San Francisco has joined what’s said to be a growing movement.

As part of a project to redesign and revitalize its Market Street, the city last month banned private vehicles along a portion of the thoroughfare. San Francisco’s decision comes on the heels of similar efforts along Manhattan’s 14th Street in the fall.

On the first day of the switch, bike ridership saw a 20% boost, the San Francisco Examiner reported.

We need to do better than use Market as a queuing place for the Bay Bridge,” Jeffrey Tumlin, executive director of the Municipal Transportation Agency, told Citylab, which dubs the street the “spine of San Francisco.” “Today represents the way the world is finally changing how it thinks about the role of transportation in cities.”

There have been similar moves in Oslo and Madrid, and congestion taxing in London and redesigned streets in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Cambridge, Mass. With eyes most recently on San Francisco, could car-free streets come to Philadelphia?

A petition recently circulated online advocates to “cancel cars” along Chestnut Street over the summer, highlighting the efforts in New York and San Francisco. Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron floated a similar question last fall, after heading to New York to see its 14th Street busway in action.

But for congested Chestnut Street, which decades ago had its own bus-only Transitway (blamed for killing retail after opening in the mid-'70s, an issue well-documented in another Saffron column), other plans are in store.

“We do not have any immediate plans to make Chestnut car-free,” city spokesperson Kelly Cofrancisco said in an email. “Right now we are focused on making the existing configuration work better. We have increased enforcement, reorganized curb space, and are exploring other options.”

Despite claims that the Chestnut Street Transitway was bad for retail, the sidewalks were filled with pedestrians in this historic photo, which appears to date from the late 1970s.
City of Philadelphia
Despite claims that the Chestnut Street Transitway was bad for retail, the sidewalks were filled with pedestrians in this historic photo, which appears to date from the late 1970s.

It’s a street many try to avoid, with buses often stuck in traffic that sometimes makes walking a better option for those able. In remarks last month at his second inauguration, Mayor Jim Kenney made a point to voice support of the planned redesign of SEPTA’s bus routes.

A traffic enforcement effort started in September 2018 that aimed to curb congestion along portions of Chestnut and Market Streets proved successful, reducing travel times, according to the city. More than 3,600 tickets were issued between Sept. 24, 2018, and Jan. 28, 2019. Results of a six-month Chestnut Street loading zone pilot with similar goals are expected soon.

An agreement last fall between SEPTA and the city related to bus improvements also points to Chestnut and Walnut Streets as congested areas where transit should get priority. Other congested corridors listed were Market Street, John F. Kennedy and Roosevelt Boulevards, Oregon and Allegheny Avenues, and Seventh and Eighth Streets.

Moving forward, SEPTA will focus on its partnerships with the city as well as the Philadelphia Parking Authority, said SEPTA spokesperson Andrew Busch.

“That’s where our focus is,” he said, “is on continuing those efforts to try to improve congestion.”