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Posts from the "Transit Effectiveness Project" Category

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“Muni TEP Approved”? Not So Fast

Photo: SFMTA

The Muni Transit Effectiveness Project took a major step forward on March 28, when the SFMTA Board of Directors approved plans for route changes and street upgrades aimed at streamlining transit service. Judging from the headlines on major media reports, the vote sounded like a green light for the entire TEP. However, the reports glossed over some very important details.

While the “12 percent increase in service” trumpeted by the SFMTA’s press release and heavily featured in newspapers might sound good, the TEP’s plans have been watered down, and many of its juiciest transit-priority street alterations await far-off approvals. All told, successful implementation of the TEP is far from ensured.

After years of planning, public outreach, and revisions for 30-some Muni route re-alignments and frequency changes, six routes have been put on hold, and five dropped completely. The SFMTA Board has also only approved some of the Travel Time Reduction Proposals — capital improvements to routes like transit bulb-outs, stop consolidations, and transit-only lanes. Those projects may bring some of the largest gains in transit speeds and ridership, but the SFMTA hasn’t begun the public outreach process for most of them. Many route changes and TTRPs were watered down during public outreach, to appease people who complained about longer walks and removing car parking.

Meanwhile, an appeal against the Muni TEP’s environmental impact report was filed just one hour after it was certified by the SF Planning Commission on March 27, although Muni TEP planning manager Sean Kennedy doesn’t expect it to significantly delay implementation.

In announcing the SFMTA Board’s recent vote, the agency sent out a press release with a headline touting a “12 percent increase in Muni service” resulting from the TEP. The increase apparently comes from a combination of speed improvements and increased funding, for which the agency is banking on three transportation funding measures planned for the ballot this November.

In recent years, the SFMTA had previously promoted a figure of 10 percent, not 12. When asked how that figure increased, Kennedy said the agency just extended the time frame which the figure applies to. “Instead of saying that we would do the whole increase in this [two-year] budget cycle, it basically just means we’ll do all those increases and improvements, it might just be over the next two budget cycles,” said Kennedy. “The time just draws out, not necessarily the projects.”

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Friday: SFMTA Board Considers Final Proposals for Muni TEP Service Changes

An example of a proposed service change for the 48-Quintara and a new line, the 58-24th Street. Image: SFMTA

Service changes to 15 Muni lines are headed to the SFMTA Board of Directors for approval on Friday as part of the Transit Effectiveness Project. The proposals were revised through input at community meetings and approved by the board’s Policy and Governance Committee (PAG) last Friday. Many were fine-tuned largely to appease complaints from riders who would have to walk, at most, a few more blocks for more streamlined routes.

If you can’t make the City Hall board meeting on Friday at 8 a.m., you can weigh in on the proposals by emailing the SFMTA Board at MTABoard@sfmta.com. Here’s the list of proposed line changes from an SFMTA email:

Here’s what we proposed, what we modified based on what we heard, and what we will be recommending to the SFMTA Board:

2 ClementThe PAG supports the recommended proposal of using existing overhead wires to implement 2 Clement trolley service on the entire Sutter/Post Street corridor, adding service on the Sutter Street route segment, and realigning the 2 line to operate on California Street to Eighth Avenue, on Eighth Avenue south to Clement Street, on Clement Street between Eighth and Sixth Avenues, and to California via Sixth Avenue.  Service will be discontinued on Clement Street; between Arguello Boulevard and 6th Avenue, and 8th and 15th Avenues.

3 Jackson: The PAG supports maintaining service on the 3 Jackson with reduced frequency to better match customer demand.

6 Parnassus: The PAG supported maintaining the 6 Parnassus in the line’s current alignment through Ashbury Heights to UCSF and Golden Gate Heights and to reduce the frequency of the line to better match customer demand west of Masonic Avenue.  Service will be further increased on the 71L Haight/Noriega Limited.

8X Bayshore Express: The PAG supports the continuation of 8X service north of Broadway for every other trip.

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Supervisor London Breed Won’t Fight for Full Transit Bulbs on Irving Street

D5 Supervisor London Breed, whose district includes the Inner Sunset, says that the downsized proposals for transit bulbs on Irving Street and Ninth Avenue are “headed in the right direction,” according to Conor Johnston, a legislative aide.

Photo: Office of Supervisor London Breed

“We are balancing a lot of competing interests,” Johnston told Streetsblog, citing vocal opposition from neighbors and merchants to parking removal.

City surveys showed strong support in the neighborhood for sidewalk extensions to make boarding easier along the full length of two-car Muni trains. They also found that the vast majority of people get to Ninth and Irving without a car, a finding consistent with a number of other commercial districts where travel surveys have been conducted. Nevertheless, to preserve car parking, the SFMTA downsized the bulb-outs to less than half the full-length proposals.

Johnston said the parking-first opponents have been vocal, which largely drove the SFMTA’s decision. ”We’ve been contacted by residents and a number of merchants who didn’t want full-length bulb-outs, a lot of whom didn’t want any changes at all,” he said. “As with any democratic process, it’s a balance, a matter of finding consensus.”

Sure, give-and-take can be positive if it produces a better result — streets that are safer and more efficient. But democracy doesn’t mean catering to the loudest complainers and tossing aside the city’s purported “Transit First” commitment, which is supposed to prioritize the most efficient modes — transit, walking, and biking — in the allocation of street space. Is it more democratic to delay and inconvenience thousands of transit passengers each day so that a few dozen people can store their cars on a public street?

When Supervisor Breed took office over a year ago, she indicated that she gets it. “As supervisor, my goal is to look at data, to look at what’s happening, to look at ways in which we can improve the ability for people to get around,” she told Streetsblog in February of last year. “We have to look at it from a larger scale. We can’t just piecemeal it together.”

Breed’s position is crucial — we’ve seen in many transportation projects that a supervisor’s support (or opposition) can make a real difference, leading city agencies to stay the course on transit and street safety upgrades. She helped face down the naysayers when it came to implementing a protected bikeway on Fell and Oak Streets. In this case, however, Breed is okay with letting a loud and irrational subset of cars-first residents dictate the extent to which transit and walking will be improved.

The Inner Sunset Park Neighbors hasn’t taken an official position on the project. The proposal went to a public comment hearing on Friday and is scheduled for consideration by the SFMTA Board of Directors on March 28.

Update: In the comment section of this article, Johnston said that appeasing opponents is important to ensure support for the Muni Transit Effectiveness Project and the vehicle license fee increase and General Obligation bond measures headed to the ballot in November: “If the MTA or we pushed the 2nd car bulb outs (or anything else) ‘opposition-be-damned,’ it would leave a very bad taste in the community’s mouth and jeopardize much greater efforts. Absent collaboration, public sentiment can turn against not only the TEP but the VLF and GO bonds, all of which need support and are far, far more important to our transit first goals than a 2nd car bulb out in the Inner Sunset.”

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Irving Transit Bulb-Outs Downsized to Appease SFFD, Parking Complainers

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Transit bulbs were reduced to less than half the size in the Ninth and Irving area, compared to the original proposals (shown in the inset).

Sidewalk widenings on Irving Street in the Inner Sunset, proposed by the SFMTA to make it safer and easier for tens of thousands of commuters to board the N-Judah, have been cut down in size to a fraction of the original proposals due to neighborhood complaints about losing car parking and protests from the SF Fire Department.

The plans are scheduled for preliminary approval at an SFMTA engineering on Friday at 10 a.m. The SFMTA Board of Directors must approve the plans at a later meeting.

The changes originally proposed as part of the Muni Transit Effectiveness Project would have widened sidewalks along almost the entire south side of Irving between Eighth and Ninth Avenues [PDF], both sides of Irving between Fifth and Sixth Avenues [PDF], and the west side of Ninth between Irving and Judah Street. These long bulb-outs would have served full two-car trains at new stop locations planned for the N-Judah, Muni’s busiest line, while providing more breathing room on a busy pedestrian street.

The plan now calls for transit bulbs less than half that size (see all of the proposals here).

“It’s disappointing to consistently see projects that work to reclaim public space as shared space for everyone to enjoy, and that are in our existing plans and guidelines get watered down,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider. “Whether it’s Irving Street, Potrero, Polk, or Columbus, the time is ripe for the transportation community to show our opposition to mediocrity.”

The transit bulbs on Ninth Avenue and on Irving between Eight and Ninth were shortened to preserve car parking for merchants and neighbors who protested the removal of, at most, 30 spaces, according to SFMTA staff. The new plans remove just 13 parking spaces, including one for a bike corral.

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Facing Resistance to Longer Walks, SFMTA Revises Some Muni Route Changes

Muni TEP Planning Manager Sean Kennedy explains proposals at an open house meeting last night. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The SFMTA is fine-tuning its proposals to change Muni routes as part of its Transit Effectiveness Project, an effort to make Muni more efficient. By consolidating stops and concentrating service on key routes, the TEP aims to make Muni faster and more reliable. The agency presented revisions at a public meeting last night intended to address pushback from some residents, many of whom are elderly, against proposals that would have them walk up to a few blocks more to their Muni stop.

A second open house will be held tomorrow morning, where the SFMTA will present the revised proposals again for feedback.

With input collected at 11 neighborhood meetings held throughout the city over the past few weeks, a few of the proposed line adjustments have undergone major revisions to avoid disrupting current service patterns, said Sean Kennedy, planning manager for the Muni TEP. “There are a couple of hot issues in each district,” he said.

For example, a proposal to move the 27-Bryant segment in the Mission to Folsom Street [PDF], replacing the 12-Folsom (proposed to be eliminated) and re-named the 27-Folsom, has been changed to keep Muni on Bryant. Residents, including Supervisor David Campos, protested the prospect of walking to parallel lines like the 9-San Bruno on Potrero Avenue (three blocks away) or the new 27 route (five blocks away). Planners said the original proposal would have allowed Muni to provide more frequent service on those lines, alleviating crowding on the 9 and 9-Limited.

“We heard from the community that people really need the service on Bryant,” said Kennedy, “that there are a lot of daycare facilities on there, and we thought that the 9/9L was close enough to serve those people on the 27. But it turns out, as we heard, that the 9 is super crowded, and not necessarily a safe line.”

Under the new proposal, Folsom will be served by a new line to be created as part of the TEP, the 11-Downtown Connector, which will stretch from North Beach to the outer Mission District.

Concerns from residents appear to be largely focused on the ability of elderly and disabled riders to walk longer distances, as well as people who feel unsafe walking in certain areas due to street crime. However, 61 percent of Muni riders in a 2010 survey said they would consider walking a longer distance to their stop if they knew it would reduce their overall travel time.

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How Public Q&A Sessions Can Obscure Support for Street Changes

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A snapshot of the proposals to improve N-Judah service at Ninth and Irving. See all of the proposals on the SFMTA website.

When it comes to gauging support for changes on our streets, it’s easy to get the impression at community meetings that a handful of vocal critics represent significant opposition. But as preliminary survey results from a recent Inner Sunset meeting on improvements for the N-Judah show, public forums can often be a poor reflection of the actual level of community support for re-allocating street space to improve transit, walking, and biking.

Attendees at the meeting on N-Judah improvements in the Inner Sunset two weeks ago. Photo: Greg Dewar/Twitter

At a meeting about the N-Judah two weeks ago, planners for the Transit Effectiveness Project fielded input on route adjustments and other measures to speed up Muni service, like transit bulbs, new transit-priority traffic signals, and stop consolidation.

Having attended most of the SFMTA’s community planning meetings over the past three years, I’ve noticed a strong pattern: While a handful of people may scream about project proposals in a public forum, that doesn’t mean they represent their neighbors.

During the Q&A portion of the N-Judah meeting, the usual dynamic played out. Complainers dominated. Fear of change seemed to permeate the room.

But in the survey filled out by people at the same meeting, most respondents supported the boldest proposals [PDF]. Actual public sentiment was in favor of change. The pro-reform contingent was just less vocal during the Q&A.

Not that planning decisions that make streets safer and improve service for thousands of transit riders should come down to a vote. But too often, city agencies cave to the loudest people in the room and water down proposals in a misguided bid to appease critics. The N-Judah meeting showed that the angry people may command the most attention, but that doesn’t mean they’re representative of public sentiment.

Take the Polk Street redesign, which the SFMTA watered down last year to appease merchants who fiercely oppose any removal of parking for protected bike lanes and sidewalk extensions. As it turns out, a recent survey of people who live, work and shop on Polk showed that safety for people walking and biking is a far greater concern than the supply of car storage.

So what were the survey numbers on the N-Judah improvements? According to 101 responses at the meeting:

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TEP Update: Muni Behind on Transit Signal Priority, But the N Is Near

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Half of San Francisco’s traffic signals were supposed to have transit priority installed by this spring, according to the ambitious schedule set out by managers of the Muni Transit Effectiveness Project two years ago. This may not come as much of a surprise, but the SFMTA isn’t quite meeting its target.

Muni TEP improvements are coming this year to the N-Judah, particularly along Irving Street in the Inner Sunset. Photo: Telesle17/Flickr

Of the 600 signals to be upgraded, the SFMTA expects to have 170 completed in the spring, according to agency spokesperson Paul Rose. Installation of those signals, which are all along the 14-Mission and 8X-Bayshore routes, began last fall, with the N-Judah next in line. The on-board equipment needed for the signals to detect the buses and trains, then turn or stay green, has been installed on the 316 vehicles stored at the Flynn and Potrero Muni yards, said Rose.

There are a couple bits of good news for Muni riders. Transit-only lane enforcement cameras are on track to be installed on every Muni bus by this spring as planned, Rose said. Transit priority signals and bus-mounted cameras “will help to give riders a more reliable ride,” said Jim Frank of the SF Transit Riders Union, which “strongly supports installation of TOLE cameras on all buses and TSP on all signals in the city.”

“Double-parked vehicles and waiting at red lights slows down the bus considerably,” said Frank. “We commend the MTA on being on track with the bus cameras and encourage them to get the TSP program completed as soon as possible.”

The next transit priority signals are set to be installed along the N-Judah, Muni’s busiest line, over the coming year. The signals are part of a package of proposed TEP upgrades for the N, which the SFMTA will explain at a community meeting Thursday in the Inner Sunset. In conjunction with those improvements, the SFMTA also plans to replace rails and other infrastructure in the Sunset Tunnel during 15 weekend closures, which will be the focus of another meeting on Wednesday in the Lower Haight.

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Han Cheng Li, 62, Killed by Driver at 16th and Potrero

Sixteenth Street at Potrero Avenue. Image: Google Maps

Han Cheng Li, 62, was struck and killed by a driver on 16th Street at Potrero Avenue in the Mission at about 11:38 p.m. Saturday night, according to reports. Police have not released details about how the crash occurred or the name of the driver, but he has been identified as a 54-year-old man. Li is the 12th pedestrian to be killed in traffic in San Francisco this year.

Nicole Schneider, executive director of Walk SF, pointed out that between 2005 and 2010, five pedestrians were injured at 16th and Potrero, about one per year. “We are deeply sorry for Han Cheng Li’s family and friends,” she said. “While we still don’t know how the collision occurred, each of these deaths are preventable.”

Sixteenth and Potrero both have four traffic lanes and few measures in place to tame driving speeds. Although a plan to redesign a section of Potrero is in the works, it would only encompass the stretch south of 17th Street. On 16th Street, the Muni Transit Effectiveness Project calls for two traffic lanes to be converted to center-running bus lanes — which could have the added benefit of calming motor traffic — but that project is several years away from implementation.

“We know that a pedestrian hit by a car traveling 40 mph has a 30 percent chance of surviving, but by reducing speed to 30 mph, that chance of survival goes up to 80 percent,” said Schneider. “The city has the tools needed to calm traffic on our streets, and we want to see those tools implemented before any additional families have to suffer the loss of a loved one.”

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5-Fulton Upgrades to Include Limited Service, Road Diet, and Stop Removal

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Two 5-Fulton buses approach the turn at Central Avenue on McAllister Street. Photo: cbcastro/Flickr

The 5-Fulton could get less crowded this fall after Muni launches a package of speed improvements [PDF] in a pilot of the Transit Effectiveness Project.

The SFMTA plans to launch a 5-Fulton Limited line, remove some excess stops, move stops across intersections for smoother loading, and extend the length of bus zones to make room for double bus loading. Early next year, planners said bus bulb-outs would be also be added at seven intersections as part of a re-paving project on Fulton west of 25th Avenue.

A road diet would also be implemented on Fulton between Stanyan Street and Central Avenue, reducing four traffic lanes to two, plus turn lanes. Aside from calming traffic, SFMTA planners said that change would allow for wider traffic lanes to safely fit buses. Currently, the buses must squeeze into 9-foot lanes, resulting in a high frequency of collisions with cars. The new lanes would be 12.5 feet wide.

The new 5-Limited would run the entire length of the route using the 5′s regular electric trolley coaches, serving only the six most heavily-used stops between Market Street and 6th Avenue, running that stretch 17 percent faster than the existing local service, planners said. From the Transbay Terminal to the beach, the 5L would run 11 percent faster than the existing service.

Local bus service, which would be served with hybrid motor buses, would only run as far west as 6th Avenue, and run that stretch 7 percent faster. That means anyone looking to use a local stop on the middle stretch east of 6th, coming to or from the western stretch, would have to transfer between a 5L bus and a 5-local, though planners said relatively few riders seem to make such trips. The 5-Limited would stop running at 7 p.m., after which electric trolley coaches would serve every stop on the line.

With the 5L carrying the bulk of rush-hour commuters on the route at a faster clip, Muni planners say the improvements will go a long way toward reducing crowding. At daytime hours, between 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., the 5 currently runs at an average speed of just 9 mph, said SFMTA planner Dustin White.

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Red Transit Lanes on Church Have Made Muni Faster and More Reliable

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Photos: Aaron Bialick

Seven weeks after the SF Municipal Transportation Agency painted red transit-only lanes on several blocks of Church Street, Muni reports that the J-Church and 22-Fillmore lines are moving faster and more reliably. On the stretch between Duboce Avenue and 16th Street, travel times on the two lines have dropped by 5 percent, and the buses and trains are 20 percent more reliable, arriving closer to their scheduled arrival times.

Before the transit lanes went in, Muni riders were routinely delayed by private automobile drivers blocking boarding islands and waiting to make left turns. “We were losing a lot of time there,” said Sean Kennedy, planning manager for the Muni Transit Effectiveness Project. ”This is the slowest section for both the 22 and the J on their entire stretch, and one of the slowest sections in the whole transit system.”

The Church transit-only lanes are a pilot project of the TEP that allows the SFMTA to measure the effect on transit and traffic, helping to inform plans to use them on other streets.

Sean Kennedy (left), the SFMTA's TEP planning manager, and Camron Samii, SFMTA enforcement director.

SFPD and SFMTA parking enforcement officers have handed out 26 citations to drivers so far for violating the transit lanes, according to the SFMTA. (The SFPD enforces moving violations, while SFMTA can only enforce parking violations.)

While it’s still easy to spot drivers disobeying the new rules, it appears that violators are less likely to enter the lanes in front a Muni vehicle, where they might cause delays. That seems to indicate that even if drivers know they’re driving in the lanes illegally, many seem to know better than to delay Muni vehicles.

“They know,” said Camron Samii, the SFMTA’s enforcement director. On the city’s other 15 miles of transit-only lanes (which, other than Third Street’s light-rail lanes, aren’t colored), Samii said it’s typical to see drivers pick up on patterns and only violate the lanes when there are fewer transit vehicles and enforcement officers are around. The agency tries to mix up where and when enforcement happens, he said.

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