New direction for Market Street 

In a rare example of harmony in San Francisco, merchants, transit advocates and pedestrians have all expressed some degree of support for the much-ballyhooed experiment to restrict cars on Market Street that started last month.

The current situation, which took effect Sept. 29 with the backing of Mayor Gavin Newsom, forces private automobiles traveling eastbound on Market Street to make right turns at Sixth and Eighth streets off the thoroughfare.

The restrictions were implemented as a six-week test program that’s the initial phase of a prolonged effort to revitalize San Francisco’s historic main artery. They’re also a partial rollout of an oft-proposed idea to ban private automobiles altogether on Market Street.

Backers of that plan — including former Mayor Willie Brown and Supervisor Chris Daly, whose District 6 covers the area affected by traffic changes — say limiting traffic on Market Street would speed up public transit and improve safety for cyclists and pedestrians.

In the past, proposals for changes to Market Street have been met by backlash from local business groups, which remain wary of expanding the current plan.

But results from the latest automobile restrictions on the thoroughfare are also showing that the plan has a future in San Francisco, according to Jose Luis Moscovich, executive director of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, a local planning group.

“What we’ve seen so far is a much safer Market Street with a more reliable surface transit situation,” he said. “We are designing something that will not harm the vitality of Market Street, but in fact will do quite the opposite.”

Moscovich, whose group first studied automobile restrictions on Market Street last year, said the grid layout of the surrounding area makes it easy to incrementally expand the current plan.

“Obviously, there is going to be some very serious discussion about this before we talk about extending it,” he said. “But the infrastructure is there to move forward.”

The Municipal Transportation Agency, which is leading the study, hasn’t specified if or when the pilot program would be expanded. But spokesman Judson True said the early, unofficial results have been positive.

“We’ve found that our vehicles have been able to get to the boarding islands much more quickly than in the past,” he said. “And our operators have said they’ve really noticed a difference, that driving on Market Street has gotten much easier.”

Cyclists are also benefitting from the restrictions, said Andy Thornley, program director for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.

“It’s really a thrill to be on Market Street without having to worry so much about car traffic,” said Thornley, who added that feedback from cyclists also indicates that Muni is running much more efficiently. “I don’t know if there are more bicyclists out there, but anecdotally I can say that bicyclists are happier and more at peace. It’s been overwhelmingly positive for us.”

Manish Champsee, president of Walk SF — a pedestrian advocacy group — said the new rules on Market Street have made it much safer at Sixth and Market streets, one of the most dangerous intersections in San Francisco for pedestrians.

“Because of the restrictions, there hasn’t been that much traffic near Sixth Street,” he said. “As a whole, it’s made the area much less chaotic.”

Champsee and Thornley both said the program has been a success so far. Both remarked, however, that the plan could be improved with a bit more signage, especially if the parking control officers who have been patrolling the two corners daily start spending less time enforcing the new restrictions.

Business groups haven’t expressed the same kind of enthusiasm as the pedestrian and bike groups, but there hasn’t been a strong adverse reaction to the plan, according to Jim Lazarus, policy director for the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.

“We haven’t heard much reaction, one way or the other,” he said. “That’s at least an indication that merchants don’t hate the plan.”

Yet, the tenuous unity that currently exists between transit activists and business groups could be threatened if the car restrictions are expanded, which is a scenario many advocates of the current plan would like to see happen.

Champsee, for one, said he’s interested in further study on restricting cars traveling westbound on Market Street.

That setup would not please businesses north of the artery, according to Linda Mjellem, executive director of the Union Square Association.

The Union Square shopping district is above Market Street.

“So far, we haven’t had any specific complaints about the Market Street restrictions,” Mjellem said. “But tinkering with the westbound traffic would be another story. We feel like that would really be troublesome.”

Mjellem’s concerns are echoed by Carolyn Diamond, executive director of the Market Street Association.

“Right now, I’m getting some negative feedback on the plan, but it’s pretty limited, and not entirely indicative of the area as a whole,” she said. “But if people are talking about building on this thing even more, I can guarantee that there would not be a positive reaction from the retail community.”

Presidio travel realignment receives Bronx cheer

Far from the bustling activity of downtown San Francisco, another traffic experiment is being conducted in The City — and the reaction to that plan offers a stark contrast to the relative acceptance of the Market Street study.

Since Sept. 29, the Presidio has shut down portions of Presidio Boulevard and Crissy Field Avenue in anticipation of traffic detours that could go through the national park as a result of impending construction on nearby Doyle Drive.

Feedback to the Market Street private-auto restrictions was relatively positive — or, at least, accepting of the changes — but the new traffic alignment in the Presidio has drawn strong rebukes from local residents.

Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier, speaking on the behalf of her constituents, said the traffic-calming study has caused a great deal of unrest for residential drivers.

The Presidio Trust, the agency in charge of operations at the national park, is heeding the concerns of the community. Instead of running the traffic-calming study through Oct. 27, as was originally planned, the group wrapped up the pilot project a week earlier, this past Tuesday.

“We’re trying to make people’s lives easier,” said Dana Polk, spokeswoman for the Presidio Trust.

Testing a detour

Restrictions for private vehicles on Market Street were introduced Sept. 29.

  • Eastbound drivers must take right turns on Eighth and Sixth streets
  • Restrictions don’t apply to taxis, commercial vehicles or public transit

Source: Municipal Transportation Agency

Reinventing a main artery

Other Market Street improvement plans:

  • Art in storefronts
  • Additional cultural performances in public plazas
  • Additional public amenities, including outdoor seating, tables and windbreak systems

Source: San Francisco Planning Department


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Will Reisman

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