San Francisco Declares Market Street a Car-Free Zone
San Francisco has gone through with a plan to ban cars along Market Street, one of the busiest and most hazardous thoroughfares in the city’s bustling downtown—and has earned what a leading urban affairs newsletter calls a “remarkable level of local support” for doing so.
“The closure to private vehicle traffic heralds the start of a new era for the city’s central spine, and perhaps for San Francisco at large, as it joins cities around the world that are restricting cars from downtown centres,” CityLab reports. “Starting Wednesday, private vehicles—meaning both passenger automobiles and for-hire ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft—may no longer drive down Market, east of 10th Street. Only buses, streetcars, traditional taxis, ambulances, and freight drop-offs are still allowed.”
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It took decades of debate, culminating in a new vision articulated by local politicians and staff alike. “Market Street is the heart of San Francisco’s transportation network, and I’m incredibly excited that it is finally being returned to pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit riders,” said Mayor London Breed. “San Francisco continues to grow, and our streets need to reflect what it means to be a world-class city that prioritizes our transit-first policy, our climate action goals, and our commitment to ensuring that everyone can travel safely and reliably.”
“We need to do better than use Market as a queuing place for the Bay Bridge,” added Jeffrey Tumlin, incoming executive director of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. “Today represents the way the world is finally changing how it thinks about the role of transportation in cities.”
CityLab says the US$600-million capital construction plan behind the decision received unanimous approval from the MTA board last October. Now, “ground is set to break on construction for a protected bikeway, repaved sidewalk, fresh streetscaping, and updated streetcar infrastructure by the start of 2021.”
But “the city is kicking off this infrastructural transformation with the private car ban, with the aim to reduce crashes amid a ‘Vision Zero’ traffic safety push,” adds reporter Laura Bliss. “Market Street sees about 100 injury collisions per year; traffic fatalities spiked to 29 city-wide in 2019. Now, new signage and traffic enforcement will alert drivers of turn and parking restrictions, while bus-only lanes will be extended further east.”
“This should make our intersections run better and safer,” said Better Market Street project manager Cristina Olea, an engineer with San Francisco Public Works. “Transit will be more reliable, it’ll run smoother. There will be less friction.”
CityLab says San Francisco is also considering a congestion pricing system, after a combination of cheap gas, the local high tech boom, and the rise of ride-hailing drove up traffic flow into the city by 27% in the last decade.
“Not only is that making congestion increasingly miserable, with average travel speeds on corridors like Market Street dropping nearly 20%, it’s also foiling this famously progressive city’s efforts to meet its climate goals,” Bliss writes. “Already, greenhouse gases from transportation make up almost half of San Francisco’s overall emissions. As its population grows, leaders say the Bay Area must find ways to help more people move along the same amount of street space, and with a lower environmental impact.”
Revenues from the congestion price would be directed to transit, biking, and other car-free modes, CityLab says.