When Market Street closed to private vehicles last year, motorists mostly complied, creating space for droves of cyclists to enjoy the two-mile corridor.
But the pandemic has left the once bustling downtown roadway largely deserted of commuters, businesses and traffic enforcement officials, allowing cars to fill the void.
“Anyone who goes on Market Street right now knows that it’s not the reality,” Supervisor Matt Haney who sits on the County Transportation Authority board, said of the vehicle restrictions on Market Street Tuesday. “There are private cars everywhere.”
Haney called on the Better Market Street project team, led by the Department of Public Works and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, to provide a detailed, comprehensive enforcement strategy earlier this month to address the continued presence of cars.
He was left dissatisfied by their offerings on Tuesday, specifically the lack of details around parking officer deployment and the decision to not currently recommend automated enforcement, or cameras, to catch certain driving behaviors.
Britt Tanner, an SFMTA project manager for Better Market Street, said the team prioritizes compliance over enforcement by designing the street in a way that makes it difficult for private vehicles to ignore the rules and drive on Market Street.
The $11.6 million sales tax-generated funding allocation approved by CTA on Tuesday will pay for required right-turn installations, the conversion of some one-way streets into two-way streets and the extension of a Muni-only center lane, which Tanner said will naturally restrict a driver’s ability to violate the closure.
“Our goal is to find the best balance between effective compliance and enforcement measures and also to provide this self-enforcing design that the capital project you are approving the funding for today will provide,” she said.
According to Tanner, enforcement cameras are a costly, time-intensive endeavor that would prove cumbersome and less nimble in responding to changing behavior as compared to capital projects, quick-builds and “human resources.”
As for parking control officers, SFMTA said it couldn’t provide concrete details until it completes a data collection effort beginning this week to determine the scale and locations of vehicle violations.
“If we’re going to be taking parking control officers from other efforts, we want to make sure we’re doing that as strategically as possible,” Tanner said, adding the transit agency does commit to putting parking control officers on the street and has additionally been meeting with local law enforcement to determine how the two forces can collaborate.
Critics perturbed by the superficial plan say a scrupulous focus on keeping private cars off Market Street is even more important now that cyclists will share a curb lane with commercial vehicles and taxicabs, a revision announced last fall that has moved forward due to pandemic-related cost concerns and street capacity issues despite public pushback.
Originally, the plan called for a raised, sidewalk-level bikeway and other transformative changes to street design. Those have been put on hold for now to instead focus on repairs and infrastructure improvements between Fifth and Eighth streets.
SFMTA Director Jeffrey Tumlin said “a combination of enforcement plus design will be necessary to deliver the Market Street we want in this interim time period,” but he backed the project team’s approach as grounded in the success of car-free Market Street when it was first implemented last year just before the pandemic struck.
Tumlin said the presence of uniformed enforcement staff — not law enforcement officials — was largely enough to ensure compliance from drivers, suggesting the issuance of citations wasn’t the primary deterrent to keeping cars off Market Street.
“For the most part, motorists did what they were supposed to do. That’s our commitment, and it’s an easy commitment to achieve based on what we were able to demonstrate from January to March,” he said of last year’s findings.
Better Market Street staff said it will return to stakeholders with a more comprehensive enforcement plan that balances parking control officers, law enforcement and other strategies once results from the data collection study have been analyzed.
The team also said it was finalizing a memo with additional details to be released next week.