On the Horizon: A Car-Free Market Street With Raised, Protected Bike Lanes

A rendering of a possible future for Market Street. Image: Better Market Street

Note: The Better Market Street Project will hold two public workshops on July 17 and 21, where you can provide feedback on the proposed concepts.

The future of lower Market Street seems more likely than ever to be unencumbered by cars, freeing up space for effective transit and raised, protected bicycle lanes.

The latest update [PDF] on the Better Market Street Project includes three possible scenarios to lessen the impact of private automobiles on Market, Department of Public Works Project Manager Kris Opbroek told the SF Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors this week. The proposals range from banning cars east of Franklin Street to using more forced turns to reduce through traffic. The scenarios that do allow cars could include car-free zones on pedestrian heavy blocks like the one between Fourth and Fifth Streets, Opbroek said.

The plan is being developed by a team of city agencies and design consultants who are drawing inspiration from the world’s most celebrated streets. Among the design features under consideration, Opbroek said, are bike lanes separated from motor vehicles by a raised curb, which have been employed to great effect in the world’s most successful cycling cities. (SF’s first raised bike lanes are included in the plan for Masonic Avenue.)

The raised bike lanes were praised by board members, including Joél Ramos, who recently visited Copenhagen with SFMTA staff on a trip funded by the Bikes Belong Foundation. On Nørrebrogade, which Copenhagen claims as the busiest bicycling street in the Western world, Ramos said he saw how the lanes “work as a phenomenal placemaking opportunity” to help make the street “a thriving corridor.”

Proposed options for bike facilities include raised, protected bike lanes and the status quo (east of Eight Street) of shared lanes with motor vehicles. Image: Better Market Street

The need for protected bike lanes on Market was also stressed by D6 Supervisor Jane Kim at a meeting of the SF County Transportation Authority Plans and Programs Committee just a few hours before the SFMTA Board meeting. Kim opposed an option to retain the current lanes shared with Muni buses, which Opbroek said would yield more pedestrian space. “I know for a number of bikers, especially female bikers, they are fearful of being in bike lanes with Muni buses,” she said.

Going by board discussions so far, all SFMTA directors seem to be on board with a car-free Market, noted Director Malcolm Heinicke. Newly inaugurated board member Christina Rubke, who previously sat on the Better Market Street Citizens Advisory Council, agreed. “I think this is a project that we need to push further,” said Heinicke.

Echoing Kim’s sentiments about the often harrowing experience of bicycling with cars and buses on Market, Director Cheryl Brinkman said she doesn’t want to have wait until the project’s construction, currently scheduled from 2015 to 2016, for a safer street.

“In the last month, I’ve been bullied twice by people in very expensive cars on my way up or down Market Street,” said Brinkman. “One woman in a convertible buzzed me so close that if I… had worse bike handling skills, I’d have fallen. I mean, I would’ve been so startled, I would’ve gone off.”

Although momentum to get cars off of Market ahead of the street redesign has grown, SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin said that implementing more pilot projects to restrict car access could interfere with the environmental review process for the redesign. SFMTA staff have also said the ongoing construction of the Central Subway makes such experiments difficult.

“We’ll need to be cautious about how much we’re doing under the guise of a pilot. We don’t want to risk the overall movement of the project,” said Reiskin. He also called the current project schedule “aspirational,” given uncertainties with funding, but did note that the project’s environmental review process could possibly benefit from coming bureaucratic reforms under the Transportation Sustainability Project.

Opbroek said that funds for re-paving are already secured, and that much of the other funding could come from the Federal Transit Administration.

Image: Better Market Street
  • Anonymous

    Besides pavement quality, the worst part of Market for me is the traffic CROSSING it. 

    First, at pretty much every intersection, several cars blow through the red light and then block the intersection, often then honking at and swerving around pedestrians in the crosswalk. If they don’t make it through, buses and streetcars sit there and have to wait for the next light. SFPD seems to have little interest in enforcing anything. 

    Second, the lights allowing cross traffic are pretty long. And anyone who has ridden the bus or streetcar down Market knows that between loading passengers, blocked intersections, and bad light timing, you can spend several light cycles at every intersection. This goes for biking too — you watch just about every light turn red as you approach at normal speeds. 

    Even with an improved Market Street, which I am very excited about (but 4 years??), there will still be a mess of cross traffic every block. 

  • VCS

    “Only 14% of people on Market 
    Street are in cars. Market Street has no driveways 
    east of Van Ness Avenue, and no access to 
    parking garages. … those traveling 
    along Market have an average trip length of only 
    2 blocks”
    In other words, the car-free part is mostly a feel-good provision which prevents confused tourists from driving around the block. 

    (Nobody likes driving on Market. Some taxi drivers even refuse to do it!)

    Pedestrian Crosswalks that follow “desire lines” instead of zig-zagging = Wonderful
    Dedicated Bikeway = Wonderful

    One thing I don’t see addressed is that in some places the BART entrances are right next to the curb, and there doesn’t appear to be room for 2 transit lanes + a bike lane. 

  • Richard Mlynarik

    Traffic turning onto (and from) Market is a much worse problem than that crossing it.  (And I grant you all the block-the-boxing and red light running and 100% non-enforcement by the SFPD.)

    The volume of pedestrian traffic crossing at intersections along Market is such that traffic turning onto Market or from Market either forces its way into the crosswalk and/or completely blocks the lane of traffic behind which waiting for the pedestrian crossing to (partially!) clear.

    Check out Third and Market pretty much any time of the day.  Muni buses frequently sit through two or three light cycles stuck behind right turning vehicles that have absolutely no reason to be there.

    Get cars off Market — meaning getting them out of the “transit lane” (hah hah hah hah hah hah!) for real and stopping them from blocking both Market and cross streets by attempting to turn across pedestrian traffic — and we’ll really be getting somewhere.

    SOV traffic crossing Market isn’t going away, but it will feel like it has.  Things will be 100 times better if we can get rid of the tiny minority of confused/stupid/sociopathic/lost people whose private automobiles make Market work terribly for everybody else.

    Frankly, I’m not worried about the cross traffic at all.  In fact, given the greater ease with which it will be able to cross Market without lanes to backed up turning vehicles.

    It’s really really simple.  Just get rid of the private automobiles.  (And the less “cycletrack” madness the better; Muni needs four lanes, deal with it.  I do, and so can anybody else, “from 8 to 80”.)

  • Anonymous

    Re: BART entrances- that would be why it says “possible transition to shared lanes at select locations”. Though if you’re smart about placing the F-line boarding islands, there should be few places where that’s actually necessary.

  • Sprague

    Glad to see that there’s widespread SFMTA support for a car-free Market Street that will work much better for Muni, cyclists, and pedestrians.  For San Francisco to achieve the bicycle mode share it aspires to, cycletracks from the Castro to the Embarcadero are needed (not to mention along many other streets).

  • Scott

    Thank you sup. Kim. Having bikes share the lane with buses, as occurs today, is not acceptable for either bikes or buses. Bikes and buses need separate lanes.

  • VCS

    About 10 years ago, they always had traffic control officers around the major Market Street intersections. I don’t know if the budget got cut, or they put them on meter enforcement duty. 

    And Richard M. is totally correct about the turning cars. I retract my sympathy for confused tourists 🙂

  • mikesonn

    @f84b22d3acf35e1589e626b8e51fe1a4:disqus Worse yet, re: 3rd/Market, is that the SFMTA added a right turn lane and bumped the bus stop south a couple hundred feet. I thought we wanted to discourage private auto usage of Market. So not only is the SFMTA encouraging drivers to turn onto Market via a new turn lane, but drivers don’t bother to move all the way over into it so they block the lane next to it that Muni uses so nothing was accomplished but the stop is now further from Market and more people are taking their cars onto Market. Fail.

  • Richard Mlynarik

    It is acceptable, if for no other reason than that nothing else is possible (let alone desirable) on Market.

    The Cycle Track Pod People have lost the plot.

  • Barnett835

    Full support for getting rid of cars on Market; it’s about time, and I thought it would never happen! Wait it has not yet happened … well let us keep hoping.

  • Haoser

    All this sounds good but the issue of all the vagrants roaming around the area and making people feel unsafe still needs to be addressed. Market street needs to be cleaned up in order to improve its image and get more businesses to want to set up shop there. Then there is also the issue of the nearby Tenderloin that needs to be addressed to eventually…

  • davistrain

    I thought we weren’t supposed to use the term “vagrants” anymore. Aren’t they now called “residentially challenged”? Indeed, since I’m not a resident of SF, and from time to time look up hotel accommodations, I see many hotels rated as “nice place to stay, but all the bums hanging around the area make it uncomfortable.” The problem is, it’s sometimes hard to tell who is just down on his luck and who is going to attack someone for no discernable reason. Back in the old days, some places had a “County Poor Farm” where vagrants could be given minimal housing and meals while being kept away from the productive citizens.


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