At any time of the day, Market Street can seem like an inside joke among city planners and the wanton desires of the meddling tycoons who’ve exerted dominance over San Francisco since Day 1. Another example of the many laughable aspects of The City that’s so absurd it’s hard to believe the street was designed intentionally, rather than just the result of tossing I Ching coins, or a game of Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe.
From its original inception, Market Street has pissed off San Franciscans. More than 150 years ago, when the citizens heard about Jasper O’Farrell’s plan, they sent a lynch mob after the young surveyor, who escaped on horseback in the middle of the night and hid out in Sonoma until the furor died down.
Good thing they didn’t have social media back then. Otherwise, Jasper would have been forced to change his name and/or live the rest of his life in a cave to avoid the infamy of a simple Google search.
Nowadays, during rush hour, commuting motorists, homeward-bound bicyclists, confused tourists, expeditious pedestrians, angry Muni operators, delivery truck drivers and thousands upon thousands of vehicles for hire all compete for access to the limited roadway. And instead of blaming Jasper, today’s citizens take their frustrations out on each other.
Whether traversing the thoroughfare from one of the many streets that crisscross it from the north or south, trying to reach the Bay Bridge or 101 South or just leaving work downtown for the Castro or Twin Peaks — which is where the street was originally supposed to go — it seems Herb Caen was on the mark, as always, when he called Market Street an “obtuse angle no traffic plan could solve.”
As a taxi driver, though, Market Street is the best way into, and out of, downtown. Thanks to the red carpet from Third Street to Van Ness.
You still have to deal with dawdling streetcars, buses and, most notably, throngs of bicyclists.
Sure, we have a bad rep when it comes to dealing with bikes. I’ve personally witnessed some disgraceful interactions. But I’ve always made it a point, as a taxi driver, to respect the rights of our two-wheeled comrades.
When not in the taxi, I’m usually a pedestrian. Despite not having the coordination to ride a bike in The City anymore, I still have an affinity for bicyclists. Back in the ’90s, I used to sit around by The Wall at Sutter and Market, where the bike messengers would hang out and do tricks while waiting for orders. With their punk rock vibe and fearless attitude, I’d watch in amazement as they charged into traffic like they owned the streets. Even though I longed to join their ranks, the hills of San Francisco were too much for me …
Nowadays, I make sure to give bicyclists plenty of room on the streets, and not just the bare minimum of three feet. On Valencia, where Uber/Lyft cars block bike lanes as a matter of course, I always slow down to let bicyclists circumvent the obstacles.
In the process, I often get surprised, even mistrustful, looks. Which, I understand. The stereotype of the brutish cabbie is deeply ingrained in the urban mentality.
Like the other day… I’m heading north on Dolores. This dude in a minivan behind me is blowing his horn at two guys crossing the street against the light. One of the pedestrians assumes I’m the culprit and gives me a dirty look. Then flips me off.
Feeling unfairly targeted, I roll down my window as I pass and say, “Hey, that wasn’t me honking.”
“Fuck you!” the guy shouts.
It can be disappointing to realize that, despite all my effort to be courteous and kind, as long as I’m in a taxi, I’ll always be perceived as a dirtbag. Nevertheless, I do my best, since it’s not about public relations. It’s about being safe …
Last week, after picking up a fare at the Hyatt Regency, I’m driving in tandem with a very skilled biker. He cuts between cars, buses, pedestrians and other bicyclists. Around Battery, I help him navigate a quagmire of vehicles. We end up at the same red light at Third Street.
Feeling a sense of camaraderie, like, even though we’re obviously not on the same team, we might share a similar wavelength, I watch him glance over his left shoulder at me.
I assume we’re about to have a moment of bonhomie and maintain eye contact. The corners of my mouth instinctively begin to curl into a smile.
Just as the light changes, he turns around and shouts, “Too close!” Then pedals off.
Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. His zine, “Behind the Wheel,” is available at bookstores throughout The City. Write to Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his blog at www.idrivesf.com.