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Car-free street

Time to Ban Cars on Market for Real?

10:31 AM PST on February 25, 2020

Note: GJEL Accident Attorneys regularly sponsors coverage on Streetsblog San Francisco and Streetsblog California. Unless noted in the story, GJEL Accident Attorneys is not consulted for the content or editorial direction of the sponsored content.

When talking about "car-free" Market Street, it's easy to forget that the city's new policy is really just private-car-free Market Street. Delivery trucks, police, and cabs are still permitted to use it.

Reports are filtering in that, while Market Street is an absolute dream for cyclists compared to before the ban, there are still big issues with motorists creating hazardous and hostile conditions for people who pedal.

Take this gem from Twitter, posted by cycling advocate Jessica Jenkins about her Friday evening commute on Market, between Larkin and Hayes:

As seen in the video shot from her rearward-facing bike camera, a cop drove up on her and other cyclists who were riding outside of the crowded bike lane, got on the megaphone, and told them "there's a bicycle lane for a reason!"

Cyclists on that section of Market have zero obligation to stay off the general-purpose space on Market. Moreover, the speed limit is 10 mph and the cyclists in the non-bike-lane area were obviously going at least that fast, clearly not impeding motorized traffic (in fact, if the cop wanted to be a stickler, he might have been able to issue the cyclists speeding tickets, along with the taxi cab that blew past on the video).

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition was unavailable for comment. However, as the California Bicycle Coalition's Dave Snyder explained on social media, according to the vehicle code, the police officer was just wrong no matter how one slices it. According to his post: "That's not a (class 2) 'bike lane' on Market Street, it's a (class 4) 'separated bikeway.' We created the new facility type to force Caltrans to allow it, and to explicitly exempt it from CVC 21208. Doesn't matter how fast or slow you're going."

Streetsblog has a request in to SFPD to find out what was up with that officer. Jenkins also reported the incident to the police. SFPD, of course, has a history of blowing off these kinds of reports (it's been over a year now and SFPD has yet to respond to Streetsblog's requests for information about why a cop used the bike lane on Howard to race down the street).

This is not meant to imply that all police officers are endangering cyclists. "It was a caravan of three or four SFPD cars, but only the first officer-driver was bothering cyclists," Jenkins wrote to Streetsblog in an email. But it does seem cops in cars now prefer driving on Market when they're out doing non-emergency tasks and errands, which negates some of the safety advantages of banning private cars.

Commander Daniel Perea checking in with an SFMTA enforcement officer on the opening day of 'car-free' Market Street. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
Commander Daniel Perea checking in with an SFMTA enforcement officer on the opening day of 'car-free' Market Street. Maybe this is the way SFPD should patrol Market Street. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

SFMTA's Erica Kato confirmed that police are permitted to drive on Market Street "due to the emergency nature of their work." That's a given. But it's unclear why SFPD should be permitted to drive on Market when they're not responding to an emergency. And while they are patrolling Market, isn't it more effective to do it on some combination of bikes and motorbikes, as many SFPD officers already do? Streetsblog also has an inquiry in to Supervisor Matt Haney, whose district encompasses much of Market Street, including where Jenkins' incident took place.

And then there are the cabs. Streetsblog has read reports of cabbies, now freer to move since there's less car traffic on Market, using the extra space to make sudden U-turns and other erratic moves to pick up fares. Additionally, some cabbies seem to think permission to drive on Market Street also means they can drive in bike lanes and protected turns, as seen below (along with a scofflaw motorist illegally driving onto Market).

A taxi taking a shortcut through the bike turnout. and a private motorist turning onto Market. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick -captured from a safety cam, Sat. Feb. 22
A taxi taking a shortcut through the bike turnout, and a private motorist turning onto Market. Both are breaking the law. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick -captured from a safety cam, Sat. Feb. 22

"Taxis are important as they provide an important accessible mode for those with mobility challenges," wrote Kato in her email to Streetsblog. Certainly, it's reasonable for cabs to be permitted to pick up and drop off people with disabilities on Market, but why do they need to drive down Market roving for fares, or carrying able-bodied people? "We will be monitoring how they are adapting to the new conditions on Market Street and will be coordinating with the Taxi team at SFMTA on any potential changes or communications," added Kato.

What are you experiencing? Are cabs and cops and other city vehicles taking some of the new-found joy and safety out of riding on Market? Would you ban cabbies (except in special circumstances) and police in non-emergency mode from driving on Market Street? Is it time to really ban cars on Market? Post your thoughts below.

Speaking of (potentially) car free-streets, another reminder that tonight/Monday, Feb. 24 is SFMTA’s ‘Valencia Bikeway Improvements (19th Street to Cesar Chavez) Open House and Public Hearing,' 6-8 p.m., City College San Francisco Mission Campus, 1125 Valencia Street.

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