No Cars on Market Street

People Protected, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, Walk SF, and San Francisco Transit Riders promote the Better Market Streets plan through direct action.

Major political pressure for safer streets targets Market Street for transit and pedestrian priority.

Drivers slammed on their klaxons in the cacophony of last Wednesday afternoon’s rush hour at Montgomery and Market Street, some out of the usual frustration, while others (largely Muni drivers) honked in solidarity with protesters. These protesters weren’t just any rabble-rousers: they were assertively following the law, and they have City Hall on their side. Activists want cars off Market Street as soon as possible, and that possibility is on the horizon.

While the throng of several dozen protesters simply strode across the downtown crosswalk for the entire light cycle in yellow People Protected Bike Lane t-shirts, last week’s demonstration was in many ways a landmark moment in San Francisco transportation advocacy. The #CarsOffMarket protest was a joint effort between People Protected, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, Walk SF, and the San Francisco Transit Riders to promote the Better Market Street Plan. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) aims to complete environmental studies and start work on more rigorous designs for the plan by the end of this year. The city’s Planning Department released a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) last month. 

Currently, Market Street epitomizes the condition of most major corridors in San Francisco: the bulk of its travelers consists of 500,000 daily pedestrians and 75,000 transit riders above ground, with 200 buses traversing it every hour at peak commute times. But as part of San Francisco’s High Injury Network—where just 12% of the city’s streets see 70% of its traffic injuries and fatalities—the majority of travelers who don’t drive bear the brunt of dangerous conditions imposed by those who do.

“This is the busiest street for people walking and biking,” said People Protected organizer Matt Brezina. “75,000 people on buses are delayed every day by cars that do not belong on this street. So this is about safety, but it’s also about transit effectiveness.”

Two of the three options under consideration by the SFMTA prohibit private auto traffic for most of Market Street. The third option bars private vehicles entirely, diverting buses from Mission Street onto Market for faster service, while installing bike lanes on Mission Street as well. With Muni service in turmoil and pedestrian fatalities garnering more intense media scrutiny, activists are in no mood for compromises. Supporters insisted that the entirety of Market Street should be auto-free, and some politicians are heeding their calls.

“Overall we want Market Street to be private car-free,” said Cat Carter, Communications Manager for San Francisco Transit Riders. “There’s no reason to wait to take cars off Market if that’s the eventual plan anyway. Why would we wait and keep people delayed, and keep having crashes, when we could solve that now?”

While Carter explained that her organization had some minor concerns over new bus stop locations that may not serve transit riders in an ideal fashion, they joined the broader coalition in pushing for immediate improvements while the plan remains in its initial phases.

“Westbound between 4th and 5th Street, there are 300 cars per hour at peak commute times, versus 600 cyclists,” Carter added. “The numbers are crazy for how many people you can move when cars are off the street.”

District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney attended the protest briefly, donning the yellow t-shirt over his neatly ironed white shirt and tie, and said that the city could implement near-term improvements before Better Market Street was finalized.

“This is the heart of our city, so it should be the safest corridor,” Haney said. “There are short term things we can do for safety, such as removing private cars from some parts. This intersection,” he said, pointing to Market and Montgomery, “should absolutely be a pedestrian scramble,” meaning pedestrians should be able to cross diagonally while traffic is stopped in both directions. “I fully support the Better Market Street Plan, and we should implement it all the way through, not just focusing on one part of it.”

Haney also noted a recently-installed pedestrian scramble at Golden Gate Avenue & Leavenworth Street in the Tenderloin neighborhood as an example of short-term safety improvements that could come sooner. “There’s a bunch of places on Market Street where we should do that too,” Haney said. “You could do that right now.”

“We know this is the most dangerous street in the city, and that’s why we want to remove private vehicles,” said Jodie Medeiros, Executive Director of Walk San Francisco.

To that end, activists also circulated postcard-sized petitions calling on Department of Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru to implement safety measures along those lines.

“[Public Works] could begin implementing things right away that could make this a pleasant Market Street, and there isn’t any reason to wait,” said bike advocate Andy Thornley, holding a clipboard full of petitions. “Making Market Street a place where a human being can cross on foot and not run for dear life is critical.”

Christina Rubke, who sits on the SFMTA Board of Directors, was the lone attendee at the rally to arrive in a wheelchair, indicative of the Americans with Disabilities Act compliance upgrades that further necessitate the Better Market Street Plan.

“I look forward to a safer Market Street as soon as possible,” Rubke said. The policies she would support, Rubke added, were: “Whatever we need to do to make it safer today.”

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