Muni Reaps the Benefits of Reduced Traffic on Market

IMG_0462_1.jpgA 5-Fulton bus turns onto Market, where it enjoyed a privileged status today. Photo: Michael Rhodes

It’s been half a century since the "roar of the four" streetcar lines dominated Market Street, but with the Market Street traffic diversion trial in effect today, trains and buses reasserted themselves over automobiles as the uncontested dominant vehicles on the city’s main thoroughfare. With eastbound automobiles forced to turn right at 6th and 8th Streets, the roar of the four subterranean transit tracks – BART and Muni Metro – was easily audible in certain spots. For the first time, subways, streetcars, and buses included, San Franciscans could hear the roar of the eight.

Best of all, those buses and streetcars were running much more smoothly than usual.

"Muni drivers love it," said an operator on the 21-Hayes bus line. Muni drivers on virtually every line that travels on the affected area of Market seemed to agree.

The F-line was running notably smoother, said an inspector who rode the historic streetcar line throughout the morning and afternoon. It had just one delay today, which happened at Fisherman’s Wharf, he said. The reduced congestion made it much easier for the streetcars to stay on schedule.

IMG_0443_1.jpgImmediately east of 6th and 8th Streets, Muni vehicles now face virtually no congestion. Photo: Michael Rhodes

The Muni inspector said he noticed two other differences today. For one, the outbound F-line trips were quicker than usual. The Muni Metro subway lines also seemed more packed than usual, both in the morning and afternoon, he said, speculating that people with the option of driving or riding transit may have switched modes because of the trial.

Even though the F-line and most buses run in transit-only lanes in the center of Market through the affected stretch, he said the lack of cars cutting in illegally made a big difference.

Other drivers interviewed on the 5-Fulton, 21-Hayes, and 71-Haight-Noriega nearly all used the same term – "smoother" – to describe their trips today. The lunchtime mini-rush hour was indeed smooth, said a 21-Hayes operator, who had heard from another driver that the morning commute, normally very congested, "was a lot quicker."

"So far, I like it," he added.

In spite of a block-long queue of cars turning right at 8th Street, none of the Muni lines appeared to be affected, since they could zip through the center lane. A 5-Fulton driver said that the backup wasn’t a problem for him, since his line makes curbside stops at 5th and 7th Streets, but not at 6th or 8th, the forced-turnoff streets.

IMG_0471.jpgThe SFPD enforced right turns at 6th and 8th Streets. Photo: Michael Rhodes

MTA spokesperson Judson True also said that anecdotally, Market Street was smoother for Muni vehicles, and the right-turning cars didn’t create a problem. The MTA is collecting data on the trial’s impacts and will eventually analyze the effects in greater detail.

Katie Acheson, a rider on the 21-Hayes, said she hadn’t heard about the Market Street trial changes, but that her ride did seem faster. "It’s gone pretty quickly," said Acheson, who rides the line daily.

The anecdotal evidence from Day One confirmed that, unsurprisingly, reducing congestion greatly reduced delay for Muni vehicles. Only yesterday a chaotic jumble of cars, buses and bikes, mid-Market was easily transformed overnight into a transit-first environment, with buses and trains roaring along smoothly.

  • Time for NextBus to contribute something to this experiment. The have all the historical GPS data. It is simply for them answer conclusively if buses are indeed travel any faster.

  • Troy

    Any word on what traffic on Mission was like? Was the ride on the 14-Mission delayed?

  • zsolt

    I got out of BART on my evening commute just to ride it. It was pretty good. I think it’s a step in the right direction. I still see plenty of dangers to bikers, most prominently the buses. They are indeed faster and maybe it was just my bad luck, but I experienced a heightened level of conflict between buses and bikes. There was one bus half-assedly trying to overtake me, and it ended up being a little too close for comfort to me for a while, until it had to slow down for a stop. I also heard buses honking at cyclist though I have no idea why (it happened behind me). Gazing into my crystal ball, I think this experiment will be adopted permanently, and unless buses will be separated from bikes, at some point we will see a Muni bus maiming or killing a cyclist. All sorts of hilarity will ensue.

  • Dave

    This seems like the big deal part of this and we need to make sure the MSM (mainstream media) does not lose sight of it!

    If this really boosts Muni’s on-time percentage, then shouldn’t this forced detour be mandatory since voters decided to impose a mandatory 85% on-time percentage on Muni?

  • I submitted the request for NextBus historical data to Please help to vote it up if you find this a good idea 🙂

  • jim

    @Dave: Yes, this may be the most significant part of this story and it has not been covered at all by the MSM. By prioritizing public transit over private vehicles, we have shown that performance and reliability can be significantly improved. If we can consistently improve MUNI, people will notice and new riders will be attracted, creating a positive feedback loop. More MUNI riders means fewer cars, which means faster public transit and so on.

    This change on Market St. is very exciting and I hope that becomes permanent.

  • Quinn

    This is one of the best changes the city of San Francisco has made since I’ve moved here! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!!!

  • @Wai Yip Tung analyzing just the first day is premature, SFMTA (though not the general public) has access to NextBus data and will be able to compare. At a more basic level there are also manual counts of the number and mode of each vehicle done over a couple days which will be done again during the trial to compare.

    Feedback is also one of the ways they’ll judge how this goes, email:

  • @Jamison of course a serious study should cover many weeks and months. The first week is likely to be a week of confusion. This trial last 6 months (I think) so it should give a good indication on the impact.

    Theoretically SFMTA has all the data. But I doubt anyone in there is crunching numbers and generating report, unless they have funding to hire million dollar consultant. That’s why there is the DataSF initiative. They realize the general public has far more creative idea than people inside the bureaucrat. So it benefits the society by opening up data to the public and let them run with it.


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