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Making a Better Market Street

Just about everyone who visits San Francisco's grand Market Street is awed by its hustle and bustle, the myriad modes of transportation, and some of the most beautiful architecture in the city. But just about everyone also agrees that Market Street has much bigger potential as a space that accommodates its users in more efficient and human terms. Parts of the street are in disrepair; whole blocks contain more boarded up facades than functioning businesses.

Streetfilms was able to talk to many advocates who would like to see a different configuration of Market Street -- folks who have already invested in making it better, and passersby who use it as a daily commuting option. It's fair to say not all ideas are universally accepted among all stakeholders, but hopefully their thoughts can serve as a springboard to a bigger discussion on what to do when Market Street is finally re-examined and re-paved.

Leah Shahum: We think there’s no bigger bang for your buck for bicycle safety, pedestrian safety and transit improvements than fixing Market Street. We think it’s the number one corridor that we can really see improvement to sustainable transportation. [00:30] Want to reach out to businesses along the way, to neighbours, to other stakeholders, and make this a people first street.

Marty Castleberg: It’s like the centre of the funnel of this city. If you see the way the city’s laid out, it’s not a square. All the streets lead into Market Street. Everything comes here. So it’s an incredible asset.

Carolyn Diamond: You know making Market Street come back to where a destination point rather than a pass through point would be, you know, a goal for all of us. [01:00] You know, we want to say proud to be on Market Street, we’re proud to be part of, you know, the revitalisation of its public spaces and it’s thoroughfare.

Lainie Motamedi: Right now there’s a lot of friction for car drivers, bicyclists as well as Muni all trying to access Market Street at the same time in a very congested way. So there’s a lot of, I’d say, frustration.

Tom Radulovich: There’s some plazas, there’s some parks. They don’t really work well now. We need to get those in good shape so that these can be [01:30] the sort of nodes, the sort of jewels along Market Street.

Leah Shahum: How do we lessen the amount of car traffic here? How do we reduce the speeds? How do we civilise the sharing of space? And how do we prioritise those walking, biking and taking transit? I think it’s not only a different street in terms of transportation, but you’d see a really different street in terms of the life and the business. You know there’s lots of parts of Market Street that are really failing frankly, that are underdeveloped, underserved.

Kirsten Steele: I would love to see Market Street be car free. [02:00] As it is right now there’s so many more people that are using Market Street than cars and there’s a limited amount of space and so right now the cars are kind of squeezing everybody else to the sides. You have these really skinny mediums to wait on the bus that are often really crowded.

Speaker: I think everything in the world should be people friendly. San Francisco is a very progressive city and I think there should be more provisions for pedestrians.

Speaker: The curbs aren’t even so I go over a lot of bumps. [02:30]

Speaker: It would be nice to have a couple of benches we could chill on that…

Speaker: But then I would see people sleeping on the benches and I don’t think they want that.

Speaker: Sometimes like the buses take longer to get down the block than it would if you just walked down the block, so that’s really frustrating at times.

Speaker: They get very crowded. Standing room only a lot of times.

Kirsten Steele: One thing that really bugs me I guess is when I’m biking and there’s a bus that pulls over and you have to squeeze by.

Carolyn Diamond: If you walk through United Nations Plaza, it’s really big and there’s big buildings on [03:00] either side of you and stuff, and you walk in the middle of it, you kind of feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere. You know, it’s not to scale.

Tom Radulovich: Where you’ve got great buildings sometimes you’ve got really terrible public spaces. This is Hallidie Plaza, it’s a sunken plaza from the 1960’s. It was built when Bart went in. It’s really the front door to San Francisco for a lot of people, but as you can see, it doesn’t work at all as a public space. It’s completely barren, there’s nothing to do and the city’s war on seating hasn’t helped at all. [03:30] Alright, so here we are in Mint Plaza. This is actually not on Market Street, but it’s an example I think of what could happen. As you can see it’s been beautifully designed. It’s at street level, it really invites people in, but the people who maintain this, which is the Martin Building Company, they put these chairs out for anyone to enjoy, so you can come here with your coffee. The great thing about these chairs is they move. When the sun changes position you can lift up your chair and follow the sun.

Michael J. Helquist: We go out the first Saturday of each month [04:00] and identify, circle and report all the potholes we can find. Last December when we were here, this was actually bouncing when a car came over it. The city came out, they filled it in. Two months later it looks like this, it’s worse than before. So many of these defects that we have in the street are definitely a hazard for cyclists, it can flip you once your tyre gets caught in them. But they’re also a hazard for pedestrians and for cars, it’s a huge wear on cars. Lots of times cars will veer in one direction [04:30] or another to avoid this, who knows what they’re going to hit in the process.

Marty Castleberg: We’re going through an incredible change. We’ve got more bikes coming past Van Ast, downtown, and Market Street now than we do cars to commute to work in the morning. And that tells me something about the change that’s being forced upon it and we can’t treat this, this street as a catchall for everything that we want to do. We have to really rethink what we can do and what we can’t do.

Tom Radulovich: Let’s make it a street that people really, really want to come to. [05:00] We’ve made a terrific investment in public transit, getting people here, but once you’re here, there’s not a lot to do.

Speaker: A little bit more green, a little bit more softening of the edges, a little bit more encouragement for people to be sitting out, talking to each other.

Carolyn Diamond: It’s got to have political will and you’ve got to have someone to manage it. But you can invest the community more in it, you know we’re talking about put a movie night out there, put music out there, entertainment out there, family night, invest the schools and put your [05:30]… the senior ball out there and tent it.

Leah Shahum: It’s really critical that we think about Market Street now. The Street is scheduled to be ripped up and repaved completely in the next couple of years. We need to do it right this time. We can either rip this street up and put it back the way it is, which is severely broken, or we can put it back better. We can make this a grand promenade that, you know, San Francisco can be proud of.

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Clarence Eckerson Jr. has been making fantastical transportation media in NYC since the late 1990s. He's never had a driver's license and never will.

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  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/Clarissa Clarissa

    Market Street is an excellent example of livable streets possibilities. One person in the video commented on what I think is an important part of the discussion: if there were more benches on Market Street, someone would probably be sleeping on them.

    There's a large population of homeless people in the San Francisco Bay Area, along with a large population of wealthy people of all ages, and busloads of tourists. I would hope that any revitalization of Market Street would keep the homeless folks in mind as well as the people who are able to contribute more money to the San Francisco economy.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/sfbriansmith Brian Smith

    Great analysis of where we are today. Thanks Clarence. I hope this film will be viewed in the future as the zero point by which to measure the New San Francisco, less dependent on cars and more people friendly.

    Not just for daily users and locals, what we do to tourists who stumble out of the Powell Street BART station makes me want to cry. It is not up to the standards one would expect of an international tourist destination. UN Plaza remains an insult to the institution founded here.

    Will NYC beat us to the punch with their Times Square project?

    The race is on.

  • Jdub

    Clarence,

    This film nicely captures all the chaos and potential of street. I like how you interviewed people of many different viewpoints. One of the best Streetfilms yet.

  • Umberto Brayj

    Man, those brick sidewalks look gigantic.

    This was really interesting because there are obviously a lot of different groups and people invested in this sort of discussion and change in San Francisco already.

    I would be interested in finding out what local businesses and business associations are doing (or not doing) to make the situation better for themselves.

  • willnyc

    new yorks time square project is launching this memorial day - so i know we'll win the race :) but i would love to see some improvement here. why not restrict auto use to delivery vehicles and buses only. europe has buses that can photograph cars that illegally drive in bus lanes. On a street with no room for personal auto use this technology could help improve the encouragement of mass transit over driving alone.