Big changes coming to 2 Financial District streets as SFMTA gears up to create two-way bike lane

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- On a regular weekday, Battery Street has bumper-to-bumper traffic. SFMTA is planning to rearrange Battery between Market and Vallejo streets as well as Sansome Street between Market and Broadway to create a two-way bike lane.

Depending on who you ask, making changes to that corridor can be controversial.

Daniela Hernandez is a Lyft driver constantly taking Sansome and Battery streets. We asked her what she thought about the future changes.

"It's going to be really hard for passengers to get to their places. It's going to be more crowded than usual. It's going to be horrible, especially for us, and a lot of stress," said Hernandez.

RELATED: San Francisco supervisors vote to keep Golden Gate Park's JFK Drive permanently car-free

As we walked down Battery Street we met Susan Brown, she is the daughter of former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown. She lives in the East Bay.

Luz Pena: "Has it become more inconvenient for you to drive into the city?"
Susan Brown: "Yes, the traffic is murderous."
Luz Pena: "You're okay with the changes that might make that worse?"
Susan Brown: "Yeah, I am because of the climate crisis and because for those of us who can and have the luxury of being able to walk and move freely. I think it's perfectly fine."

San Francisco has 18.7 million square feet of vacant office space. To put it in perspective that's nearly 14 Salesforce towers. How is San Francisco making it easy for these workers to come back with changes like this that could increase traffic? We met up with SFMTA's Director Jeffrey Tumlin.

RELATED: Tensions running high over future of San Francisco's Great Highway

Luz Pena: "You would also agree that the reason why some of these people are not coming back to the office is because of COVID. They don't want to be exposed to their co-workers potentially getting them sick. This is also the reason why some people are not taking public transit. Which is also the reason why some people want to drive."

Jeffrey Tumlin: "Or bike which is even safer"
Luz Pena: "Yes, but you can't bike from the East Bay. So wouldn't that be making this whole thing harder for people to come back to the office?"
Jeffrey Tumlin: "Again, I really want to emphasize. This is a win-win solution here. We are providing exactly the same number of traffic lanes at the peak there are now. We are not taking any space for people who need to drive. What we are doing is providing a good alternative for San Franciscans"

SFMTA's Battery and Sansome streets plan goes like this:

Three lanes will remain open from 7-9 a.m. & 3-6 p.m. From 9 a.m.-3 p.m., they will get rid of one lane and open it for a two-way bike lane.

RELATED: Bus Rapid Transit finally coming to San Francisco's Van Ness after 5 1/2 years of construction

"We are going to take the curb lane, which currently has parking and this bike station, and we are going to turn that into a peak-only traffic lane. So that car traffic can continue to flow smoothly for the first safe bike facility in all of the financial district," said Tumlin.

All this is part of a bigger plan. We spoke to Janelle Wong, Executive Director of SF's Bike Coalition.

Luz Pena: "Why touch Battery and Sansome if they are not part of the high injury network?"
Janelle Wong: "I think it's about commuting. It's about traveling in the downtown area. Not in a car which is what the city wants to encourage," and added, "We are working with the city and the SFMTA to create a connected network of streets."

Two years ago, SFMTA was planning to implement congestion pricing to deter people from driving.

RELATED: SFMTA responds to civil grand jury report on Van Ness Improvement Project

Luz Pena: "Are you still considering charging people to drive in downtown San Francisco?"
Jeff Tumlin: "There is a study that my sister agency the SFCTA has been leading around downtown congestion pricing. That study is currently on pause because the economic impact of COVID is affecting everyone. Congestion pricing means setting the pricing at the lowest level that means that things are not backed up and that traffic flows smoothly and taking the revenue and investing it in more space-efficient alternatives to driving that make it possible for people to continue driving."

Tumlin said SFMTA recently hired 300 Muni operators.

"It means more frequent service, longer hours of service, new lines being reactivated that haven't been running in two years. It means lines that never existed have been invented in order to accommodate the dramatic change in travel patterns in the city," said Tumlin.

SFMTA wants to control traffic lights next.

"A modern traffic management system that is my goal," said Tumlin.

San Franciscans can voice their opinion on this project until May 6.

"From April 25th to May 6th, the SFMTA is hosting a virtual open house for the Battery/Sansome Quick-Build Project. The SFMTA is seeking your input on pedestrian safety improvements and bikeway improvements on Sansome Street and Battery Street between Market to Vallejo streets. The interactive, online event can be accessed at any time during the two-week period where community members can share their thoughts on the proposals and participate in a survey," - SFMTA.
Copyright © 2022 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.