By Wilson Walker

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) — It is a big change that has been a long time coming and drivers will finally run into it next week.

“Essentially the entire 2.2-mile stretch of Market Street east of Tenth will be closed to private vehicles beginning next Wednesday,” explained SFMTA spokesperson Erica Kato.

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The signs are up, the word is out and, when the change finally happens, there will be officers standing by to make sure people in private vehicles don’t turn onto Market Street as they cross it.

“[Officers will be] making sure they know the rules of the road and why they can no longer use that stretch of Market,” Kato said. “However, we are fully prepared to cite, if necessary, violations like blocking the box.”

Keeping crosswalks safe is one of the primary goals, separating as many vehicles as possible from people on their feet and bikes, while giving more room to all of those Muni buses. There will be obvious winners.

“The safety factor will go up tremendously,” said cyclist Esther Gallagher. “As a bike rider and a pedestrian, I think that’s the thing that’s most important.”

Some drivers aren’t so enthused.

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“It’s already hard with all this construction going on,” one driver said from behind the steering wheel. “It’s just going to make my life even harder.”

SFMTA says chaos and confusion are not expected next week, believing that most drivers are aware of the coming changes. It is a discussion that started back when BART was put beneath Market Street. The idea gained steam over the past ten years.

“They’ve been talking about living in cars on Market Street almost since the cars were invented or, at least, since BART was invented,” KPIX reporter Mike Sugerman said back in 2009. Any city driver knows that, since then, Market Street has seen countless changes to manage traffic so next Wednesday is, in many respects, just the completion of that philosophy.

Thinking ahead, there are still much larger and more complicated changes coming to Market.

“Market Street is going to undergo a total rebuild,” said Mohammed Nuru, San Francisco’s director of public works. “Everything from its infrastructure, the water, the sewer lines, all the way to the lights, the sidewalk widths … the first phase is a three-block phase and that is between Fifth and Eighth.”

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The larger Market Street improvement project will be done in those three-block phases, on just one side of the street at a time. Each phase is expected to take two to three years.