Is the Geary Bus Rapid Transit Project in Jeopardy?

plug1_photo_small.jpgPhoto: plug1

If the Geary Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project doesn’t get some love from advocates and the general public, the project could be in trouble, according to several people closely following the process.

"I look to the left, I look to the right, all I see is opposition and criticism," says Joel Ramos, a member of the Geary BRT Citizens Advisory Committee and a staffer for Transform who has experience in the battle for Berkeley BRT.

Richmond Supervisor Eric Mar, who is in favor of BRT on Geary, said he expected more support from transit advocates.  The project gets little but tough love from its allies in the
transportation reform movement, who complain alternately that the plan
should be for rail instead of buses and that it ignores the needs
of bicycle users in the corridor. From the anti-transit side, there are
still dozens of Richmond residents who reliably show up to complain
about the minor impediments to car traffic and parking that Geary BRT
will impose. Indeed, without the enthusiastic support of transit advocates, Geary BRT public meetings get overrun by opponents.

Geary BRT would create a new exclusive busway in the center of the street from just east of Gough Street to 33rd
Avenue in the outer Richmond. With pre-paid and three-door boarding,
bypass lanes for express buses, and car-free lanes, the Transportation
Authority expects to shave from five to nine minutes off the typical
trip, as much as 30% of the travel time between those points. With
stations instead of stops and low-floor buses with multiple doors
operating in straight lines with no swerving for traffic, Geary BRT
will feel like a train on rubber wheels. The dimensions of the center
lane are planned to be able to accommodate trains if desirable in the
future. The agency is currently completing its environmental impact
report, which is expected to be ready for certification within the next
few months. The project will cost approximately $200 million. 

Ramos, a resident of the Richmond and a staffer beneficiary of the project, is worried enough that he and Sarah Karlinsky of SPUR recently called a meeting to discuss what it will take to bring more support to the project.

Pages_from_Geary_BRT_final_study_Page_1_Image_0002.jpgOne of the two full-fledged BRT alternatives under consideration. Neither adds bike lanes.

Another explanation for limited public support is that there is no effective transit advocacy organization in San Francisco. Rescue Muni counts a handful of people among its hardcore reliable membership. Neither Livable City nor SPUR emphasize grassroots organizing as a political tactic. Only the SFBC does good grassroots organizing, and, naturally, they’re focused on bicycling.

If the project improved bicycle safety, it might get more interest, but as it stands there is no intention to make significant improvements for bicycle travel. It could arguably be worse, with more intense car traffic in the rightmost lane. Bicycle parking will probably improve with the construction of new transit stations. Leah Shahum, SFBC Executive Director, said in an email that the current plan poses "big problems for bikes."

The Transportation Authority’s project leader Zabe Bent has agreed to look more closely at bicycle access, especially along the section between Arguello and Presidio where there is no good adjacent route. An initial analysis shows that adding bike lanes would remove parking in some locations and increase the crossing distance for pedestrians. Bent has made no commitment to design bike lanes into the project as an option for policy makers to consider or reject. "We need to push harder on this," Shahum said.

If the project were a light rail extension, it would get more transit advocates’ support. Geary light rail is the project most transit experts preferred over the Third Street/Chinatown light rail and subway project. However, while that project had the ardent support of community leaders, Geary light rail never did. BRT is a kind of compromise that, in the eyes of its main proponents at the Transportation Authority, represents the middle ground between the expensive rail project that faces neighborhood opposition and comes with a prohibitively expensive price tag, and the status quo of minor changes that won’t help to transform Muni service.

This compromise is important to Supervisor Mar, who says that the city planners have apparently learned from the mistakes of Third Street light-rail construction that so severely hurt businesses. He is confident they won’t repeat the mistake with BRT construction on Geary.

Without a group that can bring even a significant fraction of the grassroots support for transit that the SFBC brings for bikes, projects like these are never going to get the support they need to experience smooth sailing.

"Every transit project could of course be better," said Sarah Karlinsky of SPUR, but "Geary BRT is a good project and it should be supported." She, along with Supervisor Eric Mar and Joel Ramos of Transform, are hoping that transit advocates will start showing up at Geary BRT citizen advisory committee meetings, and that proponents of the project will outnumber the opponents when the Environmental Impact Report is completed.

  • Troy

    Well thanks for the news. I’ve written to the city before, but I guess I need to again. (I thought this was a done deal. How often should I keep writing supportive letters?) We’ve been talking about it forever. It’s hard to believe that a few loud retailers could kill it now.

    Though it is true that a subway/light rail would be much better– and a better idea than the “central” subway.

  • John

    Geary improvement is indeed a mess, and there seems to be a total lack of coherent plan to fix it. Light rail connecting Ocean Beach to the Montgomery BART station (ala Rescue Muni Plan) would be great but no one seems to have the will to make it happen and the MTA came up with an absurdly high estimate (~$ 4-5 billion) to be sure to kill it dead. If BRT is a viable compromise then explain how the hell passengers are going to get from Gough&Geary to anywhere else in the city at a reasonable speed? Walk 3 blocks to Van Ness? Get off BRT and on the the 38 for a half hour trip the rest of the way to Market?

    If BRT is built “rail-ready” (whatever that means) will any of these current BRT opponents allow Geary to be ripped up twice in a generation?

    And what about BART and their putative plans dating back to like 1952 to (someday, maybe)run a second SF line under Geary? It is this plan,of course, that lead Muni to rip out the old streetcar tracks on Geary back in the first place.

  • Troy


    the BRT vehicle will end at Gough? oh no– tell me that can’t be right. Surely the same bus will continue on all the way downtown, even if there isn’t a “BRT” network of dedicated lanes, etc. otherwise, the minutes saved are lost again waiting for a connection.

  • John

    Troy –

    I make no pretense of being an expert on this subject, I’m just a transit nerd with not much to do at work and an internet connection. But everthing I’ve seen suggests, “The Geary BRT project is focused on the most congested portion of the corridor–between Van Ness and 33rd Avenues.” (TA website)

    My mention of Gough is from the above article:
    “Geary BRT would create a new exclusive busway in the center of the street from just east of Gough Street to 33rd Avenue in the outer Richmond.”

    I understand that the problem with running BRT further downtown is that the street isn’t wide enough for “transit exclusive” lanes and regular ‘ole traffic lanes too (subway anyone?).

    The only way i could see this working would be if BART did indeed run a line under Geary and BRT served as a local feeder service with strategic connections to BART stations (fat chance).

  • SFResident

    I understand that the bike coalition has a lot on their plate, but even if no physical improvements are made for bicycles it seems to me that supporting BRT on Geary would be in their long-term interest. Adding transit capacity encourages folk to get out of their cars, moving the bus loading zone to the center will make it so that bicyclists don’t have to dodge loading buses, and if the project is successful it will encourage more investment in transportation infrastructure which will be a huge boon to bicyclists.

    The transit situation on the Geary corridor is simply shameful. How the hell do transit boondoggles like the central subway and the BART Oakland connector get buckets of money poured over them while the real transit problems that face average city residents get glossed over and ignored.

  • Peter Smith

    i hope no good-ish politicians go out of their way to support BRT — a big project has to have very clear value-add — this BRT project does not provide it.

    from an advocacy standpoint, whoever actually wants this BRT stuff really got lazy when they left cyclists out of the equation. exactly whose idea was this anyway? MTC?

    Another explanation for limited public support is that there is no effective transit advocacy organization in San Francisco.

    word. not trying to hate on Rescue Muni, but they support this BRT plan, and they are just not at the table, that i can see, on any other issue. i’d be interested in either starting a new group comparable to TA in NYC, or convincing the SFBC to add transit to their portfolio, like the ATA in Chicago.

    as for parking disappearing, i wonder if that would need to happen if we did the old switch-car-parking-lane-with-bike-lane-position thing, like floated in the Chronicle on Sunday — and has been floated, generally, by this blog or blogs like it for months, now, has been done in nyc, etc.

  • Im on the LRT side of this project as well, but RIGHT NOW Muni could run some more AX/BX style runs from 7am-8pm that use Pine/Bush, where the lights are timed. The bus would only stop at major connecting points like Fillmore and Divis. Also, the SFTEP suggestion that the 38L should run a lot more often makes a lot of sense.

  • wheelchairgirl

    I can’t see how this helps transit riders enough. 5 to 9 minutes of improvement? I’ll waste that just trying to get across three lanes of Geary traffic to get on and off the thing. And if I need to go past Gough, the transfer time’s a killer.

    This plan seemed to have some backing from the Japantown Better Neighborhoods folks, but they had a lot of other stuff on their plate, and since their project’s on indefinite hold, they won’t see much benefit from more Geary traffic.

    The only benefit I could see is that maybe the BRT drivers would quit refusing to let a wheelchair board due to crowding, a problem I’ve had with Geary buses once too often. (And I rarely try to use the L or travel during commute times if I can help it.) That slim hope isn’t enough to get me out to a meeting. Hook this to light rail or BART which can go all the way downtown, and we’ll talk. Otherwise, just add some alternate buses on the street level.

  • hi

    this is a strange hybrid of op’ed and journalism that seems to be a set-up for the sfbc to announce diversification into transit.

    the author may want to at least pretend to attribute quotes or keep op’ed and new separate

  • Everyone: there would be no transfers involved at Gough. BRT buses would go all the way downtown. The Geary BRT project is only defined as looking at physical and software improvements on the Geary corridor b/t 33rd and Gough.

  • I would identify myself as an advocate for transit as well as bicycling, but it’s hard for me to see the value in bringing transit advocacy to the SFBC. The SFBC has an energized following partially due to the unique concerns and issues that are bike-exclusive. There are actually many potential conflicts between transit and bicycle interests, particularly with roadway design. I would hate to see the SFBC get watered down with conflicting interests and take away the energy, focus, and influence they currently bring to the table.

    I think its time to re-energize transit advocacy in San Francisco, similar to what the SFBC has done in the last 5 years. I think it would be appropriate for a strong transit advocacy to ally with the SFBC in many issues: particularly restricting through auto traffic on several important corridors to improve safety and operations and providing a unified front for environmentally responsible transportation.

  • Heather

    I’m one of those cyclist/transit proponents who is not behind the BRT – seems like a short-sighted and ultimately less efficient solution to me. Light rail or else.

  • How about:

    1 – A Caldecott-Tunnel style reverse-direction thingey where the parking lane becomes a bike lane in the morning in the downtown direction, and the reverse in the afternoon, then no bike lanes in either direction on Saturday and no parking lanes on Sunday.

    2 – Cut-n-Cover in the centre for trolley BRTs buses and make it LRT-ready, move cars towards centre with bike lanes in both directions on the side

    2a – As above but with wider sidewalks and two fewer car lanes. Bike parking and extra seating and/or sidewalk retail space boosts income due to fake loss of business with less cars.

    3 – LRT or other underground in middle, cars only in middle above, bikes and emergency/delivery vehicles on the side, wider sidewalk

    4 – Extremely wide sidewalk, bike lanes, LRT or whatever underground, centre lane for deliveries and emergency vehicles

    5 – Double underground, two tracks for people and two for deliveries, all top space for sidewalk, bike lanes/emergency, creek.

    5a – Nothing underground, some horses, bikes and sidewalking, a creek, people work at home.

  • Nick

    Something is wrong if a Transit First city needs a transit advocacy organization.

  • in_the_name_of_parking

    The real problem here are the merchants and NIMBYs of the richmond district who have thrice deprived their own neighborhood of sensible transit connectivity, and always in the name of parking.

    Many shopkeepers have the misconception that the majority of their customers arrive by car and park on the street out front when, in fact, most do not arrive by car, and those who do end up parking further away where they can. The reality is that the shop owners are the ones who are always parking in front of their shops for delivery/dropoffs and such, which may be the source of their misconception.

    Get a muzzle on the shopkeepers and ignore the NIMBYs, then try to run the LRT plan through again. That is the proper solution for that corridor, after all.

  • patrick

    Totally agree with Seth regarding advocacy. SFBC works as well as it does because it is focused on bicycle issues. I’d love to see a similar group focus on public transit issues, and I’m sure there could be many beneficial alliances between SFBC and a transit advocacy group, but they should remain distinct.

    I think BRT is not the ideal solution, but it’s pretty much the only one that’s going to fly right now. Going full LRT would be very expensive, as it’s unlikely they’d be able to use surface streets between Gough & downtown, and a full subway would be even more expensive. I see BRT as a way to get some dedicated transit space, and in 5-10 years when it proves to be wildly successful there will be some real public will to go all out and convert it to a proper LRT or subway line.

  • SFResident

    I guess I just don’t see how improving the public transportation infrastructure in this city is all that distinct from other “bicycle issues.” Improving public transportation, separating muni corridors from bicycle lanes, and all have a huge net positive impact on bicyclists. The more people you get out of cars and onto transit, the more support you’ll have for making the kinds of changes to the streets that San Francisco needs in order to build a bicycle friendly city. Transit riders aren’t going to whine and moan about “losing their rights to drive down Market Street” or their “rights” to take up what could be a perfectly good bicycle lane. Sometimes building a winning coalition involves thinking laterally and if there’s no partner organization to work with it might make sense to help build one. Hell, if the bike coalition were to have a public transit affinity group or something of that sort I’d join it in a second.

    Yeah, they’ll be some bike v. transit conflicts here and there, but they’ll pale in comparison to the shared interests between folk who want to de-center the car in urban San Francisco.

    The question of why the bike coalition is more visible and effective than any pro-transit interest group is an interesting question, especially because significantly more people in this city rely on MUNI than a bicycle to get to work, school, and meet their basic transit needs. I suspect that it has a lot to do with class and identity politics (bicyclists in this city are more likely to consider it part of ‘who they are’ than transit riders).

    I’m not a huge fan of the Geary BRT, like most people I’d much rather see a dedicated rail solution or something similar, but it will improve the flow of commuters through Geary street, is a hell of a lot better than anything we have now, and it will pave the way for possible future upgrades. This isn’t the Oakland BART connector or the Central Subway and I really think opposing this is a case of letting the perfect get in the way of the good. . .

  • SFResident

    Um… that post should have read “Improving public transportation, separating muni corridors from bicycle lanes, and fostering transit-oriented development all have a huge net positive impact on bicyclists.” I guess I need to proofread better.

  • poncho

    20 miles of traditional heavy rail subway in SF would make SF as transit-oriented as NYC. 20 miles of subway was also built in LA in the last 20 years so it is completely doable. And nevermind that SF has existing high transit ridership so there should be support from the public.

    Why is it that the transit systems in New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and San Francisco have barely expanded in the last 50 years while Los Angeles, Portland, Dallas, Salt Lake City, Denver, etc. have built extensive rail transit systems in a fraction of that time.

  • Chris

    Unless someone has a realistic plan for coming up with the extra dough to pay for LRT, insisting on LRT on Geary is likely to have one of two consequences. By far the most likely scenario is that no significant improvements to transit service on Geary occur at all. I personally think that would be a tragedy. The less likely scenario is that building LRT Geary sucks up all available Muni capital funding, leaving the rest of the system to wither.

    I think that the biggest advantages to BRT on Geary are 1) that it can realistically be done with existing or reasonably foreseeable funding without taking decades to plan and build and 2) that it can be done without depriving the rest of the system of capital funding. I’d rather see meaningful and somewhat timely improvements on Geary combined with other systemwide improvements than insist on some shiny new, but massively expensive LRT project (a la Third Street rail) that doesn’t address Muni’s systemwide problems.

  • Could someone explain why the light rail Muni line from Embarcadero to Caltrain is so pathetically slow? It has a protected right of way. It doesn’t have frequent stops. What is wrong!?! If this is what we’d get with light rail on Geary, I agree it doesn’t seem worth it, though I agree that I’d much rather see something productive done along Geary than the boondoogle that is the Central Subway.

  • Alan from Berkeley

    The BRT plan we’re now contemplating in the Berkeley segment of the three-city East Bay project — in the form of a design for the “locally preferred alternative” the city council will approve in about next March — manages on almost all the blocks with dedicated lanes to provide for the BRT bus lane, a traffic lane and some left-turn lanes, and a 4-5 foot bike lane. All that in a 48 foo right-of-way. Surely the actual level of traffic on Geary doesn’t support all those auto lanes with nothing for bikes.

  • Matt Fisher the Canadian

    This is a half assed idea to pitch BRT as a substitute for rail on Geary, Van Ness, and in Berkeley. Is that the best they can do? On the other hand, BRT is “better than nothing”. And as the Transitway has shown in Ottawa (where I live), BRT can be very successful. Besides, given the money constraints and a weak amount available, I can tolerate BRT for now in all three corridors (for now). Same in Curitiba and Bogota, likewise. But BRT is hardly “just like rail, but cheaper”. And we shouldn’t fight “mode wars”.

    Nevertheless, in Edmonton, they are going to build LRT lines instead of busways. What the f*** is the damn problem with BRT on Geary? BRT is not as good as rail. Then again, in Ottawa, the Transitway has been a success. And now we are planning LRT. BRT is not a substitute for LRT or any other rail mode; it is a way to make transit better, not something that can be watered down to mean just about any kind of bus.

    In closing, BRT is not a “train on rubber wheels”. It is a bus. And they’re not rubber wheels, they’re rubber tires the bus runs on. And just because of a few add ons doesn’t mean that BRT is automatically the same as rail, or as good as rail. BRT on dedicated lanes is a needed improvement, and is certainly “better than nothing”. But it is no substitute for rail. At least they’ll upgrade it to rail… in 2050. I’ll be older by then, compared to that I am 22 currently.

  • Matt Fisher the Canadian

    On an off topic but related note, here is my vision of LRT in Ottawa here, which I’m still trying in vain to work on:

  • John

    The problem is the logic with these things goes like this: we want a transportation improvement, BRT is something, therefore we must build it. I’m sure BRT would be better than nothing, however Geary has the ridership and density to warrent rail.

    If fixing every problem with Muni was a prerequiste to any Muni project nothing would have been built since 1912. The danger with BRT, as I stated earlier, is that it will surely kill any possibility of LRT in the next generation, not 5-10 years try another 50.

    If the Geary St merchants do eventually allow BRT to be built (the busses depicted are diesel btw) does anyone really think that they would allow the street to be ripped up again 5 years later to build LRT? We get one shot at this and it is worth the fight to do it right.

    Check out Rescue Muni’s Geary St LRT plan.

  • #14 – Nick, actually it seems if it WAS really REALLY “Transit First” all of the external advocacy would be internalized in relevant depts. including outreach, internal but public debate, education, paid devil’s advocates, etc… then the Bike Coalition, Mothers and Muthaf-ckers for Collective Public Transport, Kids for Trains, People of Colour for Colourful Journeys, etc. could focus on the real threat to our shared land: a meteorite or comet!

  • david vartanoff

    So what prevents Muni from shifting the 38 local, Ltd, Exp mix now? The net ## of drivers/buses need not change just the specific runs. Throw in signal preempts, and SERIOUS diamond lane enforcement. None of this needs years of DEIS/EIRS, mtgs w/ the Geary Merchants. The service would improve at very low cost NOW rather than spending millions for inadequate BRT which will forestall real RAIL transit.

  • Uncle L.

    The ONLY thing LRT has over BRT is that LRT is more comfortable. Period. That’s IT!!! Geary BRT is MUCH cheaper to develop vs LRT, cost about the same to maintain, and just as energy efficient as LRT after the new fleet of buses is implemented.

    So why the (*&^ would anyone wants to pay an extra $50 to $100+ MILLIONS just to be more comfortable????!!!!!!! Suck IT UP, people. It’s just transportation to get you from point A to point B. BRT does the job just fine. If you want to be comfy go hire your own driver.

  • Anthony

    interesting that in all the thoughts and comments here, no on has mentioned the two bike lanes in the Richmond — on Cabrillo and Lake. from my standpoint, i don’t see a glaring need for more.

    instead of quibbling over real estate, why not advocate for enough rack space for bikes on BRT vehicles?

  • There’s many reasons the bike people get what they want, while anyone using transit gets kicked in the teeth. That’s really worth a separate article in and of itself, and I think it’s a distraction vis a vis the problems with BRT support.

    the way I see it, there is no set plan that one can say yay or nay to. I’ve been reading and supporting the concept of Doing Something to Un-F*ck Geary Street for years, and I still don’t know exactly what it is I’m supporting beyond a dedicated bus lane. It would help if there was something I can point to, say “that’s it!” and explain its benefits, etc.

    I think there’s a bigger issue -the Central Subway, a half-assed political promise made in the heat of election time, continues to suck billions of dollars, and will DO NOTHING to help ease congestion or move people around more efficiently. Yet that has, and will always, get billions courtesy of Nancy, Dianne, and Barbara. And yet, all the folks in SF are silent on this boondoggle.

    Meanwhile we’re past the 50th anniversary of ripping out the B Geary, to avoid “duplication of service” that the BART line we’ve been paying for and were supposed to get never appeared. And BART, like Muni, is insistent on spending money to build stations to far-flung suburbs with low ridership, or that idiotic Airport Connect thing that will be a poster child for Republicans in 2010 who want to attack the stimulus package.

    The point? We can pick apart BRT because it doesn’t fit our narrow agendas on bikes, LRT, or whatever. They may be valid points. However, in the end we’re going to continue to have janky jerky buses on Geary, and a transit corridor that’s a joke. Every time I’m on Geary I’m amazed at how smug we are about living in this great liberal city, and yet we can’t seem to get our shit together to fix an obvious problem, a fix which would benefit a lot of people on the busiest transit line west of the mississippi.

  • Not to pick on Chris, but:

    “I think that the biggest advantages to BRT on Geary are 1) that it can realistically be done with existing or reasonably foreseeable funding without taking decades to plan and build and 2) that it can be done without depriving the rest of the system of capital funding.”

    1) By the time any building starts BRT will have been decades in planning.

    2) “light rail ready” BRT was concluded to be almost the same cost per mile as light rail.

    The argument that BRT is cheaper and faster to build than rail may be true in some cases, or even overall, but it is not true in the case of Geary BRT

  • There’s many reasons the bike people get what they want…

    Care to share some examples??? 😉

    Examples that fall under the domain of the city, not Caltrain, or private enterprise.

    Hopefully that will change, but all I see is that we got to go to court a bunch… AND most of us got kicked in the teeth on days we aren’t on our bikes!

  • Peter Smith

    this is a strange hybrid of op’ed and journalism that seems to be a set-up for the sfbc to announce diversification into transit.

    i didn’t read the post this way at all, but glad someone else thinks inviting the SFBC into the transit world might be an ‘obvious’ idea.

    There are actually many potential conflicts between transit and bicycle interests, particularly with roadway design.

    that’s exactly what a combined front, allied against the car, may be the best option. would be curious what the Chicago folks think about the CBF becoming the ATA (other than the manner in which it was done).

    I’d love to see a similar group focus on public transit issues, and I’m sure there could be many beneficial alliances between SFBC and a transit advocacy group, but they should remain distinct.

    the benefit is that you could potentially have a *massive* coalition of people, as opposed to ‘just’ 10,000 people. and you could rope in people with a vested interest in all that money being spent on transit projects (construction firms, the rail lobby, etc.). there are other advantages — right now, the Walk SF folks work very closely (to my knowledge) with SFBC — even working out of the same office on occasion (to my knowledge). why not combine forces? this has many advantages, not least is showing a united front against that which ails us all — cars. just add one more mode to the mix — transit — and we start setting policy, instead of the cars. a final big advantage is allowing the city/politicians to deal with one major group and know they’ve got the interests of most citizens covered. you want to get things done? then organize large coalitions that speak united.

    There’s many reasons the bike people get what they want, while anyone using transit gets kicked in the teeth. That’s really worth a separate article in and of itself,

    hey, you know, this is a good idea. specifically, it’d be nice to see what the SFBC folks think about doing transit, what its membership base thinks, etc. ditto for the ATA — wonder if they’ve done a survey of their membership yet.

  • As far as the bike lane issue, the only real place this is a huge problem is between Presidio and Arguello. The Arguello bike lane dumps you out to hellish auto moonscape- even the sidewalk is to small to limp the few blocks to California St. There is Euclid, but that is a huge hill.

    I echo the comments that if the BRT is built, it will delay the LRT for decades. Do this right, this is lots money, but well spent.

  • If LRT is the answer, then what is the question?

    Muni operating cost per vehicle revenue hour:
    bus: $145
    LRT: $216

    Muni operating cost per passenger mile:
    bus: $1.01
    LRT: $1.16

    Generally, surface rail (i.e. tram) would be the preferred solution for the Geary corridor. Problem is: Muni has zero competence in that area. Thus, if LRT was built, we can expect: huge capital cost overruns, absurd operating costs, and more $36 million signaling contracts to incompetent vendors.

  • Toodle

    The dirty secret about Geary BRT is that, while buses would travel significantly faster, the headways (= capacity) would remain virtually the same, meaning THE BUSES WOULD STILL BE CROWDED. Hence the argument for light rail–trains can hold a lot more people than buses.

    This fact, along with the lack of bike facilities, is the reason why the only real supporter of Geary BRT was the Transportation Authority.

    Now, even they are withdrawing, so they can cannibalize the Geary funding and send it to the ballooning Central Subway. Is a Central Subway station in North Beach more logical than Geary BRT?

  • Any transit capital project shouldn’t be evaluated only on initial capital cost. A rigorous analysis ought to balance capital cost, operating and maintenance lifecycle costs, future capacity needs (is it scalable?), rider benefit (speed, reliability, accessibility, comfort, etc.), and environmental benefit (local and global). A well-designed light rail project might have a higher capital cost than BRT, but could also provide lower operating costs (with multi-car trains, a single driver can carry more passengers than a single bus driver) and additional rider benefit (level boarding, fully accessible, smoother ride, etc.) It is of course possible to maximize capital cost and operating cost while minimizing rider benefit; we have a few examples around the Bay Area.

    Unfortunately, San Francisco has made a number of bad choices about its light rail network. The SFCTA study assumed that Geary light rail would be built in the same manner as 3rd Street, and operated in the same manner as the existing metro, which helped kill the light rail alternative, which the SFCTA had decided from the outset that they weren’t interested in.

    It would be great to see some very near term (1-2 years) bus improvements; it will build a constituency for whatever is next. Muni, as well as BART, often fall into a ‘Pyramid building’ complex, and tend to get fixated on the expensive megaproject, at the expense of low-cost incremental improvements. Why doesn’t MTA have a near-term project to get the Stockton/Columbus buses running better as well? Same reason. Sometimes megaprojects are what’s called for, but it ought not be at the exclusion of incremental improvement.

    It would also be great if MTA got a start on their Light Rail strategic plan, which was a promised follow-up to the TEP. If we can get Muni’s existing light rail running as it should, it would be easier to make the case for light rail on the streets where it fits.

  • Robo

    I hope we don’t blow it on this one. BRT is a great technology, and has almost no disadvantages over LRT, in fact it has the advantage of being more flexible at the route ends, and even be expanded to go to, say, Marin or the Penninsula.
    If you look at the SF light rail, it has no advantages over the bus lines until it gets below Market Street. BRT on Geary will be much faster if it’s given dedicated lanes, signal priority, pre-boarding ticketing, and multiple doors for fast loading/unloading. And resist adding stops.
    All the BRT systems that I’ve ridden on are smoother and quieter than LRV.
    BRT on Geary will bee much appreciated if MUNI and the MTA aren’t allowed to screw it up.

  • Joel Ramos

    What a wonderful world it would be if we had all the time and money dreamed about in these comments!

    I encourage anyone to come up with a plan to get more of either. Meanwhile, BRT on Geary could happen in the foreseeable future, with foreseeable funds.

  • Matt Fisher

    Actually, I agree that BRT is best for Geary at the moment. Yes, I want to see rail, but BRT is better in the short term. There’s just not enough money there to implement rail on Geary, Van Ness, and in Berkeley, and even if we started planning immediately, it would take longer to implement. Besides, in this case, BRT will be just as good as rail (for now).

    Matt J. Fisher
    Ottawa, Canada

  • Matt Fisher

    I mean it. BRT on Geary is just fine. BRT can provide as many features as rail at a fraction of the cost.

    Matt J. Fisher
    Ottawa, Canada

  • Matt Fisher

    Okay, the last two comments were an about face on my part in response to bus boosters (examples: comments #28, #35, and #38) who claim the BS about BRT being as good as, or better than, rail. Anyway, part of the problem here is that I have this about face because I live in Ottawa. Yes, the Transitway is a success – the ridership is 200k per day – but just because Ottawa used BRT instead of LRT doesn’t mean it can be replicated. Yes, money is a finite resource, and this is evident in the situation in SF, but I really don’t want to use BRT as a substitute for rail. This is pathetic. On the other hand, the OAC is not a good idea, and is an example of how rail isn’t always the best mode. And if it costs a lot and does not much, then it shouldn’t be done.

  • Matt Fisher

    I’d further like to say that I agree that there should not be any BRT vs LRT “mode wars”.

  • Katherine Roberts

    BRT costs are underrated, & LRT costs are overrated. Then the obvious popularity of light-rail among unlikely transit groups (who are exactly the kinds of people we want to lure onto transit), gets overlooked. The popularity of rail lines over any kinds of buses results in increased revenue over time, which more than recoups the slight extra cost of putting in the “right” kind of system (i.e., rail) in the first place. Plus maintenance costs of buses are inherently higher, since rail is a much simpler technology (Lucky #130, built in 1914, is STILL IN SERVICE: And buses feed into the whole oil/automotive/tire industry in a way that trains do not, as anyone who’s seen “Taken For A Ride” knows about.

    Given all that, the threat of Peak Oil, global warming, etc., why on earth are we all supporting buses?? BRT was supposed to be “rail-ready”, which meant building one whole system, then ripping it all up & replacing it with what you really want (yeah, right). At best, this is obscenely wasteful, & at worst, it’s just a pipe-dream. Then it turns out the current BRT design is not even rail-ready after all.

    Let’s quit futzing around and start supporting rail on Geary. There is just no way you’re going to get people excited about a bus system in America. Maybe the only way to get the “love” you’re looking for is to give the people the kind of conveyance they’ll be happy about using. In my experience, only rail fits that bill.

    Plus, that median looks like the ideal spot for a set of train tracks. The train tracks of my dreams….

  • Anandakos

    @Katherine Roberts,

    I think the problem that LRT faces is the gap between Gough and Market. There is sufficient roadway west of there to put center-running BRT or LRT. But east of Gough there are two choices: run in surface right-side “BAT” lanes as now proposed or dig a subway.

    Only BRT works with the former option. Muni operates its LRT’s in lightly traveled streets in outer sections of all the existing lines.

    But none of those routes — even pretty heavily traveled Ocean Blvd — are anything like the volumes on Geary and O’Farrell east of Gough. You’d have towering LRT trains right along the sidewalk, because you can’t have them in the middle of a one-way street and make it function smoothly.

    The upshot is that LRT must have a subway as shown in the Rescue Muni presentation.

  • corey

    Let’s see, there is NEIGHBORHHOD opposition for a project that runs through the NEGHBORS’S neghborhood! Businesses will be driven out of business! Has anybody seen the number of store fronts for lease now? Where is the 30-40% of auto traffic that is estimated to leave geary Blvd. going to go? A 200 million dollar eXpense to sHAve 9 minutes of commute/travel time? This is idea is merely a bad joke, right?

  • jason

    Bike lanes on Geary? An expressway? What’s wrong with ajdjacent streets with 5% (!) of Geary’s auto traffic? Anybody heard of Cabrillo and Lake streets which already have bike lanes? Or maybe all lanes of traffic in SF should be bike accessible only. Note: People who use bicycles as their sole source of transportation are inefficient. Time is money. Get rid of your bike, buy a car and you will make more money. You can then buy a home and park your car in the garage. This will get you out of your rent controlled apt.

  • Ted King

    #21 (taomom)
    Take a look at the number of stoplights along the way. There are a quite a few and it seems to me that the Muni trains aren’t given priority. This is especially bad at Fourth + King. The T-Third often has to wait for a narrow slot in the signal timing before it can make its turn. And if you are in an N-Judah behind that T-Third – DELAY !
    [ I wonder if the plans for the T-Third ever included a bypass track along the south side of Mission Creek on into the N-Judah’s mini-yard.]

    The rails on Geary St./Blvd. were yanked after 1956. The anti-streetcar lobby used the BART master plan as the final nail in the coffin. I once lived near 3rd Ave. + Geary and was riding buses ON Geary in 1960.

    Geary Streetcar :
    Streetcars RIP (2/3 down) :

  • NoeValleyJim

    The the 38 carries 54,000 people a day. 54,000 * 9 minutes per rider * 365 days = 177390000 minutes saved per year. That is 2956500 hours (about 3M hours). If you estimate that the average persons time is worth about $20/hr that is $60M of savings per year.

    Yes, $200M is very cheap, you are looking at a ROI of 30%+. We should have done this years ago.

  • Nathanael

    “The ONLY thing LRT has over BRT is that LRT is more comfortable”

    And accelerates faster, and fits more people per vehicle, and generates no diesel fumes.


Livable Streets Concerns Overshadowed at Geary Blvd BRT Meeting

Supervisor 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 […]

Geary BRT Town Hall With Supervisor Eric Mar

From Supervisor Mar via Sunset Beacon: New ideas and progress on Geary Bus Rapid Transit  After years of discussion, the Geary Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project is making major progress. Geary Boulevard needs revitalization. The Muni #38 Geary lines are the most heavily used buses west of the Mississippi River and improving the line’s speed […]

Geary BRT Plan Watered Down to Appease Parking-Obsessed Merchants

Update: This plan may not be “watered down” after all. See our follow-up report here. Planners are touting a new proposed configuration for Geary Bus Rapid Transit that would forgo bus passing lanes in order to preserve car parking to appease merchants. Separated, center-median bus lanes would be retained, and project backers hope the changes […]

Geary Blvd BRT Meeting Tonight in the Richmond

Image: SFCTA As the environmental review process moves forward for the Geary Boulevard Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project, Supervisor Eric Mar is holding a community meeting to discuss the many issues at stake along the city’s busiest bus route. As we’ve written, the Geary BRT will be complementary to the proposed Van Ness corridor project, […]