Upper Market Street Gets First Phase of Safety Upgrades

Photo: Juan Carlos Guerrero/Twitter

The SFMTA has completed its first wave of safety upgrades on Upper Market Street. The changes include painted sidewalk extensions (a.k.a. “safety zones”), high-visibility crosswalks, and signs prohibiting drivers from turning right at red lights.

SFMTA officials and Supervisor Scott Wiener held a press conference today to mark the completion of the improvements between Octavia Boulevard and Castro Street.

The 10 newly-installed safety zones narrow the roadway and reduce crossing distances, which should help calm motor traffic at the three Market intersections where they were installed: 16th/Noe, 15th/Sanchez, and 14th/Church Streets.

Most of Upper Market’s intersections converge with two other streets. The legacy of cars-first design at these complex six-point intersections is a disaster for public safety. Pedestrians must traverse long stretches of pavement in crosswalks regularly blocked by drivers, while drivers often speed up to beat the light.

Upper Market has six wide traffic lanes and a median strip that seems to encourage speeding. Walking and biking were an afterthought in its design.

From 2007 to 2012, motorists injured pedestrians in 27 crashes and injured bicyclists in 32 crashes on Market between Octavia and Castro, according to the SFMTA. During the same period, an additional 102 crashes involved only motor vehicle drivers and passengers.

Market and 16th with new crosswalks, just before the safety zone was installed. Image: NBC

“We can and will make it safer,” said Wiener, who has made it his mission to improve Upper Market’s six-way intersections. Wiener said the intersections are “fundamentally design-flawed,” reports NBC, but stopped short of proposing new car traffic restrictions to simplify them, as was done to create Jane Warner Plaza on 17th Street. Adding car-free blocks could “introduce more problems with traffic,” Wiener told NBC.

Upper Market’s crosswalks, most of which have been made more visible with “continental” striping, should be blocked less often with new signs announcing “no right turn on red.” The turn restrictions at the intersections of 16th/Noe Streets and 15th/Sanchez Streets are intended “to make Upper Market more intuitive for people driving,” according to an SFMTA press release.

“These improvements are examples of quick and effective safety measures the SFMTA is rapidly activating citywide to reduce traffic injuries and deaths,” SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin said in a statement. The SFMTA plans to have 40 safety zones installed by the end of the year.

The improvements so far were funded primarily by impact fees from booming development along the street, according to the SFMTA. Once funding is available, the painted safety zones could be converted into concrete bulb-outs.

The SFMTA is planning two further phases of improvements on Upper Market, but no timeline has been announced for them yet. The package of “mid-term” upgrades includes adjusted signal timing and new bike lane markings to minimize conflicts, as well as more safety zones and “no right on red” signs.

Facing an even less definite future is an SFMTA proposal to test a parking-protected bike lane on the uphill side of Market between Octavia and Duboce Avenue, with a possible expansion along the street.

Wiener and Walk SF’s Nicole Ferrara start the job on the final safety zone (for now). Photo: Scott Wiener
  • p_chazz

    “The legacy of cars-first design at these complex six-point intersections is a disaster for public safety. Pedestrians must traverse long stretches of pavement in crosswalks regularly blocked by drivers, while drivers often speed up to beat the light.”

    I don’t think this is factually correct. The complex, six-point intersections were laid out in the 1860s, twenty years before the first automobiles were built.

  • City Resident

    Thank you to Supervisor Wiener and the SFMTA for implementing these changes. Finally, there will be a greater measure of safety at the intersections. Hopefully, true bulb-outs will follow. I agree that Upper Market, like nearly all streets in this city, is very much car-first. The bike lanes are really just window dressing. One day it will be a “complete” street and we’re very slowly getting closer to Upper Market being a street where all modes can safely coexist.

  • I noticed something unexpected on my ride back from SoMa to North Beach today that seems to be recurring since the “No Turns at Market” rule took effect: The 3rd Street approach to Market from SoMa is suddenly free of any backup, but the streets approaching Market from the north side/Union Square/FiDi (headed towards the freeways) are gridlocked.

    Traffic dynamics are indeed complex.

    Sorry, is this off-topic for this post? Please file under “Market Street>General Observations.”

  • als

    Can anyone explain to me what the tan color paint means? As a pedestrian and bicyclist I have no idea what it means and I can’t expect a driver to have clue as to what it means. Everybody seems to say it’s a “fake” bulb out but who decided that tan is anything that anyone understands?

  • alberto rossi

    The tan color means “that’s the cheapest color paint” at Home Depot. As you said, everyone know it’s a fake bulbout: pedestrians would be fools to stand in it and cars drive right over it, so who cares what color it is? It’s just a pretense of doing anything real.

  • Joseph

    I think in the case of third street its working better because turning cars are not blocking through traffic and more importantly the transit lane can continue without muni busses having to merge around the turn lane that used to be on the right side.

  • ARRO

    To be honest, as a pedestrian and driver I initially had no clue either as to what it was supposed to mean. I thought it was some sort of poorly executed attempt at crosswalk visibility except that tan as a color does not make very much sense for that purpose .

  • It only starts to make sense once they add the soft-hit posts, and even then it’s hardly the same as a real curb when it comes to keeping pedestrians safe.

  • Its sidewalk color

  • als

    and…it’s tan with big white crosswalk stripes through it. So is it a (fake) sidewalk, is it a (fake) bulb out, is it crosswalk? Very odd mixed message added at intersections that are mixed up already.

  • I agree, tan paint does not signal to drivers “Don’t drive here.” Lots and lots of bumps and soft hit posts are needed at the very least. In New York City they sometimes use large boulders to define new pedestrian space. As a pedestrian, I would much prefer boulders to tan paint.

  • murphstahoe

    This is how the intersections should have been in the first place. Rounding the corners as they are in these intersections is an unfortunate “cars-first design” – some engineer way back when thinking “hey, it will be quicker to make a turn if we round this corner” without thinking about the problem with those high speed turns in a pedestrian heavy environment.

  • Tan (beige as the SFMTA is referring to as) is about the only color available. White, yellow, green, red, blue, and even purple (something to do with toll lanes) already have specified uses. It could have been a vibrant orange.

  • This morning a crew was out putting some finishing touches on the striping and started to install the soft-hit plastic posts.

    And within the last few days the signals at Noe & 16th & Market (and probably the others as well) have been retimed. At long, long, long last it’s long enough to cross the south side without getting stuck in the street during a red light and militant motorists honking at pedestrians left stranded in the street.

  • joechoj

    Sure, they were originally laid out before cars. But they were made ‘car-first’ over the years as pavement and sidewalks were added in a configuration that encouraged high-speed turns.

  • Justin

    For the Upper Market St safety improvements I’m waiting for SFMTA and any other city agencies involved, to expedite piloting the PARKING PROTECTED bike lane and getting that implemented ASAP from Market and Octavia to Duboce at least. Hopefully it will be permanent in the future and that it is expanded throughout the entire Market St corridor, to me it has to be.

  • Reality Broker

    I saw these for the first time today. Feels like another SF feel-good safety improvement.

    Is there a reason they can’t afford $100 or so per intersection for actual bollards to provide actual physical isolation to slow down cars?

  • Sierrajeff

    Good – that’s exactly what I was going to rant about – “back in the day” you could cross both Noe and 16th on one light – at some point in the last few years it was changed, and became much more annoying (and less pedestrian friendly). Glad they’ve made some improvements.

  • Sierrajeff

    But the underlying point is that, regardless of color, all it does is encourage peds to stand in the street, closer to traffic. Some paint on the ground doesn’t magically protect you; what we need are either actual bulbs, or at least bollards.


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