City launches car-free Market Street, police issue warnings to drivers

More than 2 miles of Market Street in downtown San Francisco are now closed to private vehicles as of Wednesday morning, paving the way for safer streets.

On Wednesday morning, city officials celebrated the start of the Better Market Street project, which prioritizes buses, bicyclists and pedestrians along the busy thoroughfare.

"After years of discussion, activism, and planning, 2020 is the year we will truly put people first on Market Street," Mayor London Breed said in a statement.

"Starting today, San Francisco's main civic boulevard will be returned to pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit riders -- making it safer for everyone who uses it and helping us make progress on our Vision Zero and climate goals," Breed said.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency's new director of transportation Jeffrey Tumlin, whose been on the job for just over two months, said, "The Market Street project helps us meet two key goals: moving more people by eliminating congestion delay on our most important transit corridor, and improving safety on the street with five of our top-ten, high-injury intersections."

As part the project's first phase, which launched Wednesday, private vehicles, including ride-hailing vehicles like Uber and Lyft, will be prohibited from traveling on Market Street eastbound from 10th to Main streets and westbound from Steuart Street to Van Ness Avenue, although they can still cross Market Street.

Additionally, SFMTA crews have installed signs, created new pedestrian safety zones, added new loading zones and extended Muni-only lanes down Market Street.

Parking control and police officers are on hand directing traffic and helping call attention to the new changes. According to police, officers have been stopping private vehicles all day on Market Street and are issuing just warnings for now.

KTVU's Rob Roth was on Market Street on Wednesday where Muni drivers he spoke with said things were running smoothly for the most part. 

The people who seemed most frustrated by the new ban are the vendors at Justin Herman Plaza, who need their cars to load and unload their goods. 

"Where are they going to put their cars because you can sell along Market? How are they going to get their stuff there?" asked one vendor Vivena Cuygan. 

The second phase of the project is expected to roll out sometime this spring. That phase would see the extension of bus-only lanes east from Third to Main streets. Taxis and non-Muni buses will no longer be allowed in those lanes.

Also, the existing bus/taxi lanes from Third to Ninth streets will become a Muni-only lane. Additionally, bicycle intersection improvements will be made along Market at Eighth, Page, Battery and Valencia streets.

The project's third phase aims to change sections of Ellis and Jones streets near Market to improve safety and vehicle movement. That phase is set to begin in the summer months.

KTVU's Rob Roth contributed to this report.