SFMTA Proposes New Car Restrictions, Extended Bus Lanes on Lower Market

The SFMTA has proposed prohibiting private auto drivers from turning on to mid-Market Street and extending its transit-only lanes. Image: SFMTA

Last week, the SFMTA presented its proposal to ban private auto drivers from turning onto Market Street, between Third and Eighth Streets. The move would be complemented with extended transit-only lanes, plus a new system of wayfinding signs aimed at keeping drivers off of Market.

The new plans, named “Safer Market Street,” would be implemented over nearly a year, beginning next spring, and would represent a major step towards a car-free lower Market — a longtime goal of many livable streets advocates, and some city officials.

“These improvements have been long desired by people traveling regularly on Market Street,” said SF Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum. “It’s clear that tens of thousands of people’s commutes, shopping trips, and any other kind of travel will be significantly improved when the most commonly used travel modes are actually prioritized on Market Street — walking, bicycling and taking transit. This will be a real example of SF leaders living up to their commitments, both to Transit First and Vision Zero.”

As we’ve reported, city studies have shown that lower Market already sees relatively little car traffic, and most drivers only travel on the street for an average of two blocks. Many of them seem to be either searching for parking (which doesn’t exist on the street) or simply lost. Since the implementation of requirements for eastbound drivers to turn off of Market at Sixth and Tenth Streets, Muni speeds have increased, even if some drivers still ignore the signs.

Although SFMTA board member Malcolm Heinicke and other proponents have pushed for a full ban on cars on Market, rather than a step-by-step approach, the proposed turn restrictions would leave only a few places where drivers could turn onto Market east of Tenth. The street would still be open to taxis, commercial vehicles, and people walking, biking, and on transit. The restrictions are seen as a precursor to the Better Market Street makeover, which could make most of the thoroughfare car-free once it begins construction in 2017.

SFMTA officials have long held off on proposing additional car restrictions, citing traffic flow complications created by the construction of the Central Subway. The agency is apparently now ready to move forward.

Market Street, looking east at Seventh Street. Photo: Sergio Ruiz/Flickr

Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider said the organization “is looking forward to seeing the short term safety improvements proposed [go] in the ground quickly.”

“This street has notoriously been one of the most dangerous streets in the city — with wide, confusing intersections — but it’s also the heart of our city, and should be a place where people can walk and bike safely,” said Schneider, noting that “unsafe turns [are] one of the most common causes of pedestrian injuries in San Francisco.”

She continued, “Please install these improvements as quickly as possible!”

The SFMTA has also proposed extending Market’s transit-only lanes for buses and streetcars. Extending the lanes is expected to help speed up Muni and “prevent vehicles from unsafely weaving between lanes,” according to the SFMTA’s presentation materials [PDF].

The transit lanes would be extended in both directions east to Third Street. The westbound-transit only lane currently runs for a short stretch between Eighth and 11th streets, and the eastbound lane runs from 12th to Fifth streets.

The SFMTA is currently painting Market’s existing transit lanes red to keep drivers out of them. Extending them could have the effect of further reducing driver confusion stemming from the currently inconsistent pattern of transit-only designations on Market’s center lanes.

The center lanes will still be open to cars east of Third, where drivers headed to SoMa and the Bay Bridge are often seen blocking Muni vehicles.

The plans are expected to be presented at another community meeting in November, followed by a hearing in January, and then final approval from the SFMTA Board of Directors in March. Implementation would follow over the rest of the year.

The SFMTA website has more details, including graphics showing traffic volumes and retail expenditures along Market parsed out by transport mode [PDF], and proposed designs for the wayfinding signs [PDF].

Traffic volumes and spending by transport mode along Market. Image: SFMTA [PDF]
  • p_chazz

    A good plan, but it should also allow Lyft, Uber and vehicles with handicapped plates or placards to travel on Market.

  • I don’t think you even tried.

  • maaaty


  • sebra leaves

    If you don’t like it
    you better vote against funding it. Good reason to vote No on Props A and B and Yes on L. Stop this insanity before it gets any more out
    of hand.

  • Justin

    This should have been done already and quite a while ago. The goal has to be making Market St preferably from Van Ness Ave all the way down to the Embarcadero Car free immediately. I feel like that private cars on Market St burden the street itself as I see no benefit of having any private motor vehicles on it whatsoever. I don’t see it benefiting anyone including the driver itself just like Prop L in someways. Banning private auto traffic would help speed up Muni, alleviate congestion and make Market St a more desirable and safer place to be for pedestrians, bikers and the average joe out there and hopefully there will be a complete PROTECTED bikeway that connects to the existing one near Mid Market all the way to the Embarcadero . Boy this should not ever take SO LONG for this to happen, it should of happen already but NO, we’ve been waiting for at least 5 years now and that’s sure long enough.

  • Dark Soul

    Approve this project only if…it specifically help pedestrian safety improvement and claimed muni reliability .

  • If they do this, there has got to be better signage to make it absolutely clear that private autos are not allowed on Market. As it stands, so may people are confused and the rules/enforcement are so ambiguous that anyone who gets a ticket can rightfully feel that they were tricked in some way.

  • EastBayer

    i don’t understand the value of a car-free Market Street, to be honest. The few times I’ve driven in the area, it has been hellish, in part because the side streets are so indirect. I bike down Market street much more often and find it one of the more pleasant streets for biking already.

    These changes would increase the number of turning movements, and turns cause a lot of crashes. Turning movements also increase Muni delay, as drivers yield to pedestrians when buses are waiting behind them, and Muni runs on almost every street in this area.

    I can see some symbolic value in a car-free Market Street, but I remain skeptical of the tangible benefits.

  • Bing Wu

    Doesn’t look to me like they’re adding new turning movements. If anything they’re restricting them, reducing crashes. Only by eliminating turns onto Market St can they keep cars off.

    If you bike Market in that section frequently you’ll know that it’s not one of the most pleasant streets for biking. Maybe the mid-Market section between 8th and Valencia where there’s a wide semi-separated lane but not beyond 8th where you’re sharing a lane w/ cars and buses. It’s too narrow to comfortably and safely share. Besides, cars already sort of avoid Market St because it’s such a pain to drive on although the ones who do create a lot of backups especially for Muni. So it shouldn’t be a big deal to ban them altogether and the effect is more than symbolic.

  • Bing Wu

    Hey Upright Biker, I thought I saw you make some really neat No on L posters depicting parking garages in neighborhoods a while back? Is anyone now posting them on poles in their neighborhoods?

  • Hi Bing — I haven’t seen them anywhere, though a number of people did download the PDFs so let’s hope a few have seen the light of day.

  • murphstahoe

    Look at it in reverse. If Market were car-free – would you see value in allowing cars to use it? When you look at the problems both ways as opposed to starting from the status quo, I think it’s clear which implementation has more value.

  • Bing Wu

    Do you have a link to the PDFs?

  • KWillets

    They finally painted red lanes all the way to Van Ness, and that may have helped, but it’s still a Stanley Roberts zone.

  • Nicasio Nakamine

    Agreed! If your intent isn’t to drop off/pick up someone on Market, the smart driving is on Mission.

    While a private car-free market will be nice for cyclists, I think the largest benefit will be in less congestion for transit. There are a huge number of lines that travel on Market for part of their route.

  • KWillets

    My (recurring) question on Market: with little or no car traffic now, can we finally get rid of the chains that obstruct crosswalks on the North side of Market? And the labyrinthine islands and merge lanes as well.

  • p_chazz

    Tried what?

  • coolbabybookworm

    Can they please get rid of the right turn lane from 3rd street onto Market? Many times biking through I’ve seen either the 30/45/8 corridor blocked or Market street buses blocked.

    Very much looking forward to these improvements and hopefully we’ll have data about improved performance with the transit only lanes. Anecdotally It feels like I’ve seen fewer cars on them. Though it would be nice, we don’t need 100% compliance to get tangible benefits.

  • 94103er

    He means that you know as well as we do that this is such an absurd idea that implementing it would be worse than doing nothing. In other words, a ‘poison-pill’ idea.

  • p_chazz

    And why is it so absurd? Disabled people have placards and licenses, and Uber and Lyft drivers could easily verify their status by the software on their phones.

  • Ken Neville

    What does “restricted” actually mean?

    The Container Store on 4th street offers a very convenient online-order-with-in-person-pickup that I use 4-5 times a year when buying items too large to carry by bicycle.

    To use this service, you have to park in a parking garage whose only access is on 4th street, just south of Market. To make this turn, you MUST already be heading east on Market.

    It seems that this proposal prevents private autos from getting on to Market eastbound such that they can turn right / southbound onto 4th street — I would only be able to enter Market west of 6th, and would be routed off before I could make the correct turn.

    Packing all lanes of Market in both directions with buses and trolleys, and then expecting taxi drivers to respect *any* kind of order — now that’s poor urban planning.

    Market street is a disaster, yes, but it’s largely that way because it is an artery that cuts through two otherwise orderly grids of streets. Each of those grids includes a number of streets that are one-way-only.

    If it’s your first time driving near Market street, you’re screwed because you can’t figure out how to get where you really need to go. Even if you do know your way around, new restrictions are only going to make it harder to run legitimate errands with a private vehicle.

  • Reynolds Cameron

    How about limit private automobiles to a single eastbound lane with a 15mph speed limit? For tourists and drop-offs.

  • Reynolds Cameron

    Why is the misnomer “better Market Street” used? These plans do nothing to address the death trap between 11th & Octavia.

  • Reynolds Cameron

    Octavia to Embarcadero. Underground north-south freeway traffic..


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