Update: This plan may not be “watered down” after all. See our follow-up report here.
Planners are touting a new proposed configuration for Geary Bus Rapid Transit that would forgo bus passing lanes in order to preserve car parking to appease merchants. Separated, center-median bus lanes would be retained, and project backers hope the changes will clear the way for implementation, but the loss of the passing lanes means buses won’t be able to operate as quickly.
The proposal comes despite a recent survey from the SF County Transportation Authority showing that Geary merchants vastly overestimate how many of their customers drive, and that their priorities on transportation are out of line with those of their customers.
The new proposal [PDF], called “Alternative 3 Consolidated,” would run buses in two center lanes between dual medians. But unlike the original Alternative 3, it wouldn’t include passing lanes at stops that allow express BRT buses to pass local buses. Instead, the proposal would include only one “medium” bus service in which stops would be closer together than typical BRT, “but more spaced out compared to the local,” said David Parisi, a consultant working on the project for the SFCTA.
Under the new proposal, the BRT line would make 15 stops between Van Ness Avenue and 33rd Avenue rather than nine on the originally proposed express line. Parisi said the SFCTA doesn’t have any data yet to show how transit speeds would fare in comparison, but that a preliminary analysis showed that it would “still be pretty darn fast, reliable service.”
Eliminating the passing lanes would free up space to preserve car parking on Geary, in a bid to appease local merchants. By converting parallel parking spaces on side streets to angled parking, Parisi said all of the parking that would be removed for BRT improvements could be replaced.
The proposal is being championed by D1 Supervisor Eric Mar as a way to expedite the project, which he said has “been dragging” since its conception at least a decade ago. Mar, along with Supervisors Scott Wiener, David Chiu, and David Campos, grilled SFCTA staffers on the snail’s pace of the city’s BRT projects on Geary and Van Ness at a board meeting last week.
“I think the Transportation Authority staff have gotten the message from us and others that the 38-Geary line really needs improvements now,” Mar told Streetsblog. “Many of us wish that rail was funded and that was available, but BRTs have shown that they achieve many of the improvements that a rail system will at a fraction of the cost.”
Mar joined San Francisco officials and transportation advocates on a trip to Mexico City in May to tour the city’s BRT system, which was built at a far faster clip than San Francisco’s projects. “I saw how BRTs connect the transit system with underserved areas that rail or subways don’t reach,” said Mar.
Peter Lauterborn, an aide to Mar, said the new “consolidated” proposal would simplify transit service and the street geometry on Geary, as well as help the SFCTA meet its launch target of 2018. “This helps us get over the hurdle of negotiating parking loss in the district, which has been a major sticking point in the past.”
Under the original Alternative 3 proposal with passing lanes, 15 to 20 percent of parking would be removed on Geary between Palm and 25th Avenues. The consolidated Alternative 3 plan, without passing lanes, could result in “net zero” parking loss on or near the street, according to Parisi. In fact, he told an audience at a town hall meeting yesterday that a “net gain” in parking is possible, though when Streetsblog later asked him how that would further the city’s policy goals of increasing the use of walking, transit, and bicycling, he denied that it was under consideration.