SFCTA Board Approves Van Ness BRT Plan With an Extra Stop

Image: SFCTA

The plan for bus rapid transit on Van Ness Avenue was unanimously approved today by the SF County Transportation Authority Board, which is comprised of the Board of Supervisors. The plan, which includes transit lanes that run along a center median but converge to load at right-side boarding platforms, is generally the same design that received initial approval from the board in June last year, although a stop was added between Broadway and Vallejo Street after protests from members of a nearby senior center against the removal of the existing stop.

At the hearing, many elderly attendees called for the inclusion of the extra stop, while transit advocates supporting the project countered opponents who complained about the removal of car parking and traffic lanes, as well as what they perceived as a high construction costs for minimal gains in speed and reliability.

The BRT redesign is expected to shave seven minutes from bus travel times on the two-mile stretch of Van Ness and make service more reliable. Supervisor Scott Wiener, who said the time savings estimates are too conservative, lambasted opponents’ “completely misleading” claims that seven minutes were unsubstantial for the cost of the project, which will also include pedestrian safety improvements.

“It will probably get quoted in the press, and there will probably be some narrative out there about how this is $125 million to save seven minutes,” said Wiener, who pointed out that with 16,000 estimated Muni boardings on Van Ness (not including riders who board its lines on other streets), “you’re talking about millions of dollars of economic savings a year.”

“If we could have that level of savings all across our system, it would absolutely revolutionize Muni,” he said. “This is an extraordinary project — it’s not perfect — but it is very, very good and a positive step for the city.”

Wiener said he was concerned about the precedent that the preservation of the Vallejo-Broadway stop would set for stop consolidation plans on other BRT lines and speed upgrades included the Muni Transit Effectiveness Project. The extra stop would reduce the estimated transit speeds on Van Ness by about 15 seconds on average, according to the SFCTA.

Tilly Chang, the SFCTA’s deputy director of planning, said planners determined that preservation of the stop was warranted because of the proximity to the senior center and the steep grades its residents would have to climb to reach the nearest stop. She also argued that because the stop has relatively low usage, “we don’t think this will be particularly burdensome for travel times.”

The stop preservation, which was supported by Supervisors David Chiu and Jane Kim, shouldn’t set a precedent for future stop removals since its conditions are generally unique, said Chang. “We really deliberated for quite a while on how this context may apply citywide.”

While the project may not be perfect, Peggy da Silva of the SF Transit Riders Union called it “a great first step” and “an exciting way for us to build a better system of transportation in this city.” Noting Van Ness BRT’s preliminary silver rating from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy — one of the first in North America — she added, “We want to see it adhere to the gold standard.”

Van Ness BRT is expected to open in 2018.

  • lyqwyd

    Weiner for Mayor! He seems to be the only guy out there who pays any attention to the big picture.

    It’s great to see this project getting approval, and personally I’m fine with the additional stop, as it does make sense to have stops near senior centers, although I would have liked to see another stop eliminated in it’s place, but not that big a deal.

    Does this mean that it’s actually ready for construction, or are there more hurdles to be jumped?

  • Anonymous

    Did they approve the Vallejo stop for both directions, or just for the southbound direction?

    I hope it’s the former. While I would rather there was no stop at Vallejo at all, it would be confusing to have a stop in one direction only.

  • Anonymous

    Won’t the frequency be messed up – at least with the 49 line – with the buses having to come from Mission Street leg of the trip where they’ll be subject to the delays of ordinary everyday stop and go traffic? And how will the new 60′ buses (20′ feet longer than today’s articulated buses) be able to make their way along Mission or perhaps South Van Ness? It might be better to run them just between Bay and Market – maybe that is in the plan somewhere – or have the southern terminus be the BART station on 16th.

  • Henry

    Project still has to undergo detailed design, a process MTA is starting this fall. They’ll be voting on that next week. After that, the FTA has to issue a Record of Decision. The detailed design process will take about a year before it breaks ground.

  • Henry

    The TEP is working to remedy reliability issues with respect to Mission Street. If all goes well, the TEP TTRP for the 14 may be implemented before BRT is. Also, articulated buses do already make their way up Van Ness…

  • Henry

    I really rather that they not build the Vallejo Station. Union is two blocks away and is a downhill walk (those returning could get off at Pacific and walk downhill). The ridership data presented isn’t strong enough to justify the station. In addition, they have the 19 and are getting the 27 once the TEP is implemented starting next year. If the TA must build it, it should not be built to a standard consistent with other stops along the corridor, as the “standard” BRT stops should only be built to delineate major transfer points (Union, California, Geary, McAllister, Market).

  • lyqwyd

    Thanks Henry!

  • Bob M

    The existing articulated buses are in fact 60′ long, and all already travel along both Van Ness and Mission.

  • Anonymous

    Obviously you have not spent time with a mobility-impaired person for whom a two block walk is difficult. This seems like a reasonable accommodation for a vulnerable group of transit users.

  • guest

    DONT BUILD the stop!! Special interests cannot take precedent over the needs of transit riders!! Buildings change, demographics change, and why does one group get to benefit over others?!

    Low ridership is no excuse to let it slide! It’s all the more reason it shouldn’t be there!

    And lastly, you can not take the total project cost and say that this is the cost for BRT… This is constructing a new Van Ness Ave!! Along with new medians, lighting, utilities, ped upgrades and all!

  • guest

    I much rather see this group using para-transit to take better care of these people, or assisted by the center where they are residing! While MUNI is here to serve the people, it is impractical to make concessions like these. What about every other school, senior home, and business? Some people want it, some people hate it, but you cant stop at every block… That’s what it already does, and that’s why it it doesn’t work!

  • Henry

    I did, actually. With my grandpa, up until 9 years ago (he is now deceased). Every time he took me to visit him in the Portola, we’d walk two blocks from the 9X (now 8X) stop at San Bruno/Felton to Silver/San Bruno.

    Also, last Friday, while I was walking Geneva from Munich to Santos, I saw a man with a CANE make that journey from the McLaren Park entrance to Geneva/Santos with little difficulty.

  • Good news! Now–GEARY STREET!

    Or better yet, somebody build a time machine and enact the full BART system as originally planned. All shortsighted political leaders should study this map and vote accordingly. Can you imagine how much better our transit would be if people had made this happen back then?

  • Anonymous

    To answer my own question, the both the northbound and southbound stops were approved in the final vote.

  • Currently buses on this stretch of Van Ness travel at an average speed of 5 mph, taking 24 minutes to go 2 miles. (Oh. My. Goodness. Combine this speed with a 10 minute wait, and the travel time is just slightly better than any healthy person under 70 can achieve walking at a non-strenuous pace. Combine this speed with even a 5 minute wait, and biking is close to twice as fast, although it’s true that the lights on Polk do their best to catch northbound bikers at every single intersection.)

    Cutting 7 minutes off this two-mile stretch will increase transit speed by 29%. Two miles will be covered in 17 minutes instead of 24. Biking will still be faster, but the bus will start to be a much better option than walking. Due to declining net energy, this line will have to be converted to some kind of light* rail within a few years after it opens, but creating dedicated traffic lanes and signal prioritization is a good start. It’s my guess by the time the BRT gets built or shortly thereafter this newly added stop will be deleted or routinely skipped during commute hours due to a very simple cost-benefit analysis.

    * light, as opposed to the monstrously heavy Breda trains we currently use.

  • Sprague

    Wonderful that this project is moving forward. Supervisor Wiener has been a strong and effective Muni advocate.

  • TinyTim

    It has not been unusual for me to walk half the length of Van Ness or more and not have a bus pass me, so I hope there’s a dramatic improvement in reliability. But I supported the version that had the platforms curbside because:
    I believe that many of the drivers using parking spots are meter feeders/employees of nearby businesses/gov’t. offices. With the new plan, cars parallel parking will not hold up buses, but will hold up the one of 2 lanes of cars.
    I fear that with the center median plan, some pedestrians running for an arriving bus, will take chances and cross traffic against their light. You might think this will happen for the far curbside arrivals, but I think that distance will discourage such chance-taking. I also think that some median platforms will get too crowded and waiting on platforms with cars whizzing by on both sides and with diesel trucks spewing noxious fumes will not be pleasant. Curbside means you have the nice wide sidewalks of Van Ness to wait at. I’m not a fan of the automobile and what it has done to our cities, but with a lane removed and Van Ness in effect, being an extension of 101–a major connector between the Golden Gate and South Van Ness on ramps–I fear that traffic will creep along more (check out Saturday afternoons!). These people are not candidates for using a local transit route, they are tourists/out-of towners, among others, who are passing through. Will Franklin or Polk and Hyde get spillover?

  • Is there some reason disabled people who have a hard time with Muni can’t take Muni’s existing paratransit service?

  • That map is obviously not the original Bart plan. I mean, the fact that OAK is on the map is a dead giveaway.

  • Gordon

    I don’t whether the map is real, but Oakland airport opened in the 1920’s while BART started service in 1972.

  • The original Bart plans were drawn up in the 50’s, there wasn’t regular passenger service to OAK until the mid/late 60’s.

    I should also point out that “Taraval” doesn’t have the letter E in it.

  • David D.

    The new bus lanes will be used by Golden Gate Transit buses, which will reap some of the same rewards of improved service. So really, tourists and out-of-towners may be less likely to drive too. Sounds like a win-win to me.

    As for the center medians, there will continue to be traffic “whizzing by” on just one side of waiting passengers–just like the curb stops. In fact, since large trucks use the curb lanes, waiting passengers will not be as close to the diesel exhaust. Sounds like another win-win.

  • Anonymous

    I have taken GGT in almost any way imaginable – and the only thing I never saw on it was a tourist.

  • David D.

    I guess you need to ride a little more often. They are a regular sighting on the 10, which goes to Sausalito, and I’ve seen them on other routes too when they are trying to get to/from the bridge.

  • davistrain

    I’ve seen similar maps for the Los Angeles area, going back to the Kelker-DeLeeuw study of the 1920s. A recent edition has a light rail line running along Rosemead/Lakewood Blvd. This would be great for me, because it would connect my neighborhood with the Gold Line in Pasadena and other lines to the south. (I’m aware that these locations are Terra Australis Incognita for many Bay Areans). But I realize that, while an amazing amount of rail construction is in progress “down here”, some of the plans are in the “I should live so long” category.

  • Anonymous

    Elderly people have as much a right to have access to the public transit system as any other group. Paratransit is really for the profoundly disabled and mobility impaired. Sorry this group is so willing to throw the elderly under the bus.

  • Perhaps the preservation of that stop can lead to some development densification around it.

    http://chi.streetsblog.org/2013/09/11/measuring-brts-potential-to-spur-transit-oriented-development/

  • Anonymous

    Obviously your Grandpa, God rest his soul, was not mobility-impaired.

  • Anonymous

    Paratransit is really for the profoundly disabled and mobility impaired.

    Why? If there is an economic savings to expand the group that uses paratransit, the government should do so. Or do you prefer economically inferior solutions?

  • Anonymous

    pchazz – “Paratransit is really for the profoundly disabled and mobility impaired.”

  • Anonymous

    There has been a stop there for decades. Has that led to development densification? (disregarding the fact that Van Ness is a dense corridor with some of the taller buildings in the city and pretty much no vacant lots).

    The presence of a transit stop does not de facto lead to a jump in transit oriented development. It has to be “good transit” (I’d probably say “very good”).

  • Anonymous

    I take this back. I’ve seen them returning on the 10 from Sausalito after the ferries are finished. But I frankly think that entire market has been captured, modulo additional service to Muir Woods.

  • Anonymous

    Older people do better if they are integrated in their communities to the greatest extent possible. It prevents social isolation.

  • Anonymous

    What better way to integrate them than by giving them faster transportation options?

  • I agree. With the right policies and government support, development can be attracted to this spot.

  • Anonymous

    My point was, that if we add a bunch of stops, the transit becomes garden variety crappy transit, which will attract nothing.

  • Where can I see a map of stops?

  • The Overhead Wire

    The market is a larger determinant of that than government support or the existence of a station. There’s already frequent bus service there and this improvement is not going to move the needle on this stretch of road.

  • Great to see more emphasis being placed on pedestrian safety in urban planning in San Francisco. Thanks for the post!

  • Anonymous

    You are segregating the elderly and handicapped when you put them on paratransit because they are denied the opportunity to have everyday interactions with other transit users who are not elderly or handicapped.

  • Anonymous

    +1 for Weiner.

  • Rupert Clayton

    Look like the map is from http://www.jakecoolidgecartography.com/2011/10/27/the-bart-system-that-never-was/ and was based on “Regional Rapid Transit”, the initial 1956 BART plan. Whether the OAK stop was foreseen in the 1956 plan or added by Jake Coolidge, I don’t know.

  • tomsmits

    If you’re mobility-impaired to the degree that you cannot access a transit station, then you are by definition eligible for paratransit in SF. So that’s an option and I imagine many seniors at this building already take advantage of it.

    Moreover, the main building entrance to the Notre Dame Apartments is a pancake-flat 180 feet to the 19 Polk northbound and southbound stops. Folks wouldn’t exactly have been left in the lurch.