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SF Begins Restricting Powell Street Traffic, Easing Cable Car Wear And Tear

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- San Francisco officials Friday launched an 18-month pilot program restricting vehicle traffic on a busy section of San Francisco's Powell Street near Union Square.

The stretch of Powell Street between Union Square and Market Street attracts more than 4,000 pedestrians every hour during peak times, according to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

Earlier this month the SFMTA's Board of Directors unanimously approved the Powell Street Safety and Sidewalk Improvement Pilot, which will ban most vehicle traffic on two blocks of Powell Street between Ellis and Geary streets.

According to the SFMTA, the pilot aims to improve pedestrian safety on the two blocks of Powell Street just south of Union Square and reduce traffic congestion that is damaging the cable car system.

Both the historic Powell-Hyde and Powell-Mason cable car lines run through the area, making the street a worldwide attraction year-round.

Cable cars were not designed to operate in stop-and-go traffic, and repeated stops cause the cable to fray, reducing its life by about 25 percent over the past five years, according to the SFMTA. The increased wear and tear makes an accident more likely and increases operating costs.

The problem has grown worse in recent years. In 2000, the cables were replaced once every 50 days, while today the cables must be replaced roughly every 30 days, according to the SFMTA.

According to the SFMTA, the pilot program will also improve pedestrian safety in the area by reducing the number of vehicles turning at intersections along Powell Street.

The SFMTA website states that, "These high pedestrian volumes, and the high number of cars traveling through the area, lead to extreme traffic congestion and safety issues."

The street surface on both sides of Powell Street between Ellis and O'Farrell have been painted red for the pilot project, while only the northbound lane is painted red between O'Farrell and Geary streets.

Through traffic will not be permitted on southbound Powell Street but passenger loading and unloading will be permitted along that section, according to the SFMTA.

Commercial loading will still be permitted in designated loading zones on these blocks during the pilot program.

Motorists who drive on southbound Powell Street but do not stop to load or unload could get a ticket and, as with elsewhere in the city, non-commercial vehicles are never allowed on the red painted lanes.

© Copyright 2015 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed

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