Hey Cyclists, What Kind of City Do You Want?

Categories: bikes

That seems to be the real question in the debate over the future of Market Street.

And evidently, it's a question that we'll all have a chance to ponder for the rest of the decade; it was announced earlier this month that the project to rip up San Francisco's most important thoroughfare and put it back together again (but better) won't get going for another four years -- and will then require another two years to finish.

So rephrasing the question to take into account the extended schedule: what kind of city do we want ... no sooner than 2019?

Whatever the time frame, the answer isn't going to be reached without a fight. As it was announcing the delay, the Department of Public Works doubled-down on pissing off vast swaths of the city strategy by releasing three distinct policy visions for the Better Market Street project -- two of which do not include the construction of separated bike lanes on Market.

To summarize the three proposals solely as they apply to cyclists and cycling (you can read the full summary [pdf] yourself), you have:

  • The Status Quo(ish) Option: There are some minor safety tweaks at intersections, but cyclists are still left to navigate the vehicular traffic.
  • The Bicycle Coalition Option: Here we have separated bike lanes from the Central Freeway to the Bay.
  • The "... Wait, what?" Option: Surprise! Here's a plan to divert bike traffic onto separated cycle tracks on Mission while moving the 14 bus line onto Market.

The inclusion of that curveball (the third option) has so far received a resounding thumbs-down from the cycling peanut gallery. Immediately after the release of the proposal, the Bicycle Coalition launched a letter writing campaign to the mayor and called upon the city not to "throw its hands up and give up on finding the best possible solution for biking on Market Street."

Echoing that same frustration, Aaron Bialick at Streetsblog lambasted the Mission proposal for "go[ing] against a primary principle of bike planning: Improving the most direct routes, which people are naturally drawn to use."

Market Street, in other words, is already the path of choice for San Francisco cyclists -- and for good reason. The city's spine that bisects downtown, Market is often the straightest, if not always the safest, line between point A and point B.

But the logic of Market is also the predictable result of years of deliberate city planning. Steadily over the years, we've seen the partial implementation of separated lanes, the introduction of mandatory right turns, and the installation of the city's first bike bay and one of its few bike traffic lights. After investing all that money and effort to make Market "the most bicycled street west of the Mississippi," according to Supervisor John Avalos, what an odd decision it would be then to just call a mulligan and shunt bike traffic a block south.

I still have to admit to a certain level agnosticism on this debate. At the very least, as someone who usually avoids Market during rush hour anyhow (I'm a Howard and Folsom man), the pluses of a bike-prioritized Mission Street are substantial. Consider this: On Mission, there are no oddly angled intersections, no BART grates, and no streetcar tracks. And without the need to expedite Muni traffic, green waves could be timed to bike-speed, à la Valencia.

But if the choice between a bike thoroughfare on Market or Mission is presented as an either/or (which it certainly shouldn't be), I probably count myself among the pro-Market contingent.

Back in the spring of 2010, SPUR ran a blog post, an early response to the Better Market Street project called "Creating Our Own Champs-Elysées." In it, the writer, Elizabeth Holden, asks how Market Street might ever become "an avenue of constant activity" -- a place where a confluence of public art, commerce, open space, and transit thoroughfares make the street a place to stop and gather and hangout.

Assuming the project isn't delayed indefinitely and we eventually do see a Market Street with larger open plazas, wider sidewalks, and more green space, we will have a boulevard that doesn't just run beside the Castro, the Mission, the Tenderloin, downtown, and SOMA, but connects them. And if San Francisco is going to have its own Champs-Elysées -- one that reflects all the people and happenings of this city -- cyclists need to be a part of that.

Ben Christopher is an Oakland-based freelance journalist. His favorite pastimes include pretending to work at coffee shops and shaking his fist disapprovingly at errant drivers from atop his baby blue Cannondale.

My Voice Nation Help

@tahoe3 I concede, there are no natural destinations for cars along market, though there are several commercial loading areas.

As a member of the SFMTA's Citizen's Advisory Council, a board member of the Market Street Railway, I participated in many of the early stakeholder and advisory meeting.And as a cyclist I was overjoyed when the City presented the results of the forced right turn trials and every single stakeholder favored making them permanent immediately.Another takeaway is that it doesn't hurt that merchants know their clientele came via bike. I figure leaving my helmet on is pretty conspicuous.

But while there are no destinations to park a car along market, there are several places where for drivers getting from one side of Market to the other requires driving onsome portion of Market.

O'Farrell hits Market eastbound mid-block and with third street being one-way northbound the first possible turn south is New Montgomery. One of the MontgomeryStation entrances located at the corner creates a pinch point where there a dedicated lane isn't possible under any scenario. You can't eliminate cars in this stretch (thoughothers you can and I'm hoping that car-free transit-mall between 5th and 4th Street is still on the table) so that leaves us with the options of:

A shared lane situation because the intermittent bike lane has to end and cyclists merge into car traffic. (as a three-time AIDS/LifeCycle rider and volunteer rider leader I'veseen so many close calls, and several accidents caused by bikes merging) 

A shared lane option where the intersection is the same, but the lane was shared the entire length so no merging is required. The traffic signal at O'Farrell took care ofmerging bikes and cars onto the shared lane in a controlled manner. 

A shared lane option as outlined about PLUS a cycletrack along Mission Street.
How is the Mission Street Cycletrack + Market Street shared lane not the best option? I want to be able to ride safely on as many streets as possible so long as it doesn'tcompromise the greater goal of an awesome city.

And let's ask the reverse question. As the author Ben Christopher pointed out, Mission doesn't have these weirdly angled streets and complex intersections, so WHY ISN'TMission Street the natural corridor?

I don't want a compromised bike lane on Market that forces cyclists to merge every few blocks and comes AT THE EXPENSE of the pedestrian zone that could be ourChamps Elysées or Las Rambles, and would come at the expense of a really kick-ass cycletrack on Mission.

What I'd really like, is everyone get on board with the Mission Bikeway + Shared Market Street option and get every single advantage for bikes we can out of that sharedbikeway. There will be forced right turns for car traffic on Market. How many? How frequently can we get them? How can we make them as safe for cyclists as possible? Isaw somewhere there will be sharrows. Can we make sure they are the green ones? What about bike boxes to jump ahead? 
How can we get our Mission Street cycletrack and as much out of Market?


I'm a Howard and Folsom man as well and if it were an either/or between Market and Mission I would lean Mission because of all the benefits.

But it isn't exactly an either/or. Its 1, 2, or 2+3. The Mission Bikeway also comes with the shared lane on Market Street as well. Cars would continue being diverted are certain points. That and bike racks along those widened pedestrian zones would still make the statement we place bike and transit first. 

Those forced right turns at 10th and 6th started as six month trials to gather data about traffic impacts and were made permanent because they reduced traffic volumes on Market, Muni sped up about 5% and there was no substantial traffic impact in SOMA because it became more evenly spread it out. The only drawback was the slight increase in traffic had slight negative impact on Muni. Moving the the 14 lines means they benefit from the transit priority improvements on Market.

That traffic experiment is why I disagree with the quoted Aaron Bialick statement about improving the path people are drawn to. The forced right turns proved that nudging drivers a little off their natural path improved traffic flow. What people are drawn to isn't always best for them, like crystal meth and saturated fats.

Because we get the benefits of the second, shared lane, option along with the Mission Street bikeway I believe it is a complete win for just about everyone and we're the kind of city that gives bikes the best possible option on as many streets as possible.


@JamisonWieser There is a difference. There are no natural car desitnations on Market - no parking, no driveways, nothing. Cyclists do have natural destinations on Market. ride up to the front door of where you are headed, get off your bike and get on the sidewalk, done.


I'm shocked at how many people are voicing their support for putting cyclists on Mission. Sure there are some positives, like potentially creating a greenwave all the way through downtown. But what about the opportunity to create a truly thriving Market Street? Do we not want that anymore?? Making Market the place for cyclists will go a long way towards creating another iconic San Francisco institution. Let's have some vision here people...


I just hope cyclists don't insist that Market Street is the only option for bike improvements because of the thoroughfare's symbolic value. Yes, I think it's important that anyone be able to bike on one of our city's best-known and most important boulevards, but let's remember that biking is also a practical matter of transportation, not just a staking of territory on hotly contested real estate to show the city that biking is important. Mission might have a lot of advantages as a bike route. It lacks the highway on-ramp quality of Folsom and Howard that encourages cars to speed (not to mention Folsom's god-awful paving, but that's another story), but isn't as crowded with buses (especially if the 14 is rerouted) and others. We should be able to bike on Market, but for commuters especially, Mission might be faster (and safer).


As a bicyclist, I think we shouldn't reject the Mission proposal out of hand. If we think of the two options as (1) major improvements to Market and zero improvements to Mission, and (2) minor improvements to Market and major improvements to Mission, the second option looks promising. The Mission plan is not for cyclists to be "pushed off" of Market, and it would preserve the existing bikeway above 8th. Repaving lower Market and kicking private cars off all or most would be pretty significant improvements on their own, even without a separated bikeway. Whether the Mission proposal is worth doing would, I think, really depend on whether it included bike facilities on the blocks connected to and across Market from Mission and between Mission and Valencia (ie making Otis / McCoppin 2-way).


I'd suggest that the traffic be separated.  Market street should be for pedestrians, mass transit, emergency and non-motor vehicles only.  The lanes are all over the place and weird;  driving Market Street takes forever and I recommend against it.  I think there needs to be some well-chosen streets elsewhere in the city like this as well.   At the same time, non-motor vehicles would be banned on certain streets, and such a ban would be strictly enforced.  I don't agree with moving mass transit off of Market.


Move bikes, busses, and cars to Mission street. Market needs to be reserved for emergency vehicles only.

Now Trending

From the Vault


©2014 SF Weekly, LP, All rights reserved.