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.

  • mikesonn

    Can we please get rid of that stupid right turn lane added on 3rd to Market?

  • SF Native

    This is a bunch of Hooey!!!!!!!!!!  If you stand on Market Street on any given day, you will witness Pedestrian after Pedestrian walking/running on RED lights, not allowing the vehicles to do what they need to do so the Pedestrians can walk safely when it is their turn.  It is no wonder so many Pedestrians in SF are run over. Why remove cars altogether?  Why should one group be punished to accommodate another?  Why not force people and bike riders and car drivers to be and act responsibly and quit blaming everyone else for their bad behaviour!  Get the SFPD out there giving Pedestrians tickets for Jay Walking same as giving a Bike Rider a ticket for running a light.  Everyone in these scenarios needs to start acting like ADULTS and if they did Market Street would not be the mess it is!

    PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY PLEASE, no more aiding and abetting those who feel entitled and due all rights and concessions yet they cannot follow simple rules like waiting for a GREEN LIGHT!

  • Yes, why do the rest of us need to be punished to accommodate drivers of private automobiles?

  • Considering the stoplights are timed for cars, it shouldn’t be surprise when pedestrians give up waiting and cross on a red.

    Instead of getting pissed at pedestrians (which are not exactly a “group” by the way, since everyone is a pedestrian) how about getting pissed at the planners who designed Market as a car-centric street?

  • Anonymous

    If you stand on any corner downtown you’ll see hoards of cars pull into the crosswalk with the full knowledge that they won’t make the light and then sit their blocking the crosswalk after the light turns, making pedestrians unable to cross safely.

    Everyone needs to be considerate and follow the law.  I say “everyone”, but this is especially true (ethically and legally) for those who choose to travel in a 2000lb steel box.

  • Misuse of the word punished makes me literally insane

  • sfbuddy

    I’m curious to see exactly what is proposed. I think most folks who know driving in the city, avoid Market Street … below Franklin Street anyway. No one will miss driving down Market Street below Franklin. 

  • oh but they will miss talking about how it is the crucial artery it is not.

  • Tony

    Go Malcolm

  • Justin

    While I’m totally in favor of this, there really aren’t that many private cars on Market now. The real nuisance is the cars crossing Market — both the sheer volume of them, causing long red lights for MUNI, and drivers’ utter obliviousness to blocking intersections and crosswalks. It would be a win-win-win for MUNI actually moving, pedestrian safety, and citation revenue to cite these idiots. But there is apparently no political will to piss off the driving constituency by punishing their childish behavior. Stand on Market for two minutes and you will see MUNI buses wasting an entire light cycle waiting for cars blocking the intersection, and people trying to thread their way through a crosswalk filled with cars. 

  • Kevin

     In NYC police officers slap $250 tickets on the windshields of cars that block the middle of intersections. This should happen on Market street!

  • Just say no to 2nd hand exhaust fumes.

  • vcs

    Yeah, I’ve even had taxicab drivers refuse to drive down Market. 
    Years ago, the parking officers would actually get out of their carts and direct traffic at the major intersections. And yes, they handed out tickets to drivers blocking the box. Haven’t seen them do this in ages.

  • Sebra Leaves

    Playing musical chairs with cars is not going to fix Muni and make it viable for human consumption. Ed Reiskin admits he has lost the public trust. He needs to pass that message on to his Board. Blaming cars is not going to create a Muni system that works. Neither will designing apps, painting the streets, or investing in more smart meters. The only thing that will get people onto the Muni is to produce a system that gets them to their destination on time. It is high time to find someone who knows how to do that job. The Mayor should cut to the chase and start looking for a new Director with some pertinent experience.

  •  Give me a break. You could care less if MUNI runs fast, slow or not at all. This is a red herring, you are just upset about parking meters.

    At least be honest.

  • Awesome! I had my arm broken on Market recently by a hit and run SUV at Christmas. They were tourists in a rental. I would love for Market to finally be a european, world class street free of potholes and red light runners!

  • Justin

    If you ride MUNI, you will quickly see that buses and streetcars spend a great deal of their time either stuck in traffic or waiting at red lights, watching an unending stream of cars crossing in front of them. It’s pretty obvious that cars are responsible for a lot (not all) of MUNI’s slowness and unreliability. 

  • sfbuddy

    Anyone who is poo-pooing this idea is just not seeing the magnificence if a mall-environemnt that would be created up and down Market. There are no good reasons to not do this. But … it’s lower Market only right? Below Franklin is what I’m thinking.

  • Anonymous

    Taking cars off main streets is not in and of itself a guarantee of success.  Chicago, Sacramento, Kalamazoo, MI and Youngstown, OH all removed automobiles from their downtown main streets and ended up putting them back when the results were less than desired. 

    Still, it might work if it were done right, say only during the day from 8 AM to 7 PM and only east of Van Ness.

  • Blah blah, boilerplate answer to your examples, Santa Monica 3rd, Boulder Pearl, Denver 16th.

  • Anonymous

    @murphstahoe:disqus Please note that I didn’t say that taking cars off Market won’t work, only that it is not a guarantee of success.  I even suggested that it might work if it were done right.


  • Anonymous

    We used to have freeways that carried traffic over Market Street, but we tore them down.  Cause ->Effect?

  • p_chazz – that’s a logicall fallacy. You stated a cause, but did not quantify that there is an effect. Is the problem “new” since the freeways went down?

  • David D.

    There is no guarantee that the restriction of private automobiles on Market Street will provide the benefits that advocates propose. Pedestrian malls have had very mixed success throughout the country. I am optimistic that Market Street can thrive without auto traffic, but it must be well planned and properly executed to succeed.

  • Anonymous

    I suggested that there might be a causal relationship between “…the cars crossing Market…the sheer volume of them” and the removal of the Embarcadero and Central Freeways, which were designed to carry traffic up and over Market.  Indeed, I don’t see how taking down the freeways could lead to any other outcome but increased surface traffic crossing Market; however, that effect would be distributed over a wide area–from the Embarcadero to Duboce–hence no one intersection would be disproportionately affected. 

    However, surface traffic crossing Market could be expected to increase incrementally over time as a result of new developments which result in more automobile trips taken.  Perhaps this is what @Justin:disqus is noticing.

  • David D.

    While the closure of Market Street to private autos could be a boon to San Francisco, it must be planned and executed carefully to be successful. The same approach to traffic has been handled throughout the country with very mixed success.

    The closure of Market Street to private auto traffic before the plan is fleshed out and analyzed is foolhardy. There are potentially serious implications to Mission Street that need to be addressed with the shift of traffic to there from Market Street, and the City is opening itself up to environmental litigation if it jumps the gun.

    Also, let’s not forget that shifting traffic to Mission Street could adversely affect the 14-Mission line, SamTrans, and Golden Gate Transit buses. SamTrans and GGT buses in particular are used by people who would otherwise drive to SF, and we don’t want to “force” them back into their cars by making their bus trips any slower than they already are.

  • Anonymous

    It is being/has been studied, this isn’t a new idea, it just has a new supporter on the board. 

    There are no garages or driveways on Market Street so all autos on it are going somewhere other than market.(I learned this at the Better Market street workshop where they were getting public input). In order to drive to market as a destination (like the mall at 5th street) you have to take another street in order to park so I don’t really think the adverse impacts to private autos will be bad. The other fun statistic is that only 10% of market traffic is private autos so it’s not a lot of extra volume for other streets to absorb. And lastly, the private autos on Mission wouldn’t be an issue at all (and still may not be) if the transit only lane was respected, enforced, painted, etc.

  • Maybe the cause is “nobody is cited for blocking the box” and the effect is “congestion because people block the box”

  • Maybe the cause is “nobody is cited for blocking the box” and the effect is “congestion because people block the box”

  • Hopefully we do not make planning decisions this century solely on the criteria that the outcome will be “guaranteed”. That is a bar which cannot be met, and means that we will do absolutely nothing.

    Certainly that was not the bar in the last century as we are living with plenty of planning decisions gone awry.

  • Hopefully we do not make planning decisions this century solely on the criteria that the outcome will be “guaranteed”. That is a bar which cannot be met, and means that we will do absolutely nothing.

    Certainly that was not the bar in the last century as we are living with plenty of planning decisions gone awry.

  • Boilerplate argument – “this change (which I think will negatively impact my car”, but shhh) MUST be analyzed because I believe it will impact all those downtrodden people on the bus!”

    See Also: “We cannot charge for parking because the buses are too slow”

  • Anonymous

    Wrong @murphstahoe:disqus as usual.  More like: “This change, which could have far-reaching impacts on transportation citywide MUST be analyzed. period. Buses are vehicles too. They will be impacted by any change that impacts private automobiles.  The fact is, you don’t care about people on buses, either. You only care about people on bikes.

  • David D.

    I hate to burst your bubble, coolbabybookworm and murphstahoe, but a shift of any percent of traffic to Mission Street could have very serious negative consequences to the bus routes operating on that street. Read an EIR sometime and you can find many instances where the addition of just 10 or 20 vehicles to a particular traffic movement at an intersection can result in a huge decline in LOS. Unless there are dedicated transit lanes, buses are just as negatively impacted by LOS declines as private automobiles because they are vehicles too.

    The current transit lanes on Mission Street are generally only 9.5′ wide, which is an inadequate width for buses to traverse. That is why all the buses you see running up and down Mission Street straddle the lane demarcation. Any addition of vehicular traffic to Mission Street will delay buses unless Mission Street is completely reconfigured or all the buses are moved to Market Street. Neither approach is straightforward.

    SFMTA is currently studying the Better Market Street plan and has just pulled GGT and SamTrans into the discussion. An itchy trigger finger could cause lots of problems for these two system plus the 14-Mission line because, until Better Market Street is fully implemented, there would be nowhere for these buses to go (i.e., into adequate transit lanes or onto Market Street).

  • Anonymous

    Just because you recently found out about something, doesn’t mean it’s new. This has been looked at and studied for years.

    One of the biggest arguments for removing cars is to reduce congestion on Market, a street often referred to as a transit spine because it is so vital. I understand that Market is not the only place buses exist on, but it has more vital bus routes than any other street. In a transit first city, speeding up bus time should take precedence over the cars currently using Market semi-legally and the increased walk and bikeability of removing cars from Market are added bonuses.  

    Though it is anecdotal, I commute daily on Market street and I often (almost always during lunch hour and commute times) see cars blocking crosswalks, blocking buses, blocking transit stops, etc. It’s unacceptable that a few cars are allowed to hold up whole bus loads of people every day.

  • David D.

    Better Market Street has been discussed for years, but it has not been fully studied. That is the process going on right now. I know because I am directly involved in the process. Who do you suggest should make the call on which bus lines are most important? In the SamTrans world, nothing on Market Street matters much. In the Golden Gate world, nothing on Market Street matters much. Even in the Muni world, the 14-Mission carries more passengers than the individual lines on Market Street. Should we sacrifice these lines for everything on Market Street before we can figure out how to do it holistically? I think not.

  • Anonymous

    While buses using Mission should be taken into account, and it sounds like we agree that the transit only lanes should be upgraded and better enforced so that they avoid the traffic backup, Market should take precedence over Mission. I don’t have the statistics at hand, but Market is such an essential street for transit, walking, and biking that making it car free is an essential part of improving transit in SF. 

    The fact that 10-20 cars could be such a problem for Mission street buses (for which you care so much it’s touching) demonstrates exactly why we need a car free market and fewer cars in general.  We could always look into rerouting the affected buses onto a newly car-free market as well, maybe @David D. could lead that campaign?

  • Anonymous

    “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.””

    It has been studied, even if it hasn’t been to your satisfaction.  

  • David D.

    Moving all the bus service onto Market Street would be fine with me. In fact, that may be one of the outcomes of the analysis that is currently being conducted. If we put all the transit on Market Street and all the cars on Mission Street, we very well could end up with a couple great transit (in the general sense) arteries running up the center of the City. What we have right now is a mess.

    I’m just as eager as the next guy to see improvements, but I dislike significant planning issues being decided in the heat of the movement. SFMTA and DPW could fast-track the Better Market Street analysis if there is enough political will, which means we wouldn’t have to wait until 2016 to see the fruits of our labor. As a person who primarily walks and bikes in the area, I’m all for a faster timeline.

    P.S. So far the analysis has focused on Muni impacts. There has been little discussion with other affected parties until this month. Frankly it sounds like Heinicke got a little ahead of himself.

  • Anonymous

    I love all this “heat of the moment” talk, like any policy decision in SF is ever decided that way. But I’m wondering, did you even read what he said? He’s saying car-free Market should happen (giving his support) and that we need a plan for how (a call to fast-track the analysis and figure out the logistics of closing Market):
    “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.”

    So i’m wondering why you’re so concerned about slowing things down since the pace is currently glacial and still moving slower than than the world’s glaciers are melting.

  • David D.

    I based my comment on this part of the article: “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.” Perhaps the author got confused about his position?

  • Anonymous

    At this point it’s clear that if you ever read the article, you skimmed it and quickly forgot about it. 

    Seeing as how Better Market Street’s timeline stretches past 2020 (I’m exaggerating I hope, but it’s several years and delays are common), Heinicke, Chiu, and others are calling for looking into a car free Market street ahead of the Better Market Street Project but not necessarily tomorrow. I happen to think that’s a fantastic idea, Market is simply too important to continue to neglect. The 2+ (and it could be many many more) years between now and when Better Market Street Project is currently scheduled to begin work provides an ample window for expanding current studies and trials like the forced right turns off Market, that the Board of Supes has already passed, as a way of creating a car free Market in anticipation of the other improvements being proposed and hopefully implemented by the project. 

  • Anonymous
  • Richard Mlynarik

    Better Market Street has been discussed for years, but it has not been fully studied.

    Oh, that sounds exciting!

    Let’s not “jump the gun”.

    Must “flesh out and analyze the plan”.

    And those “adverse affects” to buses from removing private automobiles: can’t be too careful!

    It’s the only responsible adult thing to do, after all.

    The careful and balanced person wants a careful and balanced balance of 1 single occupant vehicle to 1 articulated bus.  That seems only reasonable.

    It’s good to see that somebody who is “eager to see improvements” doesn’t have an “itchy trigger finger” and has the analytical careful engineering sense to understand that bus lanes have the potential of having catastrophic effects upon buses.

    So … you’ll get back to us around 2070, then?  Once lower Market is under water perhaps?

  • Richard Mlynarik

    Cars turning onto and off Market have a massive and disproportionate impact, because they are halted by heavy crossing pedestrian traffic.

    The stopped turning vehicles block up an entire lane.  Turning off Market even a single private car making a turn takes up half the street’s capacity in one direction!

    Stand at Third to Market or Market to Fourth for five minutes and the problem is blindingly obvious.

    A very small number (include “not that many”) of private cars turning on and off Market can and do have a very large impact: larger even than the already-unacceptable one they have by blocking Muni bus zones, both island and curb-side.

    There’s simply no reason not to ban private cars on Market from Franklin to Embarcadero 5am-9pm starting tomorrow.

  • David D.

    Richard, discussion and study are not the same thing. Come on. This is Planning 101 here.

    And you clearly don’t understand the issue: Moving cars from Market to Mission will adversely affect buses on Mission Street unless a comprehensive plan figures out what to do about that impact. I really don’t care about cars in this area–only a fool would drive near here except late at night–but I do care when improving transit service on one street comes at the expense of transit service on another street. Make transit better for everyone. If that means putting all the buses on Market Street, that is fine with me. But you can’t just fix Market Street and hope Mission Street works itself out. Transportation projects do not exist in a vacuum.

  • Anonymous

    Planning 101 got us into this mess, but I am enjoying all of your trite posturing in defense of the status quo.

  • David D.

    You can read all you want into my comments. That’s the beauty of anonymous Internet trolling. However, what you write will not alter the truth: I am in support of the project, and I get to work on it in a professional capacity. The end.

  • mikesonn

    Why are you commenting here like you feel the entire situation is steam-rolling without any control when you in fact are working on the project and can at least add input as to the direction you’d like it to take?

  • Anonymous

    Maybe because he feels the process is designed to come to a predetermined conclusion?


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