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Posts from the "Transit" Category

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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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BART Will Study Second Transbay Tube, West Side Extension

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BART plans to study a new Transbay tube, leading into SoMa and SF’s western neighborhoods. Image: BART [PDF]

Updated 11:06 p.m. with comments from BART Board-elect Nick Josefowitz.

BART says it will formally study the decades-old ideas of building a second Transbay tube and extending service to SF’s western neighborhoods.

Ellen Smith, BART’s acting manager for strategic and policy planning, recently told a SF County Transportation Authority Board committee (comprised of SF supervisors) that regional transportation agencies plan to fund a study of a subway connecting the South of Market area to Alameda, with a possible extension west underneath the Market Street subway, towards the Richmond and Sunset Districts.

BART has only sketched out the ideas as conceptual routes, and has yet to provide even a ballpark estimate of a timeline or costs.

Don’t expect to take a ride anytime soon, though: “We could be talking decades,” Smith said. Building a new underwater tube is ”clearly a massive investment and undertaking, technically, operationally, financially, and politically.”

The tube would be a key piece of the infrastructure needed to accommodate the growing number of riders squeezing into the existing Transbay tube, BART’s busiest section of track.

A second tube would “greatly increase our capacity, but probably not double it,” said Smith. It would make the system more resilient, keeping service running even if minor mechanical problems occur within the existing two-track tube. It would also make 24-hour service possible, since BART maintenance crews currently need to clear the tube for nightly work.

The current single tube “was planned in the 1960s, when there were only 3.6 million people in the Bay Area,” a small fraction of the 9 million expected by 2040, said Smith.

The ideas for BART expansions in SF are hardly new, but it’s the first time BART said it will study them.

SPUR has long pushed the idea of a second Transbay tube, and explained its vision in a video in 2011. In the meantime, the organization says bus service should be given higher priority on the Bay Bridge with the creation of a contra-flow transit lane. Smith said BART is considering launching a new Transbay bus service, but the Metropolitan Transportation Commission has only just begun preliminary consideration of a transit lane on the bridge.

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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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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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