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SFMTA Backs Turning Restrictions on Market

 In Public Policy, Success Stories, Transit, Vision Zero

Wednesday, June 17 – Beyond Chron, Randy Shaw

The San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency (SFMTA) voted yesterday to expand car restrictions and transit-only lanes on the “Mid-Market” stretch of Market Street between 3rd and 8th Streets. The vote was unanimous.

Tremendous credit goes to the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and Walk SF for this victory. The vote continues the remarkable progress Mid-Market has made since Twitter moved to the area, addressing the missing piece of the Mid-Market puzzle: increased bicycling and pedestrian safety.

A Long Struggle

Transforming Mid-Market was always a multi-pronged challenge.

Its vacant and under-utilized buildings had to be renovated and reoccupied. Ground floor retail businesses had to attract more customers. Its public drug dealing and problem street behavior had to be reduced. And as the linchpin to all of the above, the street had to become more pedestrian and bicycle friendly.

Market Street’s traffic snarls are nothing new. As I write in my new book on San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, Market Street became choked with traffic soon after the Bay Bridge was completed in 1936. The street was not properly designed for auto traffic. Frustrated drivers have contributed to Market Street’s unfriendliness to pedestrians and the public’s reluctance to patronize outdoor cafes and restaurants on what should be a corridor filled with both.

Better Market Street

On April 29, 2011, Mayor Lee announced the first series of community workshops to create a Better Market Street plan.

second series of workshops was announced in July 2012, and the final plan was supposed to begin implementation in 2013.

But progress stalled. I described on June 17, 2013 (“Can Supes Break Better Market Street Logjam”?) how the ambitious $250 million plan had been pushed back to 2017, and that activists were pressing Supervisors to expedite the progress.

The key leadership behind this effort to jumpstart the Better Market Streets plan has come from. The Bike Coalition recognizes that the traffic mess on Market limits bike ridership to downtown, but it has also offered a broader vision of a revitalized Mid-Market where pedestrians and bicyclists no longer have to dodge cars.

In January 2014, former Supervisor David Chiu introduced a measure to restrict private cars in Mid-Market. But a month later the SFMTA Board punted on moving forward on Chiu’s plan, despite its majority support on the Board of Supervisors. I questioned whether SFMTA was up to the task of improving bicycling and pedestrian safety citywide, and urged activists to push a ballot measure to create a Department of Pedestrian Safety.

Since early 2014, Walk SF has joined with supervisors and neighborhood activists in pushing Vision Zero, a strategy to end pedestrian fatalities from cars. The addition of Vision Zero to the SF Bike Coalition’s arguments appears to have finally carried the day, with the SFMTA now having the chance to reverse its past lack of support for restricting car traffic in Mid-Market.

Uber Opposition

In an act of extreme political foolishness, the private car service Uber opposed the car restriction proposal. This led Walk SF leader Nicole Ferrara to hold up her phone app for Uber at the hearing and urge people to erase it, a bold and creative move.

Prior to the hearing, the SF Bike Coalition put out a great statement on Uber, Stand up against Uber for a Truly Safer Market Street! It exposed the ride sharing company’s false statements claiming that a strategy designed to make Mid-Market safer will do the opposite. Having already gotten bad press for its variable price structure and lack of disability access, Uber should have jumped at the chance to align itself with the public interest in a better Mid-Market. Instead, it was the chief opponent.

How very short-sighted.

Uber failed to realize that a Mid-Market that attracts more patronage means more business for their drivers. For example, Mid-Market has the beautifully restored ACT Strand opening this week and the wildly popular Equator Coffee in the ground floor of the Warfield Building. Both add to Uber’s potential customer base—assuming those who care about Mid-Market still wish to patronize a business trying to hold the area back.

Vision for the Future

We all saw the possible future for Mid-Market last April during the Market Street Prototyping Festival in the area. It confirmed that people will flock to the neighborhood’s sidewalks if they offer a positive environment. Enhanced pedestrian safety and increased bicycling also makes Mid-Market sidewalks more desirable, and add to the growth of the area’s restaurants and cafes (the success of The Hall shows that outdoor restaurants in Mid-Market can succeed).

Mid-Market has seen two of its greatest historic buildings restored to house Twitter and Zendesk. The historic Wilson building at 973 Market Street has been reopened, the Renoir and Grant Building are being upgraded, and the renovation of the landmark Hibernia Bank building will be completed in September. These are only a few of the many positive developments in Mid-Market these days. The SFMTA Board has now moved Market Street toward the bicycle thoroughfare and pedestrian-friendly environment that is its rightful future.