SFMTA Director Heinicke: Let’s Get Cracking on Car-Free Market Street

Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/sirgious/5352883045/##sirgious/Flickr##

The campaign to rid lower Market Street of the delays and dangers caused by personal cars has an unexpected champion on the SF Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors.

At an SFMTA board meeting this Tuesday — the same meeting where agency staff presented a new Strategic Plan, which includes the Bicycle and Pedestrian Strategies — board member Malcolm Heinicke called for banning private cars from Market ahead of the completion of the Better Market Street project.

Malcolm Heinicke. Photo: ##http://phantomcabdriverphites.blogspot.com/2012/04/report-on-taxi-advisory-report-part-ii.html##The Phantom Cab Driver Phites Back##

“With all of this information coming forward, all of these plans coming forward, and the desire to look at the next big thing at the same time we’re getting the Central Subway done, and getting BRTs done, I think it’s really time to come back to this board with a concrete proposal as to how we will go about assessing the closure of Market Street, how and whether we can best do it, and how to fund it,” said Heinicke.

Heinicke made the case that the need to speed up Muni and increase safety for pedestrians and bicycle riders on Market is too urgent to put it off. “I think the time is now,” he said. “I think we’ve seen enough data on the various modes and the impacts. I think there’s been enough discussion of what we can do on the alternate arteries.”

Calls for a car-free Market have recently come from city officials including Board of Supervisors President David Chiu. But while it wouldn’t necessarily be surprising to see leadership on the issue from Chiu or other known livable streets advocates, like SFMTA board members Cheryl Brinkman and Joél Ramos, the strong words from Heinicke — a lawyer known for his tenure on the former Taxi Commission — are a promising sign that a car-free Market has broader political support.

Heinicke did note that he has a “personal interest” in the idea beyond the boon for walking, biking, and transit, possibly alluding to the fact that the ban probably wouldn’t apply to taxis. But he emphasized that he sees “this coming together, not just as a bike and pedestrian proposal, but as a real civic proposal.”

“If we had the elimination of private cars on Market Street, that would expedite the many, many transit lines that use it as their final point as of getting downtown,” he said. “I think we can really have a civic plan… that our city can really be proud of, and really build something fantastic if we did that.”

Getting cars off lower Market has become increasingly popular since the SFMTA instituted traffic diversions in 2009 requiring eastbound drivers to turn right at 6th and 10th Streets, leading to increased Muni speeds and better conditions for walking and biking. Despite the success, the growing calls for more auto restrictions on Market have yet to lead to more changes.

A car-free option is expected to be proposed this summer as part of the Better Market Street project, but that plan is set to be implemented no sooner than 2015. Project planners expect to begin environmental review of the options later this year.

While the path to a car-free Market ahead of the street’s reconstruction is still sketchy, it’s Mayor Ed Lee who oversees SFMTA appointments, and former Mayor Gavin Newsom instituted the trial project to test forced right turns. But when the Board of Supervisors approved a resolution urging more car restrictions on Market in September 2011, Lee skirted the issue in a discussion with the board, and it’s unclear if he’s willing to use his political muscle to expedite the process to make the city’s main thoroughfare more livable.

In response to Heinicke, SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin didn’t indicate whether the agency had the ability to institute a ban ahead of Better Market Street, but said that planners from the various agencies managing the project could discuss it with the board within two to three months. “It’s certainly fair game for the board to provide some policy direction or guidance to feed into the environmental process,” said Reiskin.

Referring to the estimated 26 development projects under construction in the downtown area, Heinicke said downtown growth provides a major impetus for the measure to move forward. “Those 26 cranes are all within eyeshot of Market Street. It’s time to create a corridor that really serves the east-west needs of a growing” area, he said.

  •  shh.. don’t let him know, we love watching them suffer as they scream and writhe in their desperate attempt to stave off the communist manifesto of Agenda 21

  • Richard Mlynarik

    I am in support of the project, and I get to work on it in a professional capacity. The end.

    Four more years!
    And then four more years after that!
    And more professional input!
    Years of input!
    Can’t be too stingy with the expertise.

    Because if there’s one thing America (USA USA USA USA!) does best, it’s produce the world’s finest transportation planning professionals.

  • Guest

    I’m a big fan and proponent of New Urbanism and a frequent critic of car culture, suburban sprawl, freeways and oil wars.  But I am also a pragmatist.  The fact of the matter is that, by banning cars from Market Street, or any street, you risk killing the goose that lays the golden egg.  We’re talking about one of the main modes of transportation in the United States!  Banning cars effectively cuts off potential consumers from areas they want to travel to, and—duh!—consume in.   Tell me again how this will revitalize commerce and property values along Market? 

    Conversely, there is a move to ban bicycles from Market, too, on the pretext of eliminating traffic congestion.  A preposterous idea!  What next?  Banning pedestrians?  Buses?  The F-line?   

    Oh, but traffic planners for a Better Market Street will have finally eliminated congestion, right? 

    The problem isn’t congestion.  Congestion can be a good thing!  It means an area is popular!  The problem is outmoded, mid-20th Century thinking that puts eliminating traffic congestion ahead of the most important issue affecting stakeholders: quality of life. 
    Whether by building double-decker automotive freeways that slice through quaint neighborhoods and destroy them, or by going too far the other way, by banning cars, or bicycles, or both, from roads, it seems that San Francisco traffic planners are either too dumb to realize they are unnecessarily trying to re-invent the wheel, or—-perish the thought!—secretly working with right wing, auto and oil interests and only pretending to care about improving Market, when their real agenda is to destroy it, and liberal San Francisco with it, by segregating its uses. 

    It doesn’t seem a stretch to imagine that powerful interests exist that WANT to drive a stake through the heart of San Francisco’s urban core with hare-brained schemes like this PRECISELY because it will benefit their investments in sprawl, automotivism and oil wars.   

    Who knows?  One thing’s for sure: multi-modalism should be the guiding principal for ALL corridors.  And that includes enough space for cars, mass transit, bicycles and pedestrians.  Anything else is separate but (un)equal.

  • Anonymous

    Have you been to Market street? Do you know anything about it? It certainly seems as if you’ve never been to San Francisco based on your generalized comments. 

    There is no parking and no driveways/garages on Market and less than 15% of the travel is car. So a few cars are blocking a lot of buses with thousands of passengers and endangering thousands of cyclists. That’s not positive congestion, that’s extremely negative and costly to the city and the people stuck in a bus behind cars. Those few cars are NOT making up for it with purchases on Market  since they’d have to leave market just to get out of their car. Market street is not a car corridor by any means and while it may be difficult for people to envision a car free street, many cities have very successful car free areas because, as you pointed out, it raises the quality of life for the hundreds of thousands of pedestrians, cyclists, and transit passengers that pass through the area daily. This isn’t about decreasing congestion, it’s about making Market better for everyone.


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