Bicycle-Friendly Future for Market Street by Josh Switzky and Leah Shahum

Graphic by Hugo Kobayashi.
Market Street is the most important street for bicyclists in San Francisco. If improved, it will probably carry more bicycle commuter traffic than any other street in the United States. While not critical for auto movement in San Francisco, its generally flat topography and diagonal orientation to the street grids make Market Street a crucial link for bicyclists heading to and from downtown as well as connecting to regional transit (e.g. BART, Caltrain, ferries).

A generally wide right-of-way, about 120 feet for most of its length, Market Street has the potential to be a beautiful and functional multi-modal street, serving transit, bicyclists, pedestrians, taxis, and to lesser degree, autos. Between the Embarcadero and 8th Street, Market Street is noticeably narrower and more congested with all forms of traffic, transit, and pedestrians.

A Two-Pronged Approach The San Francisco County Transportation Authority (TA) is currently engaged in a nine-month study of the transportation function of Market Street from the Embarcadero to Octavia. The SFBC is working with the TA on their study, sharing our ideas and helping shape the direction and recommendations they consider (see "Long Term Strategies" below). However, we're anticipating that any implementation of a car-free bike path will take a long time to materialize.

In the meantime, the SFBC sees quick and inexpensive ways to create immediately needed wide bicycle lanes between 8th Street and Octavia, where the Central Freeway will soon touch down. Hence, we've adopted a two-pronged approach of proceeding with our immediate plans while continuing to work with the TA on longer-range solutions.

Immediate, Low Cost Actions Between Octavia and Castro Streets, bicycle lanes disappear and reappear intermittently. A number of relatively simple striping fixes and signage could make the lanes safer and continuous. While superior comprehensive solutions might involve expensive moving of curbs, those solutions could certainly replace these immediate measures once funding is found several years from now.

Here are highlights of the SFBC's immediate proposal:

The SFBC's Market Street Committee got off to a great start April 23 at its first meeting to look at the SFBC's plans to improve this critical corridor for bikes. As we move forward, we will need to conduct outreach to neighbors, merchants, and other regular users of Market Street, presenting the plans and gaining support. We need lots of help in the next few months to hit the streets and build the momentum! To get involved with the Market Street campaign, contact Josh Switzky at 431-BIKE, ext. 8 or; or Mary Brown, 431-BIKE ext. 4 or

Long Term Strategies While SFBC members work for specific improvements between Octavia and Castro, we are also part of an exciting, broader effort to transform the eastern half of Market Street to a more usable and safe street for all users by prioritizing bicycling, walking, and transit use.

Starting this summer, community members will be invited to help shape the future of Market Street between Octavia and the Embarcadero. Thanks to lobbying efforts headed by the SFBC and other community groups, as well as supportive city departments, the SF Board of Supervisors allocated $200,000 to this major Market Street planning process with the following four goals:

  • Improve pedestrian circulation and safety conditions;
  • Provide a safer, more inviting bicycle route;
  • Decrease transit travel time and improve transit efficiency;
  • Accommodate needed motor vehicle trips to ensure improved viability of Market St. as the spine of a thriving commercial and residential district.

    The SF Transportation Authority, which will be leading the effort, secured another $75,000 grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission for additional community outreach, which the SFBC's sister organization Transportation for a Livable City (TLC) will be integrally involved with. A series of public workshops will be held to gather public input about what Market Street could-and should-look like. A plan should be developed by the end of 2002.

    This is an historic opportunity to build a state-of-the-art car-free bicycle right-of-way and create the most inviting and important bicycle commute route in the country. It's also a chance to make Market Street work for transit riders and pedestrians, too. Stay tuned for the announcement of the public workshops.