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Market Street Is Now Car Free: Your Questions, Answered

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New signs on San Francisco's Market Street inform motorists of new vehicle restrictions that went into effect on Jan 29, 2020. (Carly Severn/KQED)

After months of planning, and with some fanfare, San Francisco’s Market Street finally went car free Wednesday — a large stretch of it, at least.

As part of the city’s Better Market Street initiative, private vehicles are no longer permitted to travel along the busiest stretch of Market Street, from just east of Van Ness Avenue to the Embarcadero. Muni buses and streetcars, paratransit vehicles, city-regulated taxis, commercial vehicles like delivery trucks and emergency vehicles are all still permitted.

KQED transportation editor Dan Brekke answered your questions about San Francisco’s move to take Market Street car free in a AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) Q&A on Reddit Wednesday. From scooters to how much this is a glimpse of the future, here’s a selection of his answers on how Market Street’s new transit-friendly system will work.

(Some questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity: original Q&A is available here.)


What traffic situation on surrounding streets do you foresee? I live in a part of the city that’s very underserved by Muni and drive to work. Biking isn’t an option.

“Generally, it seems predictable that there will be more congestion in the downtown/Financial District in the short term. Longer term, as people get used to the restrictions and more choose other alternatives to travel into the heart of the city, I think it’s likewise predictable that things will ease. How much is hard to say — but Muni and other agencies are monitoring the changes carefully.

“It’s also worth keeping in mind that other strong disincentives to driving into this area could be coming in the next few years. The main thing I’m thinking about there is the possibility of some sort of congestion pricing (in effect, tolls) being imposed downtown/South of Market.”

Can I still ride a Vespa down this stretch of Market Street to the office?

“Confirmed by SFTMA: Vespas not permitted. No private motorcycles either.”

Do you see places like Oakland adopting this?

“We’ll see. Downtown San Jose is in for big changes in the next decade as Phase II of the BART Silicon Valley extension gets under way. Ditto for Oakland, which will see an ambitious bus rapid transit project go into operation and has already started reconfiguring streets. Berkeley’s doing a bunch of downtown street re-dos, too, on a slightly smaller scale. One thing for sure — a lot of cities here and elsewhere will be watching San Francisco’s experiment to see how it works.”

The arrival of Market Street’s new car-free zones was met with people holding signs praising the initiative Wednesday morning. (Tara Siler/KQED News)

What’s the penalty for driving in the banned area? And can cars still cross the road at least?

“The penalty for being caught in the act of driving your new Tesla or old beater on the the car-free section of Market (between 10th Street and Steuart Street) is a $238 citation and a point on your driver’s license. But yes: You will still be able to cross Market with no problem other than the masses of other vehicles on nearly all the side streets.”

More: The Bay's Car-Free Future?

From what I have seen, this is only the first step in the process as shown in concept drawings of different street configurations. What are some of the next changes we will see on Market Street?

“You’re correct that this is just the beginning of something much bigger. So yes, there will be a complete reconfiguration of Market Street from Octavia Boulevard east to Embarcadero Plaza.

“Everything’s going to change — lane configurations, transit loading zones, new bike infrastructure, revamped street crossings for pedestrians, new traffic signals, new overhead Muni electrical systems, plus replacement of old water mains and sewer lines. The first major construction on the project will cover the area from Fifth Street to Eighth Street and is expected to break ground next year.”

Will bicycle activists be content with a car-free Market Street, or is this only the first in a long list of streets they want to ban cars from?

“First, let me say that the Market Street changes are not solely or even primarily driven by ‘bicycle activists.’ The SFMTA has a whole list of reasons for the project aside from making the streets safer for alternate modes of transit. Pedestrian safety is a big one, as half a million people a day walk on this part of the street. But transit performance is a big consideration, too — to get more people on buses and trains, and to pave the way for more service, Muni must operate better on Market Street.

“So: other streets? Already people are talking about a similar private vehicle ban on Valencia, in the Mission. Personally, I think we’re more likely to see something like this happen first on JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park. But beyond car bans, SFMTA and Public Works have done or will be doing a lot of work to provide protected infrastructure — on Folsom and Howard streets, Fifth Street, Seventh Street, and coming soon, The Embarcadero, among others. You can count on seeing more of those types of projects.”

A cyclist rides down a Market Street bike lane, before these new restrictions went into effect. (San Francisco Bicycle Coalition/Flickr)

I wanted to ask about your thoughts on the long-term feasibility of car-alternative transportation in the Bay Area … From what you know about the public’s reception of a car-free Market Street, do you think the public now would be receptive of more aggressive BART expansion? Is there any existing county legislation in the Bay Area preventing this type of expansion?

“Wouldn’t it be cool if we had one big happy unified regional rail agency with trains and service that people really loved and wanted to ride? One can always dream. 

“You know, BART is a heavy lift — it’s a very expensive system to build and operate, and the only constant in its history is that it always takes longer to finish stuff than we have been promised. That said, yes, eventually we’ll see more and better BART — the work is ongoing. And if efforts like Seamless Bay Area bear fruit, one day we’ll have a much better integrated regional system of trains, light rail and buses.

“We will actually get a serious test of people’s appetite for all this, maybe as early as this November. That’s when we may see a nine-county tax measure on the ballot that would aim to raise $100 billion for big-time transit/transportation improvements. That vote will tell us a lot about where people are on this.”

Got more ideas for topics and issues you’d like us to tackle in a Reddit AMA? Message u/kqed on Reddit, or tweet @kqed.


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