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San Francisco Gives Cars the Boot for a Better Market Street

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Imagine life on Market Street with no cars. You could play soccer, do somersaults or have a heated debate with your imaginary friend right in the middle of the road. Well, maybe not exactly…but close.

The city is about to find out just what people will do in the middle of the street without the threat of cars around. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors voted unanimously Tuesday to ban all private vehicles from Market Street beginning January 2020. And we’re not just talking about eliminating the techie Teslas, but Ubers and Lyfts are getting the boot as well. The only vehicles that will be allowed to drive down the city’s artery of a street are buses, streetcars and permitted taxis.

The bold move will serve to protect pedestrians and cyclists, speed up transit times and reinvigorate a once-booming but recently kind of depressing thoroughfare. It will take about $603.7 million and at least three planned phases to make the Better Market Street Project come to life, but the funding in this case will go toward something locals and visitors can actually see, touch, play in or otherwise experience.

Better Market Street Project rendering courtesy of San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority.

Viktoriya Wise, SFMTA acting director of sustainable streets, sees the project as a “once in a generation” kind of move. The heavy applause after the vote made it obvious the car-free move is exactly the kind of change this generation of residents and officials can get behind. Even Mayor London Breed threw support in.

The project’s price tag will allow for all sorts of goodies to make Market Street much cooler and much, much safer. The sidewalks will be widened, a streetcar loop will be constructed, bike lanes will be buffered and extended, Muni-only lanes will be established and a whole bunch of street furniture will be installed to give the street a plaza-like feel. The whole scene will be a hell of a lot more jovial when pedestrians and cyclists don’t have to worry so much about the dying that could happen at any moment on that stretch.

Market Street, where approximately 100 people are injured each year, has had an unfortunately solid place on the High-Injury Network Map as one the city’s fraction of streets that contribute the highest number of traffic-related injuries. Paul Valdez, a daily Market Street bicyclist, spoke up during public comment to say:

“I used to have a silent mantra that said ‘Market Street will be the end of me.'”

Soon, peddling or walking down Market won’t require precautionary prayer time.

Although the cars will be gone in January, construction related to the project will be phased out in order to make things a little less obnoxious for businesses — the few that still exist — in the area. Phase 1 will tackle Market Street from 5th to 8th streets, Phase 2 will be focused between 5th to 2nd streets and Phase 3 will finally handle the area between Van Ness Avenue and Octavia Boulevard. Additional work will be performed in the Financial District to accommodate the F-Market & Wharves streetcar.

At this point, it looks as though work could extend well past 2023, but SFMTA Board Chair Malcolm Heinicke is committed to pushing for a faster timeline.

So, you’d better get to practicing those somersaults.

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Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Journalist, editor, student, single mom to a pack of wolves, foodie, music lover, resident smart ass, and champion of vulgarity and human kindness.