Market Street: Been down this road before

As The City’s signature thoroughfare, no San Francisco artery reflects our colorful history, idealistic dreams and, yes, our long-standing problems any sharper than Market Street.

The three-mile tangle of transit, bicycles, autos and pedestrians between Castro and the Embarcadero has been the target of urban planners for more than a century.

For decades, public transit dominated. Streetcars rumbled down Market Street four-across in the 1940s. Construction of BART and then Muni subways upturned much of the boulevard throughout the ’70s and early ’80s.

Meanwhile, private automobiles that once dominated the streetscape have been weaned from the clogged roadway, steadily giving ground to the two-wheeled, self-powered revolution that has more recently reshaped The City.

Once again, San Francisco is embarking on a years-long planning process — this time called Better Market Street — to re-engineer its main drag from Octavia to the waterfront. By 2016, The City expects to begin work on yet another major re-do of Market Street.

And just about everything is up for discussion.

Total ban on private cars? On the table. Dedicated bike lanes? We should hope so. Stronger focus on surface transit? Time will tell.

So far, the public appears vocal and engaged with the planning process. KALW reports the most recent public planning session was standing room only, with major stakeholders — bicyclists, pedestrians, transit advocates — all chiming in.

Director of Transportation for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Ed Reiskin told KALW it’s time to look forward, not back:

“It’s not just infrastructure. It’s not just design. It’s economic development. It’s economic vitality. So I think there’s more to it than just how we lay out the streets and how we paint the lines.”

Portions of the estimated $250 million project have already been paid for. Funds are already set aside for street resurfacing, sure to be a part of any new plan.

But exactly what surface to lay down — and in what proportion — remains to be seen. The challenge with Market Street has always been finding the proper balance.

One can hope previous mistakes won’t be repeated. Market Street’s brick sidewalks, stone curbs and fancily-textured and bordered crosswalks look sharp yet present extra expense every time road or sidewalk construction is required.

The date for the next public advisory meeting has not yet been set, but is expected to take place in the fall.