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Chinatown Students Conduct Thorough Surveys of SFMTA Bus Stops

Bill_Yu.jpgCCDC volunteer Bill Yu measures the width of a sidewalk for a bus stop survey. Photos: Matthew Roth

One of the central criticisms of Muni's objective to consolidate bus stops is that it hasn't conducted thorough demographic analysis of the people who use each stop, particularly seniors and the disabled. Rather than rely solely on the distance between stops and the incline of the streets, say critics, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) should make nuanced decisions about each stop based on the amenities near the stops and the people who use them.

But one community group isn't waiting on the SFMTA to do the legwork.

Staff at the Chinatown Community Development Center (CCDC) and approximately twenty students with clipboards and measuring tape analyzed 34 bus stops in Chinatown, an initiative the group hopes will be a model adopted by other neighborhood groups and the SFMTA itself. The students who conducted the surveys are part of CCDC's Youth for SROs Leadership Empowerment program, most of them children of recent immigrants to the United States.

"We're trying to offer a community perspective of how people use a bus stop," said CCDC's Deland Chan, who coordinated the surveys with Judy Kuang. "We're trying to capture exactly the value of a bus stop, not in terms of the spacing, but in terms of its importance to community uses, in terms of who uses a bus stop and what the people think they would like to improve with the transit system they encounter on a daily basis."

As part of the rationale for the survey, CCDC said bus stop spacing should be part of the larger goal of facilitating transit as an attractive alternative to driving, integrating design features that improve public health and safety, and ensuring that existing transit services complement and encourage travel by foot.

"Because the MTA do not include the demographic and the land use data, we are collecting all the data," said Bill Yu, a high school senior. Yu said that without looking at neighborhood amenities, a bus stop placement policy would fall short of community needs. "I think this is really helpful for the community, especially the Chinatown neighborhoods. The people who live here need bus stops because they need to take the bus to buy food and other stuff for their basic needs."

bill_yu_and_friend_2.jpgYu and Ming Le Zhang noting survey data at a bus stop on Kearny Street

To come up with the bus stop scorecard categories, CCDC worked with the Community Tenants Association (CTA) and the Adopt-an-Alleyway (AAA) Youth Cabinet, both active in Chinatown's planning and transportation policy issues. Surveyors noted whether stops had shelters, measured the dimensions of them if they did, measured sidewalk widths, and identified nearby community amenities, such as educational facilities, community institutions, non-profits, senior centers, senior facilities, and medical facilities. They researched SFMTA ridership volumes at the bus stops and noted whether they were active transfer points.

The students also conducted interviews with bus riders throughout the survey process, asking why they chose a particular bus stop and what they thought were the most pressing problems for Chinatown bus stops.

CCDC created a database of land uses around bus stops and the quality of rider experience at the bus stops, which Chan said the group hopes will assist in providing further nuance to the SFMTA's bus stop spacing policy and inform decisions on what stops are most in need of upgrades. CCDC will share the data and their analysis of it with the CTA and AAA in the next few weeks, before finalizing a list of priority improvements to bring to the SFMTA shortly thereafter.

"We can't really wait for the city to do things, so in many ways we're taking this on proactively to collect the data," said Chan. "We're going to use this to educate our community in tenants' meetings and focus groups to report back on what our results have been."

Chan added, "This could become a process that other community groups might want to model if they want to do a more comprehensive survey of the bus stops."

A Selection of the Survey Results

Beyond the usual concerns about Muni service, such as long waits, overcrowded buses and skipped stops, Chan said the most common complaints about bus stops were the lack of NextMuni real-time data screens, shelters without seats and a paucity of nearby garbage cans.

Among the solutions offered by interviewees, Chan said there was support for improving the boarding experience and for simple design solutions, such as painted footprints on the sidewalk to encourage people to queue before the bus arrives.

The students also looked for stops where there was a mismatch between the rider amenities offered and the importance of the stop, based both on the concentration of major destinations and on ridership volume.

Greatest Mismatch Between Amenities and Stop Importance

    1. Stockton Street and Pacific, 30/45/91 Lines, (Outbound to Divisadero & Chestnut)
    2. Clay & Mason, 1 Line, (To Howard & Main Weekday)
    3. Clay & Kearny, 1 Line, (To Howard & Main Weekday)
    4. Pacific Ave and Stockton, 10/12 Line, (Inbound to Van Ness/North or Jackson/Fillmore)

Greatest Mismatch Between Amenities and Ridership Volume

    1. Stockton Street and Columbus, 8BX, 8X, 30, 45, 91 Lines, (Inbound to Townsend & 4th Street)
    2. Stockton Street and Pacific, 30/45/91 Lines, (Outbound to Divisadero & Chestnut)
    3. Sacramento and Stockton, 1 Line, (To 33rd Ave & Geary)
    4. Sacramento and Powell, 1 Line, (To 33rd Ave & Geary)
Bill_Yu_and_friend_3.jpgMeasuring the width of the sidewalk.

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