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Not Voting for Buses? Bay Area Transit Study Open Thread

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Go Giants indeed! Just not by bus if one can avoid it, according to a an MTC study. Image: Torbakhopper

Go Giants indeed! Just not by bus if one can avoid it, according to an MTC study. Image: Torbakhopper

Election day is a good time for a discussion about a recent Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) study that seems to show that Bay Area residents are using their transit choices to, in effect, vote for rail, ferry, and ride-hailing, but not for more buses. From an East Bay Times look at the study:

The problem is that buses, by far the biggest piece of the transit puzzle, saw ridership drop 15 percent from 1991 to 2014, more than canceling out the 63 percent surge in train and ferry use, according to data from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. With private tech shuttles transporting employees from home to office and the proliferation of ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, are buses merely outdated behemoths ready to go the way of the dinosaur?

Is it really true that Uber and Lyft are responsible for declining bus ridership? Are tech shuttles really pulling people from city buses?  With ride-hail, it depends which study one consults. According to a March study from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), ride-hail works hand-in-glove with transit:

A survey of 4,500 people across the US confirms that people who routinely use “shared modes” of transportation (e.g. bikesharing, carsharing, and ridesharing) were more likely to use public transit. These individuals were less likely to drive, more likely to walk, and saved more on overall transportation costs.

But an earlier study from the University of California Transportation Center at Berkeley shows the opposite.

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M-Ocean View Subway: Is this Project Really About Trains?

View from inside an inbound M-Oceanview. Why should a train full of people sit in a mixed-flow turning pocket waiting for cars to make a left into a mall? Photo: Streetsblog.

View from inside an inbound M-Ocean View just south of Stonestown. Why should a train sit in traffic waiting for cars to make a left into a shopping mall? Photo: Streetsblog.

Thursday, SFMTA joined several agencies at the Bay Area 2040 open house in Oakland. One of the projects presented was the M-Ocean View improvement plan. As the Examiner reported today, SFMTA is now leaning towards an all-underground option, with a tunnel stretching from West Portal to Parkmerced. This project, at around $3 billion, would re-align the M-Ocean View to the west of 19th Ave. and put it in a tunnel. Ostensibly, the project’s objective is to increase capacity and the speed of the trains to better serve SF State and the burgeoning community of Parkmerced.

From the SFMTA’s factsheet from the section entitled, “Key Benefits of Full Subway” PDF:

MUNI METRO SPEED AND RELIABILITY: No delay to train from waiting at intersections [emphasis added] makes for faster and more reliable service. Undergrounding the M- and K-lines through West Portal also addresses this major bottleneck

Somebody has to point out the elephant in the room.

Why is the train waiting at intersections in the first place?

The M-Ocean View, for its run down 19th, has its own right-of-way. But at each intersection, it has to wait for lights to cycle and automobiles to cross.

Obviously, putting the train in a tunnel is not the only solution.

Liz Brisson, Project Manager, Urban Planning Initiatives Sustainable Street Division for the SFMTA, explained at Thursday evening’s open house that there are short-term improvements to the M-Ocean View in the works, such as giving it more priority at signal lights and reducing the length of the turning pocket, seen in the photo above, at Stonestown. Right now an inbound M-Ocean View train has to wait behind left-turning cars before it can proceed into the Stonestown station.

But why just shorten the turning pocket? Why not get rid of the one that’s blocking the trains? And why signal “priority” instead of pre-emption: meaning why not when the train approaches, gates come down or the light always turns red for the cars and green for the train? The answer is obvious: it will cause more delay for privately owned cars.

The SFMTA’s studies also say the train goes slow because of closely spaced stations and that some stops should be eliminated and consolidated. But stop consolidation doesn’t require tunnels.

As this publication has covered for many years, San Francisco has long had a “transit first,” policy, at least in theory. But what clearer example could there be that transit is still far from first, when trains full of hundreds of people have to sit behind cars turning into a shopping mall?

Certainly, projects to create bus-only lanes on Van Ness, Mission and Geary are a step in the “transit first” direction. But putting Light Rail trains in a tunnel, when they already have a right of way (ROW), doesn’t sound like “transit first.” It sounds like a way to get the train out of the way of the cars.
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Bay Area 2040: Envisioning the Future of the Bay Area

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SFMTAs Liz Brisson at the Plan Bay Area open house. Image: Streetsblog.

SFMTA’s Liz Brisson at the Plan Bay Area open house. Image: Streetsblog.

Who says you can’t have everything?

Well, when it comes to transportation infrastructure and planning, economics and tax payers do, for starters. But Thursday evening’s Plan Bay Area 2040 open house wasn’t about holding back. Instead, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) asked the public to chime in and help envision a transportation and planning future for the entire Bay Area. The open house is part of an ongoing effort to create a catch-all road map for agencies throughout the region.

Held at the Joseph P. Bort MetroCenter Auditorium across from the Lake Merritt BART station, the open house consisted of half a dozen information stations, with representatives from a gaggle of area transportation planning agencies, including AC Transit, BART, Caltrans, Caltrain, MTC, and SFMTA, not to mention consultants, who heard public comments and discussed priorities for the Bay Area.

Among them was Liz Brisson, Project Manager, Urban Planning Initiatives Sustainable Street Division for the SFMTA. She was answering questions at the “Core Capacity Transit Study” station, a study project she’s working on. “Transit is bursting at the seams,” she said, adding that means it’s essentially working. But it has to work better to accommodate growth. “We know what we have to do.”

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SF Budget: Better Muni and Vision Zero…But November Tax Has to Pass

Additional funding for the Van Ness BRT Project, depicted here, was one of the projects highlighted in the Mayor's proposed budget. Image: SFMTA.

Additional funding for the Van Ness BRT Project, depicted here, was one of the projects highlighted in the Mayor’s proposed budget. Image: SFMTA.

San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee released his 455-page budget proposal on Tuesday. It includes $9.6 billion in fiscal year 2016-17  for transportation, police officers, and street cleaning, a $700 million increase in funds. The fiscal year runs from July 1 of this year until June 30 of next year.

The transportation section runs from pages 315 to 322–here are some highlights:

The proposed budget includes an additional $15 million in FY 2016-17 and $62.2 million in FY 2017-18 in new transportation funding. Once fully implemented in FY 2017-18, these investments will provide $28.7 million for Muni fleet, infrastructure upgrades, and transit optimization, $9.6 million for equity and affordability initiatives, $14.3 million to support regional transit projects and fleet needs, and $9.6 million to fully fund street safety projects that are consistent with the City’s Vision Zero policy.

Lee was presenting the budget as a step forward for the city’s transit programs and safety initiatives.

“The result is the SFMTA’s first-ever $1 billion operating budget to improve transit performance and reliability. The SFMTA operates the nation’s eighth largest public transit system and it serves every neighborhood,” said Lee in his Proposed Balanced Budget Speech, on Tuesday.

“To invest in the future of Muni, my proposed budget also includes significant investments in capital improvements, including nearly $26 million for new hybrid buses and light rail vehicles, and $5.9 million in street and pedestrian safety projects to move the City closer to its Vision Zero goal of eliminating all traffic fatalities by 2024,” he added.

Lee also noted that the budget maintained funding for Muni’s free programs for seniors, youth, and people with disabilities.

“This budget contains very robust investment in a number of critical transportation needs,” said Supervisor Scott Wiener, whose Proposition B is responsible for much of the growth in the transportation and safe streets portion of the budget. Prop B instituted a city charter amendment mandating annual increases in the share of general funds set aside for transportation, based on population growth. In this budget, Prop. B is “pushing $30 million or more over to transportation,” he said.

Over the next two weeks, the Budget Committee of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors will be taking a look at the document and making further recommendations. Read more…

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A Safer Masonic on the Way

Michael Helquist and Dale Danley looking pleased to see Maconic improvements finally happening. Photo: Streetsblog

Michael Helquist and Dale Danley looking pleased to see Masonic Avenue improvements finally happening. Photo: Streetsblog

Wednesday evening some 130 local residents and other interested parties dropped in at the San Francisco Day School to learn about the construction phase of SFMTAs Masonic Avenue Streetscape Project. To quote SFMTA’s own release about the project:

With construction starting in June 2016, the Masonic Avenue Streetscape Project is an effort to improve safety for people walking, biking, taking transit and driving on Masonic Avenue between Geary Boulevard and Fell Street. It will bring a variety of improvements to the corridor including, wider sidewalks, a new median, new paving, landscaping, raised bikeways, better lighting and upgraded sewer infrastructure.

The meeting was primarily to let local residents know what to expect from the jack hammers and traffic delays they will experience from June through late 2017, when construction is scheduled to be completed.

Michael Helquist, an advocate with “Fix Masonic” who helped raise support for the changes over the years, was thrilled. “This took several years of going door to door to build support,” he said. “Safety is my biggest concern.”

And, indeed, this is a corridor that needed it. Also from SFMTA’s data:

From 2009 to 2014, there were 113 traffic collisions on Masonic Avenue between Fell Street and Geary Boulevard. This includes 14 pedestrian collisions and 24 bicycle collisions, including two fatalities.

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SFSU Students Study How to Un-Suck Biking to BART

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Professor Jason Henderson's "Bicycle Geographies" class explores how infrastructure could make cycling from BART to class safe and fun. Photo: ???TK

Professor Jason Henderson’s “Bicycle Geographies” class (seen with additional university staff in this photo) explores how infrastructure could make cycling from BART to class safe and fun. Photo: Nolen Brown

Professor Jason Henderson’s “Bicycle Geographies” class wants the ride from Daily City BART to San Francisco State University’s campus to be comfortable and fun.

And why shouldn’t it be?

After all, it’s only a 1.6 mile trip that should take even a novice cyclist about 15 minutes. Given the proximity to BART, this should be a no-brainer. But thanks to some harrowing intersections, high-speed traffic lanes, and oddly placed and timed “safety measures,” it’s anything but.

“That route probably felt quite calm in a big group with 40-plus people in a group ride,” said Joshua Handel, one of five students in the class, during a presentation to administrators at the school. Handel is referring to a Bike to Work Day ride done earlier this month with staff and students.

“But when one does it alone, there’s a lot of traffic stress,” he continued.  Read more…

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Northern California High-Speed Rail Scoping Meeting

Scenes such as this may be commonplace in the Central Valley by 2029. Photo: Wikipedia Commons.

Scenes such as this may be commonplace in the Central Valley by 2029. Photo: Wikipedia Commons.

Monday evening the California High Speed Rail Authority, in conjunction with Caltrain, held a scoping meeting at the William J. Rutter Center at UCSF in Mission Bay. They answered public questions and took comment on plans to electrify Caltrain and bring high-speed trains from Bakersfield to San Francisco by 2029.

Streetsblog readers will recall that a few months ago the California-High Speed Rail Authority released a revised plan to link up Northern California to the Central Valley spine (which is already under construction). This meeting was one of a series to prepare the environmental reports for this next phase of construction.

Casey Fromson explains Caltrain's electrification project. Photo: Streetsblog.

Casey Fromson explains Caltrain’s electrification project. Photo: Streetsblog.

The meeting started at 5:30, with members of the public invited to visit local information stations to ask questions about the projects. Casey Fromson, a government affairs officer for the Caltrain Modernization Program, was at the Caltrain information station. She explained that electrification of Caltrain, which, if all goes according to plan, should be completed in 2021, will offer faster service because of the better acceleration of electric trains. “A trip that our current, diesel baby bullets do in 60 minutes will take 45 with a train of electrics,” she explained. Still, it was disappointing to learn that Caltrain won’t be exploiting the top speed capabilities of its new electric fleet, which will start arriving in 2020. Although the trains will be capable of 110 mph, the tracks will only be able to handle about 80, because of the curves and the number of grade crossings. Getting the line up to full speed will have to wait for another round of improvements, such as adding more passing tracks, eliminating more grade crossings, and building more gradual curves, changes that will only come with the HSR project in 2029.

Brian Stokle, with the group “Friends of the DTX,” [the “downtown extension” of Caltrain to the Transbay Terminal] was among the visitors. He expressed disappointment at the lack of progress in connecting Caltrain to Transbay, currently under constructions. “There’s no true political champion for it yet. And it’s a lot of money,” he said. That was a concern echoed by others at the meeting.
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The Taraval Boarding Island Question: Q&A with Katy Tang

Supervisor Katy Tang, at her desk at City Hall. Photo: Streetsblog.

Supervisor Katy Tang, at her desk at City Hall. Photo: Streetsblog.

Last week, Streetsblog brought you an editorial from Katy Tang about the issue of installing concrete boarding islands on Taraval as part of SFMTA’s Muni Forward project. This was in response to a headline in the SF Examiner, that declared “Supervisor Slams Brakes on L-Taraval Changes.”

As Streetsblog readers may recall, business owners were pushing back against the boarding islands because of the potential loss of parking in front of their shops; Streetsblog brought you the story of the rancorous public meeting about it, and other issues, back in February.

Is it true that Supervisor Tang was holding up safety improvements because of her small-business constituents and their objections? Streetsblog had reached out to Tang several times. Finally, Friday, Streetsblog was able to sit down with the District 4 Supervisor and get her perspective, face to face.

STREETSBLOG: The Examiner story was accurate, with the exception of the headline?

TANG: Factually, it was true. It just didn’t tell people all of what was going on.

SB: So what is going on? Let’s pick this up from that infamous meeting with the community at Dianne Feinstein Elementary about Muni’s proposed improvements to the L-Taraval.

TANG: At that large meeting, everyone was yelling at each other and not giving time to hear people. We heard from people that they were confused about what SFMTA proposals were on Taraval.  It’s not just about boarding islands. It might be about transit-only lanes. Parking removals associated with boarding islands. Traffic signals. Stop removals. So it was a whole host of things. You had to look at every intersection to know what’s going on. Because those meetings were just shouting fests, and it wasn’t just that one, there were several, we felt like, you know what? We’re not being productive. MTA wants feedback, and people aren’t providing feedback, they’re just yelling.

SB: So you arranged smaller meetings?
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SF Celebrates Bike to Work Day

Margaret McCarthy, Interim Executive Director of the SF Bicycle Coalition, gives a rousing speech in front of SF City Hall. Photo: Streetsblog.

Margaret McCarthy, Interim Executive Director of the SF Bicycle Coalition, gives a rousing speech in front of SF City Hall. Photo: Streetsblog.

San Francisco has come a long way. That was the theme of a rousing speech delivered by Margaret McCarthy, Interim Executive Director of the SF Bicycle Coalition, at a ceremony this morning in front of San Francisco City Hall. “We’ve seen a 184 percent increase in cycling in the past decade,” she said with her trademark ebullience. “San Francisco is a biking city!”

Bike to Work day, of course, is a chance to grow those numbers and take a look at what still needs to be done to make cycling accessible to all. It brings together advocates and lawmakers and helps them focus on getting more and better bicycle infrastructure everywhere in the city. But for Julia Schaber, a graphic design intern with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, the ride had a greater significance: it’s her first ride since a crash on April 7. “I hit the Muni tracks on Ocean and San Jose, behind Balboa Park BART–it’s one of the worst,” she said, referring to the cycling conditions at that dangerous intersection. “I went over the handlebars, went to the ER in an ambulance, and spent about a month recovering.” Read more…

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L-Taraval and the Concrete Boarding Island Question

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Supervisor Katy Tang addresses a grumpy audience about proposed Taraval safety improvements back in February. Photo: Streetsblog.

Back in February, Streetsblog reported on one of three meetings about SFMTA’s planned “Muni Forward” improvements to the L-Taraval line. Since then, SFMTA has held various smaller meetings with local stakeholders, confirmed SFMTA.

But rumors have grown that, under the direction of Supervisor Katy Tang, the SFMTA was backing off safety improvements, such as adding concrete boarding islands. This was reinforced by a San Francisco Examiner headline “Supervisor slams brakes on L-Taraval changes.” Concrete boarding islands require the elimination of some parking spots on Taraval, and local business owners were objecting.

This follows a pattern, also seen on Mission Street, where local business owners complain that any elimination of traffic lanes or parking hurts business. This led to Supervisor David Campos calling for a rethink of the transit-only lanes on Mission. He confirmed that directly with a Facebook post.

But in the case of Tang, sources close to the goings-on say the rumors are wrong. Streetsblog reached out to Supervisor Tang’s office on several occasions but, most likely due to timing, hasn’t connected so far. That said, Streetsblog was able to obtain this response via email from Tang to the Examiner and, along with it, to the rumors that she’s for eliminating boarding islands:

With a single headline, “Supervisor slams brakes on L-Taraval changes,” the Examiner has completely misrepresented what has transpired with the L-Taraval Muni Forward Project. [The Examiner’s article] from May 5, 2016 attempted to provide readers with an update about SFMTA’s proposed changes to the L-Taraval to improve pedestrian safety and transit reliability. Instead, readers were led to believe that my office tried to stop the proposed changes from happening.

SFMTA presented our community with a set of proposals that included installation of boarding islands, stop removals, transit-only lanes, and traffic signals as part of the L-Taraval Muni Forward Project. Naturally, the proposal was met with opinions from all sides. Neighbors were invited to community meetings that turned into public shouting matches. Thus, our office suggested that we hold focus group meetings with representatives from all communities to move the conversation forward in a more productive manner. We included community members who represented youth, seniors, transit riders, drivers, merchants, bicyclists, pedestrian safety advocates, and those with disabilities. Through this forum, we were able to discuss in greater detail SFMTA’s initial proposal and where potential changes could be made or not be made. All of the detailed feedback will help SFMTA refine its initial proposal.

As with all large projects, community members will find that they share a diversity of opinions. But regardless of how people feel about specific proposals, most community members have acknowledged that we share common interests: safety and transit reliability. My job is to facilitate a productive dialogue to ensure that we meet our shared goals in the best way possible – not to interject my own opinions about a project. At no point during this process did I slam the brakes on any component of the L-Taraval Muni Forward Project. We are trying to move the conversation forward, and we hope the Examiner will do the same.

– Katy Tang, District 4 Supervisor, San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

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