a sweeping ban on private cars along lower Market. Long-term plans for car-free stretches, ranging as far as the Embarcadero to Van Ness Avenue, are proposed as part of the Better Market Street project, but that wouldn’t be completed until 2019. That project has also been repeatedly delayed from its original 2015 schedule.

In the meantime, the SFMTA and DPW have repaved much of lower Market and added more green-backed sharrows, making the city’s busiest bicycling street a little less perilous. The coming red-painted transit lanes, like the ones on Church Street, and the “don’t block the box” markings are the latest low-hanging fruit, but the SFMTA and Mayor Ed Lee continue to skirt the issue of car bans, despite the increased transit speeds, bicycle ridership, and safer streets for pedestrians that have resulted from traffic diversions at 10th and Sixth Streets.

Supervisor Chiu introduced a resolution in 2011 urging the SFMTA to move ahead with car restrictions ahead of Better Market Street, and it seems unlikely that his second one, passed on Tuesday, will carry any more sway. While Mayor Lee may have the power to move things along, he has not shown support for getting cars off Market.

“This has been a several year conversation,” Chiu said at the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, held at the same time as the SFMTA Board meeting. “I know there have been a lot of community frustrations with the lack of progress in this area, which is why I have been asked by numerous transit advocates to move this forward. Colleagues, I think we all share a vision of Market Street as being one of the world’s greatest boulevards, and I think we know that in order to get there, we have to try new things.”

“This project seems to be stuck, frankly,” said SF Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum, who suggested to the SFMTA Board that the agency hand its management over to another agency like the Department of Public Works or the SF County Transportation Authority. “If this agency can’t move the near-term improvements on Market Street that are so desired by the public, and politically, I hope you’ll find another way to do so.”