Two-Way Haight Street Project Would Speed Up 6, 71 Muni Bus Lines

Image Courtesy of the SFMTA and the SF Planning Department

Just about any of the roughly 20,000 regular Muni riders who take the 6 or 71 lines every day can tell you their bus can come to a crawl as they make the turns at Laguna Street. Decades ago, the easternmost block of Haight Street was turned into a one-way street in the opposite direction, forcing inbound buses onto a notoriously slow and unnecessary detour, often called the “dog leg”.

“It’s such an inefficient way of taking transit,” said resident Katherine Roberts. “You just pray the N-Judah is running because those things are not gonna get you there on time. It’s guaranteed that they’re not.”

But a project [pdf] to finally restore two-way bus operation all the way down Haight Street is in the works. Staff from the SF Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) met with community members last night to refine their proposal, offering two overall design options and other questions to weigh in on.

Image Courtesy of the SFMTA and the SF Planning Department

“We want to improve our [bus] travel times and our reliability,” said Britt Thesen Tanner of the SFMTA Sustainable Streets Division. “Our running times just on the four blocks from Laguna to Market [and Van Ness] vary anywhere from 2 to 8 minutes. That’s a 6-minute variation – that’s an entire headway.”

Allowing eastbound buses to connect to Market Street from Haight would mean making two fewer turns, traveling two fewer blocks, and making three fewer stops. New bus lanes would also free them up from car traffic turning onto Octavia Boulevard towards the Central Freeway. Tanner estimates the travel time could be reduced to a more reliable 3 to 4 minutes.

Attendees overwhelmingly supported the project, and most seemed to favor an option that would create a contra-flow bus-only lane, which would still keep cars from using the block eastbound. The other option would allow cars to travel and park on that side of the street.

The project could be the city’s first to pilot a technique using red pavement to highlight the bus lanes, which Tanner noted has been used widely in cities like New York and London. It would also include pedestrian, landscaping and streetscape improvements at the hairy intersection of Haight, Gough, and Market streets.

This center bus lane would allow buses continuing down Haight to pass cars waiting to turn onto Octavia Boulevard. Image Courtesy of the SFMTA and the SF Planning Department

One question posed to attendees was where the new bus stop should be located on the block. In group discussions, one table generally favored a location closer to Octavia, while another liked having it near Market Street.

A loss of car parking wasn’t a concern voiced by drivers since any spots removed by a bus-only lane would be replaced by the removal of three bus stops on Laguna and Page. The other option, which would keep those parking spots, would actually add ten spots to the neighborhood.

The idea of two-waying the last block of Haight Street was recommended in the 2003 Market-Octavia Neighborhood Plan as well as the SFMTA’s Transit Effectiveness Project.

The project is expected to have a final public hearing and go to the SFMTA Board of Directors this fall, and if approved, construction would begin in 2014.

The intersection of Market, Gough, and Haight Streets. Image Courtesy of the SFMTA and the SF Planning Department
  • Nathanael Johnson

    Great! Make these TEP improvements happen already! Maybe start thinking at the same time about the turn from Haight onto Market. Looks a little hairy. Maybe a special signal for the bus?

    (Incidentally – I like the verisimilitude of having a car in the bike lane on the Streetscape Improvements illustration. It’s a taxi right?)

  • mikesonn

    Those are sharrows, it isn’t a bike lane.

  • icarus12

    Does anyone know why it has taken since 2003 to see the start of planning and possible implementation of this very common sense solution?  What inspired transit planners to put a dogleg into the Haight Street route in the first place?  And what convinced them to remove this seemingly non-sensical detour?  Would appreciate any information from readers.

  • Chris

    I strongly support this project and think it will provide significant benefits both to passengers on the 6-Parnassus and 71-Haight-Noriega lines and to pedestrians at the Market/Gough/Haight intersection.  That said, I’m suprised by the statement that attendees at the meeting “overwhelmingly” supported the project.  I was at the meeting and it was my preception that a substantial percentage of the attendees oppose the project.  Their concerns mainly relate to fears that the changes would worsen traffic congestion in the area and that allowing inbound buses to go through the Market/Gough/Haight intersection will make that intersection more dangerous than it already is.  I didn’t hear the opponents offer any meaningful alternatives about how to address the current problems for the bus routes, though, and most of them don’t seem to care.

    In short, people who support this project will need to turn up for future public hearings on the project because there will definitely be a large, organized, vocal contingent of opponents.  

  • It is bad enough that the city implemented the incredibly stupid (sorry, but no reason to be polite here) idea to make Haight St one way, at the expense of transit. But to take 8 years to get to this point and then another 3 years even to start construction shows that the process for improving our transportation is severely broken. Meanwhile reducing Muni service was quick and easy to implement.

    Perhaps the SF MTA needs to declare a fiscal emergency again to get this done. Perhaps it should be a proposition on the ballot. Do what ever it takes to expedite this. 3 more years to even start construction on something almost everyone wants is just plain pathetic.

  • The one-way section of Haight was introduced as part of the 1948 Transportation Plan, with the intent of giving access from outbound Market to southbound Guerrero (via Laguna) without turn conflicts and of simplifying the complicated rights of way at the Haight/Gough/Market corner.  I don’t know why it is now that it is being reconsidered, other than a general swing of the pendulum back away from one-way streets.

  • Caleb

    I noticed this diagram has a painted bus only lane.  Can we please get special color paint and more obvious markings on existing bus lanes in this city?  Violations of these lanes are so constant, they may as well not exist at all.  Painted bus lane treatments seem to work well in other cities as a deterrent to private autos breaking the law.

  • Anonymous

    “Attendees overwhelmingly supported the project.”  Wow, we must’ve been at different meetings since I recall most people being opposed to the project.  Why would someone misrepresent the position of the attendees like that.

    As I’ve seen it, this plan is going to a lot of trouble to save 3-4 minutes on a bus line in a way that will worsen congestion on Gough and Octavia streets.  What isn’t mentioned here is that the project hinges on a grant from the MTC (www.mtc.ca.gov), the condition of which is that Haight St. must be turned into a two-way street with buses going in both directions.  To me, I get the impression that someone that controls the money at the MTC has an opinion (and possibly an interest) in either getting the inbound buses off of Page for those 2 blocks between Laguna and Gough or getting them onto Haight, otherwise I’d expect more flexibility with that grant money towards solving the current problem of speeding up the in-bound buses.  And do they really need the decreased variability at the expense of increased congestion else where?Because the grant money comes with a condition, it’s just hard for me to believe in the honesty of the MTA’s desire to make Haight a 2-way street to solve traffic problems.Having an unenforceable inbound bus-lane at Haight and Octavia is simply going to tempt already impatient motorists into its mis-use. As someone else at the meeting pointed out:  Adding an extra traffic-light  cycle on that intersection for the in-bound buses to go straight through will further back-up the south-bound traffic on Octavia headed for the freeway entrance at Market.  Adding an extra traffic-light cycle for in-bound bus at Haight/Gough/Market will further back-up the south-bound traffic on Gough, headed towards the freeway on-ramp at Mission and 13th. 

    The problem here is that we have several busy intersections (at which major arteries meet) within a few blocks of each other and the proposed solutions involve running a bus through a couple of them to save a trivial amount of time for the bus while increasing congestion at these already crowded streets. Clearly, someone had a good reason for making Haight one-way between Gough and Octavia. Let’s not dismiss that person’s wisdom for some grant money.

    Finally, east-bound Haight St. between Laguna and Octavia is too busy and narrow of a street to be a 3-lane street.  You end up with a UPS truck double-parking on the street or with garbage trunks at rush hour — and they occasionally do come through during rush hour — you will wind up with buses idling for 10-15 minutes on a purely residential street because all the cars had to move into the bus-only lane to get around the UPS truck or garbage truck.

    Ok, so I should probably make a suggestion after doing all this nay-saying:
    I can only see this working if we close off access to south-bound Octavia to east-bound traffic on Haight St.  That way, no one will want to come down Haight to get on the freeway, because they won’t be able to. In-bound buses could go straight through, as could cars if they were allowed to.  If we prevent freeway access on east-bound Haight by preventing that right turn from Haight onto Octavia, then Haight St will no longer be the freeway on-ramp it currently is and any traffic trying to get straight through to Market would have an easy time doing so.  This still wouldn’t solve the problem of the additional back-up introduced by the Haight street inbound traffic at the Haight/Gough/Market intersection, but tt would certainly make the Haight street more livable.

  • mikesonn

    “The problem here is that we have several busy intersections (at which major arteries meet) within a few blocks of each other and the proposed solutions involve running a bus through a couple of them to save a trivial amount of time for the bus while increasing congestion at these already crowded streets. Clearly, someone had a good reason for making Haight one-way between Gough and Octavia. Let’s not dismiss that person’s wisdom for some grant money.”

    That is pure gold! Ha. Maybe there shouldn’t be several major arteries within blocks of each other. Are streets still major arteries if they are all major arteries? 3-4 min isn’t trivial to those lines, that is nearly a full head-way. That’s one less bus you can run on that route, saving money and possibly boosting service on another route. And the “good reason” for making Haight one-way was to prioritize private auto traffic above all else. If we want to move away from that, and prioritize transit, then we need to dismiss that person’s “wisdom” and move in a different direction.

    “you will wind up with buses idling for 10-15 minutes on a purely residential street because all the cars had to move into the bus-only lane to get around the UPS truck or garbage truck.”

    Then the cars wait and don’t block the bus lane. That is what enforcement is for (sadly, the SFPD doesn’t know what that is, especially when it comes to bus only lanes).

    “if we close off access to south-bound Octavia to east-bound traffic on Haight St. ”

    That sounds like a great idea that should be implemented. But the proposed lay out has a bus-only lane going straight just to the left of the right turn lane from Haight to Octavia (first picture at the top).

  • James Figone

    3-4 minutes is not trivial.  Removing 2 turns and 3 stops will greatly impact the performance of these bus lines and help to improve the overall transit picture in SF.  It is these sorts of measures that make a difference to the perception that the SFMTA actually cares about transit performance on the street.  The fact that we will need to wait another 3 years before we can begin construction is regrettable.  We will need to find ways to improve the situation before then using measures similar to the right-turn trials used on market st.

  • Since I now have the 1948 Transportation Plan in front of me, I want to quote its rationale in full, just to make things as clear as possible.

    “Haight Street is proposed as one-way for two blocks west of Market Street to facilitate intersection control at Gough and Market Streets as well as to provide a convenient route for westbound Market Street motorists desiring to proceed south on Guerrero Street.  Since traffic signals are proposed for the intersection at Laguna, Market and Guerrero, a left turning movement off Market Street would cause hazard and delay.  Therefore such movement should be made by proceeding west on Haight Street, then south on Laguna Street and across Market Street, eliminating the present traffic conflict.”

    The Guerrero rationale no longer makes any sense because there is a left turn lane there now.  I hope they have a good plan for the signals on Haight across Gough and Market because the intersection is probably even more tricky today than it was in 1948 because of the extension of Gough across Market.  If they have a good plan for that, I think restoration of two-way traffic is a good thing.

  • JF

    I was at the meeting too and most groups preferred the bus only lane. Yes, there were those like arishi that opposed the entire project and refused to even discuss the option.

  • Anonymous

    to “JF” below (since I obviously don’t know how to use the reply button):

    I’m not sure who “those like arishi” are, but I can say that, being arishi himself, I remember discussing the two options as well as changes and alternatives to those two presented options.  Yes, I’m in favor of leaving it the way it is given the two options as they were presented to us, but to say I’m opposed to the entire project and refuse to even discuss the options is an  over-simplification that is unfair and polarizing.

  • Further explanation from the 1948 plan of why that block of Haight Street ended up one-way westbound, if anyone is not sick of hearing about it by now: http://www.flickr.com/photos/walkingsf/5861228021/

  • There were a few vocal opponents at the meeting, but the majority seemed to support it.

  • mikesonn

    Eric, keep it coming. This is awesome. A wealth of information. You find the best stuff.

  • Anonymous

    Very cool. It looks like they did change that curb line, though it still isn’t as sharp as in the diagram, and the resulting space is only used as a parking lot. On the other hand, the Haight/Gough/Market intersection as shown would have been a lot more pedestrian friendly with a much shorter crossing, but I guess it was never implemented.

  • ERdoc

    @arishi:disqus .  There is literally no rationale that a reasonable person could find to support making these buses take a left hand turn at Laguna, and then another right onto page whilst idling in morning traffic.  You must live on that block  (probably in a rent controlled unit) and have some hysterical notion that a bus is going to ruin your quality of life.  
    Your post is self serving and kind of dumb. 

  • J

    Super nit picky, but why not make back-in angle on Gough? It just as easy and much safer. Think parallel parking, but easier. Also, once you’re there, you have a much much easier time seeing as you pull out of a spot. I honestly don’t know why people still do front-in angle parking.

  • According to the agenda for the SFMTA engineering tomorrow on this project, they are doing just that: http://www.sfmta.com/cms/ceng/EngineeringPublicHearingNoticeSeptember162011.htm

  • dan

    Why does it have to be a “bus only” lane on eastbound haight before octavia?  This eliminates the ability of cars to make a left turn.  Not that many cars turn left onto Octavia from Haight, but it’s really your only option if you make a mistake and don’t want to get onto the freeway.  (Unless they let cars onto the newly 2-way part of Haight, but that doesn’t sound likely.) 

    Couldn’t the new lane be left turns for cars, straight for buses only?  Again, it’s really not many cars turning left right now, and there’s also not many cars that pass through the intersection going straight from the opposite direction, so I don’t believe that letting cars turn left would lead to a significant amount of delay for buses.

    It seems like a recipe for unnecessary motorist confusion.  Not that I’d expect to get a lot of sympathy for that problem in this venue, but still.

  • Arraway

    In April, SFMTA took a proposal that included a “Muni and Left Turn Only Lane” on Haight eastbound between Laguna and Octavia.  The proposal was continued then due to residents’ concerns, which included their concern that the left turn lane would increase congestion in the area. The revised proposal that was approved yesterday made that lane into a “Muni Only” lane and eliminated left turns in response to residents’ concerns – necessary to be able to implement the project.  SFMTA made a lot of revisions to the proposals between April and yesterday and I think they’ve ended up with a better project as a result.

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