One of the key components that was celebrated when the Better Market Street plan won its final-final approval last fall was a sidewalk-level bike lane that was meant to better protect cyclists from vehicles. But that is one of the elements that's been jettisoned in a revised Phase 1 design plan that was recently unveiled, reflecting the city's pandemic-year budget woes, and the Bicycle Coalition is especially livid.
Bicycle, pedestrian, and transit advocates were up in arms this week over the revised Better Market Street designs, which were made public during a Tuesday meeting of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority Board meeting. As the Examiner reports, the city is reportedly spending $7 million on the redesign process alone, and advocates for the old plan say that too much money is now going to be spent — $121 million for Phase 1 — for too little benefit in terms of safety.
"We went from a project where people who ride bikes, ride transit and walk and people who advocate for them were all excited about it," says Supervisor Matt Haney, speaking to the Chronicle. "Now all those groups have serious concerns."
"[There are] some difficult design changes that we’ve had to implement because of the current situation in the city," said Cristina Olea, the project’s manager with the Department of Public Works (DPW), at Tuesday's meeting.
The current "situation" that Olea is referring to euphemistically is a budget shortfall of $1.5 billion over the next two years, driven by the pandemic, with the SFMTA facing at least two years in the red by hundreds of millions of dollars. In attempting to balance the budget over the summer, Mayor Breed and staff apparently directed DPW to slash some costs from the Better Market Street project, which is set to begin construction late next year (it's unclear from where the orders came).
Cuts to the original plan also include nixing the concrete pavers that were going to replace the bricks on Market Street's sidewalks, and keeping Muni buses confined only to the center lanes — the plan originally put the F-line in the center lanes, and had buses sharing the main traffic lane with commercial vehicles and taxis. Instead of the eight-foot-wide raised bike lane, bicyclists will have to share an 11-foot-wide lane with taxis and commercial vehicles. As the Examiner notes, the lane will be marked off with "painted buffers" under the proposed revision.
In a joint statement this week, the executive directors of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, SF Transit Riders, and Walk San Francisco, say "This revision is a significant step back from the fundamental principles that drove the previous design."
"We agree that the project budget must be reduced, and we want to be clear: We are not asking for a return to the original proposal," the three organization directors say. "What we are asking for is a cost-effective design appropriate to our budget realities that still delivers safety benefits, Muni service improvements and public benefits that advocates, stakeholders and the public are on board with. This current proposal does not achieve that."
As SF Streetsblog writes, advocates have already dubbed the revised plan "Bummer Market Street."
Olea says that the city is "open to considering changes to the proposal that don’t require us to move the curbline," as would be required with the previously proposed raised bike lane.
The revision reportedly saves the city $63 million, though it's unclear how much of that savings is from the bike lane change alone.
SFMTA Director Jeffrey Tumlin says that the change in the bike lane is not due solely to budget concerns — per the Chronicle, he said the agency had a "success problem" with the increase in bicycle traffic on Market Street earlier this year, pre-pandemic, when all car traffic was banned. The originally designed eight-foot bike lane wouldn't be big enough, he said, to accommodate the 800 bicycles per hour that they were seeing at peak times in January. (As Haney quipped to the Chron of the revised design, "Yes it gives more space for people on bikes, but it gives more space for them to potentially be hit by cars.")
Advocates have also raised concerns that the change in the bus lane, which will now require all boarding to be done on a center island, also creates more issues for people with disabilities, and dangers for pedestrians.
"This revision still costs over $100 million," said the Bicycle Coalition in a statement. "Are we getting $100 million in benefits? We have perhaps the only opportunity in a generation to work on transforming Market Street."
Haney pressed DPW on whether they had gotten sufficient stakeholder input before moving forward with this revised design, and it sounds as though the answer is 'no.'
The public and these advocates will now have three opportunities to voice their objections and concerns at online live meetings on November 4 from noon to 1 p.m. and November 9 from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m., and at the SFMTA Board meeting on December 15 when the plan gets presented to the board. There will be a virtual "open house" with links posted here to materials about the plan between November 2 and November 13.