It could just be campaign bluster and empty talk, but mayoral candidate Mark Farrell is among those talking about reopening Market Street to regular vehicle traffic. And Chronicle urban design critic John King has some thoughts.

Cars were getting pushed off Market Street in various iterations and rollouts of the Better Market Street plan going back a full decade. And while it can be a navigational nightmare for tourists and out-of-town Uber and Lyft drivers, it has made for far better experiences for bicyclists and bus-riders, and those who enjoy taking the F-Market streetcars — which no longer sit in traffic backups the closer they get to the Ferry Building.

The final private-vehicle ban — which includes Uber and Lyft cars but not traditional taxis or delivery vehicles — was instituted below 10th Street in January 2020, right before the pandemic essentially emptied much of downtown. And immediately, any errant cars that tried to disobey the signage faced $238 fines.

Onetime six-month mayor and former supervisor Mark Farrell and some other critics of the car ban are joining with some downtown business owners in calling for a return of cars, suggesting that this will help revive business activity in the city's downtown. But will it?

Farrell lists this as a campaign promise on his mayoral campaign website, on a page that discusses other "economic vitality" measures he would undertake, which also include "Recommit[ting] to retail in Union Square."

John King writes today that imagining this as some quick fix for downtown activity is "an exercise in wishful thinking, at best."

It's not as if getting to drive all the way down Market would help a wandering tourist get easily to a business they need to shop at. You still need to be on Mission or Howard Street if you want to access a parking garage, and you still have to make loops through SoMa if you're trying to get to Union Square.

King points to city planners looking at Market Street's dysfunction and traffic in 1963, writing, "Downtown Market Street has always served as a major transit and pedestrian spine; it has been of only marginal use as a traffic carrier," and, "If one function of the street must be sacrificed, it should be that of carrying private vehicles."

Also, it's not clear how Farrell would just flip this switch and go back allowing cars down the corridor given he'd have to get through the Planning Department and Board of Supervisors before that could happen. Unwinding the clock on this decades-long project, in which sidewalk and streetscape improvements are still ongoing, is likely not an achievable goal.

Still, people are chattering about this, including local architect Jeffrey Heller, co-founder of Heller Manus Architects. As Heller tells the Chronicle, "[Even] if the pandemic hadn’t happened, the effect on Market would be just as bad" from this lack of traffic. And, he says, "Traffic energizes these places."

The problem is that a good portion of the foot traffic that used to buzz around lower Market Street isn't there anymore, and it may not be coming back for a while, so people are looking for easy fixes.

Bringing all the car chaos back probably is not one of them.

Previously: Private Cars Face $238 Fines For Driving Up or Down Market Street Below Van Ness

Photo via Wikimedia