Imagine There’s No Autos, It’s Easy If You Try

Few cities consider themselves as progressive as San Francisco, so it’s only slightly surprising to find out that officials there are considering limiting the use of “private cars” on Market Street in order to increase the flow of busses, pedestrians and cyclists.

While I don’t live in San Fran, I spend more time there than any other big city, and I’ve done more riding there than any other metropolis, and I can scarcely count the number of times I’ve been almost struck and killed by vehicles on Market. I’m a pretty savvy urban cyclist but I go out of my way to avoid that thoroughfare while in the area.


Even suggesting that Market Street be made off-limits to cars is a massive move, it’s akin to the idea of converting part of Manhattan’s Broadway into a pedestrian mall and it’s not likely to happen quickly. Still, the city is looking at plans to take the busiest two-mile stretch of roadway (from Van Ness to the Embarcadero) into a car-free zone.

Tilly Chang, deputy director of planning for the S.F. County Transportation Authority says of the project “having been a great street, Market Street has the scale, the social and historical significance, the architectural profile and the infrastructure, and hence the potential, to be great once again.” Run-on sentences aside, that’s a sweeping statement about a street that goes from posh shopping to porn-theater in under two blocks but it indicates San Francisco’s desire to reclaim the streets from cars, and with that action reclaim the grandeur of the heart of the city.

For the next few months Ms. Chang’s authority will look at problems that the restrictions would cause on nearby streets, (personally I think it would cause calamity for tons of motorists, which is exactly what author Tom Vanderbilt says is needed to move people to mass transit in his book Traffic, so I’m all for it.

While the plan, first suggested by mayor Willie Brown, died in its original incarnation, this time it seems to have (ahem) legs and might actually move forward as the mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom says he’d approve the changes if studies show that they wouldn’t hurt businesses in the area. (You don’t want to hurt the business at Market Street Cinemas after all.)

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