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SF’s Upper Market Street Gets First Phase of Safety Upgrades

The SFMTA has completed its first wave of safety upgrades on Upper Market Street. The changes include painted sidewalk extensions (a.k.a. "safety zones"), high-visibility crosswalks, and signs prohibiting drivers from turning right at red lights.

SFMTA officials and Supervisor Scott Wiener held a press conference today to mark the completion of the improvements between Octavia Boulevard and Castro Street.

The 10 newly-installed safety zones narrow the roadway and reduce crossing distances, which should help calm motor traffic at the three Market intersections where they were installed: 16th/Noe, 15th/Sanchez, and 14th/Church Streets.

Most of Upper Market's intersections converge with two other streets. The legacy of cars-first design at these complex six-point intersections is a disaster for public safety. Pedestrians must traverse long stretches of pavement in crosswalks regularly blocked by drivers, while drivers often speed up to beat the light.

Upper Market has six wide traffic lanes and a median strip that seems to encourage speeding. Walking and biking were an afterthought in its design.

From 2007 to 2012, motorists injured pedestrians in 27 crashes and injured bicyclists in 32 crashes on Market between Octavia and Castro, according to the SFMTA. During the same period, an additional 102 crashes involved only motor vehicle drivers and passengers.

Market and 16th with new crosswalks, just before the safety zone was installed. Image: NBC
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"We can and will make it safer," said Wiener, who has made it his mission to improve Upper Market's six-way intersections. Wiener said the intersections are "fundamentally design-flawed," reports NBC, but stopped short of proposing new car traffic restrictions to simplify them, as was done to create Jane Warner Plaza on 17th Street. Adding car-free blocks could "introduce more problems with traffic," Wiener told NBC.

Upper Market's crosswalks, most of which have been made more visible with "continental" striping, should be blocked less often with new signs announcing "no right turn on red." The turn restrictions at the intersections of 16th/Noe Streets and 15th/Sanchez Streets are intended "to make Upper Market more intuitive for people driving," according to an SFMTA press release.

“These improvements are examples of quick and effective safety measures the SFMTA is rapidly activating citywide to reduce traffic injuries and deaths," SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin said in a statement. The SFMTA plans to have 40 safety zones installed by the end of the year.

The improvements so far were funded primarily by impact fees from booming development along the street, according to the SFMTA. Once funding is available, the painted safety zones could be converted into concrete bulb-outs.

The SFMTA is planning two further phases of improvements on Upper Market, but no timeline has been announced for them yet. The package of "mid-term" upgrades includes adjusted signal timing and new bike lane markings to minimize conflicts, as well as more safety zones and "no right on red" signs.

Facing an even less definite future is an SFMTA proposal to test a parking-protected bike lane on the uphill side of Market between Octavia and Duboce Avenue, with a possible expansion along the street.

Wiener and Walk SF's Nicole Ferrara start the job on the final safety zone (for now). Photo: Scott Wiener
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