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Posts from the "Geary BRT" Category

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Geary Bus Riders Set to Get Some “Early” Upgrades Before BRT Lanes Arrive

A rendering of a bus bulb and transit lane at Geary and Fillmore. Minor upgrades like these are set to be installed years before Geary BRT is finished in 2019. Image: SFCTA

Muni’s 38-Geary riders may get some relief even before bus rapid transit lanes come to the line’s Richmond segment in 2019. The SFMTA and SF County Transportation Authority are developing plans to install “early” improvements over the next few years, like bus bulbs, extended transit-only lanes, and transit signal priority.

Those upgrades would be made east of Stanyan Street, on the segment of the Geary corridor that is not poised to get center-running BRT lanes, said SFCTA planner Chester Fung. Center BRT lanes, originally expected to open in 2012, were dropped from the agency’s “preferred alternative” plan this year because of engineering obstacles presented by the Masonic and Presidio tunnels. The larger BRT project is still going through a lengthy environmental review and design process.

But on the eastern segments outside of the Richmond, where buses will continue to run on curbside lanes just as they do today, planners are looking to make “phased” upgrades that don’t have to wait. These will consist of “things that are more easily done, and less involved from an infrastructure and engineering standpoint,” and therefore don’t have to wait for the larger project, said Fung.

The SFMTA has already added red paint to the existing transit-only lanes on inner Geary and O’Farrell streets this year. Transit-priority bus detection is being installed on traffic signals at 86 intersections along the corridor.

According to SFCTA presentation materials [PDF], the route could see these upgrades between next year and 2017:

  • Bus-only lanes extended by one to two miles, between Gough and Stanyan streets
  • Transit and pedestrian bulb-outs at up to 15 spots
  • Bus zone extensions to fit more buses at up to 15 busy stops
  • Up to five stops removed, and “up to two local-only stops created,” at Spruce and Laguna Streets
  • Up to 15 right-turn “pocket” lanes to keep queuing cars out of the way
  • Some stops moved from the near side of the intersection to the far side, to take advantage of transit signal priority
  • Countdown pedestrian signals installed at six intersections

Fung said SFMTA planners are still working on details, like locations, for many of those improvements, and they would represent less than half of the upgrades planned for the segment east of Stanyan. Altogether, the “early” improvements are expected to save riders four to six minutes in each direction — and would result in bus reliability improving by 20 percent as buses arrive closer to their scheduled arrival times. The total cost would be $15 to $20 million, which is expected to be included in the existing Geary BRT budget estimates.

Additionally, the SFCTA presentation pointed out, the SFMTA has also purchased 61 new articulated, low-floor Muni buses, which should speed up boardings on the lines they’re used.

Fung said that any changes to bus stops or car parking would have to be approved at the SFMTA’s public engineering hearings.

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SFCTA: Geary BRT Will Take Hundreds of Cars Off the Street Every Hour

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Geary BRT is expected to reduce car traffic on the street in large numbers. This graph shows hourly car volumes projected in the westbound direction. Image: SFCTA

Once bus rapid transit is finally up and running, Geary Boulevard will carry thousands fewer cars every day in 2020, compared to a scenario where it doesn’t get built.

A rendering of the recommended plan for Geary BRT at 17th Avenue in the Richmond. Image: SFCTA

That’s according to a preliminary analysis [PDF] presented by the SF County Transportation Authority. The traffic counts vary, depending on which of several design alternatives are built, and some of the cars taken off Geary during rush hours would divert to parallel streets instead. Nonetheless, a Geary without bus rapid transit would have more cars than one with it.

Just how big is the difference? A traffic projection for the intersection of Geary and Divisadero Street shows about 2,200 westbound cars each hour — compared to about 1,000 fewer cars with the Geary BRT “3-Consolidated” option. However, the SFCTA doesn’t plan to build that option, as it would require the expensive undertaking of filling in the Fillmore underpass.

The SFCTA’s “preferred” option is the “hybrid” alternative, which only includes bus-only center lanes in the Richmond District. The other three quarters of the Geary corridor would get side-running bus lanes, many of which exist today.

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Hampered by Tunnels, Center BRT Lanes on Geary Limited to the Richmond

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A rendering of the recommended plan for Geary BRT at 17th Avenue in the Richmond. Images: SFCTA

Correction 12/17: The next community meeting on Geary BRT is tonight, Tuesday, at 5:30 p.m. at the Main Public Library.

The latest iteration of the plan for bus rapid transit on Geary Boulevard includes center-running bus lanes only on the Richmond District segment between Arguello Boulevard and 27th Avenue — about a quarter of the street’s length. East of Arguello, where Geary’s center traffic lanes run through two tunnels designed to whisk cars past Masonic Avenue and Fillmore Street, planners say center-running transit lanes are too problematic and expensive to engineer. Instead, they propose side-running colored transit lanes all the way to downtown.

Planners from the SF County Transportation Authority maintain that their recommended plan [PDF] for Geary’s Richmond segment, previously called Alternative 3-Consolidated, will still produce significant gains for riders on Muni’s busiest bus line. Along that segment, the project is expected to cut travel times by a quarter, make the line 20 percent more reliable, and increase ridership by up to 20 percent. The current estimated cost for the project is between $225 million and $260 million.

That comes out to $35-40 million per mile, and with more than 50,000 riders every weekday already, planners say Geary BRT is worth it. “It’s a really cost-effective investment to make because people are going to start using it if we make this set of improvements,” said SFCTA planner Chester Fung.

Filling in the Fillmore underpass to raise Geary’s center lanes back to street level would cost an estimated $50 million and could add years to a project that has already been delayed extensively, planners said. Geary BRT was originally supposed to open in 2012, and the SFCTA says its current proposal could be implemented by 2018, the same year as Van Ness BRT — an improvement over the previous 2020 timeline.

“It’s not what I’d like it to be,” said Winston Parsons, a member of the Geary BRT Citizens Advisory Committee, though he said the SFCTA’s reasons for limiting the center-running lanes are “understandable.”

“I initially advocated that both tunnels be filled, but it’s simply not in this project’s budget and would drastically increase our timeline,” he said.

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Jarrett Walker: New Geary BRT Option Could Provide Faster Service

When it comes to providing the fastest, most reliable bus rapid transit service on Geary Boulevard, cutting out bus passing lanes and “consolidating” local and express services might sound like a downgrade. But according to transit consultant Jarrett Walker, such a configuration could actually provide a superior level of service. It’s all about using the right metrics to judge travel times.

Would Geary BRT be downgraded by "consolidating" services into one line? No, says transit consultant Jarrett Walker. Image: SFCTA

Streetsblog asked Walker, author of the book and blog Human Transit, to weigh in on the debate between Geary BRT’s Alternative 3 (with bus passing lanes) and Alternative 3-Consolidated (without). In response, he pointed out that “if you combine both services into a single pattern, everyone gets more frequency.”

“Total trip time includes waiting time as well as in-vehicle time,” Walker wrote in an email. Providing one BRT service more frequently, rather than devoting some buses to local service, “should reduce average waits by enough to make up for a minute difference in travel time.”

“Rapid stopping patterns need to be much much faster than the local to justify having both,” he continued. “I have a little trouble believing that the differences in travel time are as small as [the SF County Transportation Authority estimates], but it would not surprise me if a single pattern ends up getting almost everyone where they are going sooner.” According the SFCTA, the “consolidated” BRT service would run its main stretch in seven minutes, while an express service would run it in six minutes, 10 seconds.

Jarrett Walker. Photo: Planning & Design Centre

Walker’s point on frequency seems very convincing, and since I’ve railed on the “consolidated” option as nothing more than a bid to preserve car parking for misguided merchants, an apology is in order. The benefit of shorter waiting times outweighing stop delays wasn’t made clear to me, and I was skeptical of a proposal that appeared late in the process — particularly since it would allow planners to dodge political backlash by saving parking spaces while reducing space for transit.

As Walker pointed out in his book, such misconceptions about quality transit service are common. ”In most debates about proposed rapid transit lines,” Walker wrote, “the speed of the proposed service gets more political attention than how frequently it runs, even though frequency, which determines waiting time, often matters more than vehicle speed in determining the total time a transit trip will require.”

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Geary BRT Plan Watered Down to Appease Parking-Obsessed Merchants

A new proposal for Geary BRT would eliminate bus passing lanes to preserve car parking. Images: SFCTA

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.

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New CPMC Hospital Deal: Smaller Campus, But More Car Parking for Its Size

The new plan for California Pacific Medical Center’s Cathedral Hill campus at Van Ness Avenue and Geary Boulevard calls for a far less massive facility than originally planned, but the number of car parking spaces per bed will actually be higher.

A rendering of CPMC's originally proposed 555-bed Cathedral Hill campus at Van Ness and Geary.

Under the new agreement announced by city supervisors yesterday, the size of the hospital will be cut nearly in half, from 555 beds to 304 beds. But the number of parking spaces included in its garage won’t be downsized at the same ratio, shedding only 210 of its 1,200 original spaces — a 20 percent reduction, according to the SF Examiner. So while the facility may bring in less car traffic as a whole, it will actually be more car-centric compared to the original plan.

“There’ll be a lesser impact on transit from traffic, but it’s only because they made the hospital smaller, not because they got any smarter about transportation,” said Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich.

Of the location at Van Ness and Geary, Radulovich says, “If you were going to pick a spot that’s not on Market Street where you could do the most damage to transit, Van Ness and Geary is pretty much it.”

The $14 million that CPMC has agreed to pay the SF Municipal Transportation Agency to help fund Van Ness and Geary Bus Rapid Transit projects was also reduced from the $20 million included in the development agreement as late as November, according to the Chronicle (though it’s still more than the $10 million Mayor Ed Lee originally asked for in 2011).

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Geary BRT Advisor Resigns in Frustration at Snail’s Pace of SFCTA

Bus Rapid Transit on Geary Boulevard was originally slated to open last year. But today, planners are looking at a launch in 2020 — an eight-year setback for a project that was supposed to take advantage of low costs to get off the ground quickly.

For Kieran Farr, the cycle of delays, studies, and outreach campaigns by the SF County Transportation Authority was frustrating enough that he resigned from the Geary BRT Citizens Advisory Committee last month.

“I’m highly concerned that we’re doing this over and over again,” Farr told committee members and SFCTA staff at the most recent CAC meeting. “In the parlance of start-ups, which is the world where I come from, what this seems like is we’re having developers re-do the same product five different times without ever launching it to the public, and that’s really concerning.”

Farr said when he applied to join the CAC in 2008, he met with the project’s planners “to express my excitement about this project launching in 2012 which was the original planned start date because that [anniversary] coincides with when Muni was started in 1912 as a rail line, and that was the first municipalized line ever.”

Instead, Farr wrote on his blog, ”What I’ve seen in the past 6 years has been a severe disappointment during which I have lost trust in America’s regulatory framework to enact effective transit improvements.”

BRT on Geary has been discussed for at least a decade. The SFCTA completed the first step, a feasibility study, in 2007. Since then, planners have repeatedly revised the project and pushed the launch date back for reasons that baffle the public.

Merchants have opposed removing car parking for the project, and residents have complained about the project’s perceived potential to push car traffic on to parallel streets, putting pressure on planners to assuage the skeptics with more revisions and outreach. Many transit advocates have also urged the SFCTA to build a “rail-ready” project in hopes of someday replacing the 38-Geary, Muni’s busiest bus line (and one of the slowest), with light-rail service.

But as Farr noted, the whole idea of BRT is to provide quality bus service that rivals that of rail, using infrastructure that’s less expensive and easier to engineer, “with quick return on investment for the residents of San Francisco.”

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Options for Geary BRT Come Into Focus

Geary and Fillmore, where the underpass could be filled in and "decked" to make the streets meet at the same grade again. Image: SFCTA (Renderings are conceptual only.)

Just after San Francisco approved a preferred design for its first Bus Rapid Transit route on Van Ness Avenue, the SF County Transportation Authority showcased the latest conceptual proposals for a companion BRT project on Geary Boulevard.

Geary BRT, which has been fraught with delays over the years, is expected to bring relief to riders on Muni’s notoriously sluggish 38-Geary line by significantly improving transit reliability and speeding up trips by as much as 30 percent.

The 38 follows Muni’s first streetcar route, traversing nearly the entire length of San Francisco from the Transbay Terminal to Ocean Beach. With 50,000 daily riders, it is the city’s busiest bus line. The BRT upgrade is expected to further boost ridership on the corridor, which carries as many travelers by bus as it does by car, according to SFCTA project leader Chester Fung.

“The buses don’t arrive when we’re expecting them to arrive, and they tend to bunch up when they get delayed by traffic,” said Fung. “Bottom line, we want to improve bus travel time and bus reliability.”

Geary BRT would speed up trips with features like dedicated bus lanes, off-board ticket machines, signal priority for transit, low-floor vehicles, and upgraded shelters. While all buses could potentially use the transit lanes, BRT buses would run as the 38-Limited and pass local buses in designated areas. Fung said planners are determining exactly which stops BRT will serve. The project will also include pedestrian safety improvements like sidewalk bulb-outs, and a number of left turns off of Geary may be banned.

These improvements have been a long time coming, with the project already delayed by four years. But SFCTA staff say they’ve learned some lessons from planning Van Ness BRT that should help them stay on track to meet their new target of completing the line in 2019.

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City Hall Hearing Turns Spotlight on Problems Plaguing 14-Mission Line

The thousands of daily Muni riders who take the 14-Mission line continue to endure frequent switchbacks, poor reliability, slow speeds, and overcrowding, but advocates and city leaders are putting a spotlight on the problems plaguing the busy Mission bus corridor, which serves one of San Francisco’s most transit-dependent communities.

“It’s the only one of the top three busiest [bus] lines without a plan to speed it up,” said Fred Sherburn-Zimmer, an organizer of the San Francisco Transit Rider Union’s (SFTRU) 14-Mission Task Force. ”Why isn’t this major corridor for working class people in the city a priority? It’s busy no matter what, eleven at night, seven in the morning, and it doesn’t matter which stop you’re getting off at.”

A hearing called by Supervisor John Avalos at today’s San Francisco County Transportation Authority Plans and Programs Committee meeting sought to address the switchbacks on the line following complaints from riders. SFMTA Director of Transit John Haley explained in a presentation [pdf] that Muni management orders switchbacks to alleviate delays. They force riders off a vehicle, mostly in the outbound direction, in order to serve points on a line that have a greater ridership demand.

“When one of the lines is substantially behind schedule, it’s one of the things that’s available to us so that we balance the line in both directions,” said Haley. “All five of the rail lines go through the subway, it has to be managed as a system. If something happens on one line, it can impact all the other lines.”

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SFBC Presses for Bike Access on a Piece of Geary Boulevard

geary_at_beaumont.JPGThe relatively gentle grades of Geary Blvd. approaching Masonic make it the route of choice for most bicyclists in the corridor.
The SFBC is working with the Transportation Authority (TA) to get a bicycle path considered for a portion of the Geary BRT project, a result of a meeting held between the two groups recently.

Livable streets advocates around the country are often surprised to hear that such a large capital project does not already include bike lanes. "If you're going to spend more than $200 million, how can you not squeeze bike lanes in," goes the refrain. But the impact of capturing an additional ten feet from the 90-foot right-of-way is significant. Something has to give: a lane of parking, a pedestrian refuge, a transit passing lane, or one of the two remaining travel lanes.

None of these are attractive options for a project that is already getting political pushback for its relatively minor traffic and parking impacts, nor is it an attractive option to spend nearly $250 million on a project and not do anything to improve bicycle safety on Geary. Volunteers, including me and staff of the Bicycle Coalition, have been trying to resolve this conundrum since the inception of the project.

The SFBC has asked the TA to focus on the segment of the Geary BRT project between Arguello and Webster Streets. West of Arguello, Anza is a good alternative to Geary for most bike trips, while between Arguello and Presidio, there is no parallel route. The SFBC requested the TA to look at bike access as far east as Webster in order to connect a Geary facility with the Webster Street bike lanes.

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