In an effort to preserve The City’s iconic cable cars, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is seeking to launch a pilot program that would prohibit private automobiles from driving on a segment of Powell Street for an 18-month period. (Eric Risberg/AP)

SFMTA vote may make Powell Street carless

Part of Powell Street may soon be closed to automobiles, in an effort to bolster pedestrian safety and also save the iconic cable cars cables from disappearing.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors are scheduled to vote today on the Powell Street Safety and Improvement Pilot, which would halt private automobiles from driving on Powell between Geary and Ellis streets for 18 months.

“We’re doing this because of safety,” Ed Cobean, senior operations manager of SFMTA’s cable car division, told the San Francisco Examiner last month.

The pilot is an effort by the SFMTA to help save the more than 55,000 feet of steel cables running underneath San Francisco, the same ones that put the word “cable” in cable cars.

According to the SFMTA, the increased traffic on Powell Street is causing the cable cars to sit in traffic for longer. When they sit in traffic, the cable cars grip the cable in such a way to cause them to fray, according to operators.

As the San Francisco Examiner reported last month, instead of being replaced once every 50 days, as in the year 2000, the cables are now replaced every 30 days on average, according to the SFMTA.

It’s also a safety measure. According to the SFMTA, Powell Street has the second highest walking volumes in The City, and between 2010 and 2014 there were 25 reported collisions, 16 of which involved vehicles turning into crosswalks and injuring pedestrians.

If enacted, the pilot would last for 18 months and start in mid-November. Under the pilot, the only vehicles allowed on Powell Street between Geary and Ellis streets would be Muni, paratransit, taxis and commercial vehicles.

The SFMTA will also make an interesting split. Southbound Powell Street would be open to private vehicles making pickups and dropoffs between Geary and O’Farrell streets, but northbound Powell Street would not allow the same.

While cars are banned from Powell Street, SFMTA would study how it effected travel times for the 38-Geary bus and the cable cars, if auto collisions increased or decreased, impacts on business and impacts on local traffic.

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