Better Market Street Open House

Bikes, transit, public spaces--city readies for giant Market Street makeover

A rendering of how trees, furniture and the bike lane will be arranged under the Better Market Street plan. Image: BettermarketstreetSF
A rendering of how trees, furniture and the bike lane will be arranged under the Better Market Street plan. Image: BettermarketstreetSF

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There was a time when there were four tracks down the center of Market Street, with streetcars, horse carts, bicycles, and pedestrians all vying for space on the wide boulevard, said Simon Bertrang, Project Manager at San Francisco Public Works. He was giving a presentation about San Francisco’s Better Market Street plan Saturday at the UC Hastings School of Law. On Market Street, one could hear the “‘roar of the four’ streetcar lines.”

A look at Market Street of old, with four streetcar tracks. Photo: SF Public Works
A look at Market Street of old, with four streetcar tracks. Photo: SF Public Works

“But then after the war, it was turned into a street for automobiles,” he added. Bertrang provided this background for the 65-some people who came to learn about San Francisco’s plans for the biggest makeover of its iconic main boulevard in four decades.

The last time Market Street saw such change was when BART opened. “The vision was for the transportation to be underground… and sidewalks were dramatically widened in the 1970s, which is when the red-brick sidewalk and granite curbs went in,” said Bertrang.

IMG_20180310_103945
Simon Bertrang talked about the history of Market Street–and the city’s plan for its future–at the first of two open houses. All photos Streetsblog/Rudick unless noted

In the 1980s, Muni started running underground as well, but then investment stopped–even as the needs of San Francisco continued to evolve. Today, one in ten Muni riders passes through a Market Street stop, and there are hundreds of thousands of pedestrians and thousands of bikes.

There are also big problems.

“There are safety challenges. Transit stops are not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and infrastructure is aging,” said Bertrang. “Better Market Street will deliver transformative transportation, streetscape, and safety improvements along 2.2 miles of Market Street between Octavia Boulevard and the Embarcadero.”

One of the biggest changes coming is the creation of a sidewalk-level protected bike lane. “We want to create a safe walking space, so there will be a buffer–an area for furniture, benches–with a detectable walking strip where there isn’t a physical obstruction,” he said. The plan will try to clearly and definitively define the walking space and bike space to avoid conflicts (see lead rendering and cross-section below).

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

And, as reported previously, private cars will be banned–the road space will be reserved for transit, para-transit, commercial vehicles and taxis. Overhead wires will be replaced and bus stops will be re-arranged.

After Bertrang’s presentation, the audience went to different information stations, each with maps and renderings, with staff from the relevant city agencies to explain bike design, transit changes, loading, safety, urban design, and enhancement of public life on the street.

Room at boards
People lined up at the different information stations

Loading will also be profoundly different in the new design.

The city will create loading zones, also at sidewalk level. Trucks and paratransit vehicles will mount the curb, cross completely over the bike lane, and then load in a designated area to the right of the bike space. The sidewalk and bike lane will bulb out a bit to make extra space for cyclists to get around the loading area. These areas will have a rolled curb; the loading zones on Market Street won’t get the usual 90-degree curb seen in most American cities. That will permit cars and trucks to slowly get up to sidewalk level and reach the loading zone, which will be designed to “make it clear that the area is for loading,” said Ophelia Lau, a street and highways engineer with SF Public Works, who tended one of the information stations at the open house. “Trees and the path of gold lights will delineate the bike area.”

Another big change: the red brick is going. Lawrence Cuevas with SF Public Works explained that the bricks have a bumpiness to them that causes problems for the disabled. Instead, they will be replaced with smoother pavers or another material.

Attendees mostly had praise for the designs (nobody Streetsblog spoke with was openly opposed to any of the elements). But a few people had concerns. “Is the bike lane really going to be wide enough?” asked Brad Williford, one of the attendees. He also wanted to see things installed more quickly. “How can we get change today?” he asked, concerned about the high crash rate on Market Street. “We shouldn’t allow injuries to continue for another decade.”

IMG_20180310_111037
Brad Williford checking out the schematics of Better Market Street

“I’m here to counter people who don’t like change,” said Jean Kao, a longtime SF Bicycle Coalition member and volunteer. “I’d hate to see it watered down…and I want to see these changes before I die!”

SFBC
SFBC’s Jean Kao.

The first shovels won’t start turning for phase 1 until the summer of 2020, and that’s just for the section between 6th and 8th streets. Ultimately, the whole project will cost around $500 million, because it involves replacing and updating all the utilities and infrastructure above and below the street. Bertrang said the strategy is to get the legally required environmental documents completed so the agency can start looking at interim steps, such as more paint and safe hit posts and, maybe, even a pilot section of sidewalk-level bike lane. “We want to see what we can do immediately, but [environmental] clearance is the key.”

Want to get involved? Give your input online or attend the next Better Market Street meeting, Wednesday, March 14, 6-8 p.m., UC Hastings School of Law, Louis B. Mayer Lounge, 198 McAllister Street, S.F.

  • mx

    What is the justification for allowing taxis? Where else do we allow you to break generally applicable traffic laws if you can afford to pay a driver?

  • How about “Is the bike lane really going to be used by cyclists?”

    Market St. is a dump. You can spend $500M on upgrades but it will still be a toilet with homeless urinating/crapping, junkies shooting up, crazy people screaming at the top of their lungs, etc. Just hang out near Union Square or down at Montgomery/Market after 6pm…and those are more high traffic areas. Then toss in the fact that it’s a wind tunnel most of the year. Look at the permanent bend in the trees as evidence. Or the picture in the article…see any trees? I do see 5 streetcars backed up so transit wasn’t that great back then either.

  • HayBro

    “Is the bike lane really going to be used by cyclists?”

    It already is. Even with its nearly complete lack of bikeway past 8th Street, thousands of people a day take their bike down the street and weave in and out of buses and taxis. It’s a flat route that connects a lot of neighborhoods and good bikeways to downtown. If it had a comfortable separated bikeway the whole way, I bet the numbers would double almost overnight.

  • Cynara2

    These people are planning to have delivery trucks park on the sidewalk. And pedestrians are supposed to cross the bike lane to get to the bus stop. No chance the cyclists will stop and let them. And they have to cross two bike lanes to get across the street. Again, no chance the cyclists will let them.
    Why do they pretend they care about pedestrian safety? They are just making sidewalks into parking lots and crosswalks into war zones.
    And, of course, if the cyclist does not want to stop for a red light, they will fly up on the sidewalk. Or if they want to make a left turn? Onto the sidewalk.

  • Not by all. As a pedestrian I see egregious violations by cyclists all the time whether it’s blowing through red lights and cutting off people crossing the street, flying by on sidewalks, riding against traffic, etc. This isn’t Europe or Asia where people abide by the laws and ride with courtesy to all others.

  • HayBro

    People ride on the sidewalk less when there is a safe and comfortable bikeway in place. When that is provided the length of Market, there will be people cycling in the bikeway and riding more safely. Riding with traffic can be very stressful and result in people riding very aggressively or onto the sidewalks, and this plan would help reduce that.

  • Stuart

    I would imagine that like other carve-outs for taxis (like the official SFMTA policy about not ticketing them for stopping in bike lanes) a core justification is the use of taxis as part of Paratransit.

    It’s unfortunate that we don’t have a better seem to have a better system for making allowances for Paratransit than throwing up our hands and treating every taxi ride like a Paratransit trip.

  • Stuart

    What does this have to do with wether or not there should be bike lanes?

    > As a pedestrian I see egregious violations by cyclists all the time

    And as both a pedestrian and a cyclist I see egregious violations by drivers all the time. Failing to yield to pedestrians at crosswalks. Speeding in urban areas with significant pedestrian traffic. Rolling through red lights to make right turns instead of stopping. Things that regularly result in pedestrian deaths.

    So if your argument is that we shouldn’t provide infrastructure for a modality if a significant fraction of people using that modality break the law… well, let’s give it a try, and see who is more dependent on extensive public infrastructure: drivers, or cyclists. I suspect this popular argument from the anti-cyclists folks would evaporate pretty quickly once was applied to everyone.

  • Cynara2

    Sorry, but in Fairfax more cops are needed to patrol for pedestrian safety on the street with the fancy bike lanes than any other. They do not want to stop at Stop signs. They do not want to stop for pedestrians. It is getting better (hopefully) because they finally are starting to get that the entire community very much objects to it. No, they still use the sidewalk for a turning lane. Or to take their phonecalls. Or get around stop signs.
    It is an irresponsible attitude and has nothing to do with safety.

  • Cynara2

    That is simply impossible. If cars were doing what bikes are, blood would be running in the streets. Have you ever seen the videos by brakeless fixie riders who bomb down Powell Street? They do not care if they kill someone. And they have tens of thousands of followers. No motorists have a sport like that.

  • Stuart

    No motorists have a sport like that.

    https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Man-killed-in-hit-and-run-in-Oakland-12403719.php
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Street_racing

    From the latter:

    There is a strong racing culture in California […] In some cases, this popularity has led to tough anti-street racing laws which give more strict punishments (including misdemeanors for attending race events) than normal traffic citations and also often involve dedicated anti-racing task forces.

    So in fact there are motorists with a sport that involves doing incredibly reckless things on public streets. And it has sufficient popularity that special laws have been passed about it, and special police task forces set up. And it killed a pedestrian right here in the bay just a few months ago.

    As always, you generalize about all cyclists by the actions of the most reckless minorities, and about all motorists by the actions of the most law-abiding minorities, and ignore any facts which don’t fit that bizarre narrative. Your passion for pedestrian safety is commendable. Your steadfast refusal to acknowledge that drivers kill and severely injure pedestrians on a regular basis is not.

  • mx

    I think virtually everyone would be fine with an exception for taxis providing door-to-door service for paratransit riders to/from locations on Market St. That’s an enforcement nightmare, but so is every other regulation related to taxis in this city, and nobody bothers to enforce those either.

    Beyond a limited number of paratransit trips, there’s no real justification for allowing taxis and not Uber/Lyft drivers (indeed, at least those services offer Pool/Line which result in fewer cars on the road than taxis), as both serve the same purpose in our transportation network. It amounts to pay-to-play for public streets.

  • Cynara2

    Just because cyclists apparently want to avoid responsibility does not mean I have to go along with you. Pointing a finger at drivers does nothing to absolve cyclists of their extremely poor attitude and treatment of pedestrians. In fact, it is a way of avoiding the issue. I simply do not fear motorists where I live. I have had horrible experiences with cyclists. Those are just the facts. Sorry if you don’t like it. But, as long as you keep pretending that motorists treat peds as badly as cyclists do and as if it would make it okay, even if they did, you continue to refuse to be responsible towards pedestrians.
    And no, most motorists are not using public streets and sidewalks for sports. They are not Strava racing at all, let alone on sidewalks, which cyclists are. They are not filming themselves bombing public streets through crosswalks and on sidewalks, without brakes and they do not have tens of thousands of followers on youtube.
    Continuing to refuse to take any responsibility for poor treatment of peds, which you seem to think errant motorists absolve you of, will only perpetuate the problem. Your personal attacks on pedestrians who object to callous, rough treatment only makes you look like callous, rough people.
    Explain to me why cyclists fight against responsible behaviour towards peds, please.
    You are only creating less trust.

  • Stuart

    Pointing a finger at drivers does nothing to absolve cyclists of their extremely poor attitude and treatment of pedestrians.

    I never said that cyclists don’t have a responsibility to treat pedestrians with respect, or anything even remotely along those lines. I was simply pointing out that withholding infrastructure from an entire modality based on the bad behavior of some people makes no sense.

    I think we should have infrastructure for both cars and bikes. I think both drivers and cyclists should follow laws and be respectful of others on the road. I also think the infrastructure decisions we make as a society should be based on principles of promoting good outcomes (like making more people feel safe using a cheap and healthy option for transportation if they want to) and minimizing bad (especially deadly) interactions, not based on one group demonizing a group they don’t belong to and applying a standard to that group that they would not want imposed on themselves.

    I simply do not fear motorists where I live.

    That’s great! I would love to see a society where everyone can say that.

    I have had horrible experiences with cyclists.

    I’m sorry to hear that. I would love to see a society where nobody would say that.

    Those are just the facts.

    I have no doubt that those are the facts of your personal experience. I happen to have had very different experiences: I’ve had no serious problems with cyclists (I’ve seen plenty of them do stupid and illegal things, but never in a way that was a danger to me or anyone around me), whereas I, and everyone in my immediate family, has has multiple experiences where we have narrowly avoided by hit by cars while walking in a crosswalk, with the light, in broad daylight. I know several people who have been hospitalized by drivers, and none that have been seriously injured by cyclists.

    This is why personal anecdotes are a terrible way to make policy decisions. Your experience and mine are completely different. Aggregate data that covers everyone is a much more useful tool.

    Sorry if you don’t like it.

    The only part I have a problem with is where you extrapolate your experience to state things as absurd universal truths (like claiming that drivers aren’t a threat to pedestrians), or demand that public policy be decided by your anecdotes rather than data.

    But, as long as you keep pretending that motorists treat peds as badly as cyclists do

    “treat as badly” is vague and subjective. What matters most to me, personally, is people’s safety, and I would never claim that in terms of safety outcomes motorists treat pedestrian as badly as cyclists. The data is crystal clear that drivers kill and seriously injure pedestrians at 10-100x the rate of cyclists even after adjusting for mode share. It’s not even close.

    and as if it would make it okay, even if they did

    Again, your inability to distinguish between the very different statements “bad behavior by cyclists is okay” and “refusing to build infrastructure for cyclists because some cyclists behave badly makes no sense, and is completely inconsistent with how we treat everyone else” makes having any kind of reasonable discussion impossible.

    And no, most motorists are not using public streets and sidewalks for sports.

    You say that like you’re responding to a claim I made. What I actually said was that your claim that “no motorists” make a sport of recklessly racing on public streets is demonstrably false. It’s a tiny minority of drivers, just like the idiots whose videos you keep bringing up are a tiny minority of cyclists.

    Most drivers and most cyclists are just people trying to get from point A to point B.

    They are not filming themselves bombing public streets through crosswalks and on sidewalks, without brakes and they do not have tens of thousands of followers on youtube.

    It’s trivial to find videos on YouTube of people filming illegal street races in urban environments (with plenty of crosswalks), for channels with tens to hundreds of thousands of subscribers. Some of the channels post videos of high-speed chases between street racers and the police, which are incredibly dangerous for everyone around them.

    Your belief that reckless street racing is dramatically more common among cyclists than drivers, or that the YouTube videos you found are evidence that it is, has nothing to do with reality and everything to do with confirmation bias.

    Continuing to refuse to take any responsibility for poor treatment of peds

    I treat pedestrians very well when I bike. (Even the obnoxious minority of them who think nothing of stepping off the curb in front of me to cross against the light as soon as there are no cars coming.) Not surprising, since I’m mostly a pedestrian myself.

    But that’s not what this is about. This is about you believing that because I ride a bike sometimes I have a responsibility for other people’s poor behavior if they happen to be on a bike too. Guess what: no matter how much I dislike obnoxious cyclists, I have no magical power over them, and I share no more of the blame for their bad behavior than I do for bad drivers or bad pedestrians.

    Now I like to hope I have some positive influence on other cyclists immediately around me by following traffic laws myself. And as a member of both WalkSF and SFBC I’ve had discussions with the leadership of both groups about what could be done during complete-streets redesigns to reduce pedestrian/cyclists conflicts. But that’s not because I’m responsible for other people’s bad behavior. It’s just because I’m interested in making streets safer for everyone.

    which you seem to think errant motorists absolve you of

    I don’t have any behaviors I need to absolve myself of. I’m just tired of people arguing that my commute to work shouldn’t be made safer because other people break the law, or that public policy should be decided by sweeping generalizations made on the basis of in-group/out-group bias.

    Your personal attacks on pedestrians who object to callous, rough treatment

    Citation needed.

    only makes you look like callous, rough people.

    And there it is again. “People”.

    If you ever figure out that people who happen to ride bikes for some of their transportation are individual people with individual opinions and behaviors, rather than a hive mind of people who are all responsible for everything anyone else on a bike says or does, you’ll probably get blocked a lot less.

  • Cynara2

    As I said, if every time a pedestrian talks about the unsafe and illegal behaviour of cyclists towards us, the cyclists go on and on about cars, it is just reinforcing the idea that they a) blame their behaviour on cars and are not taking responsibility b) dismiss the experiences of MANY pedestrians with cyclists c) have no intention of changing it d) accuse pedestrians of being out to get cyclists.
    NOTHING WILL CHANGE WITH THIS ATTITUDE. Ever. There is no conversation. There is only cyclists trying to win an argument. Nobody cares about winning an argument with you. I want to cross the street without cyclists constantly going through an occupied crosswalk. Pretending that cyclists even know that they have a responsibility to safeguard pedestrians is of no use. Your entire post refuses to acknowledge any responsibility for cyclists behaviour towards pedestrians. This dismissal eventually results in the community turning against cyclists. You could crack the DMV book and look at the rules and follow them, but instead you accuse me of “demonizing” the poor victim cyclists. There is no way anyone rational is going to believe that you are victims of pedestrians simply because we object to the poor treatment. And you will find out, eventually, the entire community objects to the poor treatment.

  • Stuart

    As I said, if every time a pedestrian talks about the unsafe and illegal behaviour of cyclists towards us, the cyclists go on and on about cars, it is just reinforcing the idea that they […] dismiss the experiences of MANY pedestrians with cyclists

    Cyclists who show up to conversations that are fundamentally about bad cyclist behavior (as opposed to, say, this comment thread, which is fundamentally about whether there should be a bike lane on Market) to talk about cars are not helping anyone, I completely agree.

    The fact that you understand that, but don’t understand why you get poor reactions when you show up to articles about drivers injuring or killing pedestrians or cyclists just to rail against cyclists, is bizarre. Try reading what you wrote, and then reading this edited version:

    If every time [StreetsBlog] talks about the unsafe and illegal behaviour of [drivers] towards [pedestrians or cyclists], [Cynara2] go[es] on and on about [cyclists], it is just reinforcing the idea that they […] dismiss the experiences of MANY [pedestrians and cyclists] with [drivers]

    Maybe that’ll help you figure out why you’re not getting useful conversations from many of your comments.

    I want to cross the street without cyclists constantly going through an occupied crosswalk.

    I want that too. But I don’t think that refusing to build bike lanes is a reasonable way to try to get that outcome. And that’s what this thread was about.

    Your entire post refuses to acknowledge any responsibility for cyclists behaviour towards pedestrians.

    If you read what I actually wrote, instead of what you pre-decided I must think because I’m an Evil Cyclist, you’d find that’s not even remotely true.

    You could crack the DMV book and look at the rules and follow them, but instead

    See? What I said was “I like to hope I have some positive influence on other cyclists immediately around me by following traffic laws myself.” But you are so sure that I must conform to your idea of what a cyclist is like that you can’t even conceive of the possibility that I know and follow traffic laws. You are pretending you’re replying to me, but you’re actually replying to a straw man you’ve constructed in your mind.

    To quote a comment I read recently: “NOTHING WILL CHANGE WITH THIS ATTITUDE. Ever. There is no conversation.”

  • The addition of a bike lane won’t change the behavior of cyclists who don’t abide by the law.

  • HayBro

    That’s your opinion. In reality, people are less likely to ride on a sidewalk if there is safe space for them on the street.

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