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Posts from the "Transit" Category

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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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Muni Delays “Double Berthing” Until December, Citing Sunset Tunnel Work

Muni has once again pushed back its launch of “double berthing” — simultaneous loading of two trains in its Metro stations — until December. SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose said that plans for a live test and launch in November were thwarted by recent weekend construction on the Sunset Tunnel.

“Because of rail improvement project work for Sunset Tunnel in November for three weekends, we had to postpone the live demo of double berthing to [the] first weekend of December,” Rose wrote in an email. “Double berthing will be released into revenue service once we run tests; we expect this sometime in December.”

When asked why work on the Sunset Tunnel would impede double berthing tests in the subway under Market Street, Rose only said they can’t happen at the same time. It’s unclear why the two conflict: The two N-Judah stops at the tunnel’s portals in Duboce Park and Cole Valley wouldn’t see double berthing, which can only be implemented at stations with platforms long enough to fit two two-car trains.

A construction project in the Sunset Tunnel has closed it to N-Judah trains (bus service runs as a substitute) over 15 weekends to replace rails, upgrade the overhead wire system, refurbish water safety valves, and install seismic safety retrofits. Outside of the tunnel, the N-Judah project will also include upgraded traffic signals with transit signal priority at nine intersections, and new wheelchair-accessible platforms at 28th Avenue and Judah Street.

The SFMTA says the weekend tunnel construction work will be suspended over the holidays, from Thanksgiving through early January, and that the entire project is expected to be finished by June.

Double berthing was originally supposed to launch in October 2012, but the SFMTA has cited difficulties in upgrading train control and signage software for the delays until this month.

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Muni Metro “Double Berthing” Delayed Again — Wait Until November

Muni has yet again postponed the launch of simultaneously loading two trains in each of its Metro stations, also known as “double berthing.” We last reported that the practice was supposed to begin this month, but SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose said the new timeline is “early November,” with no specific date set yet.

While Muni riders salivate for what might seem like a simple step that would speed up underground boardings, Muni Operations Director John Haley has cited “issues with the platform signs and trains” for the delays. Apparently, setting up the software to work with the automatic train control system is turning out to be quite a challenge.

Originally, double berthing was supposed to launch in October 2012. Now, we can only hope it will launch before the new light rail fleet starts running.

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Haight’s New Contra-Flow Transit Lane Gives Muni Riders a Shortcut

A new center-running transit-only lane on Haight Street between Laguna Street and Octavia Boulevard lets Muni riders bypass freeway-bound drivers. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The new contra-flow transit-only lane opened on the east end of Haight Street last week, providing Muni riders a red carpet that both eliminates a detour and whisks them past queues of auto drivers headed for the Central Freeway. As a longtime rider of the 71-Haight/Noriega and 6-Parnassus lines, my first ride on the new lane was elating — the boost it provides hardly exists anywhere else in the entire Muni system. You might say it’s truly “transit-first.”

Like the Polk Street contra-flow protected bike lane, this colorful piece of novel transportation infrastructure spans just two short but sweet blocks, yet has a much broader impact. Not only will the 71 and 6 run more quickly and reliably from now on, but bus riders are now spared from two body-swaying turns and a couple of stops.

The redesign also came with some additional safety bonuses, like bolder crosswalk stripes, curb extensions, pedestrian refuge islands, a re-paved roadway, and a road diet on Haight that eliminates dangerous left turns onto northbound Octavia Boulevard.

On what was a one-way block between Haight between Octavia and Gough/Market Streets, Muni has its own contra-flow lane that gives the 71 and 6 lines a direct shot. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Check out more photos after the jump.

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Caltrain and High-Speed Rail Pursue Level Boarding, Compatible Platforms

California High-Speed Rail (foreground) and Caltrain (background, right) will have to share Transbay Center platforms. Image: CAHSR Authority

Correction 10/8: Caltrain and the CAHSRA haven’t agreed to create a joint specification for train cars, but will explore options for platform compatibility.

Officials representing Caltrain and the California High-Speed Rail Authority recently announced that they’ll work closely together over the next several months to explore what options are available from train car manufacturers to allow for level boarding, examine the potential benefits of platform compatibility, and the impacts on the operation of each transit system of doing so.

The cars would allow both systems to board trains from high-level, shared platforms at the future SF Transbay Transit Center, Millbrae, and San Jose stations. The announcement was made last Monday at a meeting hosted by transit advocacy group Friends of Caltrain in Mountain View.

“Level boarding,” so called because passengers will be able to walk directly from platforms onto trains without any steps, maximizes passenger capacity by speeding up boarding. It’s crucial that these three stations have platforms that work for both Caltrain and CAHSR, to maximize flexibility and to reduce redundancy.

Still, many transit advocates remain skeptical that the CAHSRA is sincere about pursuing shared level platforms. The agency issued a Request for Expressions of Interest on October 1 specifying single-level train cars with a floor height of 51 inches above the rails, incompatible with most of the available bi-level electric commuter trains that Caltrain is considering. CAHSR officials insist they have not ruled out alternative platform heights, but say that trains operating at speeds of 220 mph work best with a floor height of around 50 inches.

Average weekday ridership on Caltrain has doubled since 2004 to 59,900 passenger trips in June of this year, fueled by robust employment growth in both San Francisco and throughout Silicon Valley. Rush-hour crowds continue to grow, and up to one-third of passengers are unable to find a seat on the most popular trains and instead pack into aisles and vestibules.

“I’ve heard stories of standees crowding three or four into a bathroom because there are not enough seats on these trains to handle the volumes of customers we have,” stated Caltrain Modernization Project Delivery Director Dave Couch.

Development at San Francisco’s Transbay Center will add thousands of Caltrain passengers every day. Image: Transbay Transit Center

About 20 percent more seats will be available on many rush hour trains by mid-2015, after a $15 million project to lengthen trains from five to six cars, using 16 surplus train cars purchased from LA’s Metrolink.

But Caltrain’s ridership growth shows no signs of letting up, as cities located along the rail line increasingly focus commercial and residential development within walking distance of Caltrain stations along El Camino Real.

“We’re anticipating to take on 200,000 new jobs and another 94,000 units of housing by 2040, primarily along the Caltrain corridor and Market Street,” said Gillian Gillett, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee’s transportation policy director. “People want to live here, and companies want to stay here and grow here.”

Capacity on an electrified Caltrain could eventually double from today’s levels, to over 9,000 passengers per hour, if eight-car trains were run eight times an hour, according to an analysis conducted by Friends of Caltrain. But running such frequent service requires both level boarding and shared platforms, so that Caltrain could use any of the Transbay Center’s six proposed platforms even after CAHSR service starts in 2029.
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AC Transit Asks East Bay Transit Riders to Weigh in on Service Improvements

Under a program called PlanACT, AC Transit is holding workshops throughout October to get a sense of the public’s priorities for adjusting and adding service to bus routes in various East Bay cities.

AC Transit is looking for the public’s input on where to adjust and add service. Photo: Melanie Curry

AC Transit’s ridership and revenue are increasing. After last year’s BART strike sent commuters scurrying to find alternative means of getting to work, some of those who discovered the bus seem to have stuck with it. Meanwhile, the growing job market in San Francisco contributed to a 20 percent increase in transbay ridership last year, and an eight percent increase systemwide, leading to overcrowding on some transbay routes, and reports of riders being passed up at bus stops.

But there’s also more money coming in for transit improvements, with revenue from fares, property taxes, and sales taxes all increasing. If Alameda County sales tax measure Proposition BB passes in the November election, there will be even more funding that can be used to improve service.

Whether Prop BB wins or loses, “We have to grow,” said Robert del Rosario, the AC Transit’s director of service development. “The question is, how should that growth happen? As a bus agency, we serve everywhere — the hills, schools, transbay trips, commuter trips. Which services most need improvement, and are there any that should be reconfigured?”

Del Rosario said the workshops are currently fielding general input on scheduling and route priorities, before getting to specifics about particular bus routes. So far, they have included exercises where participants are asked to map out the most valuable corridors and routes, and where they think AC Transit’s existing resources could be better applied.

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New Muni-Only Lanes Streamline Buses on Haight, Lincoln at 19th Avenue

A new left-turn Muni lane at Lincoln Way and 19th Avenue now provides a quicker ride on the 29-Sunset. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Muni riders have just gotten some sweet new transit-only lanes to speed up their commutes. Red paint is on the ground for two new bus lanes: One at Lincoln Way and 19th Avenue, and another on the east end of Haight Street.

A new left-turn lane, exclusively for Muni buses, went into operation this week at Lincoln and 19th, streamlining the ride for commuters on the 29-Sunset. The new lane and traffic signal mean that northbound 29 buses no longer must endure a car-clogged detour onto 20th Avenue and Irving Street. The block-long detour typically took anywhere from three to seven minutes, according to the SFMTA.

The re-route required a new bus stop inside Golden Gate Park, replacing the former stop where buses would load on the other side of Lincoln, before crossing the intersection. A new sidewalk and waiting area have been built, and the SFMTA says a shelter will be added as well. In the meantime, temporary signs explain the change.

The new stop, which is also now used by buses on the 28-19th Avenue and 28-Limited lines, provides an extended curb so that buses can load in the traffic lane. That speeds up buses, since they no longer have to pull out of traffic only to merge back in. The SFMTA does plan to replicate the new configuration by adding bus bulb-outs at other stops along 19th.

The new left-turn traffic signal is only activated when it detects a bus approaching the intersection, and the signal phase lasts only a few seconds so that other motorists can’t use it.

The new stop on 19th sits inside Golden Gate Park, across the street from the old one. Photo: Aaron Bialick

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Supes Stand Up to Transbay Developers, Approve Original Rail Funding Deal

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The Board of Supervisors yesterday unanimously approved the original agreement to fund Transbay District transportation upgrades, like the downtown rail extension to the Transbay Transit Center, through development charges. Although supervisors had announced a compromise agreement two weeks ago, some developers apparently backed out of it. City Hall officials decided to move forward with the original agreement, since those developers threatened to file a lawsuit either way.

A rendering of the Transbay Transit Center and surrounding high-rise development to come, via TransbayCenter.org

The disagreement arose after Transbay developers began to fight the establishment of a special property tax, called a Mello-Roos tax district, which they had agreed to in 2012 to help fund local infrastructure projects, like the extension of Caltrain and California high-speed rail to the Transbay Center. The developers, who still must approve the Mello-Roos agreement in a vote, hired former Mayor Willie Brown to lobby for a lower tax rate, since property values (and thus projected taxes) have skyrocketed in recent years.

“Kudos to the Supervisors for supporting the original Mello-Roos agreement, rather than delaying the vote again or agreeing to further concessions,” said Livable City Director Tom Radulovich. “Any project of this size is going to be subject to lawsuits and threats of lawsuits. Shame on these developers for seeking to reap all the benefits of the Transbay project, their beneficial re-zoning, and San Francisco’s booming land values, without any portion of this enormous windfall going towards the public good.”

Under the compromise agreement announced two weeks ago, the developers would have paid the same maximum of $1.4 billion in taxes, but spread over 37 years instead of 30. Supervisor Scott Wiener said this would have retained “every penny” of the original deal, but some said the economics would’ve worked out in the developers’ favor. The SF Chronicle penned an editorial on Sunday blasting the “unwarranted tax break to developers” and “huge giveaway”:

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Governor Brown Signs Bill Allowing 3-Bike Racks on Some Buses in CA

Under a new law California law, transit agencies are now allowed greater use of racks that carry three bikes, like this one on L.A. Metro’s Orange Line BRT. Photo by Ensie via Flickr

California transit agencies are now allowed greater use of bus-mounted bike racks that hold three bicycles. Governor Jerry Brown signed A.B. 2707 Tuesday, a bill authored Ed Chau (D-Monterey Park) to allow 40-foot-long buses to be equipped with folding bike racks that can carry up to three bikes.

It was the first bill signed by the governor this year that’s on Streetsblog’s unofficial watch list of bills related to sustainable transportation.

Current law restricts the length of vehicles on California roads to a maximum length of 40 feet. An exception was created for AC Transit in the Bay Area, after legislation was passed several years ago to allow the agency to exceed the length limit when it added three-bike racks to the front of its buses.

Another bill in the most recent legislative session was aimed at creating a similar exception for Santa Cruz, but it was dropped when L.A. Metro came forward with A.B. 2707 to change the law throughout the state. Metro will soon receive a large order of 40-foot buses, and thanks to the new law, will be able to expand its bike-carrying capacity on the majority of its fleet.

“It’s a major, major gain. I’m terrifically happy this made it through the system,” said Bart Reed of the Transit Coalition, which had been pushing local legislators to address the issue since 2012“If a bus only comes by every half hour, then there’s only space for four bikes every hour. People were being left stranded. This bill will enhance capacity by another half.”

A sticking point in 2012 was pushback from operator unions, who wanted a say in when and how the longer bike racks are used. Until now, exceptions to the 40-foot rule have allowed three-bike racks on buses up to 60 feet long, but only after approval from a Route Review Committee that must include representatives of the transit agency, the driver’s union, and an engineer.

“The Route Review Committee is required to convene and unanimously approve every route for triple bike racks,” said Michael Turner of Metro. “Our concern is that we have over 100 bus routes, with over 2,000 buses in service. We want to work with our operators, but it’s not good policy to give them veto authority; it’s also not practical, given the size of our operations.”

Since Metro the Route Review Committee requirement has only been applied to 45- and 60-foot buses, the agency decided to focus its legislation on allowing three-bike racks on the 40-foot buses that will make up about half of their fleet once the new buses are delivered.

“Bike use has been growing, and we’ve seen more demand, especially on our rail system,” said Turner.

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Developers Don’t Want to Pay for Caltrain/HSR Extension to Transbay Center

Developers who are building towers around the Transbay Transit Center in SoMa are fighting to reduce a special property tax that will be levied on developments in the area. The biggest loser could be the downtown rail extension to bring Caltrain and California high-speed rail into the terminal, as more of the funds for the regional rail hub and other long-term projects would have to come from taxpayers.

A rendering of the Transbay Transit Center and surrounding high-rise development to come, via TransbayCenter.org

The group of developers is backed by former mayor Willie Brown, who registered as an official lobbyist to work for them in July (he also recently lobbied “pro bono” for AnsoldoBreda, the manufacturer of Muni’s current train fleet). Brown previously helped create the Transbay Joint Powers Authority to oversee the massive package of projects centered around what’s been called the “Grand Central of the West,” expected to open in 2017.

SF Chronicle columnists Phil Matier and Andrew Ross reported in July:

Brown confirmed for us that he is representing Boston Properties — builder of the 61-story Salesforce Tower — and more than a half dozen other property owners.

In exchange for the city allowing them to increase the height and density of their projects, the property owners agreed two years ago to be assessed up to $400 million to help pay for a Transbay Transit Center rooftop park and other public improvements to the area.

Only now, thanks to skyrocketing property values and changes in the city’s methodology for calculating the assessments, the developers — paying into what’s known as a Mello-Roos special district — could face up to $1.4 billion in charges.

The Board of Supervisors was expected to approve the agreement creating the Mello-Roos district on Tuesday, but D6 Supervisor Jane Kim postponed the item one week. “We wanted additional time to be able to brief all of the offices on this issue, but also talk to the multiple parties involved,” Kim said at the meeting.

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