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SFMTA to Paint the Transit Lanes Red on Mid-Market This Weekend

Red paint will be added to send a stronger message that private auto drivers should stay out of mid-Market Street’s transit-only lanes. Photo: Google Maps

The SFMTA announced that red paint will be added this weekend to the transit- and taxi-only lanes on mid-Market Street, between Fifth and 12th Streets. The treatment, already rolled out recently on bus lanes on Third Street and the Geary-O’Farrell Street couplet, is intended to make it more obvious that private auto drivers shouldn’t be in the heavily-abused Muni lanes.

“These lanes represent a low-cost, but high-impact measure to decrease travel time, by preventing cars from using transit-only lanes,” SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin said in a statement.

The red paint is one of several short-term measures the SFMTA plans to take to help keep Muni moving on Market, along with re-timing traffic signals and adding cross-hatched markings in intersections to tell drivers not to “block the box.”

The coloring should help — it’s appeared to be fairly effective at keeping drivers out of the way of Muni vehicles on Church Street. But it’ll still be a while before the SFMTA takes stronger measures, like more car diversions and extending the transit-only lanes east of Fifth, and further into downtown. Those improvements aren’t expected to come until next year at the earliest.

The SFMTA said construction on the Market transit lanes will happen at night.

A transit lane on Third Street was painted red in March. Photo: SFMTA

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Supes Approve Wiener’s Population-Based Transit Funding Measure for Ballot

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The Board of Supervisors voted 6-4 today to put on November’s ballot a charter amendment that would increase the share of general funds devoted to transportation, based on population growth.

Supervisor Scott Wiener introduced the measure as a backup plan to generate transportation revenue — 75 percent of which would go to Muni, 25 percent to pedestrian and bike upgrades — after Mayor Ed Lee dropped his support for putting a vehicle license fee increase on the ballot this year. If passed by a majority of voters in November, Wiener’s charter amendment would provide a $23 million budget boost in the first year by retroactively accounting for the last ten years of population growth. Annual funding increases, commensurate with population growth, would follow.

“For too long, City Hall has been slow to prioritize transit funding,” Wiener said in a statement. “We are a growing city, and we need to take firm steps to ensure that our transportation system keeps up with that growth. Improving transit reliability and capacity, and making our streets safer, are key to that goal.”

The six supervisors who voted in support of the measure were David Chiu, London Breed, David Campos, Malia Cohen, and Jane Kim. The votes against came from Supervisors Katy Tang, Norman Yee, Mark Farrell, and Eric Mar. Supervisor John Avalos was absent.

At a recent committee hearing, Supervisors Tang and Yee voiced their “discomfort” with the measure, because it could siphon off general funds that could be used for other city services. Tang also said asking voters to pass the measure, in addition to the $500 general obligation bond for transportation, may be too much of a burden. According to reports from staff at City Hall, Mayor Lee also opposed it for those reasons.

When asked for comment on the supervisors’ approval of Wiener’s measure, mayoral spokesperson Francis Tsang only said, “Mayor Lee’s transportation priority for November is for approval of the City’s first ever $500 million general obligation bond for transportation.”

Wiener’s measure includes a provision that would allow the mayor to nix the charter amendment, if the vehicle license fee increase is passed in 2016.

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SFMTA Says Van Ness BRT Can’t Have High Platforms for Level Boarding

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A rendering of Van Ness BRT. Image: SFMTA

The SFMTA says it’s impossible for stations on the coming Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit route to have one of the key recommended features of BRT: High platforms, at the same level as bus floors, that allow passengers to quickly step onto the bus. SFMTA planners say that complications with the design of Muni’s buses mean there’s no practical way to make high platforms work, at least without adding high costs associated with new equipment.

Platform-level boarding is on the list of “BRT Basics” included in the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy’s BRT ”Scorecard”:

Having the bus-station platform level with the bus floor is one of the most important ways of reducing boarding and alighting times per passenger. Passengers climbing even relatively minor steps can mean significant delay, particularly for the elderly, disabled, or people with suitcases or strollers. The reduction or elimination of the vehicle-to-platform gap is also key to customer safety and comfort.

But according to an SFMTA report [PDF], a 14-inch high platform, matching the height of a Muni bus floor, “increases capital and operational costs, reduces operational reliability and passenger comfort, and provides no discernable benefit.” Instead, SFMTA planners recommend 6-inch high platforms, the same as those on Market Street.

High platforms would be scratched by the “wheel lugs” that stick out from the side of bus wheel wells, the report says. The Americans with Disabilities Act apparently requires buses to stop with no more than a three-inch gap between the bus and platform. Otherwise, a “bridge plate” must be deployed from the side of the bus to the platform for wheelchair users. The wheel lugs apparently stick out five inches.

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Supes Vote Next Week on Wiener’s Backup Transportation Funding Measure

Supervisors are expected to vote next week on Supervisor Scott Wiener’s backup plan for transportation funding — a charter amendment that, with voter approval, would increase the share of the city’s general fund that gets allocated to Muni, pedestrian safety, and bike infrastructure. That share would be tied to the city’s growing population.

Supervisor Scott Wiener. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Wiener introduced the measure as a safeguard that would increase transportation funding even if Mayor Ed Lee dropped his plan to put a vehicle license fee increase on the ballot. Lee subsequently did drop his support in June, at least until the 2016 election, so Wiener proposed his stop-gap measure. The legislation includes a provision that would allow the mayor to remove the charter amendment if the vehicle license fee increase is passed in 2016, according to Wiener.

“We are a growing city. We’ve grown by 85,000 people since 2003… and we have not made the investments we need to make sure our transportation system, particularly Muni, keeps up,” Wiener said at a committee meeting last week. “This will help bridge the gap.”

The vehicle license fee increase would have generated about $33 million per year for the SFMTA. The agency’s two-year budget assumed its passage in 2014, along with a $500 million general obligation bond for transportation that supervisors unanimously approved for the ballot yesterday.

Currently, Muni gets about $232 million in general funds annually. If approved, Wiener’s charter amendment would provide a $23 million budget boost in the first year, retroactively accounting for the last ten years of population growth. Seventy-five percent of the new funds would go to Muni, and 25 percent to “street safety measures,” according to Wiener.

“Muni’s been severely underfunded for years,” said Ilyse Magy of the SF Transit Riders Union, which has applauded Wiener’s measure. “It’s essential that measures based on alternative funding strategies be put into place,” she said, noting that Mayor Lee also cut $11 million annually from Muni operations by repealing Sunday parking meters.

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SFMTA Board Approves Contract for New Fleet of Muni Metro Trains

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A rendering of one of the new trains that Muni will purchase for its metro system. Image: SFMTA

The purchase of Muni’s next metro train fleet took a major step forward today as the SFMTA Board of Directors unanimously approved a manufacturing contract with Siemens.

Muni officials lauded the design of the new trains as far superior to the current, abysmally breakdown-prone fleet of light-rail vehicles, which were built by AnsaldoBreda. The fleet of 260 new trains will be manufactured by the German company Siemens at its Sacramento factory, and will roll out in phases starting at the end of 2016.

The contract approval “will put us on a structured, long-term course to take care of our most immediate and pressing service need right now — to fix the very heart of our transit service network,” said Muni Operations Director John Haley.

Muni metro riders can expect breakdowns to become much less common with the new fleet. The current Breda trains have a “mean distance between failure” rate of fewer than 5,000 miles, according to Haley, which means that they break down routinely. A city audit painted an even more dire picture, finding that Muni metro’s aging trains break down every 617 miles on average — far more often than any comparable transit system.

The Siemens trains have proven to break down every 59,000 miles in service elsewhere, more than double the minimum of 25,000 that Muni officials had set as a minimum for qualifying contract bidders. It’s also “more than twice around the equator,” said Haley.

As an example of the improvement of what Haley has called Breda’s “high-failure design,” the current trains have over 220 moving parts in the doors and raising steps alone. The Siemens trains have 20, Haley said.

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Avalos Ready to Champion Freeway Ramp Closures at Balboa Park Station

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The 280 freeway on-ramp at Geneva Avenue next to Balboa Park Station would be removed under the recommendations of an SFCTA study. Photo: SFCTA

Balboa Park Station could become a safer transit hub by 2020 if the city moves forward with proposals to close one freeway ramp and re-align another, as recommended in a study recently completed by the SF County Transportation Authority. Although the proposal hasn’t received much public attention, it’s sure to face a tough political fight when it’s eventually implemented, said D11 Supervisor John Avalos, who chairs the SFCTA. Avalos said the project is worth implementing, and he’s eager to champion the plans as soon as they can move forward.

Supervisor John Avalos. Photo: Steve Rhodes/Flickr

“It’s a political problem how to implement these changes around the station. People want things to be different, but they don’t want any change,” said Avalos. “The trade-offs, they see as really harmful to the neighborhoods.”

The SFCTA study proposes altering freeway ramps, changing traffic signals, and a new frontage road for loading — changes that were vetted by the Balboa Park Community Advisory Committee. The study notes, “With strong support, consensus, and high priority from the community, agencies, and elected officials, the initial pilot projects could begin in 2016, with full implementation by 2020.”

Avalos’s term in office will end in late 2016, but he said he hopes to help move the freeway ramp changes forward before he leaves. ”I have two-and-a-half years of office left, and I want to be part of actually getting some implementation on these changes,” he said.

The goal of the SFCTA study was to find ways to make the streets safer around Balboa Park Station, which is surrounded by car traffic moving to and from six nearby freeway ramps. Even though 24,000 people use the station daily to ride Muni and BART — it’s BART’s busiest station outside of downtown SF — it seems to be designed as an afterthought to the 280 freeway. Many commuters exiting the station walk or bike to City College’s main campus.

“The neighborhood has long suffered from its cluster of poorly-designed freeway on- and off-ramps,” said Livable City Director Tom Radulovich, a member of the BART Board of Directors. ”We finally have a definite and buildable proposal for the freeway ramps that will reduce the burden that they impose.”

Through the study, planners and CAC members explored several options for re-configuring the freeway ramps. The favored option would remove one of the two northbound on-ramps, at Geneva Avenue. A curved southbound off-ramp that slings cars onto westbound Ocean Avenue would also be removed and replaced by a new ramp that approaches the street at a head-on 90-degree angle. That new intersection would be signalized.

This proposal originally called for closing the second off-ramp that touches down at Geneva, but that idea was dropped.

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Watch: D10 Supervisor Candidates Weigh in on Muni, Parking, and Bike Lanes

The candidates running for District 10 supervisor this November gave some telling responses to transportation questions last week. The first debate of the D10 race was held at the Potrero Hill Democratic Club and moderated by SF Chronicle reporter Marisa Lagos, who asked some pointed questions on issues around Muni, parking, and bike lanes in SF’s eastern and southeast neighborhoods.

District 10 encompasses neighborhoods like Potrero Hill, Dogpatch, Bayview-Hunters Point, and Visitacion Valley. Image: SFGov

The five candidates, as seen seated from left to right in the video above, included Ed Donaldson, Marlene Tran, incumbent Malia Cohen, Tony Kelly (the close runner-up in the most recent election), and Shawn Richard. The video was provided by Kelly’s campaign.

Here’s a summary of highlights from the transportation section:

  • 38:00: Lagos tested candidates on some transit fundamentals by asking them each to write down all of the Muni lines that serve Potrero Hill, then show their answers to the crowd. The responses, which acted as a score card of sorts, weren’t exactly uniform.
  • 40:30: Lagos also drew some differing responses with her follow-up question: ”What would you do to improve Muni service to the hill?” Notably, Donaldson was the only one to mention bringing back Sunday parking metering for Muni funding, and was met with hisses from the audience.
  • 43:00, Lagos asked, “Should private buses be allowed to stop at public bus stops?” The consensus from candidates is a resounding “no.”
  • 44:35: Candidates were asked whether they “agree with the current ratio of residential units to parking spaces in new developments.” All candidates except Kelly said they felt current parking maximums were too low. (On parking, it’s worth noting that Kelly pushed the idea of allowing nearby residents to park at new meters for free.)

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Bulb-Outs: Noe Valley’s Getting Them, Outer Balboa’s Got Them

Photo: SFMTA

Two business corridors are getting a boost from sidewalk bulb-outs: Balboa Street in the Outer Richmond recently had some finished, and 24th Street in Noe Valley will get them this fall.

The dozen-odd sidewalk extensions on outer Balboa were completed in May as part of a larger project under construction since last year that also includes a road diet and repaving. The SFMTA said that the switch, to two from four traffic lanes, both calmed traffic (as part of an area traffic calming plan) and provides wider lanes that Muni buses could actually fit in.

In April, Balboa also got a parklet, in front of Simple Pleasures Cafe at Balboa and 35th Avenue. The parklet is the second one in the Richmond, and the city’s second to occupy angled parking spaces.

The bulb-outs provide space for planters, although some neighbors were riled by their size relative to the sidewalk. One corner also features a monument that marks the Balboa corridor, which an SFMTA Facebook post called “an Outer Richmond gem.” The SFMTA wrote that staffers refer to the bulb-outs as ’Balbo-outs.”

In an SF Chronicle article last year, District 1 Supervior Eric Mar called the Outer Richmond strip “a quirky, great place,” and said “the project will bring new life to a very old neighborhood.”

The size of the planters that came with the bulb-outs on Balboa irked many residents. Photo: SFMTA

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Mayor Lee’s Car Found Parked in Muni Bus Stop

Photo: David Black

Mayor Ed Lee’s Chevy Volt was recently seen parked in a Muni bus stop, while he went to eat at La Corneta Taqueria on Diamond Street in Glen Park.

David Black sent in photos of the car, as well as a Muni bus which pulled up to the stop and was forced to load riders away from the curb. Luckily, no Muni passengers in wheelchairs were unable to board due to the situation. Black said that Lee, and several people who appeared to be staffers, waited in line behind him at the taqueria.

When reached for comment, mayoral spokesperson Christine Falvey wrote that an SFPD officer, not the mayor, drives the Volt, and that:

The mayor was dropped off and he expected that the vehicle would have been parked in a legal parking space. The incident was reported to the Chief of Police who let the mayor’s office know that the officer who parked in the bus stop will be admonished… The mayor believes this is unacceptable and steps have been taken to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Photo: David Black

Mayor Lee has widely touted his plug-in hybrid car as a credential that demonstrates his commitment to sustainable transportation. His predecessor, Gavin Newsom, used an SUV (also a hybrid).

“This is about the most patriotic thing I can think of doing,” Lee told the SF Chronicle in 2011. “I want to make sure I am not only pushing policies forward to keep our momentum going, but I should always be doing what I can as an individual to fight climate change. We all should.”

The mayor’s vision for patriotism through environmentally-friendly transportation is apparently pretty limited. Even though public transit is far more efficient than even the cleanest of cars, his driver not only flouted the law but contributed to the traffic snarls outside Glen Park BART.

And all just to grab a bite to eat at a taqueria. Mayor Lee, it seems, still finds new ways to give Muni riders the short end of the stick burrito.

Lee used his leverage to undo Sunday parking meters, depriving Muni of $11 million a year while causing more car traffic to circle around and delay already infrequent transit service. And even though he said that move was intended to win motorist support at the ballot for transportation funding, Lee then abandoned the vehicle license fee increase he’d previously touted as a boon for transit upgrades, bike infrastructure, and pedestrian safety. Don’t get us started on pedestrian safety.

Forget Google buses. San Francisco’s mayor, or at least his SFPD-provided driver, is the latest threat blocking Muni.

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Latest Haight Street Plans Replace Most Stop Signs to Speed Up Muni

All but one stop sign (at Cole Street) would be replaced with other treatments under the SFMTA’s plans to speed up Muni. Image: SFMTA

The Planning Department has an online survey about the Haight Street proposals, available until July 3.

City planners recently presented their latest plans for Haight Street, which include two overlapping projects from two agencies. The Haight-Ashbury Public Realm Plan is the Planning Department’s effort to expand sidewalks and add aesthetic treatments along the Upper Haight (between Central and Stanyan Streets), while the SFMTA’s Muni Transit Effectiveness Project will speed up Muni’s 71-Haight/Noriega and 6-Parnassus buses along the entirety of Haight.

Haight and Asbhury. Photo: Drumwolf/Flickr

The SFMTA has proposed to remove all but one stop sign on Haight, replacing most of them with transit-priority traffic signals and others with traffic calming measures that encourage drivers to yield to pedestrians. That, along with transit bulb-outs and removing some bus stops, could cut travel times for Muni riders on Haight by about 3 minutes, said Muni TEP Planning Manager Sean Kennedy. A separate project, currently under construction, adds a contra-flow bus lane on Haight’s easternmost block and is expected to shave off several more minutes.

Kennedy said that Muni plans to increase the 71′s peak frequency, from every 10 minutes to 7 minutes. “If we can make some of these improvements to pedestrian safety and travel times, we think we can make that [increase] mean something — instead of just getting a bunch of bus bunching,” he said.

The transit bulb-outs, and other sidewalk extensions, are expected to provide some much-needed breathing room on Upper Haight — particularly at Haight and Ashbury Streets, a world-famous tourist attraction.

“If you’ve walked down Haight Street, you know it’s cluttered and crowded,” said Alexis Smith, project manager for the Planning Department. “What’s the pedestrian LOS here?,” she said, referring to the Level of Service transportation planning metric used to measure congestion for drivers. “These intersections would be failing if we had a metric for that.”

“Even local foot traffic is too much for Haight Street sidewalks, and any influx of tourists just overwhelms the street,” said Katherine Roberts, a livable streets advocate who lives nearby in Cole Valley. “In my view, it is shameful that the city treats its residents and visitors like this.”

Roberts pointed out that city planners could go much farther to create a more attractive Haight Street by banning private autos, while still allowing Muni buses, delivery trucks, and tour buses. “Then you’d have plenty of room for widened sidewalks, bike lanes, parklets, bike corrals, greenery, et cetera,” she said.

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