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Posts from the "Van Ness BRT" Category

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Parking-First “Save Polk Street” Crowd Attacks Van Ness BRT

A rendering of Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit. Image: SFMTA

“Save Polk Street” has aimed its parking-first agenda at Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit. A couple dozen speakers protested the project an SFMTA hearing last week, distributing fearmongering flyers [PDF] claiming that removing some parking and banning left turns would “kill small businesses,” back up car traffic, and make the street more dangerous.

Dawn Trennert at a meeting about Polk Street last year. Photo: Paul Skilbeck, Examiner.com

The long-delayed Van Ness BRT project was already approved two years ago by the boards of the SFMTA and the SF County Transportation Authority. Last week’s hearing was on specific street changes [PDF], like removing parking for station platforms and pedestrian bulb-outs. No action was taken by the hearing officers, but the street changes are expected to go to the SFMTA Board of Directors for approval in October.

The speakers and the fliers distributed weren’t explicitly associated with Save Polk Street, but many of the same faces and familiar inflammatory rhetoric could be found at the hearing.

Dawn Trennert of the Middle Polk Neighborhood Association, who has been seen at past meetings wearing a “Save Polk St.” t-shirt, spoke at the Van Ness hearing and echoed many of the same refrains calling for the preservation of parking and unfettered car movement.

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SFMTA Says Van Ness BRT Can’t Have High Platforms for Level Boarding

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A rendering of Van Ness BRT. Image: SFMTA

The SFMTA says it’s impossible for stations on the coming Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit route to have one of the key recommended features of BRT: High platforms, at the same level as bus floors, that allow passengers to quickly step onto the bus. SFMTA planners say that complications with the design of Muni’s buses mean there’s no practical way to make high platforms work, at least without adding high costs associated with new equipment.

Platform-level boarding is on the list of “BRT Basics” included in the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy’s BRT ”Scorecard”:

Having the bus-station platform level with the bus floor is one of the most important ways of reducing boarding and alighting times per passenger. Passengers climbing even relatively minor steps can mean significant delay, particularly for the elderly, disabled, or people with suitcases or strollers. The reduction or elimination of the vehicle-to-platform gap is also key to customer safety and comfort.

But according to an SFMTA report [PDF], a 14-inch high platform, matching the height of a Muni bus floor, “increases capital and operational costs, reduces operational reliability and passenger comfort, and provides no discernable benefit.” Instead, SFMTA planners recommend 6-inch high platforms, the same as those on Market Street.

High platforms would be scratched by the “wheel lugs” that stick out from the side of bus wheel wells, the report says. The Americans with Disabilities Act apparently requires buses to stop with no more than a three-inch gap between the bus and platform. Otherwise, a “bridge plate” must be deployed from the side of the bus to the platform for wheelchair users. The wheel lugs apparently stick out five inches.

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Fourth Pedestrian Killed by Driver on Deadly Van Ness This Year

Van Ness and Golden Gate, where a driver reportedly killed a pedestrian while traveling northbound. Image: Google Maps

A car driver struck and killed a man who was crossing Van Ness at Golden Gate Avenue at about 11 p.m. last night. According to the SFPD, “Early reports indicate that the pedestrian was not in the crosswalk,” but the crash is still under investigation. Police didn’t say how fast the driver was going, or how close to the crosswalk the victim may have been.

As SFGate reported, the victim was the seventh pedestrian killed in San Francisco this year, the fourth just on Van Ness — and the third just on a two-block stretch of Van Ness behind City Hall:

In January, a 38-year-old man was hit and killed as he tried to run across Van Ness near Grove Street. In early February, a man was struck near Grove Street and later died from his injuries. About a week later  a pedestrian died in a hit-and-run crash near the corner of Van Ness and Pacific Avenue.

Van Ness, like other street-level highways slicing through San Francisco, has a design that facilitates dangerously fast driving, and the result is an unconscionable number of pedestrian injuries. Although cases where the victims weren’t using a crosswalk tend to be met with victim-blaming, the long distances between crosswalks (which hardly ensure safety) and long wait times to cross Van Ness invite pedestrians to “jaywalk” instead. And since Van Ness is designed to prioritize high-speed through traffic, pedestrian crashes are likely to result in injuries and deaths.

After the hit-and-run crash at Van Ness and Pacific that killed 35-year-old Paul Lambert, who also lost his cousin to a hit-and-run driver in New York City last June, KTVU noted that Van Ness isn’t slated to get any substantial pedestrian safety improvements until Van Ness BRT is built. That project, set to be complete in 2018, will reduce the street’s mixed traffic lanes from six to four, while also adding pedestrian bulb-outs and other safety upgrades.

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SFCTA Board Approves Van Ness BRT Plan With an Extra Stop

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Image: SFCTA

The plan for bus rapid transit on Van Ness Avenue was unanimously approved today by the SF County Transportation Authority Board, which is comprised of the Board of Supervisors. The plan, which includes transit lanes that run along a center median but converge to load at right-side boarding platforms, is generally the same design that received initial approval from the board in June last year, although a stop was added between Broadway and Vallejo Street after protests from members of a nearby senior center against the removal of the existing stop.

At the hearing, many elderly attendees called for the inclusion of the extra stop, while transit advocates supporting the project countered opponents who complained about the removal of car parking and traffic lanes, as well as what they perceived as a high construction costs for minimal gains in speed and reliability.

The BRT redesign is expected to shave seven minutes from bus travel times on the two-mile stretch of Van Ness and make service more reliable. Supervisor Scott Wiener, who said the time savings estimates are too conservative, lambasted opponents’ “completely misleading” claims that seven minutes were unsubstantial for the cost of the project, which will also include pedestrian safety improvements.

“It will probably get quoted in the press, and there will probably be some narrative out there about how this is $125 million to save seven minutes,” said Wiener, who pointed out that with 16,000 estimated Muni boardings on Van Ness (not including riders who board its lines on other streets), “you’re talking about millions of dollars of economic savings a year.”

“If we could have that level of savings all across our system, it would absolutely revolutionize Muni,” he said. “This is an extraordinary project — it’s not perfect — but it is very, very good and a positive step for the city.”

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Van Ness BRT Delayed 2 More Years After Caltrans Pushes Wider Car Lanes

Image: SFCTA

Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit is now scheduled to open in 2018, two years later than the previous target of 2016. It’s the latest setback for a project that was originally set to open in 2012.

In fleshing out the conceptual design approved in June 2012, the SF County Transportation Authority “encountered greater than expected challenges in reaching agreement with Caltrans,” said Tilly Chang, the SFCTA’s deputy director of planning. Caltrans said the traffic lanes in the plan were too narrow for the department’s highway design standards, according to Chang.

The SFCTA also ran into opposition to the removal of bus stops near a senior center, leading the agency to add an extra stop in each direction between Broadway and Vallejo Street, which is expected to slow the BRT line down. The obstacles are just the latest in a slew of factors that planners have cited for repeated delays.

“Bus rapid transit was proposed at the beginning of the century and it was billed as an alternative to rail because it could be built faster and more cheaply,” said Jason Henderson, a member of the Van Ness BRT Citizens Advisory Committee and author of Street Fight: The Politics of Mobility in San Francisco.

“This is a true, signature project, and we should be doing this all over the city,” he said. “If it takes this long to do a two-mile stretch, what lessons can we learn to go faster?”

The project’s latest milestone came this week with the release the final environmental impact report. The SFCTA will also begin transferring management of the project to the SF Municipal Transportation Agency, which will oversee its construction and operation.

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New CPMC Hospital Deal: Smaller Campus, But More Car Parking for Its Size

The new plan for California Pacific Medical Center’s Cathedral Hill campus at Van Ness Avenue and Geary Boulevard calls for a far less massive facility than originally planned, but the number of car parking spaces per bed will actually be higher.

A rendering of CPMC's originally proposed 555-bed Cathedral Hill campus at Van Ness and Geary.

Under the new agreement announced by city supervisors yesterday, the size of the hospital will be cut nearly in half, from 555 beds to 304 beds. But the number of parking spaces included in its garage won’t be downsized at the same ratio, shedding only 210 of its 1,200 original spaces — a 20 percent reduction, according to the SF Examiner. So while the facility may bring in less car traffic as a whole, it will actually be more car-centric compared to the original plan.

“There’ll be a lesser impact on transit from traffic, but it’s only because they made the hospital smaller, not because they got any smarter about transportation,” said Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich.

Of the location at Van Ness and Geary, Radulovich says, “If you were going to pick a spot that’s not on Market Street where you could do the most damage to transit, Van Ness and Geary is pretty much it.”

The $14 million that CPMC has agreed to pay the SF Municipal Transportation Agency to help fund Van Ness and Geary Bus Rapid Transit projects was also reduced from the $20 million included in the development agreement as late as November, according to the Chronicle (though it’s still more than the $10 million Mayor Ed Lee originally asked for in 2011).

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After Delay, SFCTA Board Approves Van Ness BRT Design

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Image: SFCTA

A preferred design for Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit was approved unanimously today by the Board of Supervisors, acting as the SF County Transportation Authority Board. Supervisor Mark Farrell, who delayed approval of the proposal a month ago after complaining that he “hadn’t been briefed” on it, said he now stands behind the project after SFCTA staff brought him up to speed.

The project proposal received broad praise from the board and transit advocates as an “elegant solution” to combine the best features of two design options.

“This project is an example of what is critical to the future of transportation in the city,” said Supervisor Scott Wiener. “We have a growing population… and if we don’t start beefing up our transit capacity, we’re going to have a big problem.”

SFCTA Executive Director José Luis Moscovitch pointed out that the project, along with Geary BRT, will go a long way toward reducing car trips as new development arrives along the Van Ness corridor — namely, California Pacific Medical Center’s Cathedral Hill project at Van Ness and Geary.

Brett Thomas of the SF Transit Riders Union emphasized the need to physically separate the bus lanes from car traffic to keep drivers from encroaching on them and delaying transit. Wiener echoed the sentiment, citing his experience on the J-Church this morning, in which “a delivery truck was parked a little too far from the curb, and literally shut down the entire J-Church inbound line.”

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Supervisor Farrell Delays SFCTA Approval of Van Ness BRT Design

A crucial step in advancing the Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit project was delayed for a month today after Supervisor Mark Farrell, a member of the SF County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) Plans and Programs Committee, complained that he wasn’t comfortable voting on the latest design proposal which he said he “hasn’t been briefed on.”

Supervisor Mark Farrell. Photo: Jennifer Low/Flickr

The committee was expected to approve recommendation of the proposal today, sending it to the full board for a vote next Tuesday. However, Farrell said that it was “absolutely inappropriate” for him vote on it today without feeling adequately informed, and that he still wouldn’t be ready in a week. Although the proposal received unanimous approval from the SFMTA Board of Directors today, the SFCTA committee decided to postpone its vote until its next meeting, in one month.

Staying updated on the project, said Farrell, “is a responsibility of mine, for sure, but it’s also a responsibility of the TA [staff].”

“In my opinion, it is very appropriate and, I think, necessary for all the supervisors and commissioners who get affected by this in their districts to be fully briefed on this before we’re asked to vote on any portion of this, even if it might be non-binding,” he said.

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Proposed Van Ness BRT Design Would Combine the Best of Both Options

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Image: SFCTA

Planners have settled on a design for San Francisco’s first Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) route on Van Ness Avenue. The result is a plan that combines the benefits of both proposed center-running options to keep construction costs relatively low while allowing Muni flexible use of its bus fleet to serve the line.

In this design, buses would run along either side of a center median, but converge near intersections to load at right-side boarding platforms. That should assuage concerns from Muni management about requiring special buses for the route with doors on both sides to load passengers on a left-side median. It would also forego the expense and disruption of removing the existing planted median while mitigating safety concerns about buses passing each other within a pair of enclosed lanes. The plan would also likely include slightly raised bus lanes and will ban all but one left turn along the corridor between Mission and Lombard Streets.

Some more analysis and planning needs to be done before the final environmental impact report is presented in September and approved by the end of the year, but SF County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) planner Michael Schwartz said the environmental impacts should “fall within the bookends of what’s already been analyzed.”

The line is expected to be up and running in 2016 (here’s why it’s taken so long).

Check out more details on the proposal from the SF ExaminerTransbay Blog, and in this SFCTA Powerpoint presentation [PDF].

Streetsblog readers had a lot to say about the two options presented last time around — what do you think of this hybrid design?

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What’s the Hold Up for Van Ness BRT?

For what’s intended to be a relatively quick, cost-effective transportation solution, San Francisco’s first Bus Rapid Transit route on Van Ness Avenue has been a long time coming. Planners first conceived the project in 2004, and as late as two years ago, it was scheduled to open in 2012. Since then, construction has been pushed back to 2016.

The agonizing wait has left many frustrated transit advocates asking, “What’s the hold up?”

Tilly Chang, the deputy director for planning at the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) leading the planning effort, says answering that question opens “a huge can of worms.”

“We understand the frustration,” she said, citing a slew of factors contributing to the delay of the massive project.

Van Ness BRT is in many ways the first of its kind in the United States, and its scope has grown to include a complete overhaul of the street. The project’s environmental impact report/statement, released last month in compliance with state and federal requirements, also included a burdensome level of analysis.

“Trust me, for those of us going through this process, we would love to have it move as fast as possible,” said Michael Schwartz, the SFCTA’s project manager.

“The fact that there really isn’t an example in the city, and in North America, of full-featured BRT in a dense urban environment like San Francisco is part of what makes the project really exciting, but also means there are significant policy decisions to work out,” he said. “I think there’s a trade-off where there’s a really good process that happens in California and San Francisco to involve stakeholders and do good coordination, but that does take time.”

One major impediment, said Chang, has been the extensive impact analysis required under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) using the automobile-centric transportation metric known as Level of Service.

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