San Francisco's busiest street is walking into the future under a radical redesign that will make the city safer, cleaner and greener.

Downtown San Francisco as seen from Twin Peaks. Market Street cuts straight down the center of the frame, and in the background the Berkeley and Oakland hills can be seen across the bay, on the other side of the Bay Bridge.
Market St (cutting straight down the centre of the image) is one of the busiest corridors in San Francisco ©Hal Bergman via Getty

Market Street is the biggest traffic corridors in San Francisco but soon it will look, sound and feel very different. Think less cars, less beeping horns and less air pollution. Last week, the board of supervisors at the San Francisco Municipal Transport Agency (SFMTA) unanimously approved the Better Market Street project, a $604-million plan to get private cars off the street and make more space for pedestrians, cyclists and transit.

The project was a decade in the making and proposes numerous changes to 2.2. miles along Market Street between Octavia Boulevard and the Embarcadero. Sustainable changes such as banning private cars eastbound between 10th and Spear streets and westbound between Steuart Street and Van Ness Avenue. Under the redesign, bus-only lanes will be extended to support a free-flowing Muni service and new protected bike lanes will be built. Cyclists and pedestrians will have more space to manoeuvre and will be kept at a safe distance thanks to wider sidewalks, as well as new railings, benches and trees.

A city street sign that reads 'Market Street'
Market Street will be closed to private vehicles under the Better Market Street project ©FrankvandenBergh via Getty

"This is about the kind of city we want to be," Amanda Eaken, one of the SFMTA’s directors, tweeted about the Better Market Street project. "Let’s make sure this is just the beginning of creating more car-free spaces in San Francisco."

Restricting cars on the busiest thoroughfare in the city might seem radical but San Francisco is championing this new mobility plan as a move to open Market Street rather than close it down. And it makes sense. Because there are fewer cars, those who do need to travel downtown can get around easier. Transit, taxis and people with disabilities who depend on cars will still be able to access the street and Uber and Lyft vehicles will have dedicated loading zones on side streets where they can collect and drop passengers off.

People Cycling By Trees Against Sky
Barcelona is reclaiming some of its city-centre streets for pedestrians and cyclists ©Daria Botieva / Eyeem via Getty

"The transformational Better Market Street Project is emblematic of our city’s commitment to safety, transit, accessibility, the environment and economic vitality," Viktoriya Wise, who heads SFMTA's Sustainable Streets division, told Lonely Planet. "By prioritising people walking, biking and transit on our busiest street, we are focused on improving sustainable travel modes and working to achieve the City’s Vision Zero goal of eliminating traffic deaths. This is a major step for San Francisco and we are thrilled to be joining other cities on the cutting edge of designing car-free spaces."

Car-free streets and transit-orientated development are part of a wider urban trend. Oslo's city centre is almost entirely car-free. Barcelona and Paris are reclaiming streets from cars and transforming them into mixed-use public spaces. And Amsterdam has recently adopted a 27-step plan to phase cars off its city streets. Closer to San Francisco, New York City is set to introduce congestion pricing as a step towards restricting traffic in the city, following similar moves in London, Singapore and Stockholm.

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