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San Francisco’s Market Street is about to undergo dramatic changes.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors Tuesday unanimously approved the Better Market Street Project that will ban private vehicles from Market Street east of 10th Street as of January 2020.

The project, a decade in the making, aims to make Market Street more friendly and safe for the public who bike, walk and take Muni along the busy corridor, city officials said.

More than 60 people spoke out during Tuesday’s public comment period, most in favor of the car ban and extensive safety, transit and aesthetic improvements to be constructed as part of the project’s long-term plan. Applause erupted after the vote was taken.

Ching Wong/SFBay A supporter holds up a sign at a rally in support of a car-free Market Street project at City Hall in San Francisco, Calif., on Tuesday, October 15, 2019. (Ching Wong/SFBay.ca)

Prior to the vote, Director Amanda Eaken said:

“It is bold. It is transformative. It is 100 percent aligned with our city’s goals.”

Eaken said she echoes the public calls to identify and establish additional car-free areas.

Eaken said:

“Please bring us more proposals for creating car-free spaces in The City that can help prioritize walking, cycling and transit use.”

Market Street is one of The City’s busiest and, according to the High-Injury Network Map, most dangerous corridors. The thoroughfare each day accommodates approximately 72,000 Muni riders, 500,000 walkers and more than 200 Muni vehicles per hour during peak times.

Ching Wong/SFBay A bicyclist holds a sign at a rally in support of a car-free Market Street project at City Hall in San Francisco, Calif., on Tuesday, October 15, 2019. (Ching Wong/SFBay.ca)

Christina Olea, project manager for the Better Market Street Project, said while Market Street is heavily traveled by pedestrians, bicyclists and Muni riders, the street’s current state presents numerous safety and reliability challenges for all three modes of transportation.

Olea said:

“There’s no dedicated bicycle facility east 8th Street. Our infrastructure is aging and reaching the end of its useful life. Our transit stops, curb ramps and sidewalks do not meet current ADA standards and we need to improve transit reliability and travel times.”

Olea said an average of 100 injury collisions occur each year on the stretch of Market Street between Steuart Street and Octavia Boulevard. 

The project addresses many of those concerns by adding protected bike lanes, removing private vehicle traffic to speed up transit times and widening sidewalks to decrease crosswalk distances at most intersections, Olea said. 

Ching Wong/SFBay A supporter holds up a sign at a rally in support of a car-free Market Street project at City Hall in San Francisco, Calif., on Tuesday, October 15, 2019. (Ching Wong/SFBay.ca)

Market Street Muni service will be reconfigured as part of the upcoming changes. The 9-San Bruno, 9R-San Bruno, 5-Fulton, 5R-Fulton and F line will run through the center of Market Street in red Muni-only lanes while other lines will run on the curbside. Lines running through the center of the street will only stop near transit entry points. 

Hundreds rallied outside City Hall prior to the meeting in a show of support for the project. 

Rick Girling said the Better Market Street Project is the first of many steps needed to improve safety throughout The City. He also urges San Francisco tourists to use bicycles when they visit, as he and his wife do when they travel to Europe.

Girling said:

“San Francisco should become the tourist destination of cyclists in the United States.”

Charles Deffarges, senior community organizer with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, said it is due time The City prioritizes people over cars.

Deffarges said:

“Today we are looking at bold action.”

Supervisor Matt Haney, who has advocated for safer streets, spoke during the rally and recalled many horror stories where people have been hit or killed along Market Street.

Ching Wong/SFBay Supervisor Matt Haney speaks during a rally in support of a car-free Market Street project at City Hall in San Francisco, Calif., on Tuesday, October 15, 2019. (Ching Wong/SFBay.ca)

Haney said:

“The only way to achieve Vision Zero is by urgently bringing radical street safety improvements with fully protected bike lanes and high quality designs for every block and every intersection.”

Olea said the transit agency will utilize quick-build methods to make some improvements by January 2020. The first changes will include the closure of the street to private vehicle traffic, the extension of Muni-only lanes and safety zone painting. More elaborate portions of the project that require major construction will come in different phases in order to mitigate inconvenience to businesses in the area.

The project’s first phase will focus on the area between 5th to 8th streets and is expected to begin sometime in 2021 and last until 2023.

The second phase, expected to begin in 2023 and be completed by 2025, includes safety improvements between 2nd and 5th streets and construction of the F line loop to enable turnaround. 

Funding for the second phase and subsequent work, including the area between Octavia Boulevard to Van Ness Avenue, is not yet allocated. SFMTA reports a $460 million project funding gap at this time. Malcolm Heinicke, SFMTA board chair, is pushing staff to quickly identify funding sources and said there is an urgency to complete the project sooner than later.

Ching Wong/SFBay SFMTA board director Malcolm Heinicke speaks during a rally in support of a car-free Market Street project at City Hall in San Francisco, Calif., on Tuesday, October 15, 2019. (Ching Wong/SFBay.ca)

Heinicke said that for his remaining six months on the SFMTA board:

“If you come to me to with a new capital project or some new spend, I’m going to ask this question: ‘Can we spend this on Market Street instead and speed that up?’”

Heinicke also urges the project’s partner agencies to consider the same question.

Heinicke said:

“It’s time to move this along.”

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