“Muni TEP Approved”? Not So Fast

Photo: SFMTA

The Muni Transit Effectiveness Project took a major step forward on March 28, when the SFMTA Board of Directors approved plans for route changes and street upgrades aimed at streamlining transit service. Judging from the headlines on major media reports, the vote sounded like a green light for the entire TEP. However, the reports glossed over some very important details.

While the “12 percent increase in service” trumpeted by the SFMTA’s press release and heavily featured in newspapers might sound good, the TEP’s plans have been watered down, and many of its juiciest transit-priority street alterations await far-off approvals. All told, successful implementation of the TEP is far from ensured.

After years of planning, public outreach, and revisions for 30-some Muni route re-alignments and frequency changes, six routes have been put on hold, and five dropped completely. The SFMTA Board has also only approved some of the Travel Time Reduction Proposals — capital improvements to routes like transit bulb-outs, stop consolidations, and transit-only lanes. Those projects may bring some of the largest gains in transit speeds and ridership, but the SFMTA hasn’t begun the public outreach process for most of them. Many route changes and TTRPs were watered down during public outreach, to appease people who complained about longer walks and removing car parking.

Meanwhile, an appeal against the Muni TEP’s environmental impact report was filed just one hour after it was certified by the SF Planning Commission on March 27, although Muni TEP planning manager Sean Kennedy doesn’t expect it to significantly delay implementation.

In announcing the SFMTA Board’s recent vote, the agency sent out a press release with a headline touting a “12 percent increase in Muni service” resulting from the TEP. The increase apparently comes from a combination of speed improvements and increased funding, for which the agency is banking on three transportation funding measures planned for the ballot this November.

In recent years, the SFMTA had previously promoted a figure of 10 percent, not 12. When asked how that figure increased, Kennedy said the agency just extended the time frame which the figure applies to. “Instead of saying that we would do the whole increase in this [two-year] budget cycle, it basically just means we’ll do all those increases and improvements, it might just be over the next two budget cycles,” said Kennedy. “The time just draws out, not necessarily the projects.”

The target also seems to assume the agency moves forward with all of the speed boosts expected from the TTRP street infrastructure changes — most of which, again, haven’t started public outreach yet. The TTRP improvements approved so far make up “maybe 10 percent,” according to Kennedy’s “off-the-cuff” estimate. “Definitely a small subset,” he said.

So far, the precedent set by the initial TTRP upgrades isn’t promising, as we saw with the plans for transit bulb-outs on Irving Street and Ninth Avenue in the Inner Sunset. That proposal, to widen sidewalks along the entire length of two-car N-Judah trains, was cut by more than half due to complaints about car parking and fire truck access.

In total, the TTRP projects encompass eleven Muni lines on six transit-heavy corridors. From the SFMTA website:

The subset approved by the SFMTA Board on March 28 includes sections that the agency chose to “fast track” to coordinate with already planned street re-pavings and re-designs. These include the 71 in the Lower Haight, the N-Judah on Irving and Judah, the 30-Stockton on Columbus, bus bulbs for the 14 at Mission Street and Silver Avenue, the re-design of Potrero Avenue in the Mission, and the 5-Fulton west of 25th Avenue (where the SFMTA launched the 5L-Fulton Limited and other changes in a pilot project last year).

The route re-alignments and frequency changes that were put on hold were the 19-Polk, 48-Quintara 24th Street (east of Potrero Avenue), 58-24th Street, 23-Monterey, 54-Felton, and 90/91A/91B Owl routes. Kennedy said the SFMTA would hold more outreach meetings for these lines in the coming months.

Route changes that were abandoned were the 27-Bryant, 32-Roosevelt, 36-Teresita, 37-Corbett, and 56-Rutland. As we reported, riders on Bryant Street in the Mission fought plans to re-route the 27-Bryant onto Folsom Street.

The SFMTA hasn’t changed its planned schedule, whereby the entire TEP will be implemented by 2017. As we reported in January, however, the agency is already behind on its plans to install transit priority on half the city’s traffic signals by this spring, with only 170 of 600 completed by that time.

Kennedy said outreach for the rest of the TTRP projects is expected to begin this fall at the earliest.

  • L45d8
  • hp2ena

    The issues of outreach around these routes (particularly the following routes:
    -23-Monterey, which serves the Produce District and has workers who generally work in the early morning
    -54-Felton, which serves the Hunters View/Hunters Point Projects and various factories near Yosemite Slough, with workers starting work in the early morning
    -91-Owl, which connects many Downtown employment centers with many low-income communities of color, some of whom get out late at night and lack adequate transportation options) generally tie back to these themes:
    (1) How does the agency outreach to these people who cannot make the meetings held predominately in the evening because they work at those times?
    (2) How does the agency outreach to these people who are unable to make meetings during the day or weekends because
    (a) those working night shifts are often exhausted or have other – often familial – obligations?
    (b) they may have work on the weekends
    (3) How does the agency outreach to these people who are unable to research the information themselves, either because
    (a) they are too tired,
    (b) are working, or
    (c) have inadequate access to the internet and cannot go to the library for access because
    (i.) the library is closed when they don’t have work, or
    (ii.) some may be undocumented and the fear of an immigration hold may prevent them from applying for such services.

    Until that happens, these changes probably won’t be happening for the forseeable future, particularly with the Owl lines.

    Also, with respect to the 19 reroute, many residents resent the T and require another way to get Downtown just in case if Muni Metro breaks down.

  • David D.

    While the T has been successful at gentrifying the Third Street corridor, it has been a failure as a public transit service. It still can’t compete with the speed and reliability of the 15 it replaced. Considering the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on the T, imagine how robust the TEP could be with that money! Oh well. SF loves to line the pockets of contractors at the expense of the riding public. Maybe the completion of the Central Subway will improve the T’s performance, but I’m not holding my breath.

  • David D.

    None of this comes as news to people who read past the headlines. However, I would love to hear more about the EIR appeal. Do you have any more information? Based on the indicated timing, it sounds like the only way the appeal can proceed is if the city is sued. Otherwise it’s too little too late, which is good news for Muni and public transit riders across the City.

  • murphstahoe
  • sebra leaves

    TEP is not fully funded. TEP is not popular with the folks who rely on Muni. TEP is a huge distraction from the core mission of SFMTA and an excuse to spend millions (billions) of dollars on non-service/maintenance projects. It is hard sell to a public that is losing patience and faith in the SFMTA. The question “How does the taxpaying public want to spend its money” has not been addressed, but will be in November. The CEQA appeal is proof that some of the natives who know how to fight back are doing so.

  • murphstahoe

    “a huge distraction from the core mission of SFMTA”

    The core mission of SFMTA is not “give Sebra a parking spot”, FYI

  • Jamison Wieser

    I’d wait until the T-line is finished before judging it a failure. The temporary routing as an extension of the K-line subjects it to all the congestion problems in the subway and any delays on the Ingleside portion. The biggest pinch point is probably still 4th & King though, where turning trains require extra turn phase.

    Once the Central Subway is complete, trains will only make the turn going in and out of service. Normal operation will have both the N and T running straight through the intersection, crossing each other during the same light phases as car traffic.

    T-line reliability would be much better if it turned back at 4th & King, but wouldn’t be as useful if passengers had to transfer to get downtown.

  • David D.

    If providing good Muni service isn’t the core mission of SFMTA, what is?

  • Jamison Wieser

    The interstate highway system is not fully funded.

    Come to think of it, San Francisco hasn’t identified full funding for the upkeep and maintenance of our roadways in perpetuity, so let’s stop repaving them until that’s taken care of.

  • Jamison Wieser

    Having helped draft the transportation section of the City Charter, I can confirm that giving Sebra parking is not in there. Muni however is priorities 1-5.

    Regarding parking and traffic, the goal is all about effective and efficient management and an example would be using SF Park to reduce the amount of circling drivers are forced to do.

  • Jamison Wieser

    sebra leaves left a comment on that post which illustrates exactly why the general public should not be making service design decisions:

    “If you look at a typical expense sheet such as the one we have for the Irving Street project, you will see that everything on the list costs over $100K each. The bulbouts are $300K each, think about that next time you see one. Two or three bulbouts equal a new bus. Most people feel putting more buses in service is a better way to improve Muni service.”

    Muni definitely could use more vehicles, but they don’t drive and maintain themselves. So you’d need to add at least three more bulbouts-per-year for the operators, a few more bulbouts-per-year for the maintenance staff, a few more bulbouts-per-year for parts… And it’s not like SFMTA has unlimited space for all this, so eventually SFMTA would have to spend dozens or hundreds of bulbouts to buy more property for facilities.

    Plus there’d be all the extra traffic caused by more busses pulling in and out of each stop and turn more lines into what we have on Geary with multiple articulated busses hitting a stop at the same time and blocking traffic. That would just slow down traffic, and Muni service with it, even further and require more busses, and that’s how we end up with 8mph service and busses stopped longer than they spend moving.

    I guess you could lengthen the stop by eliminating some parking spaces…

    OR

    You could make the one-time investment in a bulb-out that among other things, 1) spares a bus the time and hassle pulling in and out of the traffic lane, 2) places passengers physically closer to the bus and eliminating travel time getting to the bus that couldn’t pull in and more when we have to get a car, 3) places waiting passengers out the way of the sidewalks and reducing pedestrian traffic that is getting worse and worse all the time.

  • Richard Mlynarik

    Hilarious!

    So we “invested” $650 million to make a “light” rail line that is slower, less reliable, less frequent, and serves fewer destinations than the bus line it “replaced”.

    But we can’t “judge” it until we give the same corrupt contractor mafiosi another BILLION AND A HALF DOLLARS.” We just need to “wait”. Until it is “complete”. And “normal”. And a “car phase”.

    Seriously, if you’re not being paid to come up with this stuff you’re a fool.

  • Jamison Wieser

    I know you are not so clueless that you weren’t aware the Thigh street light rail was a two phase project. So it seems you are being willfully ignorant or purposefully denying that the T-line is not complete yet. The final operating plan is the T-line running between Sunnydale and Chinatown with a shortline running between Chinatown and Mission Bay.

    Unless you want to deny the project is only partially finished, and the current arrangement as an extension of the K-line is the final/permanent service plan, then yes, the line is not completed and you’re judging a half-finished project.

    If I’m a fool for understanding the scope of the project, then I’d have to call you a fucktard for spouting off on something you don’t understand.

    Like I said, the temporary arrangement subjects the initial T-line to additional delays from the moment it turns the corner at 4th & King. And it isn’t just my foolish opinion that for the train to make the turn it requires a turn phase. Only an idiot would not be able to understand that.

    If the T-line turned around at 4th & King, we’d have a control case we could use to compare performance and reliability of the Third Street segment on its own vs. combined with the JKLMN lines in the subway.

  • Jamison Wieser

    Sebra Leaves will be happy to see the SFMTA has found a much cheaper alternative to wasting money on bulbouts and boarding platforms: make it Muni riders’ responsibility to not get hit.

    So why can’t the SFMTA solve all the speed and performance problems by asking drivers not to slow down Muni?

  • Bruce Halperin

    This could all be solved now if they simply added Transit signal priority at 4th and King for both the N and T lines.

  • Jamison Wieser

    In many cases that’s true, but 4th & King is a special case where a freeway touches down at an intersection where two rail lines merge through interlocking switches that prevent certain movements (neither trains or cars can go east while a T-line is training, and it all make sense when a service planner is drawing it on a whiteboard) and the problems go away when both lines are crossing perpendicular, but the SFMTA studied the problem and concluded they couldn’t do anything about the signaling or intersection design any sooner than the Central Subway would come along and rebuild it with priority signaling anyway.

    If the T was going to be a permanent extension of the K they would have probably would have continued the tracks running down the median and crossed into Mission Bay under the freeway next to the treatment plant where the train could run on ground instead of the expense of a bridge. But then there would be a different turn for the T-line north into the Central Subway.