OUT, DAMN CARS! ‘Better Market Street’ Approved!
Advocates and politicians call it the start of car-free streets and zones throughout the city
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After eight years of planning–and more years of advocacy and pushing–the SFMTA board today approved the “Better Market Street” plan. It will ban private cars on Market (including Uber and Lyfts, but not taxis), add raised, protected bike lanes, and make San Francisco’s iconic street a more comfortable place to walk and bike from Octavia to the Embarcadero.
The vote, which was unanimous by the seven-member board, came on the heels of a rally by advocates on the steps of City Hall, not just in support of the “Better Market Street” plan, but for using it to support other car-free streets.
“Hey hey – ho ho! Cars on Market have got to go!” was the chant lead by Supervisor Matt Haney and the San Francisco’s Bicycle Coalition’s Charles Deffarges during the rally, which was attended by about 250 advocates. “Broadway will become the Market Street of New York,” joked SFMTA Board Chair Malcolm Heinicke, who also attended the rally. “Buses will be unimpeded by private cars…this will pass today.”
“We need radical street safety improvements,” added Haney. “Car-free Market will pave the way for future car-free projects.”
With Heinicke and other board members already firmly behind the plan, the consensus was that the vote was a fait accompli. But advocates from Walk San Francisco and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition weren’t taking chances. More than sixty speakers from their advocacy groups and others spoke in favor of the plan during the public comment period before the vote, although many pushed to get it built faster. Peter Straus of the San Francisco Transit Riders had some concerns about bus stop spacing and run times, but otherwise was pleased that private cars will be out of the way of transit.
“Market Street is one of our most dangerous streets for traffic crashes. One hundred people are injured on Market each year–and three of the top ten most dangerous intersections in the city are on Market. We know all too well that these intersections aren’t just dangerous, they are deadly,” said Walk San Francisco’s Jodie Medeiros. “Market Street should be San Francisco’s Main Street, yet how can it be when it’s so unsafe to walk and bike?”
“The fight to transform Market Street has been waged by our members and allies for over a decade,” said the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s Brian Wiedenmeier. “It’s a project that will dramatically improve the experience of traveling down Market Street, with safe, welcoming sidewalks, raised, protected bike lanes, and more reliable transit.”
After the public comments, Director Amanda Eaken asked if the SFMTA had thought about what would be the next step if the plan is so successful that the protected eight-foot bike lanes start to fill up. Cristina Olea, project manager with Public Works, said cyclists would be able to spread into the curb lane. Director Steve Heminger remarked that when the BART tunnels were originally constructed under Market, detailed utility maps were created, so there should be few surprises this time in digging up and replacing sewer and water lines. Olea agreed, adding that the delays of other street projects–such as Van Ness–should be avoidable.
Heminger also suggested that SamTrans, Golden Gate Transit, and other “legitimate transit operators” should be able to use the center lanes of Market Street. In the plan, the SFMTA legislation reserved the center running lanes for Muni vehicles only. However, he said he would vote ‘yes’ anyway, and declined to move for an amendment to the plan.
Heinicke wanted to know why it will take until 2025 to begin construction of the final phase. SFMTA interim Director Tom Maguire reminded him that the “quick build” vision, including banning private cars from Market Street, will be in effect by January of 2020. But the larger, $500 million-plus project, with all its utility and sewer and water replacement, still needs funding.