No more private cars on Market Street

Market Street, San Francisco’s busiest pedestrian, bicycle and transit corridor, will soon be free from private vehicles, with wide protected bike lanes, larger sidewalks and sped-up transit lines from the Embarcadero to Gough Street. 

Better Market Street, the project to completely renovate what is arguably the city’s most important street, has been in the works for nearly a decade undergoing environmental review and design changes. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors Sept. 15 unanimously approved the project, estimated by the city to cost more than $600 million.

Cyclists ride down Market Street during rush hour traffic on Oct 15. (Corey Browning/Golden Gate Xpress)

“This won’t just be a better Market Street. It will be a magnificent Market Street,” SFMTA board chair Malcolm Heinicke said during the meeting.

Though construction is slated to begin in 2021, a quick-build portion of the renovation, which will include new signage and road repainting, is planned to give private vehicles the boot by early next year.  

When complete, a single lane each way will be open to commercial vehicles such as delivery trucks, buses and taxis. Ride-hail vehicles will not be allowed. The center of the street would be reserved for a Muni-only lane in either direction. Sidewalks would be extended to 10 feet wide, with additional 8-foot-wide sidewalk-level bike lanes and added room for sidewalk furniture and buffer zones. 

“This is not even at the controversy stage anymore, this is what folks want,” Heinicke said. “It’s supported because it’s going to save people’s lives.”

The Oct. 15 City Hall meeting drew over 60 public commenters in support of the project, including members of the business community and advocacy groups. Mayor London Breed also indicated her support.

“This is one of the best days of my life as a San Franciscan,” said Jodie Medeiros, executive director of Walk San Francisco, shortly after the project was approved.  

Close to 500,000 pedestrians utilize Market Street daily, along with 650 cyclists an hour during peak times, according to the Better Market Street project team. The top five intersections for crashes with injuries in the city are located on the portion of Market Street in question, and three-fourths of the accidents with injuries on Market Street involve bicycles or pedestrians, according to the team. 

Phase one of the project, which will cover between 5th and 8th streets, is scheduled to be completed by 2025. City officials did not provide an overall completion date, citing a lack of secured funding. So far, the city secured roughly $144 million to cover the first phase, the majority coming from the SFMTA’s Proposition A general obligation bond passed in 2014.  

Besides redesigning and repaving, the plan will install new water and sewer systems, traffic lights, Muni rails and power lines, as well as relocated transit stops for improved efficiency. It will add more than 200 new loading zones as well as a few one-way or two-way conversions and turn restrictions on cross streets to accommodate the closure to vehicles.

F-line streetcars will receive a new turnaround point for added flexibility, looping through McAllister Street and Charles J. Benham Place. 

Some advocates hope that in addition to making traffic safer, the renovation will improve the struggling Mid-Market area, which continues to grapple with crime, drugs and vacant storefronts despite the recently ended Twitter tax break. 

“It’s certainly an area of the city that needs revitalization,” said James Sievert, a San Francisco resident who attended the meeting in favor of the project. “If you get people out there walking, and you get pedestrian-friendly businesses, you get street furniture where people can hang out and have their lunch, all sorts of things like that. It’s just going to create this compounding positive effect.”

Heinricke and other city officials have stated they wish to give other city streets the car-free treatment as well.

“Let’s not wait to see if this will be a success,” Heinicke said. “It will be a success, and let’s start building for the future ones.”

A pilot program will be built on the south side of Market Street near Gough Street next spring to test the projects feasibility.