There are all sorts of things a city can do in the service of safer streets, from reducing speed limits to making room for bike lanes to handing out gift cards to law-abiding drivers. San Francisco just added another strategy to the list: restricting turns.
The move is part of a package of changes called the Safer Market Street plan—a subset of San Francisco’s broader Vision Zero initiative—that recently won the unanimous approval of city officials. Under the new rules, private cars will have limited chances to turn onto Market Street for a mile-long stretch between 3rd and 8th streets. SFMTA documents show that a total of 14 turns will be eliminated from the grid:
The idea is to reduce the number of conflict points between drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists on the busy corridor, and in doing so improve safety. In recent years, Market Street has been home to four of the city’s 20 worst intersections for pedestrian injuries, and the two worst crossings for bike collisions. At 5th and Market, for instance, there were 20 accidents involving cyclists and walkers between 2012 and 2013.
The new crossing at 5th will remove right-turns onto Market by private cars coming from both directions. Cyclists, transit buses, official taxis, and trucks will still be allowed to make the turn:
The plan also extends transit-only lanes to this entire stretch of Market in both directions, making Muni buses a quicker and more reliable option. More transit lanes should mean fewer dangerous lane changes by cars. New passenger loading zones and disabled parking areas will be added just off Market, eliminating more conflicts between pedestrians and general traffic, as well as reducing bus delays caused by drop-offs and pick-ups at the curb.
All told, officials expect a 30 to 50 percent decrease in vehicles on Market, with a slight increase on other nearby streets—the clear expectation being that some existing drivers will change their travel mode.
Nearly every stakeholder has reason to cheer the plan. Transit riders should get improved service, as will taxi customers. Trucks should encounter fewer delivery obstacles. Walkers and cyclists will have a safer trip, with one pedestrian advocate calling the plan “a really simple approach that will have an immediate impact.” Even merchants are reportedly on board—with SFMTA figures showing (in line with loads of other research) that drivers spend no more in the shops on Market than do people traveling by alternative modes.
The only party that’s pissy over the plan is Uber. Failing to see the irony in having its service disrupted, the ride-hail company is upset that official taxis are getting a leg up. But there’s a very practical reason to restrict Uber’s turns: cops charged with enforcing the new rules would have no way of distinguishing its fleet from private cars. There’s a philosophical one, too. If Uber insists on calling itself a tech company rather than a transportation company—even in objecting to the plan, a spokeswoman referred to Uber’s drivers as its “driver-partners”—then it shouldn’t get the spoils of being part of the transportation network.