Commentary

San Francisco proposes car ban on Market Street

In the category of “bad ideas never go away”, city councilors in San Francisco are pushing for a ban on personal automobiles on one of the city’s most traveled roads: Market Street. According to a 23 July 2008 article in the San Francisco Chronicle:

Various San Francisco city leaders, including former Mayor Willie Brown, have proposed closing the downtown stretch of Market Street to private automobiles, only to have merchants and others oppose those efforts as impractical and economically damaging. But with record gasoline prices, increasing bicycle traffic, growing concern about climate change and Mayor Gavin Newsom’s recent efforts to close a 6-mile stretch of road along the city’s waterfront on two upcoming Sundays, Supervisor Chris Daly said there’s never been a better time to push a car ban on Market Street from Hayes Valley to the Embarcadero.

Great idea, right? Well, not if Chicago’s experience is any indication.

After State Street was closed to cars, five of the seven major department stores on that stretch left, theaters shuttered and other businesses faltered, said Peter Scales, a spokesman for Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development. Once the ban was lifted, the area was reborn, he said. “It simply brought more people down to that street with vehicle traffic,” said Scales, who was somewhat puzzled that an urban planning idea from the 1970s and 1980s had resurfaced in San Francisco. “It seems to be an old planning idea,” Scales said. “I haven’t heard of any new examples. It’s kind of interesting that it’s coming up there.”

Well, Mr. Scales, not really.

Samuel R. Staley, Ph.D. is a senior research fellow at Reason Foundation and managing director of the DeVoe L. Moore Center at Florida State University in Tallahassee where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in urban planning, regulation, and urban economics. Prior to joining Florida State, Staley was director of urban growth and land-use policy for Reason Foundation where he helped establish its urban policy program in 1997.