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Posts from the Market Street Category

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In 1954, Turning Market Street Into a Parking Lot Seemed Like a Good Idea

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How some envisioned a “better Market Street” in 1954. Image via SFMTA

In an alternate universe, the streetcar tracks that line the center of Market Street would have become car parking.

That was an actual proposal in 1954, put forward by Supervisor Marvin Lewis. The plan [PDF] was recently dug up by SFMTA staff from the agency’s archives. Today it’s an appalling idea, but back then it was typical. The conventional wisdom among city planners and elected officials held that the answer to traffic congestion in downtown SF was to tear it apart with freeways and parking spaces.

While the plan to turn Market into a parking lot was never realized, the pursuit of abundant parking left its mark on downtown SF. The dense urban core is dotted with massive parking garages, including the country’s first underground parking structure, under Union Square. It could have been worse — the Fifth and Mission Garage, for example, was envisioned to be five blocks long, with exterior car ramps.

San Francisco, perhaps more than any other U.S city, successfully resisted many of those would-be disasters. The city’s identity would be very different today if SF had torn up its neighborhoods and iconic streets, like Market, to create parking lots.

While SF fought off the worst impulses of 1950s-era thinking, the plan for Market Street is a reminder that for all the “bullets we’ve dodged,” as one SF planner put it, players at City Hall were indeed able to dramatically reshape the city around the car.

Our streets are shaped by deliberate public policy decisions, and the way they are currently designed is not the natural order of things. Every curbside parking spot that opponents of change cling to so fiercely today was at one point bestowed by policy makers, who decided to reallocate street space from general public use to private car owners.

As we revisit streets like Market in 2015, let’s remember: It’s an era for new possibilities.

Ah, iconic Market Street. Image via SFMTA

Ah, iconic Market Street. Image via SFMTA

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Signs of Lax Enforcement of Car Restrictions on Market Street

SFMTA parking control officers posted to instruct drivers not to turn on to Market at Eighth Streets. Photo: Aaron Bialick

SFMTA parking control officers posted to instruct drivers not to turn on to Market at Eighth Street. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Nearly two weeks in, the bans preventing private auto drivers from turning on to most of lower Market Street have, by all accounts, made the street safer and more efficient.

But at an SFMTA Board of Directors meeting this week, member Gwyneth Borden noted that officers posted on Market “don’t seem to be as vigilant as one might like,” particularly during the evening commute.

Enforcement is provided by SFPD officers posted at some intersections, in addition to SFMTA parking control officers (who can’t ticket moving violations) stationed to provide guidance.

While there are no stats available yet to evaluate Borden’s observation, I also noticed two separate instances at Market and Eighth Streets last week where SFMTA officers posted at the corner weren’t paying attention to oncoming car traffic. On two different days when I passed through the intersection, I stopped to get photos of the officers facing traffic to help illustrate the enforcement for a post. But both times, I watched the officers talk to each other for several minutes without looking for turn ban violators.

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Record-Breaking Bike Traffic on Market Street Neared 100,000 in July

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Record-breaking bicycle traffic on Market Street nearly broke the 100,000 threshold in July, according to the bike counter on SF’s most heavily-pedaled thoroughfare. Last month, 99,461 people were counted in the bike lane on eastbound Market at Ninth Street, topping the previous record of 97,302 in March.

"So, so awesome to be in the company of this many bikes commuting in a US city," writes Jess Zdeb on Twitter.

“So, so awesome to be in the company of this many bikes commuting in a US city,” writes Jess Zdeb on Twitter.

The record for daily bike counts was also set in April at 4,475 (monthly total: 91,685). July’s daily counts didn’t approach that record, generally ranging between 3,400 and 4,000 bikes. But July had enough consistent days of high bike counts to add up to a new record.

It seems safe to say that joining the waves of rush hour bike commuters on Market is the closest thing to experiencing a bicycling mecca like Copenhagen or Amsterdam this side of the North Atlantic.

And the momentum is only poised to grow after private auto drivers were banned on Tuesday from turning on to Market between Third and Eighth streets. With more car restrictions, the downtown section of Market east of Eighth, which lacks bike lanes, will only become friendlier to biking, walking, and transit. And just wait for the Better Market Street redesign (whenever that happens).

Now, it is possible that bicycling records on Market have been broken in recent years. After a design tweak to the bike lane in January, the counter captured bike trips more accurately. On the other hand, some bicycle riders still don’t ride over the sensor in the bike lane, so we may have already hit that six-digit milestone.

Hat tip to Joe Chojnacki for keeping an eye on the bike counter data.

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SFMTA Bucks Uber, Bans Private Autos From Turning On to Mid-Market Street

Uber's Wayne Ting told the SFMTA board the company opposed "preferential treatment" for taxis on Market Street. Video screenshot from Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez/YouTube

Uber’s Wayne Ting told the SFMTA board the company opposed “preferential treatment” for taxis on Market Street. Video screenshot from Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez/YouTube

Private auto drivers will be banned from turning on to Market Street between Third and Eighth streets after the restrictions were approved unanimously by the SFMTA Board of Directors yesterday.

The board dismissed the last-minute protest from Uber, who complained that its ride-hail drivers would be included in the ban, while taxis wouldn’t. In the roughly three hours of public comment, the vast majority of speakers supported the bans — safe streets advocates and taxi drivers alike.

Uber had initially criticized the plan outright, saying that it would “increase gridlock around town, with no improvement to safety.” But reps from Uber and Lyft, which have long fought the kind of regulations applied to the taxi industry, told the SFMTA board they support turn bans to make Market safer as long as they’re also applied to taxis.

“It creates a preferential treatment for one form of transportation over another,” Wayne Ting, Uber’s SF general manager told the board, eliciting jeers from members of the audience.

“If Uber wants to be regulated like a taxi then they can have the benefits of being regulated,” Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Ferrara told Bay City News.

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Tomorrow: Support Car Restrictions for a Safer Market, Which Uber Opposes

Image: SFMTA

Image: SFMTA

You can email public comments on the “Safer Market Street” car restrictions to the SFMTA board at MTABoard@sfmta.com.

The SFMTA Board of Directors is set to vote tomorrow on whether to ban private auto drivers from turning onto mid-Market Street, part of a package of safety improvements and transit upgrades.

While the improvements seem to be backed by a wide coalition, Uber doesn’t belong to it. At the eleventh hour, the ride-hail app company launched a petition to exempt Uber drivers from the restrictions. Though Hoodline reported that the petition had gained 15,000 signatures after Uber’s email blast, the petition webpage was hacked and subsequently taken down by Uber, according to Business Insider.

The “Safer Market Street” improvements are short-term measures aimed at reducing injuries, SFMTA Sustainable Streets Director Tom Maguire told reporters last week. “Our most iconic street should be our safest street.”

On Market between Third and Eighth Streets, where the turn bans would go into effect, private auto drivers make up just 10-30 percent of roadway traffic but were involved in 82 percent of the 162 injury collisions in 2012 and 2013, according to Maguire. Most pedestrians were injured in crosswalks.

The mid-Market stretch contains four of the city’s top 20 intersections for pedestrian injuries, and the two intersections with the most bicycle injuries citywide.

“These types of crash patterns are just not acceptable to us,” said Maguire.

“The Safer Market Street Project is a strong example of a data-driven proposal that is purely focused on safety,” SF Bicycle Coalition wrote in a blog post today. “It’s important that the project moves forward promptly in its strongest form to help protect the thousands of people who walk and bike on Market Street every day.”

Uber dismissed the data while demanding that its drivers be exempt from the turn bans, as taxis will. Uber spokesperson Eva Behrend told the SF Chronicle last week, “Market Street is a major artery of the city, and cutting off riders and driver-partners from accessing this thoroughfare will increase gridlock around town, with no improvement to safety.”

D6 Supervisor Jane Kim stands by the car restrictions, her aide told Hoodline:

When she championed the legislation to establish the Vision Zero policy citywide two years ago, this is the type of engineering change that she had in mind. Engineering to create safer streets, with a priority focus on the corridors and intersections with the highest rates of collisions between vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians, is a critical component of the Vision Zero policy. This change will target four of the worst collision intersections where drivers fail to yield to pedestrians.

Andy Bosselman, a transit activist who uses Uber regularly, blasted Uber’s opposition in an open letter to the SFMTA board.

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Tomorrow: Support a Safer Upper Market With Protected Bike Lanes

A view from the bike lane at Market at 16th Street. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The SFMTA will hold an open house tomorrow on bike and pedestrian safety upgrades along upper Market Street, which could include bulb-outs to calm the street’s wide, dangerous intersections and protected bike lanes on some segments.

The SFMTA’s proposal hasn’t been presented yet, but safe streets advocates say they worry the bike improvements may not be as ambitious as they should be. Early proposals have met with opposition from a contingent of merchants who want to preserve — you guessed it — car parking.

Street Fight author Jason Henderson, a member of the Market-Octavia Community Advisory Committee, said the committee is “really excited to see a fully separated” protected bike lane, particularly on the uphill block of Market between Octavia Boulevard and Buchanan Street, which funnels bike commuters to the entrance of the Wiggle.

That bike lane segment was recently painted green and widened, and a handful of parking spots were removed near corners at Upper Market intersections in 2011 to provide more room at some points where the bike lanes were squeezed. But drivers regularly block the bike lanes on Upper Market, and riding on its rough pavement without protection from traffic can still feel harrowing.

“It needs to be wider than I think they’re considering,” said Henderson. “We need to need to be building for future capacity — not [the current] 3.5 percent bicycle mode share — but 10 percent, 15 percent, 20 percent.”

According to the SFMTA’s website, the project will be split into near-term and long-term upgrades. The quick improvements include painted bulb-outs (the SFMTA calls them “safety zones”), adjustments to signal timing, more visible crosswalk striping, and right-on-red restrictions.

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Market Street Bike Count Off to a Record-Breaking Start in 2015

The Market Street bike counter tallied 97,302 people rolling by in March — the highest monthly total yet. Last year, the monthly count rose steadily until October, so bike ridership on Market is expected to keep breaking records. April could be the first month to break the 100,000 threshold.

Throughout March, typical weekday ridership ranged between 3,200 and 3,900 bikes on eastbound Market between Ninth and Tenth Streets.

A design tweak at the beginning of the year that led the counter to more accurately capture bike trips explains a large chunk of the increase this year. But safety improvements have certainly helped SF’s busiest bicycling street continue to flourish as well. A bigger boost could come when turn restrictions for cars between Third and Eighth Streets take effect starting in the summer.

“At this pace, 2015 is looking like the year that San Franciscans will top off the ‘bike thermometer’ on Market Street and hit over a million rides,” said Noah Budnick, executive director of the SF Bicycle Coalition. “The bits and pieces of improved infrastructure there are a down payment on a street that will be transformed.”

As city agencies shape the Better Market Street redesign, “Mayor Lee must meet this ever-growing public demand for more and better bicycling by rebuilding Market as a world-class street that is the backbone of a connected, convenient and enjoyable network of safe streets for biking,” said Budnick.

San Franciscans may take the throngs of bikes on Market for granted, but Los Angeles Times reporter Laura J. Nelson was stopped in her tracks today when she tweeted this photo across the street from the counter:


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SFMTA to Install Three More Digital Bicycle Counters

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The Market Street bike counter. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The SFMTA plans to install three more bicycle counters with digital displays on busy biking streets. They will be placed “at visible locations on high volume bicycle corridors,” though the exact spots haven’t been finalized, according to a city planning document. “Potential locations include Market Street, Valencia Street, and the Embarcadero.”

The SFMTA has already purchased the “bicycle barometers,” as the city calls them, with two in storage and one more expected to arrive. They are scheduled to be installed between this August and February 2017, according to a report from the SF County Transportation Authority [PDF].

SF’s first visible bike counter was activated on Bike to Work Day in May 2013, on the south side of Market Street between Ninth and 10th Streets. On an average weekday, it currently counts between 3,700 and 4,400 bike commuters in one direction. (It was discovered at the start of the year that the detector had been missing an estimated 1,000 daily riders, since many did not roll over the in-ground sensor.)

Visible bike counters, which have been installed in cities like Copenhagen, Portland, Seattle, and Montreal, are intended to encourage bicycling by displaying a number that ticks up every time someone rolls by, showing both the daily an annual total. The message to the public is that people on bikes count.

The SFMTA has also installed 24 invisible bike counters around the city, which use inductive loops installed in the pavement to detect bicycles but don’t have a display feature. The data helps the SFMTA measure demand for bicycling and the effectiveness of bike lane improvements. The data for the Market counter, and an invisible counter on Fell at Divisadero Street, are displayed online.

The three new digital bike counters will cost $187,000 total for purchase, planning, installation, and two years of maintenance, according to the SFCTA report. They will be funded by $89,580 in SFMTA operating funds and $97,500 in Prop K sales tax funds, which must still be approved by the SFCTA Board. The Market counter was partially funded by a $20,000 grant from a locally-based online gaming company, and it’s maintained by the Central Market Community Benefit District.

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Police Ticket Cyclists Who Fail to Navigate Market and Octavia’s Bad Design

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City planner Neil Hrushowy was among the few bike commuters who weren’t “behaving badly” at this poorly-designed bike junction, according to KRON 4’s Stanley Roberts. Image: KRON 4

Police were seen ticketing people on bikes navigating a poorly-designed junction at the dangerous Market Street and Octavia Boulevard intersection yesterday in the latest “People Behaving Badly” segment from KRON 4’s Stanley Roberts.

The bike lane’s design is so flawed, in fact, that the only bike commuter Roberts showed navigating it properly happened to be one of the city planners leading its redesign (and, no doubt, has paid closer attention to it than most people).

“Most choose the incorrect way and ended up with a ticket,” Roberts said in the segment. (Roberts said he didn’t know that his model cyclist was a city planner, but I recognized him.)

“We recognize that it is not an intuitive design for cyclists,” said Neil Hrushowy, Roberts’ model cyclist and the program director for the SF Planning Department’s City Design Group. “I think anyone’s going to feel comfortable recognizing that it’s the less appealing route for cyclists, which is why you see them coming through the intersection the other way.”

The junction in question has a path for bicycle riders headed southbound on Octavia as they prepare to make a left turn on Market. People must skillfully maneuver through a curved bike lane that runs between curbs through a traffic island, thrusting them alongside freeway traffic. When they reach the other side of the intersection, the path to the Market bike lane is blocked by a barrier installed to prevent drivers from making illegal right turns on to the freeway — the real danger at the intersection.

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Market Street Has More Bike Traffic Than You Thought

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An unprecedented jump last month (on the right) reported by the Market Street bike counter appears to be explained by an improvement in the counter’s accuracy. Image: SFMTA/Eco Counter

The Market Street bicycle counter has been undercounting two-wheeled traffic — and not because of a computer glitch. Starting last month, the counter reported a huge jump in bike commuters. How come? All indications point to a recent tweak to the bike lane that guides more riders over the counter’s underground sensor.

On several days this year, the counter has tallied nearly 4,500 people cycling eastbound on Market at Ninth Street. On most weekdays, at least 3,700 riders have been counted. That’s about 1,000 more riders, on average, than were counted each day last January.

Last month may have been California’s driest January on record, but weather doesn’t explain the jump. Even in the warmest months last year, ridership typically ranged from 2,700 to 3,200. Prior to 2015, the record was 4,045, set on August 7 last year.

So what changed in the first week of January? The SFMTA installed plastic posts along the bike lane’s edge that guide bike riders to stay in the bike lane and roll over the bike sensor. Previously, many bike commuters passing by the counter rode outside the bike lane, instead using the adjacent traffic lane since it was closed to cars in 2009.

SFMTA spokesperson Ben Jose said that based on the agency’s manual bike counts, the bike counter remains about 95 percent accurate, the same rate as before. It’s “plausible” the posts explain the recent jump in the bike count, he said. No other likely explanation has been put forth, though the SFMTA has yet to verify with the counter’s manufacturer that it does not need to be recalibrated.

Getting a better read on Market Street bike traffic is one more way the SFMTA is improving the understanding of how San Franciscans’ travel habits are changing. Earlier this month, the agency reported its new survey methodology has revealed that most trips in the city are made without a private automobile.

Hat tip to Joe Chojnacki for pointing out the data jump.

Today’s count as of about 6 p.m. Photo: Aaron Bialick