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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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Muni to Launch a New, More Legible Map

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A snapshot of the new draft Muni map. Image: SFMTA

Tired of looking at Muni’s cluttered map? Good news: The SFMTA plans to roll out a new, more legible map of the Muni system.

The map was drafted over ten years, in the spare time of cartographers David Wiggins and Jay Primus, who also manages SFpark for the SFMTA. The two are donating their work.

“It’s really a labor of love for them,” Julie Kirschbaum, Muni’s operations planning and scheduling manager, told the SFMTA Board of Directors today. Kirschbaum said the map will show up on Muni shelters and on printed maps, as part of a larger branding effort called Muni Forward.

The map “helps visualize the service hierarchy,” said Kirschbaum. “Customers can see where there’s more service, and where there’s less service.”

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Are SFMTA’s Proposed Shuttle Stops Enough to End Muni Conflicts?

A snapshot of the SFMTA's proposed Muni stops to be shared with private shuttles. See the full map in this PDF

A snapshot of the SFMTA’s proposed Muni stops to be shared with private shuttles. See the full map in this PDF

The SFMTA has released a proposed map of Muni stops where commuter shuttles would be permitted to load passengers, part of the agency’s 18-month pilot program to test private-bus regulation. Shuttles currently use many of these stops, and the resulting conflicts between shuttles and Muni buses has led to transit delays. SFMTA says it hopes to reduce bus conflicts by replacing car parking with new loading zones, marked with white curbs, where shuttles can load passengers out of Muni’s way.

With the vast majority of SF’s curb space devoted to storing private automobiles, hiving off a sliver of that space to make room for both public and private transit to co-exist shouldn’t make a huge difference. But, of the roughly 80 shared stops proposed on the map, just nine have white zones. Four of those would ban parking during morning peak hours, and five would during both morning and evening peak hours. A handful of bus stop zones would also be extended.

Are nine new white zones enough to minimize conflicts between Muni and shuttles? Transit advocates are still assessing that answer — but it’s not a simple one, since there isn’t hard data on how much shuttles delay Muni, or where it happens most often.

For many of the stops, it could be that there aren’t enough conflicts to warrant a white zone. As shown in a three-hour time lapse video of the shared stop outside the home of transportation planner Paul Supawanich, most of the 36 shuttle buses that arrived within that period didn’t block a Muni bus.

“I hope that it was based on metrics, and wasn’t a politically arrived-at figure,” said Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City. While shuttles take cars off the road by providing convenient alternatives to driving, “The benefit of that is diminished if they’re also delaying Muni. If we’re going to have the shuttles using [bus] stops, it’s gotta be in such away that they’re creating no delay for public transit. And that’s not what’s happening now. I think we could get there, but little has been asked of the shuttle operators.”

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With or Without Mayor Lee, Wiener and Advocates Push to Keep VLF Alive

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Just because Mayor Ed Lee withdrew his support for restoring the vehicle license fee doesn’t mean it’s dead. Sustainable transportation advocates are building a campaign to get the measure approved at the ballot this November with the help of Supervisor Scott Wiener, who may introduce the measure at the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, which is the legislative deadline to do so.

Supervisor Scott Wiener. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Wiener said he’s not officially throwing his support behind a VLF measure on the November ballot just yet, but that he wants to keep the dialogue open with Mayor Lee on a timeline for a campaign that he’s willing to back.

“It will allow us to continue the conversation with the mayor about how we’re going to move forward with this critical revenue,” he said. “If the mayor’s position is that November 2014 is not the right time, and that it should be a different election, then we can have that conversation. But it’s not adequate to not have the VLF move forward in November and not have any indication of when it might move forward.”

Given Tuesday’s legislative deadline, Wiener and advocates say the discussion is quickly evolving. Wiener said he may decide not to introduce the measure if “we can come up with some sort of consensus about a different timetable in 2015 or 2016, when people think we can move forward with unity and get it passed.”

“I would prefer to do it in November 2014 and get it passed, and get funding for our roads and transit quickly, but the problem is we’ve not even had that conversation,” said Wiener. “The message we’ve gotten is that the mayor does not want to move forward and is not committing to any particular timetable after that.”

The mayor’s office hasn’t responded to a request for comment yet. If introduced Tuesday, Wiener’s proposal would have to be approved by eight supervisors to be put on the ballot.

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Muni’s Absymal Breakdown Rate: One Reason SF Needs a Vehicle License Fee

Revenue Miles Between Total Vehicle Failures. Compared with nine other transit agencies, Muni’s light-rail breakdown rate was an abysmal outlier. Image: City Controller’s Office

Muni vehicles break down far more frequently than in other cities, after years of the system being starved of the necessary funding to adequately maintain its fleet of trains and buses.

Muni’s heavily-used light rail vehicles, which serve 50 million riders every year, have a failure rate that’s off the charts. According to a City Controller audit [PDF] of Muni’s performance compared to that of nine similar transit agencies, Muni metro LRVs broke down every 617 miles on average. At the other end of the spectrum, light rail vehicles in San Jose go 47,630 miles between breakdowns, which means that Muni vehicles break down 77 times as often. The second worst-ranked city after SF was Pittsburgh, at 3,923 miles.

Crowds seen at West Portal Station during this week’s Muni “sickout.” Photo: SFMTA

“Our light-rail seems eggshell-fragile compared to everyone else’s,” said Malcolm Henicke, a member of the SFMTA Board of Directors, who seemed surprised by the data and asked Muni management for answers at a board meeting on Tuesday.

SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin said that many of the LRV component systems haven’t undergone overdue mid-life overhauls, which “we would be able to do with the vehicle license fee revenues.” The VLF increase is one ballot measure proposed by the Mayor’s 2030 Transportation Task Force, along with a $500 million general obligation bond. These measures would fund upgrades for the transportation network, including Muni rehabs and vehicle replacements.

But Mayor Ed Lee announced this week that he would abandon his support for the measure to restore the VLF to historic levels on this November’s ballot — even though the measure would raise $1 billion over 15 years. The SF Transit Riders Union called the mayor’s announcement yet another “refusal to prioritize Muni at every turn” and a “complete failure of leadership.”

In a separate audit presented by the City Controller a year ago, Muni delays were estimated to cost the economy at least $50 million a year.

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