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Now that Market Street is car-free, what does this mean for you?

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It’s official

Black, white, and green balloons in an arch.
An arch of balloons usher in the Better Market Street program, Wednesday, January 29.
Photo by Brock Keeling

“Well, well, well, it’s really been a long time coming,” said Mayor London Breed at Wednesday’s press conference announcing the closure of Market Street to private cars.

Indeed, it has.

The decade-long process of shutting off SF’s main artery to private forms of vehicular traffic has come to fruition. It’s all part of Better Market Street, a people-centric street design project meant to get buses and streetcars moving at a brisker pace along the busy thoroughfare and guarantee a safer commute for all.

For people who walk on Market Street—an estimated 500,000 people every day—you won’t notice a huge difference right away, except the changes should make your journey much less stressful. For those who bike or scoot—about 650 people per hour during rush hour—you’ll have fewer cars to dodge, plus a safer bike lane coming soon. But what if you use Market to commute in a vehicle? Here’s everything you need to know.

Where exactly will Market be closed to cars?

Private vehicles will no longer be able to travel on Market Street from 10th Street to Main Street eastbound, and Steuart Street to Van Ness Avenue westbound. There will be places for cars to cross Market perpendicularly from Stuart up to Gough.

No cars? Woohoo! Can I saunter up and down Market Street willy-nilly?

Not quite. You will still need to keep an eye and ear open for traffic. So no deboarding the bus with your newborn and walking across several lanes of traffic without looking first. Remember: Vehicles will still be allowed to cross Market Street at signalized intersections. You will need to look out for perpendicular traffic. Also, Muni buses and streetcars will also use the street as they currently do.

Can I still ride my bike on Market?

You bet. The closure to cars will make it safer for our city’s two-wheeled travelers. But again, be on the lookout for Muni buses, streetcars, and commercial vehicles. And have fun! SF is, after all, a cyclist’s paradise. Who knows? The closure could finally get you on a bike for good.

What does this mean for motorized kick scooters, e-bikes, and two-wheel scooters?

Provided they don’t burst into flames first, micromobility devices will still be allowed to traverse Market Street.

What about vehicles with disability placards?

Cars with disability placards are not exempt from restrictions unless they have commercial plates. As SFMTA notes, “It should be noted that there are not currently any blue zones or other legal parking available for vehicles with disability placards on Market Street, so Better Market Street does not add any new parking restrictions for people with disabilities.”

Will traffic get worse on Mission Street and other parallel streets?

Possibly. But not by much. SFMTA, which conducted traffic modeling to study the impacts of removing cars from Market Street, says, “We anticipate about 100 cars per hour will be shifted to Mission Street, which will not significantly impact general traffic or transit on Mission Street. In addition, the turn restrictions will reduce congestion at intersections, as cars turning onto Market currently block traffic on cross streets as they wait for a gap in pedestrians crossing to complete their turn. The turn restrictions will aim to improve traffic flow as well as pedestrian safety.”

Is there a detailed map?

map of a street noting the closures along it for cars. Map courtesy of SFMTA

Not everyone can walk or ride a bike. What about people who need vehicles to get around?

Paratransit will continue to use Market Street. Same goes for Muni buses, emergency vehicles, automobiles with commercial plates, and actual taxis with city-issued medallions.

So Uber and Lyft too?

No. (Chortle.) Ride-hailing vehicles are barred from using Market Street. But the city has coordinated with Uber and Lyft to have the white zones added to their apps, which will redirected customers to the nearest cross-street white zones for pickup.

What will happen to the parking spaces on cross streets?

The 227 spaces on cross streets and side streets will turn into commercial loading. The San Francisco Chronicle has a detailed block-by-block look at what will go down.

Will there be barriers that stop drivers from using Market Street?

No physical barriers will be used. Painted lanes and street signs will be the only thing the diverts drivers in private cars from using the street.

So what happens if I drive on Market anyway?

First, how immoral of you. Second, SFPD and SFMTA parking control officers will help direct traffic as people get used to the new closure. But take note: Drivers violating the restrictions will face a $238 fine and a moving violation on their DMV record.

Have any other cities done this type of closure?

Yes, many. Most recently, New York City turned 14th Street into a busway which banned private through-traffic between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. between Third and Ninth avenues. It has been deemed “a runaway success,” and achieved the goals set by the city’s transportation department to speed up buses and increase ridership along the congested street.

Are you sure this will work?

Um, yes! Check out what Patrick Sisson at Curbed had to say about the 14th Street busway in NYC: “Ever since the new thoroughfare was opened in mid-October, with red paint clearly marking lanes as bus-only, reports have shown that the new busway not only met its goal of making bus travel faster—9.7 minutes for the entire route, according to a city analysis released in December—but it also had minimal impact on car trips. Surrounding streets saw trips increase by 3.5 minutes at most.”

What will it look like?

Are these changes permanent?

Indeed, these changes are permanent. While the quick-build program will finish on January 29, the project still has ways to go. By the end of spring 2020, you should see the conversion of red bus/taxi-only lanes to Muni-only between Ninth and Third streets, as well as bicycle intersection improvements at Eighth, Page, Battery, and Valencia streets.

Any other changes I can expect?

Oh you bet. The car-free phase is just the beginning. New sidewalks and new trees will evolve over the next few years. Dedicated bikeways at the sidewalk level are slated for Market, which will first appear from Eighth and Fifth before rolling out through the entire corridor.

I’m in my car and raging about the sluggish traffic near Market. What can I do?


Seriously, what should I do?

Try not to block the crosswalks at intersections.