In a city known for stunning vistas, San Francisco’s Market Street offers a notoriously ugly tangle of traffic. Cars and delivery trucks vie with bikes and pedestrians along this downtown corridor, as buses and a historic streetcar clatter through the mix. Dedicated lanes for transit and bikes end abruptly several blocks from the street’s terminus at the edge of the San Francisco Bay.
But the vehicular frenzy is ending, in part: 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. 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 centers.
“We need to do better than use Market as a queuing place for the Bay Bridge,” said Jeffrey Tumlin, the newly arrived 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.”
After decades of debate, the vision for a car-free Market Street has arrived at a remarkable level of support among activists, politicians, planners, and businesses. (Especially compared to the rancor and legal challenges that greeted New York City’s long-delayed effort to create a car-free busway along 14th Street in Manhattan.) In October, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s board of directors voted unanimously in support of a $600 million “Better Market Street” capital construction plan. Ground is set to break on construction for a protected bikeway, repaved sidewalk, fresh streetscaping, and updated streetcar infrastructure by the start of 2021.
“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,” San Francisco Mayor London Breed said in a statement. “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.”
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. Market Street sees about 100 injury collisions per year; traffic fatalities spiked to 29 citywide 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.
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