In some of the biggest cities, congestion on the busiest roadways can be stifling. Traffic literally crawls, and walking can provide quicker transportation than driving. One way to address this problem is to limit car traffic on these streets. Two large cities — New York City and San Francisco — have made moves to reduce the number of cars on roadways that have been notorious for their punishing gridlock.
- San Francisco is set to create a corridor on Market Street that dramatically limits car traffic.
- Known as the Better Market Street Project, this plan will allow a long stretch of the street to accommodate pedestrians, streetcars, taxis, bicycles and rapid buses; privately owned cars (including those operated by rideshare drivers) won’t be permitted.
- New York City has a similar plan called the 14th Street Busway, and it was launched in early October.
A greener Market Street
The Better Market Street Project aims to improve this busy San Francisco roadway in ways that make it greener, more attractive and less congested. From a big-picture perspective, the project’s goal is to revitalize Market Street and reestablish it as the cultural and economic center of the city. It also sets out to make public transit in the area more efficient and reliable.
This plan will limit private vehicles on Market Street across a 2.2-mile corridor that stretches from 10th to Spear. Buses and taxis would be allowed to travel unrestricted, along with paratransit and commercially owned vehicles. According to information published by SFGate, most but not all of the corridor’s car-free zones will be implemented by early 2020.
Good news for pedestrians, cyclists and transit users
To better accommodate bicyclists and pedestrians, Market Street’s sidewalks will be widened from 35 to 37 feet. The street’s red-bricked sidewalks will be replaced with gray concrete that’s easier to clean and maintain. Bicycle lanes will be removed from the roadway and placed at sidewalk level, and the bikeway will be separated from the road by a four-foot buffer.
The Market Street corridor features bus-only lanes and new rapid-service stops that are expected to bring a 25 percent time savings for transit riders. There will also be new safety enhancements for pedestrians at intersections and new loading zones at cross streets.
The Better Market Street Project aims to upgrade this busy San Francisco roadway in ways that make it a safer and friendlier place for cyclists and pedestrians. (Photo: San Francisco Public Works)
“Market Street is at the heart of our city, and we need to do everything we can to make it a safer, more livable, and more vibrant place for our residents, workers and visitors,” said San Francisco Mayor London Breed in a prepared statement. “Last year, there were 123 injury collisions on Market Street and the majority involved people walking and biking. Better Market Street and the project’s near-term improvements are critical to achieve our Vision Zero goals and ensure everyone can feel safe on our most traveled street.”
New York City, without the cars
The traffic congestion in New York City is the stuff of nightmares. To help address this, the city converted a busy stretch of 14th Street into a busway.
The plan met with a great deal of initial resistance from local residents, who complained that the changes would clog side streets with diverted traffic. They sued the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT) to halt the development, but the lawsuit was eventually kiboshed by an appeals court judge. With pesky legal matters out of the way, the city rolled out the busway in early October.
To create the busway, private through traffic has been banned between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. on 14th Street between Third and Ninth Avenues. Allowances are made for cars there to facilitate pickups and drop-offs, as well as those seeking to access the street’s area garages.
Watch and see
DOT officials say they view this as a pilot project, and it will be closely monitored to see if it generates the desired results. Private independent consultants have been hired to keep an eye on the impact the busway has on the area, and their assessments will be used to fine-tune the project’s execution in upcoming months.
So far, the busway seems to be delivering the desired results. According to Streetsblog NYC, traffic now moves much more quickly along the previously clogged roadway, and there is a lot less noise pollution. As further proof of the project’s success, activists are now demanding that similar busways be created on other streets in the Big Apple that have severe traffic problems.
Cons and pros
A main argument of those who are against these types of projects concerns the effect that less traffic may have on local commercial establishments. The worry is that reduced car traffic may mean fewer customers for those who operate businesses in the area.
Another concern has to do with the impact these projects have on traffic that flows to surrounding streets. Naysayers worry that banning private cars will simply reroute vehicles to adjacent roadways, creating traffic problems for those who live in these neighborhoods.
Those who are in favor of this approach say it will reduce traffic congestion and make streets more navigable. They say that with cars no longer in the picture, there will be more interest in public transit, which is struggling in many communities. Obviously, slashing the number of cars on our streets could also reduce air pollution. And having fewer cars on the road may reduce the number of car crashes, which could make our streets safer for all.
Oslo has taken steps to ban cars from its city center. (Photo: John Erling Blad/Wikimedia Creative Commons)
Oslo’s success story
Oslo, Norway’s capital, is mostly car-free. This approach has reduced congestion, and it’s brought another benefit: Areas that have been newly pedestrianized have become some of the most popular parts of the city.
This is great news for local business owners. According to Fast Company, after removing hundreds of parking spots, Oslo found it had 10 percent more pedestrians in the city center last fall that it had the year before.
WHY THIS MATTERS
Traffic congestion is an intractable problem in some cities, and bold measures are called for if the issue is to be successfully addressed. Limiting car traffic on certain roadways certainly seems to make sense, and it’s an approach that is likely to be adopted by more and more cities in the years to come.