San Francisco Plans to Kick Cars Off Market Street

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The main transport of the 20th century and the first part of the 21st have been automobiles. That’s why cities were built to favor the flow of traffic and not the needs of pedestrians or those desiring to hop on an electric scooter or bike.

  • After nearly 10 years from when car-less streets were initially proposed, San Francisco is taking the plunge with its Better Market Street project.
  • Market Street falls into San Francisco’s “High Injury Corridor”, where 13 percent of streets are responsible for 75 percent of the city’s severe and fatal collisions.
  • If cities want to reduce their carbon footprints, they need to implement infrastructure that makes walking, scooting and biking a convenient way for people to get where they’re going.

The Better Market Street project will remove through traffic and only allow public transit, pedestrians, cyclists and micromobility vehicles. (Photo: Getty Images)

As a result, most cities just aren’t set up to accommodate greener forms of transportation. But the tide is turning. Those living in San Francisco just scored a win against the cars. Market Street is getting a redesign to prioritize bikes, pedestrians and public transit vehicles.

Nearly a decade in the making

Market Street falls into what San Francisco calls its “High Injury Corridor”, where just 13 percent of streets account for 75 percent of the city’s severe and fatal collisions. It’s a transit artery that plays host to Muni Metro and Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) and half a million people a day. Nearly 10 years ago, a pilot project was first proposed by then-mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom, to prohibit car traffic entirely. But, back then, people weren’t ready to remove the downtown driving option.

Last month saw the successful passing of the Better Market Street project by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation board of directors. A $600 million-dollar plan to kick cars off this downtown street, it will reconfigure the space: center lanes for historic streetcars and rapid buses; a continuous bike lane for cyclists; and, for pedestrians, a wider sidewalk protected by benches, bike racks, planters and railing. Taxis can share the space, but Uber and Lyft are regulated to loading zones on side-streets. As for personal vehicles, better find another route.

Market Street is one of the busiest arteries in San Francisco, with over half a million people utilizing it a day. (Photo: Getty Images)

Citizen pushback

In trying to implement car-free zones, cities can come up against citizens pushing back. Interestingly, Uber and Lyft were on board with the city’s plan. Expressing support for the Market Street project, Debs Schrimmer, Senior Manager, Future of Cities at Lyft, wrote in a post on Medium:

“We imagine our streets designed for everyone: wide tree-lined boulevards for strollers and people on foot, protected lanes for riding bikes and scooters, dedicated travel lanes for reliable public transit service, in close coordination with dedicated loading zones along side streets for pick-ups and drop-offs,” she said. “This project will address the infrastructure, safety, and mobility needs along the corridor in a thoughtful, comprehensive way.”

It’s always a tough sell to get people on board with transportation adjustments, especially changes that could potentially affect their neighborhoods. New York City had to defend its  pilot program to close down 14th Street to through traffic in court several times before it finally went into effect last month. But, guess what? Buses are going faster, ridership is up and you can actually count on a bus to arrive on its official timetable. And those worries from citizens about gridlock and traffic overflow, they never materialized.

The Better Market Street project is slated to begin in 2020. The city put up a dedicated site  to keep citizens informed. If you’re planning a visit to San Francisco, don’t forget to check out our Ride Guide to San Francisco.


In order to climb the steep hill of significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions, more of us need to scoot, skate, bike and walk—as a preferred mode of travel.  And, only by creating convenient and safe spaces for people to make green transport the best choice, can cities facilitate the change.

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