The city of San Francisco is implementing a six-week trial program at the end of the month to try to alleviate traffic congestion on Market Street and launch a long-term revitalization process, Mayor Gavin Newsom’s office announced today.

Beginning Sept. 29, private automobiles traveling east on Market Street will be rerouted before they reach Sixth Street, spokesman Nathan Ballard said. The goal is to reduce traffic on the often-clogged thoroughfare.

Eastbound traffic will be forced to turn right off of Market Street at Eighth Street and Sixth Street, according to the mayor’s office. Buses, taxis, delivery vehicles, emergency vehicles and bicycles are exempted.

Cars entering eastbound Market Street east of Sixth Street won’t be restricted, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency spokesman Judson True said.

Westbound traffic won’t be affected by the changes, and cars traveling north and south will still be able to cross Market Street.

Ballard said the vehicle rerouting trial has been in discussion for more than a year, and improving traffic congestion in the area is the first step toward transforming Market Street into “one of the world’s great boulevards.

The reroute will last for at least six weeks, and during the next six to 12 months, other trial changes on Market Street will include concerts and events on the street, mini-plazas with outdoor seating, food kiosks and public art in storefronts, according to the mayor’s office.

“We want to dramatically improve the landscaping, improve the environment for retail,” Ballard said. “We want to make it an oasis for pedestrians, shoppers and tourists. We know it won’t happen overnight, but this is a first step.”

Business owners opposed some previous traffic reduction proposals because they worried that fewer cars would mean sales losses. Ballard, however, said the success of the Sunday Streets program – which opened major thoroughfares to pedestrians and bikers for a few hours on various Sundays during the past two summers – helped pave the way this time for city and transportation agencies to work with the business community to reduce vehicular traffic.

“Businesses were up in arms about Sunday Streets to begin with, but now they are overwhelmingly supportive,” Ballard said. “That opened the floodgates for similar pilot programs.”

The Municipal Transportation Agency will have to approve any long-term traffic plans, he added.

Muni spokesman Judson True said the plan is expected divert about 200 eastbound cars per hour away from Market Street.

“It’s really about testing whether this is an effective way to reduce traffic for the downstream,” he said of the trial. “Transportation is a piece that we’re working with the other departments on to help improve Market Street.”

Carolyn Diamond, executive director of the Market Street Association, said business owners in the area mostly support the reroute because it is less extreme than previous proposals to reduce traffic, and it is being implemented on a trial basis.

“We’re open to seeing how it affects retail, businesses, et cetera, to see if it does make Market a better, safer pedestrian and bicycle street,” she said. “We’ll just wait and see.”

One recent push to change traffic patterns on Market Street was in July 2008 when Supervisor Chris Daly unsuccessfully proposed banning cars on the road.

Daly said he has not been involved with the current rerouting plan but is glad to see steps being taken to address congestion in the area, even if the changes are relatively small.

“Incremental progress is better than no progress,” he said. “I’ve long believed that if you reduce automobile trips on Market Street, you’re going to improve the corridor for bicyclists and walking.”

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