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Better Market Street project faces more uncertainties

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The Better Market Street project contains ambitious overhauls of transit and cycling policies for The City’s main artery.

Repeated construction delays, shifting visions and the departure of the plan’s manager have many advocates wary about the future of San Francisco’s Better Market Street project.

The undertaking, a multiagency project headed by the Department of Public Works, was established in 2009 to reinvent San Francisco’s central artery, with construction initially scheduled to begin this year.

In 2010, shortly after the creation of the group, the start of construction was pushed back to 2015. Last week, during the latest proposal for the overhaul, officials announced that work would not begin until 2017 and wouldn’t be finished until 2019.

And on Tuesday, Supervisor Scott Wiener called for a public hearing to discuss the lack of coordination between officials involved in the project.

“This is a glaring example of the problem we have in San Francisco,” Wiener said. “We have very poor interagency coordination and sometimes a total lack of coordination.”

Rachel Gordon, a spokeswoman for Public Works, said the original plan called for just the repaving of Market Street.

But when the project was expanded, it became clear that 2013 wasn’t a realistic goal. As a result, the department had to renegotiate a contract with private consultants who were brought in to help with the project.

The latest plans envision a broader scope than the 2010 plan, Gordon said.

“There are potential changes that may happen with development and transportation demands on and around Market Street over the next 25 years,” Gordon said. “We want to ensure what we do in the short term strengthens, not inhibits, future ideas.”

Although Wiener criticized the pace of the plan, he issued high praise for Kris Opbroek, the Better Market Street project manager. However, Opbroek is set to depart for a position at San Francisco International Airport after leading the group since 2010, adding another dimension of uncertainty to the project.

Gordon said a replacement is being sought, and in the meantime a smooth transition under interim leader Peg Divine is expected.

Still, Ben Kaufman, a spokesman for the San Francisco Transit Riders Union, which advocates for transit passengers, said project supporters are starting to lose faith.

“This is indicative of the planning process in San Francisco,” Kaufman said. “Delays and confusion feel somewhat inherent to the way we do things.”

Five different city agencies are involved in the project, including Muni and the Planning Department.

Last week, a new proposal emerged that would ban Muni vehicles from nearby Mission Street, which would act as the main thoroughfare for cyclists. The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition expressed opposition to that initiative.


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