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San Francisco official wants to make Market Street a ‘real promenade’

Transit buses and trolleys drive up and down Market Street on July 25, 2023. | Source: Jeremy Chen/The Standard

San Francisco’s beleaguered Market Street should be transformed into a pedestrianized paradise, similar to John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park, a city transit official said.

Manny Yekutiel, who sits on the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Board of Directors, pitched the idea of transforming Market Street into a redwood tree-lined walkable wonderland, complete with live music performances, in the hopes of drumming up foot traffic.

A major Downtown San Francisco thoroughfare, the stretch of Market Street leading from City Hall to the Embarcadero has been closed to cars since early 2020. But anyone walking down the street recently would likely admit it needs some love. 

“It does feel like, in the post-pandemic era, we can take a fresh, bold and interesting look at what we can do with Market Street,” Yekutiel said during an SFMTA board meeting earlier this month. “I’m thinking we transform Market Street into a real promenade.” 

People walk around during Sunday Streets, when Valencia Street in San Francisco was car-free and open for the public to enjoy on March 10, 2019. | Source: Photo by Gabrielle Lurie/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Several high-profile retailers have closed on Market Street, including a Whole Foods "flagship store" in April, and a number of businesses inside the former Westfield mall, now called the San Francisco Centre, shuttered during the pandemic.

READ MORE: Westfield’s San Francisco Centre Mall Lost 46% of Its Stores Since 2020

Market Street’s issues with crime and drug use are well documented.

San Francisco has launched other initiatives to fill empty stores, such as the "Vacant to Vibrant" program aimed to launch in September that is designed to allow artists to create pop-ups Downtown. 

Pedestrians pass Westfield San Francisco Centre on Market Street in Downtown San Francisco on May, 3, 2023. | Source: Justin Katigbak for The Standard

Yekutiel, who shared his vision as a business owner and not in his official capacity as a board member, said during an Aug. 1 SFMTA meeting that the Market Street promenade could start as a pilot for a few years between Third and Fifth streets.

Yekutiel later dialed back his idea in a Tuesday phone call with The Standard, saying the city could test his idea for six months to a year on a single block of Market between Fifth and Sixth streets.

Why the change? Yekutiel explained that Ikea plans to open a store on that block come Aug. 23. Plus, he added, the four traffic lanes on that block aren’t all used by buses, unlike on Market between Third and Fifth.

‘A Nice Place To Hang Out’

Employees at stores along Market Street generally supported the idea of adding greenery and entertainment to the thoroughfare, but posed questions about public safety and wondered how effective the idea would be for drawing in more customers. Workers talked to The Standard on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak with the press.

A worker at a Sephora store near the Powell Street cable car turnaround by Market and Fifth streets said she thinks the promenade idea would mostly appeal to locals, and that many of her store’s customers are tourists—especially those waiting in line to ride the cable car. 

“I just don’t think tourists are going to know about planting more trees,” the worker said. “I think it’s something that only locals would know about.”

A clerk at the Kate Spade store inside San Francisco Centre said she worried that beautifying the street would attract unhoused people, making tourists and other passersby uncomfortable.

“They might like this because it’s a nice place to hang out,” the worker said.

A worker at the It’s Sugar candy store on Market and Fourth streets, however, said he likes the promenade idea.

Fennel Doyle walks around during a legislative session at San Francisco City Hall in which the Board of Supervisors voted to make John F. Kennedy Drive car-free on April 26, 2022. | Source: Nick Otto for The Standard

“I’ll support anything that’s going to bring more customers to the area,” the worker said.

Yekutiel said the city’s transit agency cannot unilaterally make the idea happen, and that multiple city divisions, including the San Francisco Fire Department, the Department of Public Works and local supervisors would need to sign off as well.

“We appreciate our board members coming up with bold ideas,” SFMTA spokesperson Stephen Chun said in an email about Yekutiel’s idea.

Supervisor Matt Dorsey, whose district overlaps with the southern part of Market between Fifth and Sixth streets, said he supports the idea of a promenade but wants to know how the city would have pedestrians walk across heavily used bus and light-rail lanes on Market before endorsing any plan.

“I appreciate [director] Yekutiel proposing some ideas, and I’d be happy to discuss further,” Dorsey said.

Supervisors Catherine Stefani, left, and Matt Dorsey, right, speak at a press conference in San Francisco on Sept. 6, 2022. | Source: Paul Kuroda for The Standard

Part of Market Street has been car-free since January 2020 through a measure from the transit agency. The Better Market Street plan, led by the SFMTA and Public Works, closes eastbound Market Street to cars from 10th Street to Main Street and westbound from Steuart Lane to Van Ness Avenue. The plan also extends Muni-only lanes and adds new loading zones and intersection-safety measures.

The pressure to take cars off Market Street stems in part from a push to make it safer for pedestrians. In 2019, Market Street accounted for half of the top 10 intersections for pedestrian and bicycle collisions, and the area averaged over 100 injury collisions per year between 2014 and 2019, with 75% of them involving people walking or biking, according to the transit agency. 

Supervisor Aaron Peskin, Mayor London Breed’s office and the fire department did not respond to requests for comment by publication time. Public Works declined to comment.

Garrett Leahy can be reached at