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.
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.
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.)
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?