After delays caused by the pandemic, San Francisco finally broke ground on Market Street improvements in February.
The project, Better Market Street, is set to give a makeover to 2.2 miles of road, from Octavia Boulevard all the way to Steuart Street near the Embarcadero. It’s intended to boost safety, speed up Muni service and bring Market into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act—in essence, make the city’s main thoroughfare grander, prettier and more convenient.
To get it all done, workers are installing new traffic signals, repaving curb lanes and intersections for smoother travel, adding curb ramps and bulb-outs for pedestrian safety and accessibility, and installing catch basins to reduce flooding. The eastern stretch of Market Street went car-free in January 2020.
The project adds 20 new street trees, replacing another 15 that are dead or dying, while adding bicycle racks at 25 new locations and replacing another 45.
The city will also be testing a new strategy through the Better Market Street project: installing soil cells, essentially engineered hunks of plastic placed beneath trees to guide root growth in a way that doesn’t crack sidewalks or interfere with underground utilities.
This first phase of construction—spanning Market from Fifth Street to Eighth Street—is expected to be completed in mid-2024, according to the Department of Public Works.
For the foreseeable future, though, this first phase is actually the only phase put into action. The project’s overall cost is pegged at $604 million.
Better Market Street is a scaled-back version of a plan that voters approved in 2019.
The change was a letdown for transit and traffic safety advocates who had initially celebrated that 2019 plan. Plans for a sidewalk-level bike lane were abandoned, keeping bikes on the road instead, as were plans for other improvements.
In making big adjustments to move construction forward, the project saved about $130 million, according to Public Works.
In theory, the next phase of Better Market Street will be a highly visible one, constructing a loop for the F-Market line that adds new tracks along McAllister Street and Charles J. Brenham Place in the Tenderloin. That way, the city’s historic streetcars can return to the Embarcadero without having to head all the way to the Castro, where the line terminates.
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