Car-Free Market Street Benefits Micromobility, Transit Without Ruining Car Commutes, Studies Say

On January 29, 2020, San Francisco adopted a policy now being embraced by cities around the world and made a major transportation artery through the city, Market Street, “car free”. Private vehicles, including personal vehicles, Uber, and Lyft, may no longer travel east of 10th street, which can now only be used by buses, streetcars, taxis, and freight delivery.

This long-awaited change is anticipated to usher in many benefits, including reduced traffic, faster travel times for mass transit, and safer roads for pedestrians, cyclists, and other vulnerable road users. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) reported that after just one day, bike ridership was up 20 percent.

There is another growing cohort of travelers that benefit from San Francisco’s new policy, scooter riders. Just one month in, we examined the data to see if there were any measurable impacts. Here’s what we found.

Spin Scooter Ridership is Up 30 Percent on Market

With Spin trip data, aggregated on the Populus Mobility Manager platform, we analyzed average daily scooter volumes on specific street segments along Market Street to measure differences before and after it went car free on January 29.

What we found is that at multiple street segments along the Market Street corridor, Spin scooter trips increased between 30 to 36 percent from January to February. Let’s look at a specific segment near the intersection of Market and 4th Streets, an area that many cyclists and scooterists might find more dangerous with mixed vehicle traffic. The average daily scooter ridership the weeks of February 2–29, 2020 increased by 30 percent from the prior three weeks of January 5–25, 2020 before car-free Market.

“Street design changes, big and small, can have a huge impact on what mode of transportation a person chooses and even what routes they decide to take,” said Kay Cheng, Director of Infrastructure Initiatives at Spin. “For years advocates and city officials have worked together to pilot design changes, collect data and iterate to transform Market Street into a safer street. It’s exciting to see what’s possible when we reimagine our streets for people, not cars.”

How Data Can Play a Role in Shaping Safer Streets

This analysis is part of our broader campaign to help transportation planners and policymakers leverage more data to improve the safety and sustainability of city streets. In December, Populus was selected to be part of the transportation advocacy nonprofit, Together for Safer Roads’ Global Entrepreneur Program. This year, together with Spin, we began delivering data to advocacy organizations nationwide through a new initiative, Mobility Data for Safer Streets.

Six nonprofits across the U.S. now have secure access to anonymized and aggregated Spin data through the Populus platform to embark on several initiatives to promote sustainable safe transportation infrastructure. Bike Cleveland plans to use the data to evaluate the feasibility of a road diet (AKA a lane reduction) and to make the case for a new cycle track. Several other cities are using the data to update and ensure that funding is available for bicycle network improvements.

Prioritizing the Movement of People

In large part because of the introduction of scooters, we have seen a significant increase in the number of shared micromobility trips over the past couple of years — from 36.5 million in 2017 to 84 million in 2018, according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO). One key benefit of these services is that they are getting more people to demand that cities prioritize scarce roadways for the movement of people.

By harnessing data from micromobility services, cities have been able to quickly make decisions such as where to place shared bike and scooter parking and protected bike lanes. Access to better data can also help cities make and evaluate re-dedicating entire streets to bikes, mass transit, and pedestrians, and other key policy decisions.

“For decades advocates have campaigned to transform San Francisco streets and neighborhoods into more livable and safe places” says Jean Kao, Board President of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and Principal Product Manager at Populus. “Streets that are safer for cyclists are streets that are safer for everyone.”

Cities around the world are beginning to make bold changes that are required to deliver a more sustainable and safer transportation future — one that puts people first.