Muni’s Sluggish 30-Stockton Finally Set to Get Greater Priority on the Streets

Muni’s 30 buses should get some relief on Stockton Street. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/geekstinkbreath/6724644323/##geekstinkbreath/Flickr##

Muni’s notoriously sluggish 30-Stockton line is finally set to get some upgrades that will give buses higher priority on streets through the dense neighborhoods of Union Square, Chinatown, North Beach, and near Fisherman’s Wharf.

The plans, part of the SFMTA’s “Muni Forward” program, include transit-only lanes, bus bulb-outs and boarding islands, transit signal priority, and stop consolidation on Stockton, Kearny, and North Point Streets, as well as Columbus Avenue. On two street segments where traffic lanes are too narrow to fit buses, car parking and traffic lanes would be removed to provide more maneuvering space.

The 30, one of Muni’s slowest lines, averages a mere 3.6 mph between Market and Sutter Streets, according to a 2007 SF Chronicle article. Before leaving his position as a transportation reporter at the SF Examiner, Will Reisman raced the 30 at walking pace from Chinatown to Market — and won.

The 30-Stockton takes 11 minutes to travel the mile-and-a-half segment north of Market, according to Muni Forward manager Sean Kennedy. The SFMTA estimates that upgrades could speed up the ride through that segment by about 27 percent, and result in a more reliable ride for roughly 70,000 daily riders that use the 30, 45-Union, and 8x-Bayshore Express through there.

A smoother, faster ride would especially benefit transit-dependent residents of Chinatown, which has the city’s lowest rate of car ownership.

“It’s such an oversubscribed route,” said Cindy Wu, a community planner at the Chinatown Community Development Center. (Wu is rumored to be a top candidate for the mayoral appointment for the District 3 Supervisor seat vacated by David Chiu.) “Seniors and residents depend on it for everyday errands, whether it’s grocery shopping or going to the doctor.”

CCDC is “encouraged” by Muni’s proposals to improve surface transit, said Wu, and those are still necessary “even though the Central subway is coming in” to connect Chinatown, Union Square, and SoMa. The 30 and 45 lines have been on a one-block detour near Union Square for four years to accommodate subway construction.

The SFMTA’s proposed transit upgrades for Stockton and Kearny. Image: SFMTA

Wu noted that it’s “still important to listen to community input” on the bus upgrades. A recent public outreach open house held in Chinatown by the SFMTA about the project was sparsely attended, but it’s unclear why.

One attendee, Jim Fong, said he rides the 30 and 45 regularly, and that he’s concerned about longer walking distances for seniors once stop spacing is increased from every block to every two blocks. Citywide, a 2010 Muni survey of riders found that 61 percent would consider walking a longer distance, if it meant the overall ride would be quicker and more reliable.

Aside from stop consolidation, the only point of contention for some seems to be proposals to remove car parking for transit upgrades. Chinatown residents and merchants don’t seem to depend much on car storage, and they’ve been happy to ban car parking on Stockton Street to boost business during the busy Lunar New Year shopping season.

It’s unclear how many car parking spaces would be removed in total for transit amenities, like 11 transit bulb-outs that allow for faster and easier boarding. Crosswalks at 18 intersections along the route would be made safer with bulb-outs, whether or not those intersections have bus stops.

The plans also include a two-block road diet on one-way Kearny Street, where the northbound 30 runs between Market and Sutter. Removing one of the street’s four narrow traffic lanes would allow for wider traffic lanes that better fit buses, the SFMTA says. It’s unclear if the road diet would extend beyond Sutter.

SFMTA’s illustration of why buses need wider traffic lanes on two blocks of Stockton. Image: SFMTA

A similar treatment is planned for two blocks of Stockton, between Columbus and Broadway. There, 16 parking spaces would be removed to widen lanes from roughly 8.5 feet to 10.5 feet, giving buses more room to maneuver.

The lane widening there should provide relief at a bottleneck, where narrow lanes mean buses often must stop and wait for oncoming vehicles to pass. “We’re losing up to a minute and a half there,” said Kennedy.

Short segments of transit-only lanes are also planned on Columbus, from Powell to Stockton Streets, and on the north end of Van Ness Avenue, from Chestnut to Bay Street. The latter would extend the transit lanes already planned as part of Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit. The transit lanes on Columbus were already included in plans for a road diet on that street.

The SFMTA improvements are expected to be built next year, but bulb-outs at six intersections along the route [PDF] would be coordinated with a re-paving currently underway and will be installed within the next few months.

The SFMTA’s proposed transit upgrades for Columbus. Image: SFMTA
  • Greg Costikyan

    Sounds like a no-brainer.

  • murphstahoe

    Begin the watering down process now

  • Ha. That really is where we’re at, isn’t it?

    The difference this time is that A and B won, and L lost big-time. As a resident of NB/Chinatown, I intend on using the ballot box as my primary weapon against the forces of watering-downedness.

    Honestly, should there be any private parking at all on Stockton? Seems to me it should be reserved for deliveries only, and those deliveries should be restricted to hours other than morning and evening rush hours.

  • IHeartPandas

    Agreed that there shouldn’t be any private parking on Stockton at all. It would make much more sense to eliminate the parking and widen the sidewalks, as it’s super crowded to walk during the day on Stockton in Chinatown.

    Does anyone know why the segment of Chestnut in the Marina isn’t having some of its stops consolidated? There’s no need for the bus to stop every block when it’s flat and the blocks are short.

  • Bluehale

    Yeah I don’t see how a lot of these changes make it off the drawing board. I mean Stanley Roberts had a segment a year or two back how the SFMTA doesn’t even ticket people in Chinatown. Even if most or all of these changes are implemented how much will it help? Stockton street in Chinatown is a major traffic clusterfuck anyway.

    Honestly a long term solution would be to extend the Central Subway to North Beach and perhaps the Marina in order to move 30/45 riders onto MUNI metro. But there’s no money for that and more importantly no political will. Hell for some reason MUNI couldn’t build a station in North Beach even though the tunnels end right there!

    Then again not much about Bay Area public transportation planning makes sense these days.

  • Andy Chow

    The only exception I would make is to allow auto pick up and drop offs along with disabled parking. If people don’t try to hunt for parking on this street the traffic should flow better.

    Sidewalk on Stockton is actually not that narrow, but a part of the space is used by merchants to put their merchandise. That’s what most grocery stores do.

  • Morgan Driver

    Almost every car parked on Stockton St. now has a disabled placard already.

  • sfspmurph

    Assuming removing parking on Stockton is a non-starter (regardless of the car ownership levels, I suspect those parked cars are local) has any study considered making Stockton one-way going north from the tunnel to Columbus and making Powell one-way going south from Columbus to Jackson? Southbound traffic could job back over to Stockton or potentially keep going to Sutter if they will keep the route after Central Subway construction. It’s steeply downhill there, not sure how that affects trolley buses.

    In any case, somewhat skeptical anything truly beneficial to transit will come of this plan.

  • Bruce

    There needs to be stop consolidation on Chestnut as well. There is absolutely no reason why the 30 or 30X need to stop every single block (except for Steiner eastbound) on the flat-as-a-pancake mile-long stretch from Van Ness to Broderick. The 45 and 41 stop at every other block along Union, even on the hilly part west of Steiner. If they removed half the stops on Chestnut for the 30 and 30X then they could extend the remaining ones to accommodate 90-foot articulated buses.

  • Jim

    Muni couldn’t build a station and tunnel past North Beach because the federal funds for the CS did not cover those items. It’s much like what VTA is dealing with with the Alum Rock and Santa Clara BART stations.

    MTA is going to release their preliminary study of Phase 3 and 4 in December: http://sfmta.com/sites/default/files/agendaitems/2014/12-2-14%20Item%2015%20T-Third%20Phase%203%20Concept%20Study.pdf

  • Jim

    Since almost every driver who parks their car in Chinatown has a disabled placard, I don’t see maintaining exclusive blue zone parking on Stockton being a viable solution. Perhaps convert some spots on side streets to blue zone (or pilot blue zone parking meters, should CA law ever change to allow for those).

    There are at least three parking garages and lots in Chinatown. Perhaps the Chinese Chamber of Commerce needs to expand the parking shuttle to weekdays.

  • Lego

    If you can’t walk down the sidewalk and they are over-crowded with people then they are too narrow for the location by definition. Something is robbing that space from pedestrians. I’ll go look again today and report back, but the merchants take up a 2-5 feet with desired merchandise in ACTIVE USE. Parked car lanes take 8+ feet. Parked cars do relatively little for that area – a single parked car (or that space designed for a parked car) robs the space from hundreds of pedestrians/$hoppers per hour. I’ve lived in Chinatown for a quarter-century, it’s long past-due time to see space for a handful of parked cars to be given back to the very extreme demand of pedestrian traffic. If the sidewalks were wider (and parked cars OUT), more residents of North Beach could walk there too – Induced Demand. And that’s a good thing. If SF can’t make a pedestrian street out of those blocks of Chinatown. Where CAN they? It’s the lowest-hanging fruit. Super crowded, 17% car ownership, etc. In Europe that would have been pedestrianized decades ago. No brainer.

  • Andy Chow

    On some parts of Stockton where the sidewalk is wider, merchants use the extra width to store some inventories, empty boxes, and garbage. I don’t think the merchants necessarily want wider sidewalks so that people can walk faster, and will probably use whatever extra space for themselves to effectively narrow the sidewalk.

    Completely eliminate the parking lane would be unwise because of the demand for day time deliveries.

    One measure that can improve transit performance is to use low floor buses. Unlike other cities that majority if not all of fleet low floor, all of the buses on Stockton are high floors (since Muni doesn’t have any low floor articulated bus or trolley bus). So the choices are either wait until these high floor buses are replaced (which would be a while for the trolley buses), or realign routes so that low floor buses can be served.

  • Lego

    Yes! Parking accommodations for deliveries.
    Chinatown merchants vigorously promoted to rebuild the Embarcadero Freeway. Their credibility to do what is good for SF & themselves in regards to these issues should be questioned.

  • Filamino

    Another ignorant person who wasn’t here back then. Removing the Embarcadero Freeway had a large negative effect on the community. Of course they are going to fight for their lives. You make it sound like they are lower class people, which I guess should not surprise me on Streetsblog.

  • Lego

    I’m truly curious about this “large negative effect on the community.” Please inform. Thank you.

    As I wrote on this post, I have lived in Chinatown since that time and I’m not perceiving any slowdown in business. Maybe I don’t know/understand the details*, I can tell you what i see – I see commerce, so much so that many can hardly walk down the sidewalk. Please tell me what you know. That part of Stockton is defined by SF as high-injury corridor and people have died on it this year and practically every other year. I am fighting for the resident’s actual lives.

    I also see a large development of (truly) affordable Chinese housing on the space where the freeway once was – more Chinese residents and customers. If you haven’t seen it, please take a look at it. It’s at 255 Broadway**

    *this is what i found: “What is clear is that in the years
    following demolition of the freeway, whole new
    neighborhoods were established in adjacent
    areas, major new civic amenities and tourist attractions were opened in the path of the former
    freeway, and existing tourist destinations that
    had relied on the freeway for automobile access
    remained major destinations. In 1990, a New York
    Times article described Chinatown as a district
    “in demise”; by some estimates, business had
    dropped 20% since closure of the freeway. But by 1998, the co-chair of the Chinatown Economic Development Group told AsianWeek magazine that,
    in spite of competition from new Asian shopping
    centers in the suburbs, Chinatown had recovered.
    “San Francisco’s Chinatown is still bustling,” the
    article explained, “and merchants say they haven’t lost their core customers despite the new competition and the loss of the Embarcadero Freeway nine years ago.”

    **The Broadway Sansome site was the Broadway on-ramp for the Embarcadero Freeway. The City decided to dedicate the site to affordable housing and, in June 2007, the Mayor’s Office of Housing selected Chinatown Community Development Center as the developer of the site.

    Pretty awesome!

  • Filamino

    The article said it right there! Business dropped and shops closed down. Nice to gloss over that.

    I don’t believe you have lived in Chinatown for 25 years. Why? First of all, everyone who knows Chinatown knew the commercial core of Chinatown was Grant Avenue – NOT Stockton Street. While Stockton Street was busy too, it was not nearly same as it is now. If you think Stockton Street is busy now, that was how Grant Avenue was back then. Grant Avenue has turned into a giant tourist trap. The soul was lost. Those who survived were lucky, and I bet those are the ones that said they were not affected by the freeway removal. In fact, I bet the lucky ones were the souvenir shops that were not the heart of Chinatown. Now they are flourishing because it’s a tourist trap now.

    I was there at least once a week in the 80s and 90s and saw the change happening. I had relatives who owned businesses who they told me of the bad times.

    Oh, I know what the replies are going to be. “Who cares about those businesses that depended on cars!” Typical narrow-minded mean-spirited ignorant Streetsblog bully.

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