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All Muni Buses Now Have Transit Lane Enforcement Cameras

Image: KRON 4‘s People Behaving Badly

Muni has installed front-facing cameras on every Muni bus to ticket drivers who double-park in transit-only lanes.

Muni is the first major American transit agency to have enforcement cameras on every bus. The first transit lane cameras were installed as part of a pilot program in 2008. Like system-wide all-door boarding, the idea could spread to other transit systems.

Muni didn’t publicize the milestone, but we checked up on the effort with SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose, who said it was completed last fall (a few months off the target date of spring 2014). Equipping the whole fleet marks a major milestone in the effort to make Muni service more effective, and it nicely complements the city’s growing number of red-painted transit lanes.

So be warned, drivers: If a Muni bus weaves around your parked car in a transit lane, you will get a ticket in the mail. The base fine is $110.

Unfortunately, state law prohibits the cameras from being used to cite moving violations, so drivers cruising down a Muni lane can still only be penalized by the SFPD.

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Wiener’s Prop B Yields More Money Than Expected for Muni, Safe Streets

SF voters may get more money than anticipated for better transit and safer streets from the passage of Proposition B, a measure crafted by Supervisor Scott Wiener to increase the share of general funds for transportation based on population growth.

Supervisor Scott Wiener. Photo: Aaron Bialick

With city coffers boosted by tax revenues resulting from a booming economy, Prop B is expected to yield $26 million in the next annual budget, 75 percent of which would go to Muni, with the remainder dedicated to pedestrian and bike safety upgrades. Originally, only $22 million was expected.

Of the nearly $19.5 million expected for Muni, most will cover the purchase of 18 new buses. The other $6.5 million will fund various street safety measures in pursuit of Vision Zero.

“It’s a really strong list,” said Wiener, “and it’s doing exactly what we intended Prop B to do — to improve Muni’s reliability and capacity in the face of a growing population, and to make street safety improvements as our streets become more crowded.”

Prop B instituted a city charter amendment mandating annual increases in the share of general funds set aside for transportation, based on population growth. The first increase of $26 million, which the Board of Supervisors must approve as part of the annual budget by July, accounts retroactively for the last ten years of growth. Commensurate increases are expected in the years to follow.

Wiener proposed the measure last year after Mayor Ed Lee dropped his support for a ballot measure to restore the local vehicle license fee to its longtime level of 2 percent. That was expected to yield an estimated $1 billion over 15 years, restoring a revenue stream cut by former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Mayor Lee can repeal the Prop B amendment if a VLF increase is passed by voters in 2016.

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Halted By Noise Complaints, N-Judah Tunnel Upgrades Expected to Resume

Photo: SFMTA

The SFMTA is expected to resume work to upgrade the Sunset Tunnel for the N-Judah after construction was halted by a permit appeal from neighbors who complained about noise. Crews have skipped four weekends of work, adding unknown costs and at least a month of delay to the project.

The N-Judah boarding island on Duboce Avenue at the Sunset Tunnel East Portal, seen here after upgrades in 2012. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The appellants complained that the noise, particularly from backup alarms used on construction vehicles, deprived them of sleep during overnight work. The SFMTA says the work can only be done on weekends, including nights, so as to keep trains moving on weekdays, when ridership on Muni’s busiest line is at its highest.

The issue is expected to be officially resolved at a Board of Appeals hearing today, after which “there will be a ten-day waiting period,” said SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose. “During that time we will be able to develop a schedule to move forward with the work.”

Bud Offermann, who filed the appeal, said neighbors near the Sunset Tunnel’s East Portal at Duboce Park have agreed to the use of a new “broadband” backup alarm, which is quieter for neighbors but still satisfies the safety requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

“I think we’re 100 percent,” said Offermann, though he still wants some “work practice changes” to be approved. He said he would have already withdrawn the appeal and cancelled the hearing, but the SFMTA “pissed off so many people, there are a few individuals who want to have their say.”

Originally, the appellants wanted much more than a different alarm sound, including paid-for hotel accommodations or the use of a signal person to substitute for the alarms. The contractor, ProVen, said a signal person would add $25,000 in costs per weekend, according to appeal documents [PDF].

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Muni Expects to End Operator Shortage for the First Time This Century

Muni officials expect to have a full staff of bus and train operators this spring, finally ending a shortage that has led to canceled runs and excessive overtime spending since at least the 1990s.

Photo: SFMTA

Muni Operations Director John Haley said Muni has ramped up its operator training to fill the backlog by April or May, though he’s more confident on fully staffing bus operators than streetcar operators by that point.

“We have two training classes in the pipeline, so we should be in good shape on the rubber tire side,” Haley told Streetsblog in an email.

Currently, Muni is short 40 rail operators — 30 for Muni metro lines and 10 for the F-line streetcars, Haley said. For buses, Muni needs 75 additional drivers to make currently scheduled runs, and will need an 30 more operators for a planned service increase in April.

Muni canceled between 55 and 73 runs each day over a three-day sample period in mid-May, the SF Examiner reported last June. Haley said the rate of missed runs has recently run as high as 6 percent.

It’s not clear when the last time Muni had all the operators it needs to make its scheduled runs, but according to a 2008 SPUR articlethe shortage has lasted since at least 1998. The numbers have fluctuated over the years, often running as high as several hundred missing operators as attrition outpaced hiring.

If the backlog is filled this spring, the question then becomes how long Muni can hold the line. An end to the shortage has been predicted before. In May 2011, an SFMTA spokesperson told CBS the rail operator backlog would be filled by July of that year.

Back in June, Transport Workers Union Local 250-A President Eric Williams told KQED he estimated the shortage at 200 full-time and 251 part-time operators.

Muni wasn’t allowed to hire part-time operators until voters passed Proposition G in 2010, though the agency has since struggled to maintain its part-time staffing. In 2012, Muni management converted most of its 95 part-time operators to full-time to make up for a drop in full-time operators. Without the flexibility that part-time operators provide, Muni must pay full-time workers expensive overtime to make up for gaps in service.

Muni’s on-time performance has worsened over the past year, dropping from 60 percent to 54 percent, though Haley says Muni officials aren’t sure why. The operator shortage is just one of the chronic problems plaguing Muni service, along with vehicle breakdowns and delays caused by car traffic. The City Controller’s Office has estimated that Muni delays cost the economy at least $50 million each year.

Haley said the operator shortages lead to a downward spiral as drivers who pick up the slack work overtime more often and get burned out from the stress of the job. When bus runs are canceled, the buses that do show up get more crowded, riders get more frustrated, and drivers become more worried about staying on schedule.

“You’re digging a huge hole for yourself,” said Haley. “There’s nothing good that can happen from it.”

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Eyes on the Street: 3 Blocks of Bus Lane on Haight — How About One More?

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Photo: Jason Henderson

The SFMTA extended the red Muni-only lane on the east end of Haight Street last week, adding a third block to the red carpet rolled out for the 6-Parnassus and 71-Haight/Noriega lines in November. The lane, which includes a contra-flow block connecting directly to Market Street, lets Muni riders headed downtown bypass the queue of cars turning toward the Central Freeway.

Street Fight author Jason Henderson, who lives on the block of Haight with the bus lane extension between Buchanan and Laguna Streets, said “it works well.” But he also noted that Muni buses are still delayed by queued drivers between Webster and Buchanan Streets, so it looks like the lane should be extended upstream another block. Henderson photographed a 6-Parnassus bus that he said “took about two minutes to crawl half the block to the bus stop.”

Since there is a curbside stop on that block, Henderson suggested that the Muni lane there may need to run along the curb, where there’s currently a car parking lane. Of the three blocks of transit lane on Haight so far, two were carved out of former traffic lanes, and the contra-flow block replaced a parking lane.

Plans to speed up Muni on Haight approved by the SFMTA in November include a transit-priority traffic signal at Haight and Buchanan, replacing the existing stop sign.

Between Webster and Buchanan, drivers still block buses on Haight. Photo: Jason Henderson

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Muni “Double Berthing” on Hold Two to Four Weeks, Pending CPUC Approval

Muni may finally launch “double berthing” in its Metro stations in two to four weeks, “barring anything we can’t think of,” according to Muni Operations Director John Haley.

Muni riders were first promised simultaneous loading of two trains in underground stations in October 2013. More recently, the launch was scheduled for December, then delayed again.

Muni demonstrated a live test on December 13 to officials at the CA Public Utilities Commission, who were expected to sign off on a launch scheduled a week later. But CPUC officials then said they also need to sign off on a training plan to ensure that operators know how to use the new system, Haley said.

“The test worked fine, and they said, ‘OK, but we want to see the training plan before you actually activate it,'” said Haley. When asked whether the SFMTA anticipated the CPUC’s request for a training plan, he said, “I guess not.”

CPUC’s press office hasn’t responded to a request for comment on the project’s status.

Once the CPUC gives Muni the green light, Haley said, “We’re really ready to go.”

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New Data Shows Most Trips in SF Are Made Without a Private Automobile

Based on a new, more accurate travel survey, the SFMTA found that driving has made up the minority of trips for at least three years. Image: SFMTA

San Franciscans don’t drive nearly as much as previously thought, according to new SFMTA survey data. But the needle hasn’t moved much in recent years either.

More than 50 percent of trips in San Francisco are made without a private automobile — and it’s been that way for at least three years, according to travel survey results presented at an SFMTA Board meeting today [PDF, page 18]. Last year, 52 percent of trips in the city were made by transit, walking, biking, car-share, taxi, or ride hailing services like Lyft and Uber.

Solo driving accounted for only 27 percent of trips in 2014, the SFMTA found, with carpooling accounting for another 21 percent. Those two types of trips are what the agency counts as “private auto” trips.

The findings are a significant departure from previously released data on city travel patterns, which had estimated that 62 percent of trips in the city are made with private autos. But those numbers were based on a less accurate survey methodology, SFMTA Sustainable Streets Director Tom Maguire told the Board.

The old data “probably didn’t tell us the whole picture,” said Maguire, who explained that the old numbers were based mostly on traffic planning forecasts and U.S. Census data that are at least five years old. The new data is based on a local, annual “Travel Decision Survey” conducted by the SFMTA which asked residents and commuters detailed questions about their travel behavior.

How San Franciscans traveled in 2014. Image: SFMTA

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Eyes on the Street: Muni’s New 55-16th Street Line Spotted Early

Muni’s new 55-16th Street line was sighted in service on Monday, with buses making runs between the 16th Street BART station and Mission Bay, nearly a week ahead of the official launch date on Saturday. Kyle Barlow sent in these photos of buses making stops at the University of California SF hospital, set to open next week, and said the buses were taking passengers.

It’s not every day you see a new Muni line.

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Eyes on the Street: Muni Paints More Downtown Transit Lanes Red

The Clay Street bus-only lane in the Financial District is the latest to get the red carpet treatment. Photo: Muni Forward/Twitter

The SFMTA is rolling out more red paint on transit lanes to keep cars out of Muni’s way.

The agency is currently coloring the two-block bus-only lane on Clay Street in the Financial District, which is expected to be done tomorrow. This Muni Forward project, aimed at speeding up the 1-California and 41-Union lines, is also set to include an extension of the transit-only lane one block west to Montgomery Street, which must first be approved by the SFMTA Board of Directors. That extension is scheduled to go on the ground in April.

The SFMTA has not stopped painting the town red since rolling out the treatment on transit-only lanes on Church, Market, Third, Geary, O’Farrell, and eastern Haight Streets, as well as a left-turn lane at 19th Avenue at Lincoln Way

On Church, which was the “pilot” for red lanes, Muni found that its J-Church and 22-Fillmore lines sped up by 5 percent, and that the buses and trains are 20 percent more reliable, arriving closer to their scheduled arrival times.

On Sansome Street near the Clay transit improvements, the SFMTA also plans to create a three-block contra-flow transit lane extension to eliminate a detour for Muni’s 10-Townsend and 12-Folsom lines. That’s set to go in by spring 2016.

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Gentrification Fears Threaten to Derail Mission Street Improvements

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City efforts to make more room for walking and transit on Mission Street are being fought by some residents who think they’ll exacerbate gentrification. Image: Planning Department

Mission District residents who equate streetscape improvements with rising rents dominated a community meeting discussion yesterday about public space upgrades along Mission Street.

It was the Planning Department’s latest public meeting about its Mission Street Public Life Plan, an effort to envision Mission Street “as a vital transit corridor with art, commerce and new public spaces for people to enjoy,” encompassing Mission outside of downtown (from South Van Ness Avenue to Randall Street).

The plan would complement other efforts from the SFMTA to convert two traffic lanes into Muni-only lanes and install bulb-outs to improve pedestrian safety and streamline bus boardings. But residents who spoke up in the question-and-answer session seemed to fervently oppose any upgrades, especially beautification efforts like trees and art that helped transform nearby Valencia Street years ago.

Trees, benches, and other sidewalk amenities were blamed for the skyrocketing rents, evictions, and demographic shifts in the neighborhood. Little distinction was made between those and upgrades for transit and pedestrian safety.

One resident, Tom Stolmer, called the streetscape plan a “thinly veiled effort to exploit the Mission into a theme park for Google.”

“It’s just another way to bring gentrification,” John Mendoza of Calle 24, a group of Latino merchants and residents in the neighborhood around the 24th Street commercial corridor, told Streetsblog. “If they don’t get it one way, they’ll come in the back door. If they don’t come in the back door, they’ll come in the window.”

Calle 24 President Erick Arguello said “people are now suspicious” of the city’s agenda since planners hadn’t previously launched street improvement efforts when residents pushed for them in past decades. When streetscape improvements started going in on 24th Street, he said it resulted in rising rents, leading Calle 24 to push for a halt to any street upgrade efforts. “We saw the buildings go up for sale, we saw the prospecting coming in,” he said.

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