Market Street In San Francisco Goes Car Free

Lime workers, including this one pictured, gather at San Francisco's Embarcadero Plaza to celebrate the closure of lower Market Street to private vehicles on January 29, 2020. Photo: Henry Pan

Lime workers, including this one pictured, gather at San Francisco’s Embarcadero Plaza to celebrate the closure of lower Market Street to private vehicles on January 29, 2020. Photo: Henry Pan

In January, San Francisco closed a near 2-mile stretch of Market Street to cars while I was in town recently. I wasn’t expecting it. I already finalized my plans to visit family for the Lunar New Year when I learned that San Francisco would be closing lower Market Street to cars while I was visiting. Imagine my excitement!

To be clear, the City has already taken steps to make it harder for people to drive on Market Street. In 2015, the City banned cars from making turns onto a 7/8-mile stretch of Market. This new ban, which also includes those who are driving while on the Uber or Lyft platform, was just icing on the cake.

A member of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition shows their excitement for the closure of lower Market Street in San Francisco to private automobiles at a press conference at Embarcadero Plaza on January 29, 2020. Photo: Henry Pan

A member of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition shows their excitement for the closure of lower Market Street in San Francisco to private automobiles at a press conference at Embarcadero Plaza on January 29, 2020. Photo: Henry Pan

 

Paul Valdez (L), greets an unidentified person on their bicycle in commemoration of lower Market Street in San Francisco being closed to private automobiles at Embarcadero Plaza on January 29, 2020. Photo: Henry Pan

Paul Valdez (L), greets an unidentified person on their bicycle in commemoration of lower Market Street in San Francisco being closed to private automobiles at Embarcadero Plaza on January 29, 2020. Photo: Henry Pan

I rode a Bay Wheels bike with a friend to and from the press conference that morning. Granted, it wasn’t during rush hour. But I felt much more at ease because there hardly was a private vehicle in sight.

The closure is showing results. One month in, transit routes on the corridor are also running faster and more reliably. Chris Arvin, a San Francisco-based computer programmer, data analyst, and graphic designer, reported to the San Francisco Examiner that, leaving Downtown, transit trips operating within a 1.3-mile stretch of Market Street in under 15 minutes 60% of time, compared to 50% before the full ban went into effect. Heading into Downtown, trips are operating in the 1.3-mile stretch in under 15 minutes 56% of the time, compared to 41% before the changes happened.

After the press conference, people on bicycles depart Embarcadero Plaza on a ride to celebrate the closure of lower Market Street to private automobiles. Photo: Henry Pan

After the press conference, people on bicycles depart Embarcadero Plaza on a ride to celebrate the closure of lower Market Street to private automobiles. Photo: Henry Pan

Meanwhile, congestion to parallel arterials immediately to its southeast hardly changed. Inrix, a data analytics company, reported that on the three arterial streets immediately to the southeast, traffic speeds decreased by as much as 0.6 mph, increased by as much as 0.7 mph, or stayed the same. (There are no arterials parallel to Market Street to the northwest, since the street grid rotates at a 45-degree angle.)

A KTVU news crew interviews a San Francisco Muni operator on their thoughts about the closure of lower Market Street in San Francisco to cars on January 29, 2020. Photo: Henry Pan

A KTVU news crew interviews a San Francisco Muni operator on their thoughts about the closure of lower Market Street in San Francisco to cars on January 29, 2020. Photo: Henry Pan

In the coming months, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the agency that oversees all modes of mobility in the City, will cement those changes. The existing transit and taxi lane will be converted into a transit-only lane and extended the length of Market Street. Plus, the city will break ground on rebuilding three blocks of Market Street between Downtown and Civic Center in the coming years.

With the closure of Market Street to cars, San Francisco joins New York and Toronto, cities which have already closed their major thoroughfares to private automobiles in order to make transit faster and more reliable. Which begs the question: could it happen here in the Twin Cities? If so, where?

Despite private automobiles being removed from the picture, some stretches of Market Street remain a cacophony of buses, taxis, and delivery vehicles, all of which remain allowed on Market Street. Photo: Henry Pan.

Despite private automobiles being removed from the picture, some stretches of Market Street remain a cacophony of buses, taxis, and delivery vehicles, all of which remain allowed on Market Street. Photo: Henry Pan.

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3 Responses to Market Street In San Francisco Goes Car Free

  1. Dave Carlson March 25, 2020 at 10:07 am #

    “Which begs the question: could it happen here in the Twin Cities? If so, where?”

    Hmm, I am rather sure the “Twin Cities-based writer” and streets.mn might know about this:

    “Nicollet Mall is known as the first transit mall in the United States, and it inspired the creation of transit malls in other cities, including Portland, Oregon and Denver, Colorado.”
    “The project began construction in 1967 and complete on November 1967 at a cost of $3.875 million. The mall was originally an eight block, 3,200 feet, stretch of Nicollet Avenue that was converted into a curving, tree-lined mall closed to automobile traffic, with an 80-foot right-of-way.” [Wikipedia]

    I’ve heard talk that 4th Street in St. Paul is being considered for such a design.

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