Livable Streets Concerns Overshadowed at Geary Blvd BRT Meeting

IMG_4190.jpgSupervisor Eric Mar, right, sought to ease concerns and set straight untrue rumors about the Geary BRT project. Photos: Michael Rhodes

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.

IMG_4200.jpgLead planner for the TA on Geary BRT Zabe Bent responded to questions and comments.

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.

IMG_4208.jpgSupervisor Eric Mar co-hosted a meeting on Geary BRT yesterday.

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.

  • rzu

    The reliability improvements are an easy sell to folks who actually depend on the bus to get around town. But it is the pedestrian and streetscape improvements that will garner support for the project from the larger community.

    As I understood it, this meeting was meant to address questions about the project, not as a forum for folks to express support or opposition. And aside from some occasionally obnoxious nay-sayers, it was my sense that the vast majority of folks would ultimately support Geary BRT. It is frustrating, however to see a project like Doyle Drive fast-tracked with stimulus money while a much needed improvement like this is still several years from completion.

    I’d like to see streetsblog’s take on the alternative proposals. It is clear that further education is needed to build support for fully-featured BRT rather than some watered-down version that doesn’t deliver.

  • I concur with rzu. What does the route layout looks like? I worry that the line will have more stops than it needs. What does T-third no going as fast as it should? Would it make the same mistake for not making use of signal priority on major intersection?

  • Troy

    What was their answer to the question of why it has been delayed so long? 2015???? I thought it was supposed to be up and running in 2012. And this has been in the planning process since what? 2003? You’d think they were building a subway tunnel or an airport or something.

  • “You’d think they were building a subway tunnel or an airport or something.”

    The timeline of this BRT project isn’t the only thing comparable to a subway. Just wait until you see the price tag!

  • Chris

    Not much new info provided at the meeting, but David Heller was in top form as neighborhood jackass.

  • Peter Smith

    ‘pedestrian refuge median’ — i like the honesty in this phrase/term.

    refuge – n.
    ————

    – a shelter from danger or hardship

    – A state of safety, protection or shelter; A place providing safety, protection or shelter; Something or someone turned to for safety or assistance

    – a safe place, especially for people being persecuted

    – a safe place. Often used to escape predators.

  • Oh Geary Street. We killed the B-Geary to avoid “duplication of service” with that BART line to the ocean you’re still owed, and yet over and over and over again, SF got played to subsidize more lines to ‘burbs that don’t perform.

    That “temporary solution” of buses on Geary has been going on for what, 50+ years?

    and yet we still sit around, bitch, whine, moan , lie , cheat and steal. and we let the 38 Geary, a line that is the one that handles more riders than any other west of the Mississippi, hobble along with shitty buses.

    Yeah, San Francisco, you’re so fucking Green and superior to everyone else. Keep up the great work.

  • tuttut

    I was there for the entire meeting. Most ppl seemed worried about traffic spillover. However, I was waiting to hear how BRT would improve travel on the BUSES. It seemed as though I was one of three ppl asking about how much the Bus experience that is the 38 Geary would improve. I get on at 36thAvenue. By the time the bus reaches 20th Avenue (still in the outer Richmond), it is typically packed standing room only.

    The claim that BRT will yield a one-third improvement in passengers carrying – without adding any new buses – is fanciful . What we riders need is MORE buses and cleaner buses. this plan will not add any new buses. The planners and engineers tend to wonks who focus on street-scaping more than considering the people’s riding experience. When asked about this, Zabe Bent answered that Muni was buying more Biodiesel buses! Stupid answer! The citizen was asking about crowded buses and Zabe thought the fuel the engine burns was of concern. It causes me to ask how many of those people actually ride their own product! They should required to ride Muni rather than being issued parking spaces for their seven-series BMWs. Real experience is needed, not micro-modeling like the videogame Frogger, as Zabe oddly explained.

  • Chris

    tuttut – I don’t think we need more buses, they just need to be used better – which is what BRT will do. Simply shifting more buses to limited status would help considerably, as now there are far too many buses being used to pick up one or two passengers at the local stops, rather than providing more service to the limited stops that have 10-20 passengers (at all times of the day). Fewer stops to stop at = faster service = more runs per day for each bus = more service to those stops = less crammed buses = less time stopped at each stop to let people on/off = better service all around. BRT would only add to this with even faster service and fewer slowdowns from traffic lights, interactions with cars, and all-door proof of payment boarding.

    We don’t just need more buses being bunched up on Geary – we need our buses to be used more efficiently. Perhaps after we’re using them efficiently we’ll figure out that we need even more because of increased ridership, but I’m sure that you’ve had the experience of riding a mostly empty 38 following directly behind two packed ones. That type of thing is what’s causing most of the problems.

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