A preferred design for Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit was approved unanimously today by the Board of Supervisors, acting as the SF County Transportation Authority Board. Supervisor Mark Farrell, who delayed approval of the proposal a month ago after complaining that he “hadn’t been briefed” on it, said he now stands behind the project after SFCTA staff brought him up to speed.
“This project is an example of what is critical to the future of transportation in the city,” said Supervisor Scott Wiener. “We have a growing population… and if we don’t start beefing up our transit capacity, we’re going to have a big problem.”
SFCTA Executive Director José Luis Moscovitch pointed out that the project, along with Geary BRT, will go a long way toward reducing car trips as new development arrives along the Van Ness corridor — namely, California Pacific Medical Center’s Cathedral Hill project at Van Ness and Geary.
Brett Thomas of the SF Transit Riders Union emphasized the need to physically separate the bus lanes from car traffic to keep drivers from encroaching on them and delaying transit. Wiener echoed the sentiment, citing his experience on the J-Church this morning, in which “a delivery truck was parked a little too far from the curb, and literally shut down the entire J-Church inbound line.”
Transit advocate Jason Henderson, representing the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association, said HVNA is “enthusiastically in support” of the proposal, and noted the need for pedestrian and bicycle improvements on neighboring Gough and Franklin Streets to mitigate the impacts of car traffic diverted from Van Ness, particularly where they meet Market Street. “There’s a lot of moving parts here. Eventually, we hope to see the congestion pricing border to come out to Laguna” as another way to mitigate congestion, he said.
A few vocal critics opposed to dedicating two of the six existing traffic lanes on Van Ness exclusively to transit have come out of the woodwork at recent hearings. They cited fears of car congestion and questioned the project’s predicted effectiveness. (These may be the same folks behind the last-minute calls to Farrell’s office, which he said led to his initial hesitation.) However, most of their concerns seem to be thoroughly addressed by the SFCTA’s draft environmental impact report.
“We have all the empirical evidence we need from other cities as to why BRT is a successful model to bring to San Francisco,” said SFTRU’s Ben Kaufman. “The next step is just to build it.”
The project is expected to be completed in 2016. Transit planners say future BRT routes shouldn’t take so long to build.