Driver Reaction to Market Street Diversions Surprisingly Upbeat

market-3_1.jpgSFPD officer directing personal vehicles to turn right off of Market Street at 8th Street. Photos: Matthew Roth

Although there are still some kinks that need to be ironed out on Market Street to make the six-week trial diversion of personal automobiles more efficient, the sky did not fall and reaction to the changes was fairly positive, even from drivers in personal vehicles. One consistent complaint was the relatively small signs affixed to street posts, which several drivers claimed they didn’t see.

Some drivers who approached the mandatory right turns at 8th Street, where the largest volume of personal vehicles were turning off of Market, were visibly flabbergasted.
One woman at 8th and Market whipped around cars
queued up while waiting for pedestrians to clear the crosswalk, only to
find an SFPD traffic division motorcycle cop standing firmly in her
way. She reversed, trying to get back in line, but found the way behind
her crammed with pedestrians as the light had already changed. In the end, she idled nervously, half in
the crosswalk, half in the intersection. The driver said she had no
idea the restrictions were in place, that she just wanted to get off
the street without any more hassles.

A driver from Walnut
Creek said he had read about the changes in the papers but still
thought it was confusing. When asked if he thought it should be
returned to normal traffic flow, he was surprisingly supportive,
saying, "Y’all gotta do what y’all gotta do."

A driver from
San Francisco who knew of the trial from television news reports was
also unfazed. "I’m pretty sure it’s for the better, for the people."

Commercial delivery drivers seemed to all know about the changes and most praised them. Walter, a UPS driver parked in a commercial loading zone on Market between 6th and 7th Streets, said he was expecting the trial for several days because of the new fixed-message signs he had seen installed on his daily route. "I like it. There are less cars," he said adding that the real test will be later in the afternoon when he has a round of deliveries on Market between 4th and 5th.  "When it gets backed up there, it affects everything."

Other commercial delivery drivers like James Icard of Ecolab, who was parked at the commercial zone immediately in front of the Westfield Mall, said he hoped the reduction of personal vehicles would result in easier access to the loading zone, where he said people consistently idle illegally to pick up or drop off passengers. "People who shouldn’t park here do." Icard also hoped the restrictions would cut down on tourists who inadvertently ended up on Market, where "they pull left hand turns the wrong way, u-turns" and other dangerous maneuvers.

market-2_1.jpgA fairly common occurrence today: no cars anywhere in sight near U.N. Plaza

The effect of the restrictions on traffic volumes was significant, with eastbound lanes of Market Street empty for blocks between light cycles, while traffic in westbound lanes was consistent. At 6th Street, the two officers controlling traffic said that in the two-and-one-half hours they had been there, traffic was extremely light. They estimated they only had to divert 30 vehicles in that time.

The SFBC’s Marc Caswell, who stopped riding his bike on the street for an interview, said he was
concerned about the possibility that low vehicular volumes could give drivers the feeling that they could drive at higher speeds,
while pedestrians might jaywalk more frequently. He hoped there wouldn’t be a spike in collisions.

Taxi drivers were overwhelmingly supportive, given the extra space and the relative ease of picking up and dropping off their fares. "It’s wonderful for us," said Saleh Ali of Metro Cab. "We’ll be moving faster."

Mario, a bicycle messenger with 17 years experience on the street, said that there were definitely fewer cars on Market, though he had heard from other messengers that drivers on adjacent streets seemed to be angrier. Mario also said the changes weren’t relevant to him, that he would be riding with or without personal vehicles, and he suggested traffic diversions were not going to achieve the result the city wanted. "You want to clean up Market from 4th Street to 8th Street? Take a flamethrower."

Another cyclist who rides Market daily, David Melamed, was more upbeat and alluded to a challenge the Better Market Street Project organizers hope to address with a slate of future greening and programming objectives. "Yesterday I rode by at 11:45 and there was a sense of cars gridlocked everywhere. Today, it’s like there is almost too much space. There needs to be some festive use of the space. It’s important to do it fast, otherwise people will complain."

Reny Marquez of Pacific Heights approached me on foot as I interviewed a commercial driver and volunteered, "I think it’s cool. They’ve got some crazy car drivers out here." He talked about several instances of "driver rage" and thought the preliminary trial should be broader. "I think they should close down the whole Market Street, from Van Ness to Embarcadero."

market_1.jpgOne of several large-format signs on Market warning personal vehicles to turn right.

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