Muni-Free Market Street: Serious Proposal or Mere Musing?

sfe.jpgThe front page of today’s San Francisco Examiner.

Are Muni’s days on Market Street numbered?

That’s the gist of the front-page headline in the SF Examiner today, which suggests that Mayor Gavin Newsom has a bold plan to move all bus lines and the F-line historic streetcars onto side streets to make way for a glorious pedestrian-and-bicycle-only zone on Market downtown. Transit advocates and bicycle advocates alike, however, are taking the report with a grain of salt.

"We’re not sure that’s necessarily what he meant or said," said SFBC’s Andy Thornley. "I think everybody recognizes Muni is an essential player on Market Street. As we go through the trials and experiments, I think we’re going to see some changes, and some alternations to Muni, but I don’t think we’re ever going to see Muni chased off of Market Street."

The mayor’s only direct quote in the article doesn’t address the specifics of such a proposal. "That’s not being contemplated in the immediate term, but data collection will afford us the opportunity to determine if that’s a viable option," Newsom told the Examiner while touring Mid-Market last Friday.

MTA spokesperson Judson True said he wasn’t aware of any specific policy plans to clear Market Street of Muni vehicles. "We haven’t looked at that proposal," said True.

As for further restricting private automobiles on Market, True said the MTA would have important traffic-count data from the current traffic restriction trial available in mid-November. "We should have more information at the six-week point of the trial, two weeks from today."

Whether the mayor was merely musing, or genuinely plans to move Muni off Market, Market Street Railway made clear in a post on its blog today that it would not welcome such a move:

Beyond the cost of moving the F-line tracks and overhead anywhere else, the lack of capacity for 12 additional Muni lines on Mission Street, or the reaction of Market Street/Union Square merchants and SOMA neighbors to the impacts, there’s the obvious inconvenience to tens of thousands of daily Muni riders on the surface of Market Street who won’t want to be forced to transfer onto overcrowded Muni Metro trains or make their surface journey even longer with a permanent detour in the wrong direction. So our guess here is that either the Mayor was just musing about Nirvana or was somehow misunderstood by the reporter.

1778060299_33463960c3.jpgFuture home of the F-Mission & Wharves? Flickr photo: LFL16

After the mayor’s initial opposition to restricting automobiles on Market, however, it is refreshing to hear the mayor thinking boldly about the street, said Tom Radulovich, Executive Director of Livable City. "It’s a provocative idea. As to whether I like, well, it raises a lot of huge questions, mostly about completely bugging-up Muni operations on Market," said Radulovich. "It’s a very important transit street and it would be very, very difficult to do without that transit on Market."

However, said, Radulovich, "if he thinks this is where we want to get to, he should make it concrete. Map it out. What does it look like?"

More seriously, said Thornley, the city does need to continue trying new things on Market Street through experiments like the current trial, so it will be ready for the major Market Street revamping due in 2013. "We want to make sure the Muni pieces are just right and have been informed by a series of experiments and trials," said Thornley. "We want to do more and different trials to generate more and different data."

Nathan Ballard, the Mayor’s communications director, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment. 

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