Market Street Goes Car Free

The change — part of a larger, once-in-a-generation remaking of Market Street — could go into effect as soon as January 2020.

San Francisco is booting private cars off Market Street as soon as January as part of a larger remaking of the downtown backbone. 

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority approved a plan on Tuesday for a Better Market Street, which includes restricting most cars on one of the city’s busiest roads. Private vehicles will be banned from Main Street by the Embarcadero down to Van Ness Avenue, preserving the stretch for pedestrians, cyclists, Muni buses, and taxi drivers.

The change could be coming as soon as January, should it get the same “quick build” treatment as other safety improvements this year. Private cars will still be able to cross Market Street, just not drive down it.

“This truly transformational project will help create the Market Street our city deserves: one that prioritizes safety, accessibility, transit and economic vitality,” said Tom Maguire, SFMTA’s acting director of transportation. “These important changes are designed to advance the city’s Vision Zero goal of eliminating traffic deaths on one of our busiest corridors.”

Better Market Street is a $604 million project to speed up Muni, reconstruct sidewalks, and bolster bike lanes. Market Street is filled with aging streetlights, tracks, and signals. Transit stops and curb ramps are no longer match ADA standards, according to the SFMTA staff report. 

Bike lanes will be at sidewalk level with a buffer between pedestrian flow while the center, Muni-only lane will be extended from Third Street to Main Street. New tracks built at McAllister Street and Charles J. Brenham Place to allow the F-line to loop from Powell to Fisherman’s Wharf. SFMTA expects transit times to decrease 25 percent under the project.

The approval is also a significant step toward achieving Vision Zero, the city’s goal to end traffic fatalities by 2024. Market Street between Octavia and Steuart streets saw 123 injury collisions in 2018, three-quarters of which involve people walking or biking.

Several intersections will see widened sidewalks, known as bulb-outs, to reduce crossing time and increase invisibility.   Phase one, which targets Fifth to Eighth streets, would start in 2021 with marketing campaigns, support for businesses, ambassadors.

The item received an outpouring of support, from parents and cyclists to scooter companies and even Lyft. Upon its unanimous passing, several cheers and whoops rang out. 

But SFMTA Board Chair Malcolm Heinicke called for the agency to prioritize Better Market Street by moving around funding when possible to finish the project before its 2025 expected completion time.  Plus, it should not wait to get started on other car-free street proposals. 

“Have you ever seen a project of this scope with this amount of impact on the city so uniformly approve, so uniformly supported? ” Heinicke said at the meeting before the vote. “I don’t want it to end at Market Street.” 

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