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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

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Eyes on the Street: New Bike/Ped Safety Tweaks on Upper Market, Valencia

The Market Street bike lane was widened and painted green between Octavia Boulevard and the Wiggle, among other tweaks in the neighborhood. Photos: Aaron Bialick

The SFMTA recently made some upgrades to bike lanes and pedestrian crossings around Valencia Street and Market Street.

Near Octavia Boulevard, the Market bike lanes were widened and painted green, and a buffer zone was added, making it a bit more comfortable for commuters pedaling up the hill from lower to upper Market towards the Wiggle. The traffic lanes, formerly 12 feet wide (which encourages drivers to speed and is unusual in SF) were narrowed to 10 feet to make room for the bike lanes, said SFMTA Livable Streets spokesperson Ben Jose. Continuing east toward downtown, the Market bike lanes got a fresh coat of green paint and some new plastic posts at Tenth Street.

Cheryl Brinkman, a member of the SFMTA Board of Directors, was spotted in a platoon of bike commuters climbing the hill in the newly widened Market bike lane.

“I think it feels more welcoming for cyclists, and it helps drivers realize that that’s a different kind of space,” said Brinkman. “I think for San Francisco, the green has really come to symbolize that that’s a space where there’s going to be a bicycle. And extra buffer zone is really nice because you can really ride out of the door zone.”

A couple of relatively new treatments (for SF) were also implemented on northern Valencia, at the intersections of Duboce Avenue and McCoppin Streets.

Duboce, which Jose noted sees “the fifth highest number of injury collisions citywide” (fourth highest for bicycle injuries), received a number of safety tweaks. Jose said these are the first of two phases for “Vision Zero improvements” planned for the intersection.

At Valencia and Duboce, a “mixing zone” was created by widening the bike lane approach.

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SFMTA Proposes New Car Restrictions, Extended Bus Lanes on Lower Market

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The SFMTA has proposed prohibiting private auto drivers from turning on to mid-Market Street and extending its transit-only lanes. Image: SFMTA

Last week, the SFMTA presented its proposal to ban private auto drivers from turning onto Market Street, between Third and Eighth Streets. The move would be complemented with extended transit-only lanes, plus a new system of wayfinding signs aimed at keeping drivers off of Market.

The new plans, named “Safer Market Street,” would be implemented over nearly a year, beginning next spring, and would represent a major step towards a car-free lower Market — a longtime goal of many livable streets advocates, and some city officials.

“These improvements have been long desired by people traveling regularly on Market Street,” said SF Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum. “It’s clear that tens of thousands of people’s commutes, shopping trips, and any other kind of travel will be significantly improved when the most commonly used travel modes are actually prioritized on Market Street — walking, bicycling and taking transit. This will be a real example of SF leaders living up to their commitments, both to Transit First and Vision Zero.”

As we’ve reported, city studies have shown that lower Market already sees relatively little car traffic, and most drivers only travel on the street for an average of two blocks. Many of them seem to be either searching for parking (which doesn’t exist on the street) or simply lost. Since the implementation of requirements for eastbound drivers to turn off of Market at Sixth and Tenth Streets, Muni speeds have increased, even if some drivers still ignore the signs.

Although SFMTA board member Malcolm Heinicke and other proponents have pushed for a full ban on cars on Market, rather than a step-by-step approach, the proposed turn restrictions would leave only a few places where drivers could turn onto Market east of Tenth. The street would still be open to taxis, commercial vehicles, and people walking, biking, and on transit. The restrictions are seen as a precursor to the Better Market Street makeover, which could make most of the thoroughfare car-free once it begins construction in 2017.

SFMTA officials have long held off on proposing additional car restrictions, citing traffic flow complications created by the construction of the Central Subway. The agency is apparently now ready to move forward.

Market Street, looking east at Seventh Street. Photo: Sergio Ruiz/Flickr

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Just a Reminder: There Are a Ton of Bikes on Market Street

Photo: Janice Li

San Franciscans may take it for granted, but to most Americans, the volume of bike traffic on Market Street resembles a Critical Mass ride more than a weekday rush hour. SF’s main thoroughfare regularly sees more than 3,000 people ride by the bike counter on weekdays at Market and Eighth Streets — and that’s just in one direction. It may still be a ways away from matching Copenhagen’s busiest streets, and it doesn’t have raised bike lanes yet, but it’s definitely one of the highest concentrations of bike commuters you can find in this country.

Streetfilms’ Clarence Eckerson, Jr. was awe-struck by the two-wheeled torrent when he visited from New York last summer.