Game-changer bus for San Francisco’s notoriously slow Muni system nears its debut, but not everyone’s on board

By Lauren Hepler : bizjournals – excerpt

After 13 years, the rubber is (almost) ready to hit the road for Bus Rapid Transit. Advocates say it’s like getting a new train service at a fraction of the cost, but detractors worry that everybody else will get taken for a ride.

A new kind of bus, heralded as a game-changer for San Francisco’s notoriously slow Muni system, is closer than ever to making its debut.

On Oct. 24, construction crews are set to begin laying the groundwork for the city’s first Bus Rapid Transit project on a two-mile stretch of Van Ness from Mission to Lombard streets. Essentially public bus service on steroids, the $159 million project promises to cut travel times by a third.

With exclusive lanes for buses, coordinated traffic signals and new elevated stations in central medians of major thoroughfares, BRT is designed to speed things up in a city where buses travel at an average of just 8.5 miles per hour. The aim is to add more frequent buses on BRT routes, and put them on a timetable that reflects reality…

Not far behind Van Ness, which is projected to start serving passengers in 2019 for the same regular $2.25-a-trip fair as existing bus lines, are projects on Geary and Geneva streets…

A 9-mile project from Oakland to San Leandro is also on the cusp of breaking ground. The $178 million project slated to be up and running in late 2017 is projected to serve riders at an operating cost of $8 per passenger, compared to $31 per passenger for light rail, said Robert Del Rosario, director of development and service planning for AC Transit.
BRT’s economics have transit agencies around the region moving full steam ahead to map out more routes, cobbling together funding and predicting major development implications near new bus stations.

“All of the cities are really focused on in-fill development,” Del Rosario said. “They’re hoping it’s smart development that doesn’t bring more cars.”…

However, the budding BRT boom has reinforced a familiar Bay Area adage in a big way: Planning something isn’t the same as building it. BRT has taken 13 years just to get to the brink of construction in San Francisco; many residents, businesses and commuters are less optimistic about the benefits than transit planners, and have sometimes used the political process to throw sand in the gears.

Familiar concerns about parking and ease of travel by car, plus logistical challenges like a widening scope of work, have plagued the Van Ness BRT project and others. So have more obscure obstacles, such as a successful last-ditch effort in September to halt work so that historic beige and gray trolley poles in the area could be preserved…

One predictable reason it’s been slow going is consistent backlash from car owners since San Francisco voters in 2003 approved the Proposition K sales tax hike to fund transit improvements like BRT.

Giving up two lanes of traffic and losing turning privileges on central arteries like Van Ness aren’t appealing — but they’re necessary, McCarthy argues. Areas targeted for BRT are also already high ridership for transit, with the 47 Van Ness and 49 Mission/Van Ness bus routes serving an estimated 16,000 customers per day, making them prime opportunities…

The report also estimates that 19-34 percent of auto traffic will likely be displaced by BRT to parallel streets, other times of day or alternate modes of transportation. Intersections around Gough and Hayes streets, as well as Franklin and O’Farrell streets, were projected to see the most noticeable delays starting at 30 seconds per car…

Look no further than San Jose for a real time example of how projects can be derailed in progress. Last September, the South Bay’s Valley Transportation Agency had to fire its contractor on a $114 million BRT project after a busted gas line, cost overruns and permitting issues.

In the Mission, meanwhile, a step toward BRT with so-called “red carpet” lanes for both buses and taxis have drawn the ire of local businesses and residents cut off from the lanes this spring.

“The changes look better on paper than in practice,” Supervisor David Campos said in an April statement, citing complaints from car owners in his district…

The area around the Van Ness corridor, zoned for a mix of high-density combined residential and commercial usage, is projected by the county to gain 12,208 households by 2035, or a 28 percent increase from pre-2000 levels. Planners are hoping to capitalize on that momentum by making it easier to move through the area, particularly given its dual appeal as a tourism connector…

Features of the new BRT corridor on Van Ness Avenue include:

  • Dedicated transit-only lane, for use by Muni and Golden Gate Transit buses only, that is physically separated from mixed traffic lanes
  • Enhanced traffic signals optimized for north-south traffic with Transit Signal Priority that keeps buses moving by holding the green light
  • Low-floor vehicles and all-door boarding for quicker and easier loading
  • Safety enhancements for people walking including shortening crossing distances with sidewalk extensions and median refuges, zebra-striped crosswalks that make people more visible, audible countdown signals and eliminated most left turns from Van Ness Avenue (except northbound at Lombard and southbound at Broadway)
  • High-quality boarding islands at consolidated transit stops located at key transfer points.




Dissenting view: Yes on Prop L

By Pratima Gupta and Phil Chin : sfchronicle – excerpt

Proposition L holds the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency accountable by encouraging a balanced oversight body. Its board of directors oversees a $1.1 billion budget and directs the policies and projects that determine whether the city sees increased traffic gridlock or streamlined bus transit — or whether another pedestrian is killed.

While the majority of city commissions have seats reserved for neighborhood representation, the SFMTA board members are accountable only to the mayor. Prop. L creates a split-appointment process that finally gives neighborhoods a chance to be represented. It would also allow the Board of Supervisors to amend the SFMTA’s budget with a majority vote.

When a Lowell student was killed on Sloat Boulevard in 2013, the community had been demanding pedestrian safety improvements for years. When the SFMTA moved to shut down lower Stockton Street for designer retail chains, the increased congestion was a death knell for the Chinatown community. When San Franciscans asked the SFMTA to regulate giant luxury shuttle buses, the SFMTA responded by charging them a mere $1 per day per stop (since raised to $3.55), even in narrow residential streets. The SFMTA’s idea of community outreach is holding a meeting to talk at stakeholders about their plans — not asking for input or listening to concerns.

Investing in our transportation system only works with meaningful input, oversight and accountability.

Pratima Gupta is vice chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party. Phil Chin is a transit advocate…

The Chronicle’s View

Insulating transit planning from political meddling buys a degree of independence. That’s especially needed in a city plagued by traffic wars, jammed transit and costly employees…

SFMTA has gone too far with the narrow streets. Not only are they slowing down fire trucks, engines and emergency responders , but the buses can barely turn the corner. I watched a relatively small Muni bus attempt a turn at Harrison and 11th Street today. Given that half the street was closed off, the bus was forced to wait for the traffic to clear in the opposite lane before it could proceed. even though the bus had the green light.

It looks as if Prop L has already had some good results. After years of requests for more shuttles to extend the service during rush hours and for various reason, now that the SFMTA is feeling threatened by Prop L, they are suddenly adding shuttle buses to the busiest routes. Maybe if we keep pushing them, they will bring back those routes they killed on Valencia and other streets that Muni riders miss.

D, H, L, and M Props Supporters United

We are in it to win it!

4 for Reform – Vote Yes on DHL+M

D is for Democratic elections for open seats on the Board of Supervisors
H is for honest government to create a public advocate
L is for less gridlock to improve Muni and traffic
M is for more affordable housing

Muni officials: Despite ‘rare’ glitch, buses are safe

By Jerold Chinn : sfbay -excerpt

Despite a computer glitch that led a Muni 3-Jackson trolley bus to crash into a parked vehicle late Monday morning, transit officials say the trolley buses are safe.

Initial reports said Monday’s crash, which occurred near Jackson and Scott streets, was caused by failing brakes. However, a memo obtained by The San Francisco Examiner states the incident was actually caused by a malfunctioning computer system on the bus that was unable to communicate with the brakes.

John Haley, director of transit for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, wrote in the memo to Mayor Ed Lee and the directors of the SFMTA board that when the operator applied the foot break, it should have sent a signal to the traction motor to decelerate, but it did not.

Haley continued to cite in the memo that when the operator activated the parking brake valve, it should have also activated the same traction motor to reduce power, but that did not happen either…

One Muni operator who spoke to the Examiner under anonymity said it’s not uncommon to lose steering and the ability to break while in restrictive mode. According to the operator, this has happened at least 10 times and is a “danger for you and your passengers.”

Other operators reiterated the same story, reported the Examiner. Brake failures are another problem operators said they experience on the trolley buses.

However, Rose said if a trolley bus has battery power, steering should continue to work. He countered that the bus does not lose the brakes in restrictive mode, which transit officials confirmed with SFMTA mechanics Friday morning.

The transit agency looked at recent incidents involving restrictive mode and found that none of them involved a collision or put passengers at risk, said Rose….(more)


As Bus Rapid Transit Construction Begins, Prepare For Van Ness To Become A Daily Nightmare

Construction kicks off this month on the long-awaited, much-debated Van Ness BRT (bus rapid transit) project, in which the heavily trafficked boulevard is going to lose the two center lanes of traffic to bus lines. The move is a reversal of what happened in the middle of the last century, when the two center lanes had been used by streetcars, whose tracks were removed to make way for more automobile traffic. And as the SFMTA explains, both Van Ness and nearby Polk Street will be undergoing multi-year construction projects within weeks, which will mean the shutting down of two center lanes on Van Ness and a lot of sluggish trips up both streets if you make the mistake of letting your Uber/Lyft driver take them.

The traffic lane closures along Van Ness, which will allow for construction equipment and the removal of the median as well as 193 trees, will primarily occur between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. on weekdays, the SFMTA tells us, however there will be night and weekend work at various times too, because: traffic. Also, most left turns off of Van Ness will be disallowed.

The Polk Streetscape Project doesn’t involve the closing of any traffic lanes, but will involve a large amount of daytime upheaval and construction all along the street — in addition to the removal of 106 parking spaces along the corridor and 28 on side streets, essentially meaning you will never park near here again. It’s good news for pedestrians and cyclists, however, as the improvements include “sidewalk corner bulb-outs, to shorten the crossing distance, ADA-compliant curb ramp upgrades; Muni bus stop optimization, such as bus stop consolidation or relocation, bus bulb-outs for easier boarding, and left and right turn lanes to improve traffic flow; raised cycle tracks, green bike lanes… high visibility crosswalks, [and] better visibility at crosswalks.” They also promise a “well-lit plaza atmosphere, widening of the existing sidewalk, decorative asphalt, raised crosswalks, traffic calming measures, and [the] planting of palm trees.”

Meanwhile, it seems like the fight is likely over for preservationists making a last-ditch effort to save the crumbling, history trolley poles/lampposts along the corridor, which were installed in 1915 and were once known as the “Ribbon of Light” (see historic photo here). All but a couple of the poles are set to be removed and replaced with modern steel-tube urban lamps…(more)

If this upheaval doesn’t convince people to vote Yes on L and No on J + K nothing ever will.


How Uber Plans To Conquer The Suburbs

: buzzfeed – excerpt

With a pilot program in Summit, New Jersey, the ride-hail giant is looking to replace commuter parking lots.

Summit, New Jersey, a bedroom community to New York City, will begin subsidizing Uber rides for residents traveling to and from the local train station starting Monday — a move the town initiated to avoid building a new parking lot, a multimillion-dollar effort. For Uber, the partnership is another step in a series of strategic moves to extend its reach to the suburbs… (more)

Funding blocked for transit center amid concerns of sinking Millennium Tower

By : sfexaminer – excerpt

The fallout of San Francisco’s sinking downtown Millennium Tower broadened Tuesday when millions of dollars for the second phase of the nearby Transbay Transit Center was blocked amid concerns The City will once again be on the hook for ballooning costs.

Earlier this year, the the Board of Supervisors approved a $260 million bailout for the Transbay Joint Powers Authority’s Phase 1 of the Transbay Transit Center. Months later, the 58-story Millennium Tower near the center and under TJPA oversight was revealed to have sunk more than three times its forecasted sinking, prompting a lawsuit and city investigations.

Meanwhile, city leaders are slamming the brakes on the second phase of the multi-billion dollar transit project.

On Tuesday, the head of the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, Mark Zabaneh, said he wanted $6.77 million in Proposition K sales tax revenue to move ahead with the $3.9 billion Phase 2 of the project… (more)

Muni Proposing Major Changes To L Taraval Line

cbslocal – excerpt – (video)

Don Ford reports on planned changes to L Taraval Muni line in SF’s Sunset District… (more)


SFMTA approves contentious Taraval Street changes | SFBay :: San Francisco Bay Area News and Sports

With Unanimous Vote, SFMTA Approves Changes To L-Taraval Corridor | Hoodline

Unpopular Taraval Street plan approved in the name of safety – SFGate

SFMTA approves controversial L-Taraval changes in name of safety – The San Francisco Examiner

SFMTA Board Unanimously Approves L-Taraval Boarding Islands | Streetsblog San Francisco


Sunset Tunnel’s crumbling interior may end $19 million renovation

The cost of building San Francisco’s Sunset Tunnel has just grown by $3 million more, after the discovery of a crumbling interior inside the tunnel has the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency doling out even more money to see if the project is salvageable.

The Sunset Tunnel tracks for the N-Line were built in 1928 and are now used for the city’s N-Judah light-rail vehicles.

A report from the SFMTA has found that the during the tunnel’s renovation last winter, the conduit began to crumble and exposed “live feeder cables,” adding that there is a “high probability of hidden damages” that might cause the Muni to stop operating in the location for good… (more)

Looks like SFMTA has more important things to do than they can keep track of. Why are they spending money on Red Lanes and BRTs when they need to shore up tunnels and bridges? It boggles the mind sometimes where the priorities lie. If they can’t take care of this problem a lot more people will start driving again.

Major L-Taraval changes up for vote Tuesday

By : sfexaminer – excerpt


Taraval Street is about to transform in the name of transit.

The proposed changes are contentious. As transit officials have proposed to make the L-Taraval line safer, neighbors in the sleepy Sunset district have booed and hissed at transit officials in community meetings…

Now, a hard-won compromise was reached between those who want the L-Taraval line to be safer, and those fearful businesses will be harmed.

Most sides still have gripes with the project…

“We’re not saying we want no islands, we’re saying we got to this point and let’s test it out,” Chow said. “Because every implementation [the SFMTA has] done so far has upset every community they’ve been in.”…

As a compromise, the SFMTA plan up for vote on Tuesday would paint stripes that would ban cars from being in part of a lane, instead of creating boarding islands at four of the proposed locations closest to businesses.

Lighting the way..

On a recent tour of Muni Metro East, a light-rail vehicle repair yard, the San Francisco Examiner was shown L-Taraval train No. 1428.

Train 1428 is a guinea pig for new ultra-bright LED lights running along the door and on the front and back of the train. It will likely be a “modest” cost, Haley said, to help car drivers better see trains and pedestrians in the foggy stretch of Taraval…(more)

This really is a case of neighborhoods uniting to fight the giant street eater. Citizens are tired of this constant disruption and changes in their lives. There is no point to most of it. Why is SFMTA spending money they don’t have to harass the voters? Yes on L and No on J and K and if you can show up to protest tomorrow, September 20th at the SFMTA Board meeting, please do. See above for details.