At a community meeting in the Richmond last night, planners from the San Francisco County Transportation Authority and Supervisor Eric Mar sought public input on the Geary Boulevard Bus Rapid Transit project – and sought to dispel some false rumors about it.
In a presentation that preceded open discussion, the project’s lead planner at the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (TA), Zabe Bent, went over the major aspects of the project, including its benefits and plans for mitigating any potential negative impact on the neighborhood. Most of the information was the same as that presented at last December’s scoping meetings, but planners and Mar sought to use the meetings to assure the public that BRT would not cause major traffic problems, and would bring worthwhile improvements.
Chief among the Geary BRT project’s benefits, as Bent outlined in her presentation, is an improvement in projected travel time: by 25 percent to 31 percent (7-8 minutes) for 38L-Limited riders, and 41 percent to 44 percent (13-14 minutes) for 38-Local riders who switch to BRT. In addition, Bent outlined pedestrian and streetscape improvements that are part of the project, including highly visible crosswalks, additional pedestrian countdown signals, bulb-outs, and landscaped medians to provide shelter for pedestrians crossing Geary.
The Geary BRT project focuses on the section of Geary between Van Ness and 33rd Avenue, but Bent said there would also be enhancements west of 33rd Avenue, including high quality shelters, real-time info at all stops, and pedestrian safety enhancements.
Bent sought to preemptively address concerns about construction impact, parking, and diversion of traffic to parallel streets, the latter two of which are hot topics for merchants and residents since Geary BRT would convert a vehicle lane in each direction to dedicated bus lanes.
The public comment period initially focused on concerns such as how the project would be financed, why it wouldn’t be ready until 2015 at the earliest, and the technical details of how express buses would pass local buses.
It grew tenser as the topic moved to the potential "spilling over" of traffic from Geary to parallel streets. Some members of the public were unconvinced by TA data showing that the traffic impact would be minimal, and at times Mar had to forcefully ask one speaker to allow Bent to respond.
One merchant suggested that businesses should receive compensation to stay afloat during the project. Bent pointed out that the project was not on the scale of BART or light rail, and thus it does not invite comparisons. "Would you compensate someone for a street resurfacing project? No," said Bent.
Sometimes overlooked in the tension over the impact on drivers, however, was the project’s potential impact on pedestrians. "As a pedestrian, the worst thing about Geary is crossing Geary," said one member of the public. Bent responded that pedestrian enhancements, such as bulb-outs and pedestrian refuge medians would improve the situation. In general, pedestrian and bicycle advocates were either less vocal or less abundant, and the discussion often was dominated by several people worried about accommodating traffic.
If advocates for livable streets are to be heard above the complaints of a few very vocal local interests, they will need to show up and be heard at future meetings. While the project currently includes many pedestrian enhancements, the pressure being applied on planners from the public is often coming from the opposite direction.
On the bright side, when the tense exchanges over traffic had died down, another resident offered her support. "As a bus rider, I’m really looking forward to the improvements on Geary," she said. "I love Clement and Geary Street, but I can’t get friends to come out because transit service is not reliable."
Next up: Geary BRT Citizens Advisory Committee meeting. Thursday, July 30, 6 p.m. Meeting is at 100 Van Ness Avenue, on the 26th Floor.