The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency board has voted to implement an 18-month trial that bans almost all private automobiles on lower Powell Street, from Ellis to Geary. That two block stretch has been extra-jammed with cars in the past few years, a consequence of increased population and tourism and the closure of parallel Stockton Street for the construction of the Central Subway.
We wrote about the problem recently, focusing on the wear and damage to the cable, and the exhaustion of gripmen, from having to inch uphill through the gridlock, something cable cars really weren’t designed to do. Cables were wearing out far more frequently, which was expensive, and the prospect of damaged cables shutting down the system or, worse, causing accidents, had increased.
Cable car head Ed Cobean called us immediately to tell us that signs banning automobile turns will go up tomorrow (November 5) and the track lanes on those two blocks of Powell will be painted red in the next few weeks to warn automobiles off. (Red lanes are how San Francisco designates transit-only areas.)
After the 18-month trial, the impact on cable car operation and on traffic will be evaluated and a decision will be made on whether to make the changes permanent. Market Street Railway believes they will be, and will begin working with other stakeholders to envision a facelift for Powell from Market Street to Union Square (including the first block of Powell and turntable area, which were put off-limits to automobiles in the 1970s). San Francisco’s cable cars deserve a world-class corridor through the downtown area that’s both beautiful and safe, and we want to help achieve that.