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  • The 2020 pandemic has changed

  • life in the city pretty dramatically.

  • In the height of citywide lockdowns

  • it can be very eerie to look out at a street

  • and see no people and no traffic.

  • Traffic in urban centers has been a constant,

  • but under the threat of coronavirus, many have been

  • experiencing what life could be like without it.

  • A little after 6:30 and we're

  • looking at the West LA area.

  • What is different in this picture?

  • Well how about this, it's probably about 10%

  • of the cars that are usually out here.

  • Traffic in the United States has been

  • a growing problem over the last decade.

  • Especially in San Francisco where each commuter

  • spends 103 hours waiting in traffic every year.

  • And the cost of congestion totaled over $5 billion in 2017.

  • And while it may seem like the natural solution

  • to pave more roads and increase freeway space,

  • the city's actually taking the opposite approach.

  • Like many European cities,

  • it's removing cars from its downtown.

  • And if it works, it might just help spread this idea

  • of building cities around people, not cars.

  • Now since I live in Brooklyn and likely

  • am not traveling to San Francisco anytime soon,

  • I'm recruiting the help of my colleague Laura Bliss.

  • Not only because she lives in the Bay Area,

  • but because she's been reporting

  • on car-free streets for years.

  • The amount of congestion on the streets

  • that's grown in recent years is really striking.

  • Texas A&M University has published a study

  • which says traffic here in California,

  • and especially here in the Bay Area, is bad.

  • Just since 2010, the number of vehicles

  • entering the city on a daily basis has grown by 27%.

  • This growth has been driven

  • by cheap gas prices, but also the rise

  • of ride-handling apps like Uber and Lyft.

  • And in San Francisco, the tech boom has meant

  • more people are coming to the city every day.

  • There's also a really sharp uptick in pedestrian

  • fatalities that the city has seen in recent years.

  • And this is an issue that all of the United States

  • has been experiencing over the last decade.

  • So the city has done a number of things

  • over the years to try to address its traffic problem.

  • Most recently, the city is launching

  • the Better Market Street Plan.

  • Well another plan is in the works to transform

  • San Francisco's Market Street.

  • It sure looks great on paper.

  • A mega makeover of San Francisco's Mid-Market Street.

  • What you will not be seeing?

  • Cars.

  • All the way back to the dawn of automobiles,

  • Market Street has struggled with a diverse

  • amount of transportation needs.

  • From pedestrians to cyclists,

  • cars and public transportation,

  • and even back in 1906 it could get a little hairy.

  • One of the most iconic things about

  • Market Street is that it's really

  • just kinda almost a free for all.

  • It's about 9 AM.

  • Just at the end of rush hour.

  • And we're gonna ride all the way

  • down to the Ferry Building.

  • And experience Market Street firsthand.

  • And all of its problems.

  • You've got Ubers, you've got private cars,

  • you've got delivery trucks, you've got buses.

  • Pepsi truck just blocking the way.

  • What is he doing?

  • You've also go a historic street car.

  • That's just kinda throttling along.

  • And even though Market Street

  • has dedicated bike lanes, when cars

  • need to turn right off the road,

  • those bike lanes kinda disappear and cyclists

  • end up weaving in and out of traffic.

  • Everybody's really happy

  • this morning as you can hear.

  • At best, this can lead to increased congestion.

  • And at worst, it could lead to an accident.

  • The city's Better Market Street Plan aims to fix this

  • by removing private cars from entering the road,

  • allowing dedicated lanes for trams, buses,

  • and cyclists to run unimpeded for the two mile stretch.

  • As well as a large renovation project

  • to the pedestrian walkway.

  • And while construction will take years to complete,

  • the first step, removing cars, is already in effect.

  • Three!

  • Two!

  • One!

  • Cutting that ribbon took

  • well over a decade of debate,

  • environmental review, and design planning.

  • They've been talking about limiting cars

  • on Market Street almost since cars were invented.

  • Or at least since BART was invented.

  • By November of 2019 the San Francisco

  • Transportation Administrators voted unanimously

  • to approve of Better Market Street Plan.

  • Generally speaking, these kinds of projects

  • do not go down without a massive fight.

  • Whose streets?

  • Our streets!

  • One of the most explosive fights in recent years

  • that's gotten a lot of attention

  • here in the United States was

  • the 14th Street Busway Plan in New York City.

  • It's not going to be

  • your mother's 14th Street anymore.

  • From 3rd to 9th Avenues it will morph

  • into something city officials call a TTP.

  • It means private cars can pretty much forget about it.

  • Similar to the Market Street Project,

  • the 14th Street Busway was a plan to remove

  • private cars from entering the road.

  • The intention here was to improve bus service,

  • but some New Yorkers didn't like it.

  • That's probably gonna just make the traffic a lot worse.

  • That don't seem good.

  • It's a bad thing.

  • I am furious.

  • We are furious.

  • And generally speaking, people oppose

  • pedestrian zones or car bans for three main reasons.

  • First, people fear that the traffic is gonna

  • get pushed to parallel roads and that those

  • side streets are just gonna be stuck in gridlock.

  • Second, there's the fear of the loss of on-street parking.

  • And finally, business owners fear that that loss

  • of parking could mean the reduction

  • of customers and revenue to their business.

  • A plan to ban cars on one of the busiest

  • cross-streets in Manhattan hits a roadblock.

  • Arthur Schwartz represents

  • the group that's suing the city.

  • There's a thousand cars an hour on the side streets.

  • That is not a good trade-off.

  • For anybody.

  • If anybody in their right mind thinks

  • that there's not gonna be a major impact

  • because of this, they're crazy.

  • But once the car ban went into effect,

  • the data came back and was pretty clear.

  • There was no Side Street.

  • Trafficopalyse.

  • Traffic-opalypse.

  • People love to get biblical with traffic.

  • Carmageddon and...

  • This is Trevor Reed,

  • a transportation analyst at INRIX.

  • And yes, he's also working from home.

  • Do you play football?

  • Does someone else play football in the family?

  • Well I'm back at home with my parents.

  • Nice.

  • I did play football and that's--

  • Is this all your childhood stuff?

  • Yup, yup.

  • Pretty much.

  • INRIX worked with a third party

  • consulting firm, Sam Schwartz Consulting,

  • to collect data around how the traffic

  • changed after the 14th Street Busway.

  • The end result of the 14th Street Busway

  • was an absolute success.

  • On all the parallel streets you're seeing

  • a travel increase in travel times by about

  • one to two minutes, which is negligible,

  • but you're seeing a 36% improvement in bus speeds,

  • which was 5.3 minutes faster on average,

  • which corresponded to a 24% increase

  • in bus riders, so over 6,000 increased riders.

  • And you saw a spike in bicycle

  • volumes of between 26 and 50%.

  • But Market Street is a little different.

  • Unlike 14th Street that's laid out

  • in a fairly traditional grid with streets

  • running parallel, Market Street only has

  • one side of parallel street options,

  • Mission that runs north and south,

  • and Howard that only runs southbound.

  • And while it may feel like all that displaced

  • traffic for Market is gonna have a bigger effect

  • on streets like Mission, the results were almost the same.

  • In the morning, on Mission Street Northbound,

  • we were seeing a change in the range of 30 seconds,

  • and then in the afternoon an increase of about a minute.

  • In the AM on Mission Street Southbound

  • it was a negligible change.

  • You're talking about 10 seconds or so at the 9 AM period

  • increasing to about a 50 second increase in travel times

  • at 10 in the morning, and your afternoon period change

  • was again about 10 to 15 seconds during the peak period.

  • And then overall, Howard Street was really

  • showing no statistical change.

  • And while there is a small uptick

  • in traffic delay, Trevor points out

  • that that's not looking at the whole picture.

  • It's not just displacement of vehicles

  • when you put in these busways, they also

  • absorb a lot of those vehicles as new riders.

  • It's not fate that you're gonna have

  • 10,000 cars go into a point every day.

  • It changes and people adapt to change.

  • It only took one day for bike ridership to jump 20%.

  • After a month, that number jumped to 25%.

  • Bus speeds are running 6% faster on average

  • up and down Market Street, and some lines

  • have actually seen a 12% improvement.

  • You know, when you're measuring your benefit

  • in thousands of people, and the negative impact

  • in a dozen cars, it's really, it's a no brainer

  • as far as the benefit versus costs on these busways.

  • And as for how loss of parking

  • is gonna affect local business?

  • Vendors think that a much higher proportion

  • of their customers are coming via vehicle than they are.

  • It's 240 square feet to park a personal vehicle

  • and the odds are that's one customer.

  • No restaurant or store can survive in an urban

  • context just based upon people driving,

  • parking, and going to use that service.

  • There's actually been proven

  • a positive economic correlation.

  • A lot of these, in a lot of the context,

  • following the improvement of bus or bike infrastructure

  • because you're actually getting more people

  • into an area than you were previously

  • with the on-street parking.

  • Because of the shelter in place order,

  • it's been difficult to create any concrete

  • economic data around the Market Street project.

  • But around the world, evidence has been

  • pretty strikingly positive.

  • It used to look like this.

  • A parking lot with 75 cars parked here.

  • So the city council proposed to take away

  • 60, so 15 left, and then the merchants here

  • said no, we want them all gone.

  • Because we're right off the pedestrianized zone

  • where sales are better.

  • After Central Madrid went car-free,

  • with a pretty large swath of its downtown area

  • now no access to cars, it's seen

  • nearly a 10% boost to retail sales

  • for businesses in that pedestrian zone.

  • And it's also seen greenhouse gases drop by 32%.

  • But not all car-free street projects

  • are looked at as successes.

  • In the US during the 60s and 70s cities

  • created what were known as pedestrian malls.