A cyclist rides along Market Street on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

A cyclist rides along Market Street on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Funds approved for Better Market Street revision

Scaled-down plans for a three-block stretch of San Francisco’s Better Market Street project will officially move forward, despite backlash from many advocates and city officials who have expressed frustration at what they perceive to be a less transformative, less ambitious future for The City’s iconic roadway.

San Francisco supervisors who sit on the County Transportation Authority approved the allocation of $11.6 million to the Department of Public Works on Tuesday to fund infrastructure and state of good repair projects on Market Street between Fifth and Eighth streets.

“I believe the state of good repair is critical, and there are risks to delaying too long,” said Supervisor Matt Haney, who has been a vocal opponent to the plans first unveiled in October 2020 that nixed the much lauded sidewalk-level raised bikeway in favor of a shared curb lane, among other changes to the original plan.

Approval of this funding request allows DPW to execute the streetscape enhancements, transit capacity and reliability improvements and state of good repair upgrades still included in the plan ahead of the deadlines for time-stamped federal grants helping to fund the nearly $100 million project.

“We want to keep momentum going. This is an incremental step forward that will improve our infrastructure significantly, and then we can keep moving forward as money becomes available,” Cristina Olea, DPW Project Manager, said.

A decade in the making, Better Market Street was a collaboration between advocates and city officials to revitalize San Francisco’s 2.2-mile downtown corridor, making it a destination for visitors and tourists alike that prioritizes Muni and those using sustainable modes of travel rather than private cars.

But the combination of pandemic-related budget austerity measures, potential harm to struggling small businesses and the daunting realization that the plan approved in late 2019 would not actually accommodate the number of cyclists that would flood car-free Market Street forced the project’s architects to ratchet back their approach and instead focus on essential repairs to crumbling infrastructure along the corridor.

“What we’re doing now is not terribly visionary. We admit that,” said San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Director Jeffrey Tumlin, whose agency is working in close partnership with DPW to bring Better Market Street to life.

Rather than entirely replace sidewalks along the stretch and build a raised bikeway, repaving of walkways will be delayed and cyclists will share a curb lane with taxis and commercial vehicles.

Muni will run in its own reserved lane in the center of the street. Remaining limited resources will be devoted towards traffic calming and pedestrian safety upgrades such as signal re-timing, repaved crosswalks, speed tables and more robust passenger and commercial loading zones on cross streets.

SFMTA and DPW have also added a slew of required right turns to ensure taxis and commercial vehicles don’t stay on Market Street too long; lowered speed limits on some portions of the road; and committed to investigate enforcement strategies to keep private cars off the street.

Tumlin said this approach will allow the agency to focus on direly needed infrastructure work and learn more about how The City can realistically and effusively transform “the ceremonial heart of The City.”

Tuesday’s vote sealed the fate of the project along this three-block stretch of Market Street as a state-of-good repair capital effort, least for the time being.

“We would like to reassure CTA and the community that we have not lost the full vision for Better Market Street,” Olea said of the need to modify construction, for now. “Priority will be given to the most critical infrastructure, repairs, replacements and improvements that cannot be postponed, and it will not preclude construction from the full project at a later time.”

As part of CTA’s approval, staff from SFMTA and DPW will be required to provide quarterly reports to the supervisors as well as present a construction mitigation plan by May 2021.

This phase of the plan focused on Market Street between Fifth and Eighth should be completed by September 2023.

Haney also asked for a hearing later this year with more concrete plans around enforcement strategies as well as a discussion to ensure the “transformative, bold vision” for Better Market Street remains intact for the long term.

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