Construction in the Better Market Street Project between Fifth and Eighth streets is expected to break ground in mid-2021.<ins></ins>

Construction in the Better Market Street Project between Fifth and Eighth streets is expected to break ground in mid-2021.

SFMTA board to vote on Better Market Street changes

Agency seeks to make up for slimmed-down plan with traffic safety improvements

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Board of Directors will vote Tuesday on a package of revisions to the Better Market Street Project aimed at curbing the behavior of the taxis and commercial vehicles still permitted to use the road.

Proposed changes include reducing the speed limit to 20 miles per hour between Franklin Street and Steuart Street, creating a center Muni-only lane and implementing numerous fixes including required right turns and strategically placed speed tables.

Together, the SFMTA says these modifications will limit speeding, minimize the potential for conflicts between vehicles and people and make the corridor a safe, approachable passageway for all travelers.

Better Market Street was approved by the SFMTA board in October 2019 after nearly a decade of work. The project was envisioned as a transformation of San Francisco’s 2.2-mile premiere downtown corridor that would speed up transit, attract visitors and be safer.

San Francisco caught a glimpse of the Market Street of the future when private vehicles were banned from much of Market Street in January 2020. Bike ridership on Market Street increased by 25 percent and transit efficiency increased by as much as 12 percent, according to data collected by SFMTA. Both are primary objectives of the entire $600 million initiative.

But many SFMTA board members and advocates were left stunned in October when staff unveiled a dramatically scaled-back version for the remainder of the project that nixed hallmark safety improvements — namely a sidewalk-level bikeway — in an effort to cut costs, respond to a changing downtown and preserve local businesses suffering during the coronavirus pandemic.

The revision struck from the blueprint a centerpiece of the plan: an 8-foot-wide sidewalk-level bikeway between Fifth to Eighth streets, designed to create clear separation between cyclists and motor vehicles in a corridor known for having four of The City’s 10 most dangerous intersections.

Under the new plan, cyclists share an 11-foot curb lane with taxis and commercial vehicles. Painted buffers will create a visual barrier, complemented by other traffic calming measures and safety improvements such as curb ramps, signal upgrades and repaved crosswalks.

“I imagine my reaction when I first heard was similar to many of the people on this call. I was frustrated, I was disappointed, I was angry. I felt blind-sided,” SFMTA Board Director Amanda Eaken said at a town hall Wednesday hosted by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. “Of course, I felt that this was a loss.”

Barry Taranto, a board member of the Taxi Workers Alliance, was also displeased with these changes.

“The best solution at this point is to allow taxis full access to both lanes until the Better Market Street Project managers are able to obtain the necessary funding for the various aspects of the original plan,” he said. “The restrictions that will be imposed on taxicabs will make them less accessible to the public, including tourists and essential workers.”

The revision also moves Muni from the curb along this three-block stretch to avoid collisions and puts buses in a center lane. Taxis and commercial vehicles will use the curb lane.

According to SFMTA estimates, Market Street’s closure to private cars, turn restrictions, carefully placed loading zones and the creation of a center transit lane will lead to 75 percent fewer vehicles in the curb lane that could potentially interact with cyclists.

SFMTA did not seek to change or rescind the legislation for Better Market Street in October, which means it did not need board approval. It technically can still move forward with the original plan, including a version of the sidewalk-level bikeway, should the budget bounce back and transit recover.

What it does need board approval for, though, are numerous changes to transportation code, parking rules and traffic flow that it will be seeking approval for Tuesday.

An agency staff report says these fixes respond to many common concerns heard during the extensive public outreach tour that followed the announcement last fall.

It remains to be seen if advocates will push back at the upcoming board meeting, but comments from the recent SF Bike Coalition town hall suggest disappointment still lingers.

“My experience in San Francisco tells me, all too often, the crappy short-term fix becomes the crappy long-term fix,” member Amandeep Jawa said. “This is that road too often taken by us as a city.”

Director Cheryl Brinkman and Eaken both told members they shared some of that disappointment, but remained hopeful Tuesday’s legislative changes could still bring notable improvements for Market Street.

“I am starting to see a path forward,” Eaken said.

They also asked Bike Coalition members to keep up the fight, crediting their vocal feedback for legislative changes that continue to be made to address safety concerns.

After the vote, Phase One of the Better Market Street project is expected to break ground in mid-2021.

With the most recent revision, costs for the first section of work between Fifth and Eighth streets are expected to total $123.8 million, a $67.2 million saving from the phase’s original price estimate.

cgraf@sfexaminer.com

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