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Three years into a car-free Market Street, a reflection as construction begins

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It can be easy to forget that three years ago, we celebrated a defining win for safe streets.

On January 29, 2020, private cars were banned from over two miles of Market Street. This decades-long dream became a reality with the advocacy of so many – and our city’s ‘main street’ started to transform into a place that prioritizes people walking, biking, and taking transit.

With the pandemic starting soon after and downtown emptying out, the fanfare around a car-free Market Street faded. Then there were other big things to focus on. Since car-free Market Street happened, Walk SF and others have pushed successfully for things we couldn’t have imagined at the time: the JFK Promenade, miles of Slow Streets, and car-free space through the Great Highway pilot.

We wanted to circle back in on car-free Market Street for two reasons.

First, after delays due to the pandemic, construction on Phase 1 of the Better Market Street project begins this month through 2024. This will kickstart many key safety improvements on one of the busiest sections along 5th through 8th Streets.

With five of the city’s top ten deadliest intersections on Market Street, we’re thrilled changes are getting started. Starting with the basics, they will repave the curb lane and intersections, including crosswalks, and improve curb ramps to be ADA compliant. Finally, we can say goodbye to those cracks and dangerous conditions in the crosswalks for wheelchairs, carts, and strollers.

Most importantly, four new bulb-outs will be installed at Sixth, Hyde, and Mason/Turk crosswalks, which will shorten the crossing distance and slow down turning drivers. There will also be improvements to Market Street’s streetscape and landscaping, including new trees, benches, and traffic signal upgrades. While this construction is underway, we have been promised that people using the sidewalks will have a clear path of travel.

Will these changes turn Market Street into the grand pedestrian promenade of our dreams? No. But safety upgrades getting underway marks an important step in making Market Street one of the safest places for walking, not the most dangerous.

Secondly, while so much work remains to make San Francisco a truly a pedestrian-first city, let’s celebrate these defining wins. When you look around the world at leading Vision Zero cities, they all have significant car-free and low-traffic spaces. San Francisco has come a long way on this front thanks to all of our advocacy.

A sign on a post that says a person died due to a crash at this intersection. A man is walking on the crosswalk in foreground as the light turns green.