After hours of debate and public comment, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Board of Directors Tuesday voted 5-2 to approve a number of traffic changes related to the Better Market Street plan.

The changes include speed limit reduction from 25 to 20 miles per hour on Market Street between Franklin and Steuart streets, creation of a transit-only lane on Market Street just east of Kearny Street and right-turn routing for taxis and commercial vehicles.

Transit officials say the redesigns will help transform The City’s busiest corridor into a more inviting space for pedestrians and bicyclists, and will speed public transit down Market Street.

Transit planners had originally planned for a street-level bikeway that would have been up to 8 feet wide along portions of Market Street between Fifth and Eighth streets. The bikeway was intended to act as a barrier to protect cyclists from vehicles still allowed to travel on Market Street.

Instead, planners decided to move bicyclists into a shared 11-foot wide curb lane shared with taxis and commercial vehicles, a change that has drawn criticism from cyclists and safety advocates. Officials say the number of cyclists surged when Market Street went car-free in January last year and the change provides more space for the increased traffic.

To protect cyclists, planners proposed the forced right turns for taxis and commercial vehicles, said Brit Tanner, the SFMTA’s lead project engineer. Those vehicles will be required to turn right eastbound on Eighth and Sixth streets and westbound on Geary and Turk streets.

Mark Gruberg with the San Francisco Taxi Alliance said the right-turn plan is bad for taxi drivers, adding:

“We understand your financial constraints, but the answer is not the forge ahead with a plan that nobody really likes that seems to be moving forward on its own inertia.”

Better Market Street SF A revised design eliminates the proposed sidewalk-level bike lane as part of the Better Market Street project in San Francisco, Calif.

Preferring not to delay the vote, SFMTA Director of Transportation Jeffrey Tumlin urged board members to approve the changes and said all other potential solutions have been exhausted.

Tumlin said:

“There is no additional information we are going to come up with in two weeks or two months”

Project plans changed due to budget constraints caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, said Department of Public Works Better Market Street project manager Cristina Olea.

Olea said by eliminating the street-level bikeway, the department expects to save $67.2 million in the first phase between Fifth and Eighth streets by not having to rip up sidewalk and move utilities underground.

The project cost for the first phase will drop from $191 million to approximately $124 million.

Directors Amanda Eaken and Manny Yekutiel voted to reject the traffic changes. Yekutiel said he wanted taxi drivers to be able to use the red transit-only lanes and not share a space with cyclists.

Transit planners expect to break ground for the first phase later this year.

Jerold Chinn
Jerold Chinn is the San Francisco Bureau Chief of SFBay and covers transportation and City Hall. He has spent a decade covering transportation in San Francisco. Jerold is a San Francisco native and frequently takes public transit everywhere he goes. Follow Jerold on Twitter @jerold_chinn. Email tips to jerold@sfbay.ca.

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