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How Can Muni Stop Car Drivers From Jamming Its Tunnels?

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N-Judah riders walk the tracks of the Sunset Tunnel past a jammed car. Does this have to keep happening? Video screen capture via Sean Rea/Youtube

Another brilliant driver got his car stuck in the Sunset Tunnel Saturday night at about 8 p.m., bringing Muni’s busiest line to a dead stop. A train full of N-Judah riders had to walk along the tracks out of the eastern portal. One of them was Streetsblog reader Sean Rea, who captured the walk in a video posted on YouTube (see below).

The last time this was reported, last February, I happened to be on the train. My fellow riders were able to lift the car out of the way and get trains moving again. Muni riders on Saturday weren’t so lucky — the car was wedged on the tracks deep in the tunnel, forcing them to walk the rest of the way or wait for substitute Muni buses to take them around the tunnel.

It’s incredible how one errant driver can disrupt the trips of thousands of Muni riders, whether due to simple arrogance or failure to comprehend the situation. There must be more effective measures available to fully prevent autos from entering rail tunnels.

Muni has already added signage, including a blindingly bright sign at the Duboce and Church portal, and raised bumps. But drivers — especially drunk drivers — still enter them surprisingly often. It might only happen once or twice each year, but it’s remarkable that it happens at all.

It’s unclear if drivers ever face any legal penalties for doing this. In Rea’s video, he can be heard asking an officer, “Can we take this guy to court?,” only to be directed to stay away from the car. The officers appear to be posted around the car to protect it, standing next to an elderly man who may have been the driver.

Streetsblog commenter murphstahoe suggested taking a page from the parking garage industry:

How is it that we put tire destroying spikes to stop people from exiting parking garages via the entrance, but not at the entrance to the N-Judah tunnel? Would stop the car dead so much faster, making the car easier to remove — yet more expensive for the scofflaw to fix.

Good question, though this might bring some drivers to a halt who might otherwise be able to recognize their mistake extricate their vehicles from the tunnel before causing a massive problem. Mechanical retractable bollards are another possibility, but they could break down and block trains more often if they have to retract every time a train approaches.

We’ll be looking into best practices from around the world. If you’re already aware of any, feel free to share in the comments.

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Muni Proposes New Bus Route, Curbside Transit Lanes on 16th Street

This month, the SFMTA will hold a public meeting about transit-only lanes on 16th Street and launching a new Muni line to Mission Bay. Image: SFMTA

Muni plans to launch a new bus line this month to beef up service along eastern 16th Street, connecting the BART station at Mission Street to the soon-to-open University of California SF hospital at Mission Bay. The 55-16th Street route would complement existing 22-Fillmore service on 16th, extending beyond the 22’s endpoint all the way to the east end of 16th and then north on Third Street towards its terminus at UCSF.

The line is a precursor for plans to add street upgrades, like transit-only lanes and bus bulb-outs, along 16th to speed up the 22-Fillmore. The SFMTA plans to hold its first community meeting for those plans on January 14, and says they will “reduce transit travel time along the length of the corridor by 25 percent.”

The plans are part of the Muni Forward program (previously known as the Transit Effectiveness Project), which calls for the 22 to be re-routed towards Mission Bay on its eastern leg, which the 55 will do. But an SFMTA report [PDF] says the re-route won’t happen for at least five years, since the 22 relies on overhead wires, which would have to be installed along eastern 16th and are impeded by a Caltrain crossing. Instead, diesel buses will be used on the 55 in the interim.

“After extensive evaluation, SFMTA confirmed that the overhead wire work associated with the proposed 22 Fillmore extension… could not be implemented by the anticipated opening date for the new UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital at Mission Bay on February 1, 2015,” the SFMTA report says.

The 55-16th Street is set to launch on January 31, and will be presented to the SFMTA Board of Directors for approval on Tuesday. See a map of the route and an overview of transit upgrades proposed for 16th Street after the break.

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Muni Pushes “Double Berthing” Launch Back One More Week

We’ve now lost count of how many times Muni has delayed the launch of “double berthing” in its Metro stations. Last we heard, it was promised to launch tomorrow, but the agency now says it needs one more week of testing before two trains can simultaneously board on the same platform.

“We are adding an additional test for double boarding — to ensure that our live test plan is as thorough as possible, and our signal mechanics have more time with the program and infrastructure,” said SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose. The live test that was planned for early morning last Saturday, a demonstration which will allow CA Public Utilities Commission officials to sign off on the launch, will instead happen early tomorrow morning.

“We are hopeful that we will receive certification from CPUC soon after that, to implement this feature into regular service,” said Rose. If all goes as planned (and it will, right?), the change would go into effect on Saturday, December 20.

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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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Union Square’s “Winter Walk” Plaza on Stockton a Hit – Why Bring Cars Back?

Stockton Street, between Ellis and Geary Streets, has temporarily been transformed into well-loved “Winter Walk” plaza. Photo: Sergio Ruiz/Flickr

Families are loving “Winter Walk SF,” the temporary holiday plaza filling two blocks of Stockton Street in Union Square. As CBS reporter John Ramos put it, the on-street downtown play space “represents the San Francisco everyone wants it to be.”

“I didn’t expect to see this,” one smiling girl told Ramos, standing on the green astroturf. “I thought it would be cars.”

Even former Mayor Willie Brown — not exactly known as a livable streets visionary — called it “spectacular” in his latest SF Chronicle column. “While you’re walking, think about what it would be like if the change were made permanent when the subway construction is complete.”

Brown was referring to the fact that the plaza will only be in place during a holiday construction hiatus for the Central Subway. After the new year, Stockton between Geary and Ellis Streets will once again fill with machinery, its use from 2012 until at least 2016.

Afterwards, cars, buses, and bikes are scheduled to once more clog Stockton — but even Brown suggests it shouldn’t go back to the way it was:

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Extending the Central Subway: Why Stop at Fisherman’s Wharf?

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The nascent prospect of extending the Central Subway beyond Chinatown gained steam this week with the release of a preliminary city study [PDFthat lays out some conceptual proposals to bring the subway further into the city’s northern neighborhoods.

T-Third “Phase 4″: subway to the Presidio? Image: SFMTA [PDF]

North Beach neighbors, who are living with construction disruption as the tunnel’s drill is extracted in their backyards, but won’t get a station, joined Fisherman’s Wharf merchants at an SFMTA Board of Directors meeting this week to cheer the “T-Third Phase 3″ extension proposal. (The existing T-Third alignment is the line’s first phase, and the Central Subway currently under construction is the second phase.) The extension doesn’t have any firm plans or timelines yet, as this is the first time city planning agencies have formally examined the possibilities.

But one transit advocate asked: Why stop at the wharf?

“You have to be more far-sighted,” said Howard Strassner, chair of the local Sierra Club chapter’s land use and transportation committee.

For all the Central Subway’s faults, extending it to connect Muni’s T-Third line northward to major destinations would make it more useful. Strassner said a westward expansion of the T past Fisherman’s Wharf, through Russian Hill and the Marina, to the Presidio — a prospect the city study loosely discusses as “T-Third Phase 4″ — “should be [analyzed] at the same level of intensity and completeness…. It’s just as important, it may get many more riders.”

Indeed, the city’s preliminary study says that a rail line to the Presidio — whether it’s underground, on the surface, or a mix of both — could be too popular. “The ridership increase would overload the existing T-Line system infrastructure to beyond planning capacity levels, because the 2-car platforms and 2-car trains are too small,” the study says.

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All-Door Muni Boarding Still Means Quicker Buses, Less Fare Evasion

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Muni bus boardings are quicker across the board since 2009, despite increasing ridership. Image: SFMTA [PDF]

Two years after Muni launched all-door boarding, the agency continues to report [PDF] quicker boardings and lower rates of fare evasion.

As SFBay reported, SFMTA Performance Manager Jason Lee told the agency’s board yesterday that “dwell times,” the amount of time buses spend waiting at stops, have decreased by an average of 38 percent systemwide. Dwell times are also more consistent across the city, since the longest bus stops have seen the most improvement. Since 2011, average bus travel speeds have increased from 8.41 mph to 8.56 mph.

Photo: SFMTA

“That may not seem like a lot, but it adds up,” said Lee.

Fare evasion, meanwhile, dropped from 9.5 percent in 2009 to an estimated 7.9 percent in 2014, translating to an estimated $2.1 million in annual savings.

The results contradict predictions from critics who said all-door boarding would encourage fare evasion. Previously, bus operators had to verify and enforce payment at the front door. Now, buses use a “proof of payment” system, as had been the policy on light-rail lines for decades, where fare inspectors randomly check whether passengers have paid their fares. Inspection staff levels were boosted from 41 to 54 when all-door boarding launched.

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Muni “Double Berthing” Set to Test This Saturday, Launch a Week Later

Muni could launch “double berthing,” or boarding two trains simultaneously in its Metro stations, as early as next weekend — if all goes well in a live test this Saturday, SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin told an agency board meeting today.

Reiskin said Muni officials will demonstrate the feature on Saturday morning for officials at the CA Public Utilities Commission, who must sign off before Muni finally allows two trains at once to board passengers within its underground stations.

“We’re hoping — if we get their approval — to start this in revenue service a week later, on December 13,” Reiskin said, adding that SFMTA will launch a campaign to inform riders of the change using “ambassadors,” flyers, signs, and social media.

The launch date seems more firm than ever, after more than two years of delays from SFMTA officials. Delays were attributed to difficulties in upgrading the software for train controls and platform announcements, and most recently construction on the Sunset tunnel. The original launch date was in October 2012.

The new practice will be “a small but significant change for those who are sometimes frustratingly looking at the platform, but we don’t let them disembark on to it,” said Reiskin.

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Muni’s Sluggish 30-Stockton Finally Set to Get Greater Priority on the Streets

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Muni’s 30 buses should get some relief on Stockton Street. Photo: geekstinkbreath/Flickr

Muni’s notoriously sluggish 30-Stockton line is finally set to get some upgrades that will give buses higher priority on streets through the dense neighborhoods of Union Square, Chinatown, North Beach, and near Fisherman’s Wharf.

The plans, part of the SFMTA’s “Muni Forward” program, include transit-only lanes, bus bulb-outs and boarding islands, transit signal priority, and stop consolidation on Stockton, Kearny, and North Point Streets, as well as Columbus Avenue. On two street segments where traffic lanes are too narrow to fit buses, car parking and traffic lanes would be removed to provide more maneuvering space.

The 30, one of Muni’s slowest lines, averages a mere 3.6 mph between Market and Sutter Streets, according to a 2007 SF Chronicle article. Before leaving his position as a transportation reporter at the SF Examiner, Will Reisman raced the 30 at walking pace from Chinatown to Market — and won.

The 30-Stockton takes 11 minutes to travel the mile-and-a-half segment north of Market, according to Muni Forward manager Sean Kennedy. The SFMTA estimates that upgrades could speed up the ride through that segment by about 27 percent, and result in a more reliable ride for roughly 70,000 daily riders that use the 30, 45-Union, and 8x-Bayshore Express through there.

A smoother, faster ride would especially benefit transit-dependent residents of Chinatown, which has the city’s lowest rate of car ownership.

“It’s such an oversubscribed route,” said Cindy Wu, a community planner at the Chinatown Community Development Center. (Wu is rumored to be a top candidate for the mayoral appointment for the District 3 Supervisor seat vacated by David Chiu.) “Seniors and residents depend on it for everyday errands, whether it’s grocery shopping or going to the doctor.”

CCDC is “encouraged” by Muni’s proposals to improve surface transit, said Wu, and those are still necessary “even though the Central subway is coming in” to connect Chinatown, Union Square, and SoMa. The 30 and 45 lines have been on a one-block detour near Union Square for four years to accommodate subway construction.

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SFMTA Board Approves Contested Transit Signals, Bulb-Outs on Haight

On transit streets like Haight, the SFMTA is looking to install transit-priority traffic signals to speed up Muni. But are they worth it? Photo: torbakhopper HE DEAD/Flickr

On Tuesday, the SFMTA Board of Directors approved plans to add traffic signals and bulb-outs along Haight Street, which could speed up Muni’s 6 and 71 lines and improve pedestrian safety. The approval came despite complaints from some Upper Haight merchants over removing parking for bus bulb-outs, and mixed support for new traffic signals from pedestrian safety and transit advocates.

Under Muni Forward’s “Rapid” plans for the 71, almost all stop signs along Haight will be replaced with either transit-priority traffic signals, or two-way stops combined with traffic calming treatments. The signals, which stay green when they detect buses, would be installed at Clayton, Baker, Broderick, Scott, Pierce, and Buchanan Streets. Either a two-way stop or a new signal would be possible at Shrader, Central, Webster, and Laguna Streets.

Muni has similar plans for Muni’s 5-Fulton and for other routes under Muni Forward, which previously was called the Transit Effectiveness Project. SFMTA planners say Muni riders stand to save a lot of time thanks to the new signals, combined with a relocation of bus stops from the near side to the far side of intersections. The SFMTA claims it takes an average of 18 seconds to clear a stop sign, counting deceleration, queuing behind cars, and acceleration.

But the speed benefits of signalization are contested by Michael Smith, the former Chief Technology Officer and General Manager of NextBus, who co-founded Walk SF. SFMTA staff have not responded to his challenge to their estimates — neither to a request from Streetsblog, nor at the board hearing — but street safety advocates say that they might not justify costly signals, which restrict movement for people walking and biking (in this case, on the Wiggle). “MTA hasn’t convinced neighbors and pedestrian advocates of that,” said Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich.

“All of these proposals are great, but traffic signals are questionable,” Smith told the SFMTA Board. He presented data [PDF] he said he collected by riding the 71 with a timer “for several hours,” showing that delay times at stop sign intersections on Haight aren’t close to the 18-second estimate.

Based on his analysis, Smith concluded that most of the proposed signals would only save a few seconds, if any, and that the busy Scott Street intersection is the only spot that justifies a signal.

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