SFMTA Proposes New Steps to Divert Cars Off Market Street

With new diversions for private autos on Market Street, the SFMTA would direct traffic on to these possible routes instead. Image: SFMTA

The SFMTA has proposed new forced turns for private autos at intersections on the most congested stretch of Market Street, which could be implemented in phases early next year. SFMTA staff presented the changes [PDF] to the agency’s board of directors Friday — not just as a way to speed up transit, but to make the thoroughfare safer for walking and biking.

The SF Chronicle reports:

“This is primarily a safety project,” said Timothy Papandreou, director of strategic planning in the sustainable streets division of the Municipal Transportation Agency…

The changes announced Friday include stepped-up enforcement of existing transit-only lanes and turn restrictions. Early next year, additional mandatory turns are to be installed at Third, Fourth and Fifth streets and transit-only lanes would be extended eastward down Market.

Market Street between Eighth and Montgomery streets has twice as many collisions as parallel Mission Street despite having only a third of the traffic, Papandreou said. It also includes four of the city’s 20 worst intersections for collisions that injure or kill pedestrians — Fifth Street, Sixth Street, Eighth Street and Main Street. Two of the worst intersections for bike collisions are also on Market at Third and Fifth streets.

The MTA will focus first on Montgomery to Fifth streets before considering whether to head farther down Market.

As we reported last month, the SFMTA is implementing near-term measures in the meantime, including re-timing traffic signals, painting the transit-only lanes red (an effort that began on Third Street last week), and installing ”Don’t Block the Box” paint and signage at intersections, all of which will come with increased enforcement by early summer.

The eastward extensions of Market’s transit lanes would go to Fourth Street or farther, depending on traffic data to be collected by planners, said Papandreou.

Malcom Heinicke, the SFMTA board’s biggest champion for a car-free Market, thanked the agency’s staff for finally presenting new car restrictions following the successes of the existing forced turns at Sixth and Tenth Streets. But, he added, he hopes it’s “just a start.”

“I think we need to be looking at the full closure all the way down to the Ferry Building,” said Heinicke. ”This is not just an issue of transit effectiveness, this is an issue of life and death. A small number of private vehicles are causing the problems.”

Cheryl Brinkman, the SFMTA Board’s Vice Chair, noted that most drivers on Market seem to end up there by accident. “A confused driver is probably the worst thing any of us could want,” she said. “A confused driver is looking for something else and just not paying attention to the street.”

Papandreou said the traffic diversions may come with navigational signs to help direct downtown drivers towards to the intended routes. The cost is estimated at $2.2 million, which Papandreou said could be funded using the agency’s “Customer First” grant program for capital transit improvements.