San Francisco’s congested downtown corridor was strangely quiet Wednesday morning as city officials and transit safety advocates celebrated the launch of a ban on private vehicles along Market Street.
The ban, part of the Better Market Street project, it is expected to enhance biker and pedestrian safety and allow Muni vehicles to travel 15% to 25% faster, according to city officials.
Stretching east from 10th to Main streets and west from Steuart Street to Van Ness Avenue, the prohibition applies to private vehicles including ride hails but not to emergency vehicles, paratransit, commercial vehicles or taxis. Drivers caught violating the policy will receive a $238 fine and a mark to their DMV record.
First reactions were positive.
“We need it — there are a lot of cars on the street,” said “Famous” Wayne, who’s run a shoe-shining business next to the Embarcadero BART Station for more than 30 years.
Wayne said he didn’t expect the ban to affect his business because most customers walk anyway. About 500,000 pedestrians walk along Market Street daily, and at rush hour 650 bikers ride the route per hour, according to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.
The City will rely on signage at intersections to prevent drivers from skirting the policy. To help drivers make the transition, the SFMTA is staffing 11 key intersections with traffic control officers during peak commuting hours through March, according to SFMTA Spokesperson Erica Kato.
“I’m glad that there’s no cars,” said Hieu Dao, a pedestrian walking the route. “Because especially down where Union Square is… Fifth and Fourth, it gets really hairy with cars going through that intersection with pedestrians.”
Dao said that he would like to see the policy enforced.
The San Francisco Police Department is providing additional enforcement in the area temporarily, said SFPD Officer Robert Rueca, a spokesperson for the department. He declined to say how many new officers are patrolling the stretch or for how long.
“I can’t say for the week — because this might be for the next month,” Rueca said. “…We have to assess the need for the enforcement. (The policy) is still so new.”
He said that officers would only issue warnings for violations on Wednesday but could not yet confirm how long the grace period would last.
The ban, a $3.5 million “quick-build” paid for by local general funds, is only the first part of San Francisco’s $603.7 million Better Market Street project, which aims to redesign the corridor and improve transit, accessibility, and safety for pedestrians and bikers.
“When you look and how much San Francisco has grown — when you look at how many more buses you see, how many more cars and scooters and different modes of transportation of people getting around — we know that there has to be something that changes in order to ensure not only the ability for people to get around more efficiently, but to ensure safety,” Mayor London Breed said at a Wednesday ceremony marking the launch of the new rule.
San Francisco implemented a policy called Vision Zero in 2014 to expedite safety enhancements and eliminate traffic deaths altogether citywide, but 29 people were still killed on city streets last year, according to city data. Officials hope the ban will stem local pedestrian and biker deaths.
Five of San Francisco’s top 10 most dangerous intersections for pedestrian and bicycle collisions are on Market Street, and since 2014, around 75% of injury collisions each year involve pedestrians or bikers, according to city data.
Though this is the first ban of its kind citywide, city officials and bike and pedestrian advocates are already looking to congested thoroughfares in other neighborhoods.
Brian Wiedenmeier, executive director of the San Francisco Bike Coalition, said San Francisco could use Market Street as a template for the transformation of streets elsewhere.
“No one should have to live in fear of their lives because of preventable traffic collisions, especially in the heart of our city,” said Supervisor Matt Haney, a staunch supporter of Better Market Street. “The only way to achieve Vision Zero is by urgently bringing radical street safety improvements and being unapologetic about our commitment to street safety.”
Haney has expressed support for testing a similar car-free policy as a pilot program in the Tenderloin. The SFMTA is seeking to test such a pilot on two Tenderloin streets, and the agency has applied for a grant from CalTrans to carry one out, Courtney McDonald, Haney’s legislative aide, told the Examiner.
In addition, SFMTA Board Chair Malcolm Heinicke on Tuesday showed his support for banning cars from Valencia Street, a thoroughfare in the Mission. Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who represents the Mission District, said she was open to the possibility.
“I’m excited that the idea of going car-free for some portion of the street or at specified times is on the table,” Ronen told the Examiner. “As long as the neighborhood supports it, I will too.”