After Delay, SFCTA Board Approves Van Ness BRT Design

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.”

Transit advocate Jason Henderson, representing the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association, said HVNA is “enthusiastically in support” of the proposal, and noted the need for pedestrian and bicycle improvements on neighboring Gough and Franklin Streets to mitigate the impacts of car traffic diverted from Van Ness, particularly where they meet Market Street. “There’s a lot of moving parts here. Eventually, we hope to see the congestion pricing border to come out to Laguna” as another way to mitigate congestion, he said.

A few vocal critics opposed to dedicating two of the six existing traffic lanes on Van Ness exclusively to transit have come out of the woodwork at recent hearings. They cited fears of car congestion and questioned the project’s predicted effectiveness. (These may be the same folks behind the last-minute calls to Farrell’s office, which he said led to his initial hesitation.) However, most of their concerns seem to be thoroughly addressed by the SFCTA’s draft environmental impact report.

“We have all the empirical evidence we need from other cities as to why BRT is a successful model to bring to San Francisco,” said SFTRU’s Ben Kaufman. “The next step is just to build it.”

The project is expected to be completed in 2016. Transit planners say future BRT routes shouldn’t take so long to build.

  • Anonymous

    as someone who used to commute daily from Marin to South City via Van Ness, this is going to be a win/win for everyone. Buses will go faster and won’t have to dodge and weave through traffic, and people in cars will have an easier ride ,as will people on bikes. the nimbys can cram it.

  • Now for the hard part: getting GGT riders to get Clipper cards.

  • I suggest that the street be re-named “Von Ness”, or even “Loch Ness” I agree about buses and bikes, but there is simply nothing here for anyone but the most experienced cyclists. Polk might be a good alternative for people needing a bypass, but there are destinations on Van Ness as well.

  • mikesonn

    Doesn’t GGT currently give a sizable discount for Clipper use?

  • They do, but people using the Basic service (10/70/80/101) tend to be cash-only people, even commuters.  I have no idea why.

  • The other hardest part: getting GGT to allow people to get off at the rear of the bus, let alone get on.

  • Richard Mlynarik

    people using the Basic service (10/70/80/101) tend to be cash-only people, even commuters.  I have no idea why.

    A deep, deep, deep mystery, that.

    Tax evasion?  Money laundering?  Terrorism?  These are questions that must be answered.

    But whatever this conundrum wrapped inside an enigma may signify, clearly the solution is to have poor people put more money into the pockets of the defense contractor Cubic, via the magic medium of Cubic-supplied Cubic-operated Clipper(tm)..  That will fix things, alright.

  • Sprague

    Thanks for covering this great news.  Short of an intra-county rail line from San Francisco northward, this is a very important project to speed up both San Francisco transit and regional transit.  Golden Gate Transit buses seem to be at their slowest when mired in the congestion of Van Ness, at many hours of the day and night.  Glad to see unanimous BOS support for a project that might be worthy of a transit-first city.

  • Anonymous

    One thing I dislike about this plan: it seems that the buses will have to swing side to side at every block, which makes for a significantly more unpleasant ride, especially if they accelerate and move quickly, which is obviously one of the goals of the project. Is there an analysis of this?

  • Anonymous

    It would be great to see this sort of treatment applied to the surface sections of the Muni Metro lines. Might actually make them worthy of being called metro lines, rather than just streetcars that go into a tunnel for a bit.

  • Turin

    Really? I ride GGT quite a bit, both bus (#38) and ferry. It seems to me almost everyone uses Clipper. It’s been used on there longer than Muni going back to when it was called TransLink so there’s been more time for adoption. I’m curious what you’re seeing that is so different from my experience.

  • david vartanoff

    the smarter plan would have the median  “treatments” ie trees ,flanking the the bus lanes so that the offset would be reduced.  All that is needed between the two bus lanes is enough room for the catenary supports for electric trolley buses.

  • Turin – my experience is that 99% of riders on the commute lines use Clipper (I ride mostly the 72/73/74/54) and that maybe 20% of the riders on the 10/70/80/101 use Clipper.

    I’m not certain how to parse Richard’s free form comment, but the ridership on the basic service are frequently people who are sort of “out of the system”. Regardless of how much the Cubic folk might be pinching from the agencies under the MTC, given the current setup you end up with the people who could most use the discount, not getting the discount.

  • Anonymous

    Boeing are a defense contractor. They also make streetcars. What was your point again?

  • Turin

    Thanks Murph. I see the distinction now. All my experience is on a commuter route.

  • @bfc317fb7ffc6cfbb736ae442fd62dc3:disqus  Keep in mind, too, that the Van Ness BRT will only be used by 10/70/80/101, exactly the ones with low rates of Clipper use.

  • Turin

    OctaviusIII – Yes, I see your point now. Lower Clipper usage will definitely slow things down on this corridor. You’ve also raised something I didn’t think about before: that this infrastructure will not strictly be used by Muni. That’s another benefit of going with the islands on the right side: easier compatibility with non-Muni equipment.

  • Anonymous

    The 70/80/101 riders are probably not daily users of the system which is why they don’t use the Clipper card. They seem to be mostly visitors to the area, people who normally drive but are without a car for a short time, and the poor, who can barely scrape together two nickels to put in the farebox.  Their infrequent use does not justify the purchase of a Clipper card.

  • Anonymous

    Pchazzz – a clipper card is free. And on GGT you get 20% off. That’s more than 2 nickels.

  • mikesonn

    @murphstahoe:disqus No, no. The poor people are too poor for free Clipper but need free parking! Have to get your talking points down.

  • Anonymous

    The smarter, world class plan would have been light rail or a subway. The plan as it is has poor stop spacing (too far), lacks pedestrian safety like seen on Market Street’s islands, and requires yet another new type of rolling stock. I did vote to approve it though, seeing that nothing would happen for 10 years if I didn’t vote — pretty sad.


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.” The […]

Options for Geary BRT Come Into Focus

Just after San Francisco approved a preferred design for its first Bus Rapid Transit route on Van Ness Avenue, the SF County Transportation Authority showcased the latest conceptual proposals for a companion BRT project on Geary Boulevard. Geary BRT, which has been fraught with delays over the years, is expected to bring relief to riders on Muni’s […]

SF Officials, Advocates Take a Ride on BRT and Bike-Share in Mexico City

More than a dozen city officials and advocates traveled to Mexico City last week to experience firsthand the ease of getting around a city with robust bus rapid transit and bike-share system. The SF delegation, invited and paid for by organizers at the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, included Supervisors John Avalos, Scott Wiener, and […]

Geary BRT Plan Watered Down to Appease Parking-Obsessed Merchants

Update: This plan may not be “watered down” after all. See our follow-up report here. Planners are touting a new proposed configuration for Geary Bus Rapid Transit that would forgo bus passing lanes in order to preserve car parking to appease merchants. Separated, center-median bus lanes would be retained, and project backers hope the changes […]