Remaking Market Street

Pub date September 23, 2009

GREEN CITY Market Street is a mess that doesn’t work well for any of its users. In famously fractious San Francisco, that’s something politicians and citizens of all political stripes can agree on — and it’s now something that a wide variety of city agencies and interest groups have finally started to work on improving, experiment by experiment.

Mayor Gavin Newsom’s Sept. 10 announcement of a series of pilot projects on Market Street — including a plan to divert many automobiles from Market Street that begins Sept. 29, followed by creation of more sidewalk seating areas and art projects in the coming months — drew from work started a year ago by his arch-rival, Sup. Chris Daly, who in turn was furthering plans for an eventually carfree Market Street initiated by former Mayor Willie Brown.

"I’m glad that it’s going to get done and we’re going to take cars off of Market Street," Daly told the Guardian after Newsom’s announcement. Newsom presented the changes in grander terms, saying in a prepared statement, "The new and improved Market Street will rival main streets around the world."

Among the streets Newsom cited as an example is Broadway in New York City, "for piloting ways to use streets as open space," according to the Mayor’s Office statement. But while many San Franciscans like Broadway’s new separated bike lanes and street-level open space, others covet Broadway’s flashy electronic signs and billboards, which this November’s Proposition D would bring to the mid-Market area.

"The next thing is going to happen whether Prop. D passes or not," said David Addington, the Warfield Theater owner who proposed the measure to allow more commercial signage on Market between Fifth and Seventh streets as a source of revenue to improve mid-Market. "This area could be fantastic."

Indeed, it appears that Market Street is bound for some big changes. And unlike efforts in the past, which involved long studies of ideas that were never implemented, there’s a sense of experimentation and immediacy that marks the latest push.

"I’m very excited about the Market Street changes and I think it’s good for San Francisco to be in a mode where we give ourselves permission to experiment with our streets," said Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, which is supporting Prop. D and Newsom’s Market plans.

"I really appreciative that the city is willing to start things in Market Street in trial phases so we can wade in," said Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. "Reducing the number of cars on Market Street will definitely be a benefit for those walking and biking, as well as speeding up transit."

Plans call for signs encouraging eastbound motorists on Market to turn right at 10th Street before requiring them to do so at Eighth Street and again at Sixth Street.

The San Francisco Transportation Authority (governed by the Board of Supervisors), which prepared the study on diverting cars from Market Street, was also poised to approve (on Sept. 22, after Guardian press time) some complementary measures to "calm the safety zone" on Market Street.

That plan is to create better markings on the street to delineate the spaces used by motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists, including colored pavement and moving back the points where cars stop at intersections to create safer access to transit stops.

Once the court injunction against bike projects is lifted — for which a hearing is set Nov. 2 — the plan would also create colored "bike boxes" at Market intersections and a buffer zone between the bike lanes and cars between Eighth Street and Van Ness. "It would be the city’s first separated bike lane, with very little work," Shahum said.

The Mayor’s Office says various city agencies will monitor and evaluate the Market Street pilot projects being implemented over the next year, with full implementation of a designed Market Street coming in 2013 after taking community input.

"We’re excited about it. There’s a long history of ideas about what to do about Market," said Judson True, spokesperson for the Municipal Transportation Agency, which is guiding the improvements. "This is the start of the next phase on Market Street."