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.”

  • Anonymous

    On Second Street, we just needed some grown ups to schedule a couple of sincere community meetings and provide some sense that our input as residents always affected by the changes (not just driving/biking/walking thru) was valued. DPW stepped up … One Way Cycle Tracks it is … Forward the project should go.

  • Guest

    How about instead of expanding the car free zones, they do some enforcement so the existing ones actually mean something?

    I ride past the 10th and market one every day and without fail at least 2 cars are on the tracks EVERY LIGHT ignoring the street closed sign.

    Also featured many times on people behaving badly.

  • Gneiss

    Enforcement doesn’t work to protect vulnerable road users, given that the police can’t be everywhere all the time.  Engineering does.  If you engineer the streetscape so cars aren’t welcome in it, then they won’t be there.  On the flip side, just think of all the roads which are engineered primarily for cars.  How many pedestrians and cyclists do you see on them?

  • Anonymous

    For this project to get off the ground, there needs to be a project czar, answerable only to the president of BOS or the Mayor, with real authority to shake things up and get things done.  The mayor needs to tell his Department heads you WILL cooperate with the czar by giving him or her the necessary resources to get this job done or you will find yourself out of a job.  Otherwise, the heads of all the agencies will smile and nod politely, and nothing will get done.

  • So you are saying that San Francisco is no better than Sacramento? News to me.

  • mikesonn

    Comparison fail.

  • Anonymous

    Perhaps Chicago would be a better comparison:

    “Chicago turned 9 blocks of State Street into a pedestrian mall in 1979 only to see a drop in commercial activity and safety (traffic was restored in 1996).”

  • Guest

    If you’re saying erecting steel/concrete barriers and tire shredders to prevent cars from rolling down the street, I am all for that.

    No one has the balls to install them though.

  • mikesonn
    Put them on Stockton as well for transit only.

  • Anonymous

    The point remains that a carfree Market Street will not necessarily be the panacea that David Chiu and others seem to think it will be.  It could, as in Chicago, or Buffalo, or Tampa, be a huge fail.  Or it could be a huge success. How it is implemented is key.  For example, everyone says that a lively streetscape is important to the health of the city. But if you make it difficult for the small business persons on Market Street to deliver supplies to their shops by restricting cars, they will fold their businesses and Market Street will be lined with vacant storefronts.

  • Where exactly are the loading zones on Market? Because while I recall plenty of cops parked in those bike lanes, I don’t see any delivery trucks there…

  • Andy Chow

     Market Street could be private car free but isn’t going to be traffic free. So putting barriers aren’t realistic. Even without implementing such a restriction, it won’t be easy as to how to divert traffic from going to Market since Market Street separates the two street grids with different block sizes.


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