Better Market Street Update

City presents refined plans to modernize and transform San Francisco's main thoroughfare

A cross section of the Better Market Street design. Private cars will be banned. Cyclists will enjoy wide, protected lanes. Image: SFMTA
A cross section of the Better Market Street design. Private cars will be banned. Cyclists will enjoy wide, protected lanes. Image: SFMTA

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Market Street hasn’t been overhauled in 45 years, explained Simon Bertrang, Project Manager for the Better Market Street plan at San Francisco Public Works, during a presentation Monday evening to the San Francisco Transit Riders. “The streetcar tracks, traffic signals, and the sidewalks themselves are all in need of replacement, but when we put it back, we want to put back a better version of it.”

And that better version, as safe and livable streets advocates celebrated last summer, will include protected bike lanes and a ban on private automobiles. Bertrang and the rest of his team, which includes representatives from SFMTA and five other city agencies, are now doing legally required environmental reviews.

“This is a $500 million project,” said Bertrang. But, despite the high price tag, “We’re not gold-plating the street.”

He explained that roughly half of that money is going to fixing and updating the un-glamorous fundamentals underneath the street–meaning sewers, water mains, utilities, and paving. They also need to replace all the Muni wires. “These investments are not optional.”

Of course, most residents of San Francisco don’t take much of an interest in how the sewers, water mains, power cables, etc. work (although people sure notice if they don’t work).

A rendering of what the new Market Street will look like. Image: SFMTA
A rendering of what the new Market Street will look like. Image: SFMTA

The rest of the money is going to improve the flow, safety and appearance of the street–in other words, the above-ground bits that people see and experience daily.

“It’s our busiest pedestrian street, busiest transit street… one in ten Muni riders are on Market Street every day,” Bertrang added. “There are also thousands of bicycle commuters.”

First, the bike lanes. The current design grew out of the city’s now-infamous pilot of raised bike lanes between 12th and Gough. “We proposed a bike lane a few inches below sidewalk level but a few inches above the street,” explained Bertrang. The idea was to make the raised bike lane mountable so paratransit could still drop riders off at curb level. But, predictably, everybody who drove a car or truck started doing the same thing. “SFMTA did surveys and the universal conclusion is it didn’t do what we wanted it to do.”

The failure of these bike lane pilots lead SFMTA to go back to the drawing board. Photos: SFMTA
The failure of these bike lane pilots lead SFMTA to go back to the drawing board. Photos: SFMTA

(Note from the editor: Maybe it’s time to admit that drivers will never stay off of bike lanes voluntarily, anywhere in the universe, and to always design accordingly).

Thus started the design modification of putting the bike lane at sidewalk level, and making it eight feet wide so pairs of cyclists can ride side-by-side (or one rider can pass another) and protecting it with street furniture and planters so bikers and pedestrians have physical cues to stay out of each other’s way (see two photos up). Importantly, it will be exceedingly difficult to park a car in the bike lane.

Making room for the new sidewalk-level bike lanes required “Shrinking transit and vehicle lanes… most of the space on Market Street will be given to people whether walking or on bicycles,” said Bertrang.

This also means building two sets of bus boarding islands. The center lane will be for Rapid lines and their local pair (e.g. the 5 and the 5R). The curb lane lines will continue to make more frequent stops, with minor increases in their stop spacing to improve run times.

How Muni will run Market Street services in the future. Images: SFMTA
Click on the image for an expanded view. Image: SFMTA

“The center lanes will go to Muni only, taxis will go to the curbside lanes, and commercial vehicles, and para-transit will still be allowed to use that curbside lane,” explained Daniel Sheeter, Transportation Planner for SFMTA. The idea is to add some logic and consistency in bus services from Van Ness through to the waterfront, with longer, wider boarding islands. Of course, with private vehicles removed from the equation, transit will hopefully move a bit smoother (although there will still be those cabs, delivery vehicles and para-transit vans to deal with).

“The Rapid Stations will basically align with the subway stations,” explained Michael Rhodes, Muni Forward Transit Planner. “The benefit of doing this is for substantial peak-hour transit improvements for the center lane of several minutes.” He said the agency will also time the traffic signals to favor the movement of the Rapid buses.

There will also be some improvements to the F-Market and Wharves streetcar service (although nothing as radical as adding modern streetcars with higher capacity). Rhodes explained that the streetcar service is actually fairly well-used between Fisherman’s Wharf and the start of Market Street, but then drops off significantly at Powell. SFMTA has proposed a turn-around loop so some F-Market trains can return to the Marina rather than continuing all the way to Castro, to allow for additional daytime service between Powell and Fisherman’s Wharf.

To accomplish this, the agency plans to build a turn-around as seen below. This will also give “an option when there’s a mechanical issue,” said Rhodes. “It will help with reliability with the F.” In other words, if a train breaks down on Market Street, they’ll have another place to get it out of the way.

The construction of a turnback loop near Powell will allow some F-Market and Wharves trains to turn back early. Image: SFMTA
The construction of a turnback loop near Powell will allow some F-Market and Wharves trains to turn back early. Image: SFMTA

The city hopes to start construction in 2020. The first outreach meetings on this modified plan will be held on March 10 and 14. For more details, check out the Better Market Street project web page.

The SFTR learn about plans for Market Street. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
The SFTR learn about plans for Market Street. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
  • John French

    The diagram of how the transit lanes would be used shows center platforms for the F line. Wouldn’t that prevent the use of many of the historic streetcars currently operating on the F-line, which have doors on the right side only?

  • jonobate

    It doesn’t make sense to separate the Rapid stops from the Local stops. If you’re going a short distance it’s quicker to get on whatever bus arrives first rather than wait for the Rapid. By separating the stops you force riders to choose either Rapid or Local before waiting, and this could lead to riders dashing across the street as they see a bus for their route pull up at the other stop.

    Why not keep the current split between which buses using the curb lanes and which buses uses the center lanes, but use a consolidated stop spacing where both Local and Rapid use the same stops – similar to Van Ness BRT and the Inner Richmond section of Geary BRT?

  • jonobate

    I think those are the subway stations. The center lane surface platforms would be to the right of the vehicles, between the center lane and the curb lane, as they currently are.

  • John French

    Ah you’re right, I missed the key.

  • fulminantly

    Looks like a typo here:

    > one in ten Muni riders are on Market Street [every?] day

  • Cole Brennan

    Please, pretty please, tell me that “cab” means a driver with a taxi medallion, and not the overabundant TNC drivers.

  • Andy Chow

    The outbound curb/center arrangement is this: buses to Richmond (north of GG Park) use the curb lane. buses to south of GG Park use the center lane. The reason is simple, Richmond bound buses turn right from Market sooner, so they need to stay on the side lane to avoid changing lanes, which is problematic especially with trolley buses using overhead lines. The bus routes that use the center lane outbound (9, 9R, 6, and 7) stay on Market until 11th St or past Van Ness. The 9 and 9R turn left from Market. So they have a good reason to be on the center lane. People who want to travel on Market all the way down to 11th or Van Ness can use the center boarding island and board any bus or the F.

    As for inbound, buses to Transbay use side lane and buses to the Ferry use the center lane. It helps avoid lane changing once the bus is on Market. It also helps riders on Market heading to the ferry can board any bus or F on the center lane.

    I don’t know where they get the idea where separating local and rapid stop is a good idea. It seems like they’ve hired straight out of planning school somewhere.

    It is a bad idea to separate local/rapid is that it is inconvenient and confusing for riders who could take either the local or rapid bus on a certain corridor. So if I am heading down to 16th & Potrero, I could take either the 9 or 9R. If the stop is separated, then I will have to decide which one to take, and risk missing a bus that would arrive sooner but serving a different stop. Also, none of the rapid routes operates full time. So if I take the 5R on weekdays, I should be able take the 5 from the same stop on weekends.

    Buses on Market street already makes “limited stops.” Because of the stop placement and bus volume, stops for any route on Market is about 900 feet apart, regardless of the service type (5R and 9R start skipping stop once they leave Market St). Center stops are at every intersection with the SOMA streets, and side stops are in the middle of the long block, unless the planners want something radical like stops every 1 1/2 of the long block (2nd/Montgomery, Grant, 5th) rather than every long block now (2nd/Montgomery, 3rd/Kearny, 4th, 5th). If stopping pattern is changed, it would have to be done on all routes. It is not practical to have some routes stopping every 2 long blocks and others stopping every block or less. Market Street, especially with trolley bus and streetcar operations, is not designed for buses to leapfrog one another.

  • Roger R.

    Thanks. Fixed.

  • Roger R.

    I worked on the map/image a bit more (and SFMTA sent me an updated one). You should be able to click on it and expand the map so it’ll be easier to read now. RR

  • Andy Chow

    Also, in order to make segregated bike lanes to work, they will need to somehow get rid of the center boarding islands at 8th, 7th, 5th, 4th, etc where BART/Muni Metro entrances exist. That’s why you see from the map above that there won’t be any center boarding stops for 3 long blocks between 2nd and 5th St outbound. That’s why to justify having a 3 block gap in downtown SF the planners need to come up excuses like separating rapid and local service, etc.

  • Bruce

    I definitely agree that the 9 belongs on Mission Street.

  • David

    There is no space for more buses on Mission Street. It’s already full with the 14, 14R, SamTrans, and Golden Gate Transit. Add anything more and they’ll have to make the bus lanes full time and remove street parking to make room for wider lanes. That doesn’t seem practical considering they are proposing a ban of regular cars on Market Street.

  • The Muni streetscape hasn’t been updated in 45 years either. I absolutely get a kick out every single rendering that shows people milling about at sidewalk cafes and taking in the sights when in reality outside of foot traffic during normal business hours Market St. is a ghosttown filled with…homeless, drug addicts, etc. The problem with any streetscape improvements is that it will only attract more of the element that turns people off from hanging out on Market St.

  • RichardC

    Per the diagram, for lines with both a local and rapid that travel any significant distance on Market (5,5R,9,9R), both services will use the center lanes.

  • RichardC

    Per the diagram, for lines with both a local and rapid that travel any significant distance on Market (5,5R,9,9R), both services will use the center lanes.

    And buses on Market today are painfully slow in part because the stops are so frequent. This plan to speed up some lines by reducing stop frequency to every 2-3 blocks makes a lot of sense.

  • Rick Laubscher

    Many of the current center lane stops have to be moved no matter what, because they abut BART escalators, which cannot be moved, leaving boarding islands that are too narrow to be ADA compliant (the last Market makeover predates ADA). Reducing the number of stops in the center lanes and focusing them on Muni routes that run long distances is a good idea–shortens the ride for those who are going farther distances.

  • City Resident

    This looks like a great plan to speed up Muni service on Market Street, including the F-line, and vastly improve Market Street for bicyclists. Thanks for covering this!

  • The only way the F line will speed up is a dedicated ROW, signal priority and removal of stops.

  • City Resident

    By my read, this plan cuts the number of F-line stops between Van Ness and the foot of Market in half. The F-line will also benefit from a transit-only lane that should have no automobiles or taxis congesting it.

  • jonobate

    Thanks for clarifying, that makes much more sense. The original article here on Streetsblog clearly said that Local service would be in the curb lane and Rapid service in the center. It looks like Roger revised the article without adding a note. You can see the original here:

    From the diagram, it’s clear that there is no Rapid/Local split – out of the three services with Rapid variations, two are in the center lane (5/5R and 9/9R), and the other is in the curb (38/38R). So that raises the question, why is the stop spacing in the center lane double that of in the curb lane when there are two local services in the center lane? Seems odd that some local services would stop roughly every Soma block, and others would stop roughly every three Soma blocks.

  • Roger R.

    Sorry! I got confused at the presentation and fixed it as quick as I could! Hopefully that wasn’t too confusing. I’ll insert a note next time.

  • Andy Chow

    One of the reasons for having the F line on Market is to provide more locally spaced service on a major transit corridor. We already have limited stop transit on Market, which is Muni Metro and BART. We don’t need a surface version of the Muni Metro, which still won’t be as fast as Muni Metro.

    In Hong Kong for example there’s road with street level tram and under subway. The tram continues to be very crowded because it provides local service despite the slow speed. If people want fast, they can take the bus or the subway. But there’s a clear need for local transit.

    The 3 block gap on Market for the F is just crazy.

  • Andy Chow

    Like it or not the planners are mostly white millennials so they’re basically projecting Market Street after their college town business district.

  • p_chazz

    Isn’t there a turnback Y at 11th Street?

  • Andy Chow

    3 block gap on Market Street in San Francisco is crazy. You’re talking about 2600 feet, a half mile! This plan won’t remove the traffic signals so there will still be a lot of stops (don’t give me excuses about signal priority. There’s no signal priority and won’t be one given the pedestrian traffic on Market and vision zero. You can just tell the ped/bikes folks that we will slow the vehicles down and tell the transit folks that the lights will speed them up. Can’t have it both ways). But it will be the kind of stops where people cannot board the vehicle.

    You have local stops because it will help reduce the crowding at transit stops. According to data available (, buses on Market have fairly the same amount of use at every stop. So it is not something where some of the stops on the corridor are heavily used while others aren’t. All of them are of high use in relative to the rest of the route outside the Market Street corridor. What it says is that the current stopping distance is reasonable and appropriate. People are spread out along the corridor evenly and there’s no under-utilized stop on Market. What this does is to make the other stops more crowded, and drive down ridership because people have to walk longer. More crowded stops means longer dwell time so at the end it won’t really help improve performance. These stops would have to be extra long to handle multiple vehicles.

  • jonobate

    When you remove a bus stop, you decrease the travel time of the passenger on the bus at the expense of increasing the walking time for the people who used to use the removed stop and now have to walk further to get to or from the bus. In order for the stop removal to be worthwhile, you need to make sure the increase in passenger walking time is less than the decrease in time they spend on the bus.

    In order to decrease the average travel time for everyone, you need to minimize the number of people who have to walk further, and minimize the extra distance they have to walk. This means you should remove stops with lowest ridership (so as to impact the fewest people), and not remove two stops in a row (so as to minimize the extra walking time). The bus stops downtown are among the highest ridership stops, and for this reason should not be targeted for consolidation.

    (An example to illustrate this – let’s imagine you have a bus route that has 50 stops outside of downtown and 10 stops in downtown. During the morning commute, 1 person gets on at each of the 50 stops outside of downtown, and 5 people get off at each of the 10 stops in downtown. Removing a stop speeds up the bus by 30 seconds but increases the walk time of each person who uses that stop by 5 minutes.

    If you remove 5 of the 10 bus stops downtown, it saves each passenger an average of 1.5 minutes in bus travel time, but costs each passenger an average of 2.5 minutes in increased walking time, resulting in an average of a minute of increased travel time per passenger. Total bus run-time is reduced by 2.5 minutes.

    If you remove 25 of the 50 stops outside of downtown, it saves each passenger an average of 6.25 minutes in bus travel time, and still costs each passenger an average of 2.5 minutes in increased walking time, resulting in an average travel time decrease of 3.75 minutes per passenger. Total bus run-time is reduced by 12.5 minutes.)

    So, consolidate stops in low ridership residential areas, and leave the ones downtown with a close spacing. There’s a reason why most metro systems (including BART) have wider spacing in the suburbs and closer spacing in the city center – it just makes sense in minimizing overall passenger travel time.

    For Market St, a good compromise might be for both the curb and center lane to have stops on top of every BART/Muni Metro station, plus an additional stop in between each station, giving a stop spacing of at most a quarter mile.

  • Andy Chow

    The Market St needs a set of stop for curb and another for center, and that they cannot be aligned, and that they cannot be aligned with the BART/Muni Metro entrances.

    I can think of a A/B set of stops with this arrangement (A: Montgomery, Powell, Jones, B: Grant, Mason, Leavenworth). It is a 2 block distance about 1775 feet, about 1/3 mile.

  • I highly doubt white millennials are the sole force behind this project, but my point is that you can spend billions to glam up the area, and put up all the market rate housing you want, but the streets themselves will remain unattractive and uninviting. Let’s just see how wonderful the TTC turns out whenever it finally opens to the public.

  • Wasn’t the whole point of removing car traffic from Market St. to improve the flow of transit? Mission is a mess. SOMA in general is a mess. I know several retailers on Folsom who now say the bike lanes and crazy street navigation have turned the street into a solid mass of cars. I’ve seen it myself and agree.

    I can only imagine how much worse it will get when the city plans to add thousands of new residences and millions of sq ft of office space to an already congested area. Good luck.

  • Some cities, like Buffalo, use their bus lines to feed into the metro subway system, requiring people to transfer. SF has issues because you have dozens of bus lines converging on one street, not unlike the 5 surface rail lines linking up in one tunnel. What usually happens is congestion. Buses inch along Market St. while trains crawl through the tunnel. SF needs to think outside of Market St. for both bus and rail to remove many of these choke holds. For example, rather than running down Market St., have the 5-Fulton run down 8th St. (inbound) and 7th St. (outbound) to Folsom (inbound) and Howard (outbound) to the TTC. Same for the 7-Haight…shorter run on Market between Van Ness and 7th/8th that still allows for a Muni/BART connection.

  • pedestrianist

    There is. I wonder if they gave any mention to whether or why it wasn’t sufficient.

    The design of the loop shown above seems strange to me – Why have the F turn off Market westbound at McCallister, then turn left to go the wrong way down the 7th St extension? It would seem to be easier to turn right on 7th, then right on McCallister back to Market.

    I’m also super bummed to see this plan keeps the triangle island at McCallister and Market. Does SFMTA have plans yet for the other intersections with these islands (Hayes, Turk)? It would be great to see them removed

  • Maurice

    there is a switchback at 11th, but not a loop. It requires double ended trains, which are a small part of the F market fleet. Or requires a complex turnaround. A loop is a more sustainable part of the route.

  • City Resident

    I see benefits of both arrangements (the current and planned). For some, the F-line functions as a crosstown route – connecting Fisherman’s Wharf and the Embarcadero with Market Street out to the Castro. For such crosstown travelers, having fewer stops seems advantageous – especially since the rather frequent 6 and 7 lines will continue to serve this same stretch of Market Street with frequent stops.

  • Bernard Finucane

    A filled ghost town? What does that mean? Ans what do you have against homeless people?

  • Bruce

    Maybe turning clockwise via 7th/McAllister isn’t a large enough turning radius?

  • pedestrianist

    Because it’s a T it does allow single ended trains to turn around, though maybe SFMTA is deciding that’s too slow or challenging on Market St now.