Supes Grill Planners for Repeated Delays on Better Market Street Project

The Better Market Street project, a multi-agency effort to overhaul San Francisco’s main thoroughfare for walking, bicycling and transit, may have trouble staying on schedule, to the frustration of some city supervisors.

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At a recent hearing of the SF County Transportation Authority Board, which is comprised of the Board of Supervisors, staff from the SFCTA and the Department of Public Works said the project is currently “on hold” while planners re-assess the timeline and coordinate efforts between the various agencies before moving full speed ahead. It’s unclear if the city will meet its target to begin construction in 2015, and it’s not the first time project managers have told the board they need more time to organize the effort.

Supervisor David Chiu grilled DPW Project Manager Kris Opbroek about the project’s repeated rollbacks. “Given how many issues have come up, I don’t have much faith that this project is going to see any real progress in the near-term future,” said Chiu. “This is Groundhog Day, I don’t really know what more we can say other than that the process has been very disappointing thus far.”

In regular updates to the board, planners on the project said they underestimated the complexity of coordinating efforts between DPW, the SF Municipal Transportation Agency, the SFCTA, the Planning Department, the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, and a number of consulting firms. In March, the SFCTA Board granted $170,000 in additional consultant funds for the project, though board members worried that might set project costs on a rising trajectory.

Opbroek noted that the Planning Department hired a Better Market Street project manager, who began last month. “Yes, we are not on the schedule that we had committed to earlier this year, but we think that some time spent now will result in savings later,” said Opbroek.

Kit Hodge, deputy director of the SF Bicycle Coalition, told the board the organization is concerned to hear about another delay. “This is now a situation where we have a study within a study, which is usually not a great situation to be in,” she said.

One of the most profound changes the Better Market Street project could bring is a car-free lower Market. Eager to see that vision materialize in the near-term, Chiu introduced a resolution last September that urged the mayor and the SFMTA to test more traffic diversions on Market, an idea that’s become increasingly popular following the successful forced turns implemented at 10th and 6th Streets. Although the resolution was passed unanimously by the Board of Supervisors, it drew a tepid response from the mayor and the SFMTA. While Opbroek said some types of pilot projects could be tested next summer, no further traffic restrictions have been implemented thus far.

Chiu said he’d hoped the car-free Market resolution would add a sense of urgency to mending the dysfunctional relationship between city agencies when coordinating on projects. “Part of the reason I had introduced [that resolution] was these issues had already cropped up,” said Chiu. “We knew that there were inter-agency, interdepartmental problems in coordinating.”

“Every six months, we seem to hear the same excuses,” added Chiu, who said he’d like to see Mayor Ed Lee and heads of the various city agencies at the next board update early next year.

Noting that street safety projects in San Francisco are regularly disrupted or delayed, Supervisor Scott Wiener said having “too many cooks in the kitchen” is a systemic problem in city planning. Recently, such interagency dysfunction was the main issue cited when the Second Street improvement project faltered, leading DPW and the SFMTA to re-start the planning process.

“It’s almost like the system is set up to just kill pedestrian safety projects,” said Wiener. “It is continually frustrating to those of us who believe in improving our streets, in improving pedestrian safety, and having complete streets. It makes it very challenging to move these projects forward, and the Better Market Street plan is just the largest manifestation of that.”


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