Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Market Street Blues

I recently spent a week in a hotel on Market Street in San Francisco. Market is easily the busiest street in San Francisco and features retail, hotels, theaters, and a whopping 3 levels of public transportation stacked on top of one another. You have trolleys and buses at the ground level, a light rail subway below that, and if that wasn't enough you also have a BART line below the subway system. In addition, every light rail and BART line has multiple stops along market.

Naturally I assumed that this would be the place to be in SF. I envisioned nice walks with my wife to late night restaurants and bars with lot's to see and do. What a tremendous disappointment! This has to be the most inconsistent street in the world. You can be walking outside of Bloomingdales on one block and a porn megaplex in the next. Much of the retail spaces were vacant, far more than in the streets of downtown San Jose. Few places were open past 10pm besides Burger King, and most of the street is a homeless encampment (smells exactly like you would expect a homeless encampment to smell as well). Also unlike San Jose, the homeless people are very agressive and will sometimes follow you.

I have never seen a live robbery in my life, and yet during this week I saw two. First I saw someone steal a teenager's iPhone while waiting for the subway, then I saw a small group of people stealing a BMW's wheels while I was looking for parking (a nightmare in and of itself). What the heck SF? Market Street should be the nicest in the city. It's access by public transit rivals every other street I've been to besides a few in Tokyo. Market St. should be a showcase of everything San Francisco has to offer, not a sprawling homeless shelter.

We should try to learn from whatever mistakes were made leading to this Market Street cluster-mess. That way, when BART strolls through Santa Clara Street in the year 2087, we can provide an enjoyable experience to our residents and visitors!


  1. They did a good job with Upper Market. I think urban enthusiasts obsess much over office towers and the canyons they create, because the livelier neighborhoods up north are away from the big buildings. We should stop worrying about a big skyline and fostering areas like South First, Japantown, Keyes, West San Carlos, East Santa Clara, etc. The void on Market Street you describe is because people party near where they live, not where they work. Notice that SOMA is also a ghost town at night, aside from a few bars.

  2. I second Krudmonk. The best neighborhoods are rarely the ones with the tallest buildings; there's a lot to be said of the "neighborhood feel" created by low- to mid-rise buildings. If our infill is exclusively in the 3-5 story range we'll have successful 'hoods soon enough.

    Also, 2087? What an optimist!

  3. I've only been to NYC once, but I definitely walked down streets with massive buildings and plenty of street level activity at 1am. That being said, they were probably a mix of residential and office buildings unlike Market which is skewed towards office. At least we're finally getting some residential in the DTSJ core. I think this will help keep the streets busy. Ideally we'd be able to have both the "tall" buildings and foot-traffic, in addition to vibrant neighborhoods in the areas Krudmonk mentioned.