New Colored Transit Lanes Coming to Church Street Next Month

See full flyer in ## PDF##. Image: SFMTA

New red-colored transit lanes are slated to be implemented on a section of Church Street in September in a SF Municipal Transportation Agency pilot project to speed up the J-Church and 22-Fillmore lines. Following the T-Third line, it would be the second time San Francisco has used colored paint on transit-only lanes to help clarify that they’re off-limits to drivers — one of the practices used in cities like New York and London in recent years to make transit faster and more reliable.

Staff from the SFMTA’s Transit Effectiveness Project will hold a public meeting on Monday evening to explain the proposal, which would create red transit lanes on Church between Duboce Avenue and 16th Street — one of the “slowest portions of both the J Church and 22 Fillmore lines,” according to an SFMTA flyer [PDF]. As many Muni riders know, on streets like Church and Market, cars in front of transit vehicles — moving or parked — are a common cause of delay. Transit lane violations are rampant, especially on streets like Market, where drivers often prevent buses and streetcars from loading passengers at boarding islands, forcing them to wait until the next traffic light cycle.

“Separating public transit from private vehicles has been proven again and again to make trains and buses go faster,” said Ben Kaufman of the SF Transit Riders Union. “We hope that this pilot program proves to be a success and will lead to many more of these treatments. This is just one part of moving towards a rapid transit system in our city.”

At the hectic intersection of Church and Duboce, removing private autos from the center lanes could also help reduce confusion, as drivers approaching from the south currently merge from two traffic lanes into one lane on the north side of the intersection.

Cars in the would-be transit lane next to the boarding island at Church and Duboce. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Currently, Church between Market and 16th has two traffic lanes in each direction, and though the center lanes are paved with concrete, drivers can use them. Under the one-year pilot project, the concrete lanes would be explicitly reserved for Muni and taxis, and left turns on Church would be banned at 15th and 16th Streets between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

In addition to observing driver behavior and taking public feedback during the pilot, the SFMTA will be testing the durability of the red coating on concrete, as colored transit lanes in other cities are usually paved with asphalt.

Transit lanes were recommended in the Market and Octavia Plan, the Upper Market Community Plan, and the Muni TEP recommendations for speeding up the J as part of the “Rapid Network.” The construction would be integrated into ongoing streetscape and rail work on Duboce, Church and Carl Streets, which recently brought transit bulb-outs to Carl and a green “bike channel” to Duboce.

The SFMTA is also considering coloring existing transit lanes on other streets along the 8x route and plans to install more bus-mounted cameras to ticket violators via mail. That practice is also used in New York and London.

The SFMTA’s public meeting will be held on Monday, August 27 at 6:30 p.m. in the Gazebo Room of the California Pacific Medical Center Davies Campus, located at 45 Castro Street (next to Duboce Park). The project will also be up for approval at a public SFMTA engineering hearing on Friday, August 31 at 10 a.m. at City Hall, Room 416. Comments on the project can be sent to

  • Richard Mlynarik

    Fun fact: I personally offered to pay for the incremental cost of coloured pavement for the repaved (nominally transit-only) lanes on the 38 through the Tenderloin when Muni was (mendaciously) pleading poverty for its unwillingness to do so.

    Strangely enough, nobody took me up on the offer.

  • Steve

    Aren’t you a superstar.

  • Sprague

    This is good news.  Glad that Muni is making the effort to try a variety of approaches to speed up transit.

  • Why not car-free church street from 16th to Duboce?

  • What should really be done is eliminate all vehicle traffic except Muni on Church the north half of the block between Market and Duboce.  (Right after the last Safeway entrance.)  People coming south on Church from the north would be forced to turn right onto Duboce.  Private cars and taxis should be strongly encouraged to take Laguna, Buchanan and Castro. (Noe and Sanchez in the Duboce Triangle should be blocked to cars somewhere between Market and Duboce so that people do not take them as arterials.)  

    Backing up further, what really should be done is the N should be put underground the whole stretch of Duboce, the J-Church should end at Market allowing passengers to transfer to the Church underground station (the curve the J-Church currently makes to go underground can never really be efficient), and in the Muni underground, between West Portal and Embarcadero, shuttles should be added so that trains are never ever more than five minutes apart from 6 am until midnight.

    In Amsterdam and Vienna car traffic is very light on neighborhood streets (even in neighborhoods with much higher density than our own) because it has been made impossible (or very difficult) for cars to cut through them to get to somewhere else. (Car traffic is also extremely light in Berlin, but for different reasons.) Only people who live in a neighborhood going to or from home tend to drive on neighborhood streets, and even then they usually have to go a non-direct route. Through car traffic happens on specific arterials. This a) makes it easier and more pleasant to walk and bike in neighborhoods, b) makes walking and biking usually the most direct route of getting somewhere nearby, c) makes walking and biking the fastest transportation option for short trips, d) substantially reduces the absolute number of car trips made, and e) makes the neighborhoods tranquil, safe and pleasant for everyone living there (less noise, smells and vibrations.) People may spend a little longer driving from one place to another when they do drive, but the trade-off is a healthier, happier populace, and a higher quality of life when at home.

  • Mario Tanev

    It wouldn’t be possible to force a right turn on Duboce, since only transit and bikes are allowed going west on that block after the redesign. Technically going south it’s unnecessary to remove cars, given that if there is a transit-only lane there (that the 22 starts using as well), and if cars are not allowed to turn left, they won’t interfere with transit. However going north, cars should not be allowed to cross Duboce as that interferes with the right-turning J. I think though, that there is still benefit to removing cars from Church on that block altogether and making a really substantial transit platform like on the Embarcadero. However instead of forcing cars to turn right on Duboce coming south, they could be prohibited from entering Church from Hermann. I think only delivery (or residents) vehicles can be allowed southbound to turn right on Hermann and turn right on 14th or Market to exit.

  • Jamestn

    I don’t know why they can’t put a signal at the Church-Duboce intersection. Car traffic, two Muni trains, multiple bus line and a crosstown bike route all intersect there, and there’s only a stop sign! The N and J should not have to wait in line as traffic filters through.

  • Joel

    A similar problem occurs at the West Portal Tunnel Entrance. A traffic signal would help.

  • Anonymous

    So the 22 will move to the center lane?  

  • Anonymous

    Perhaps because they figured you were a crank?

  • Anonymous

    Undergrounding the N would be great, the problem is that it would screw up the J unless you underground that as well. Forcing J riders to transfer at Market is a reduction in service quality, and the other option of routing the J over the surface of Market would be too slow.

    So you would need to do both at the same time. Underground the N between the Duboce & Church tunnel portal and the Sunset tunnel east portal, with an below ground level open air station in Duboce Park where the existing station is. The N now runs Van Ness -> Duboce Park -> Carl & Cole -> onwards as before.

    Then for the J build a spur off the Market St subway just west of Church station, heading south under Sanchez then curving back east to a tunnel portal at the southeast corner of Church & 18th in Dolores Park. Build another below ground level open air station right here where the existing inbound platform and disabled outbound platform is. The J now runs runs Van Ness -> Church – > Dolores Park -> 20th & Church -> onwards as before.

    Two subway tunnels, one 500m, the other 750m. Two open air stations. $500m?

  • mikesonn

    I think we really need to just flat out start fighting for limiting private auto access. This area clearly needs it and it should be a no brainer. Why call on the city to do the impossible (underground the N) when the possible (no cars on Church) is just a couple bollards away.

    Start enforcing bus only lanes, signal prioritization, etc are ALL very easy and cheap to start doing. There is zero excuse that Muni isn’t 10% better than it is right now. The fact we can’t get the easy fixes leads us to dream up things like the Central Subway. It’s BS that we have to fight for pipe dreams.

  •  @mikesonn:disqus While I completely agree that there are simple, cheap things that SFMTA can do immediately to improve Muni  (limiting private auto access on some blocks among them), long term, as our population density increases, moving a large section of traffic underground leaves the surface of a city much more livable. Berlin, Paris, London, New York and Vienna all move *a lot* of people underground swiftly and efficiently.  Streets clogged with buses, although better than streets clogged with private vehicles, are still streets that are unpleasant and unsafe.  The problem with Central Subway is not that moving people underground is a bad idea.  The problem is it’s so poorly designed that few will use it, so it is a waste of capital and an ongoing operating cost drain.  But intelligently designed underground lines are great people movers and a worthwhile investment.  (Vienna’s subway trains are as long as BART trains, they are packed even in the middle of the day, and the longest we ever had to wait for one was 4 minutes, even in the evening. Usually we only waited 2 or 3. It is a great system that adds immeasurably to the quality of life there.)

    @jonobate:disqus  I think it would be far better to put a BART infill station at 30th and Mission and relegate the J-Church to surface street local traffic.  Anyone going downtown is already crazy to take the J-Church rather than BART.

  • Anonymous

    A 30th & Mission BART station would be awesome. If that option’s on the table, maybe it would be best to just call the J a local line, terminate it at 30th & Mission and not spend too much money on it.

  • Why only from 16th to Duboce. That may be a choke point right now, but the rest of Church up to and past 30th until it gets on the dedicated tracks on San Jose. Traffic is fairly light through NOE Valley anyways. Speeding up the J through the entire segment allows more frequency through out the system. Dedicated lanes should also help prevent the J from having to be shut down by accidents and the like

  • Anonymous

    From Duboce to 16th, there are two traffic lanes, so one lane can be give to Muni without removing parking. Which a few short exceptions, that’s not the case on the rest of the route, and to make matters worse you would need to remove parking from both sides of the street or else realign the rails. I’m all in favor of removing parking for transit lanes, but good luck finding support for that in Noe Valley.

  • Peter M

     Church has two lanes in both directions from just south of 22nd Street all the way to 30th Street.

  • Anonymous

    No it doesn’t. That’s one wide lane, not two separate lanes. Two vehicles plus a parked car in each direction would be a tight squeeze.

    There are a few right turn pockets next to the platforms, and there are three lanes total (2+1) on a few short half-blocks:

    Between Elizabeth and 24th southbound
    Between Jersey and 24th northbound
    Between Day and 30th southbound
    Between 29th and Day northbound

    That’s it until you get to San Jose Ave.

  • VCS

    Since we’re “thinking big”, the whole streetcar/subway thing is just a total operational failure. The N should be undergrounded out to 19th Avenue. The J should turn around at Duboce.  (And likewise the Twin Peaks tunnel should be extended and the rest of the lines left on the street.)

  • VCS

    Muni thinks a stoplight would cause a net slowdown for the trains, and they’re probably correct. The trains just punch through the traffic.

  • Anonymous

    A regular stoplight, sure, but a stoplight with transit signal priority would be ideal.

  • Anonymous

    The problem is the mixing of slow, mixed traffic surface sections with fast, exclusive ROW subway sections on the same line. The solution is to reduce this mismatch as far as possible by creating semi-exclusive ROWs (i.e. transit only lanes with wide stop spacing) wherever possible on the surface sections, and undergrounding the sections where this is not possible.

    For the N, that means a subway out to 9th & Judah, at which point it can have it’s own lane out to Ocean Beach.

    The L should have a short subway spur off the Twin Peaks tunnel surfacing around 12th & Taraval, then it’s own lane out to the zoo.

    The M should get it’s own lane on West Portal Ave, and a re-route from 19th Ave & Juniper Sierra to to Daly City BART down Hwy 1.

    The K has plenty of room on it’s surface section for a transit only lane all the way from West Portal to Balboa Park.

    The J should get transit only lanes where feasible, which isn’t many places. It’s probably the hardest line to remediate.

  • Mario Tanev

    I like subways too, but I think you are confused. The point of subways is to achieve grade separation so that intersecting traffic doesn’t interfere with the transit service. It so happens that in the absence of land to achieve grade separation above ground, the grade separation is achieved underground. That’s not necessarily the most pleasant experience for the rider as they have to descend down into the subway and ascend up when they exit. They also don’t get to experience the city during their ride. These are of course tradeoffs to be made, since clearly a subway (or any grade-separated service) is more efficient than a surface-running service. But thinking that regular surface transit service harms the environment is an exaggeration. Zurich has mostly surface service (made efficiently) and is a pretty pleasant city to live in. Restricting autos and replacing them with transit and bikes improves the quality of life on those streets. Grade separation for two blocks is going to be expensive without adding a lot of benefit compared to restricting autos. And the N is just not that frequent as to make it a nuisance.

  •  @google-cd6ac603016b207eed1e6a32f6c3abfa:disqus I’m not saying that an electric tram harms the environment, only that putting mass transportation underground takes up less space, creates less noise, causes less congestion, and is safer for the people living their lives on the surface. And these factors will grow in importance as San Francisco grows in population density. I certainly wouldn’t argue that putting the N underground on these few blocks of Duboce is a particularly high priority. It might not even make the top 20 of my favorite transit to-do’s. (A BART infill station at 30th and MIssion, getting Caltrain to end anywhere near Market Street, getting something faster and more efficient going down Geary–even BRT which I’m not a great fan of–would be my immediate top three.)

    As to which is more pleasant, tram or underground, it all depends. Why do people not take Muni? Because it is unreliable and slow. I only take Muni when going downtown because (when it’s not totally screwed up) it gets from the Castro to Powell in 9 minutes, faster than is possible by biking or driving. You cannot pay me to take the F-line. It is torture. However, obviously some people (especially tourists) like it. If I want scenic, I can bike. If I want to go anywhere else in the city, I will bike because it’s faster than Muni. The N is a case in point. From the Van Ness to Noe and Duboce, it takes 5 minutes to cover 1 mile. This is biking speed (though, granted, there is a significant hill which might slow me down.) From Cole Valley to 19th and Judah, the N takes 12 minutes to cover 1.6 miles–basically 8 mph, well below biking speed. I can see why the people who live along this line are frustrated. I can see the argument that having fewer cars on the streets would make Muni surface lines faster, but even with a completely dedicated lane, above ground tram lines will still have to stop at stop signs, will still have to wait for pedestrians to cross crosswalks, can rarely get that much speed going between their frequent stops. Underground lines have the advantage of spacing stops much wider apart (due to cost of stations, if nothing else), higher speeds between stops, no traffic or pedestrians or bikes to contend with, its passengers being able to wait, board and disembark out of the weather, etc. I would think most people who commute daily on transit would prefer fast and reliable over scenic and because of this would choose an underground line over a surface tram.

    Eventually, assuming our civilization doesn’t collapse altogether due to environmental degradation or lack of available energy, declining energy supplies will mean successful cities will grow in density and almost all transportation within them will need to be electric or via human power. I certainly agree surface trams have a place in any transit system, and I agree that the N-Judah right now is not frequent enough to warrant the cost of being undergrounded. But the N-Judah needs to eventually carry five to six times the people it currently does. As @jonobate:disqus  says below, putting it underground to at least 9th Avenue will happen sooner or later.

  • Mario Tanev


    I guess I don’t agree with the statement that most people would prefer a subway to a tram. When Zurich got to vote between a subway network and their TEP (surface-level tram improvements, such as transit priority, car restrictions and other treatments), they chose their TEP. Granted, they may have chosen it because it was way cheaper, and technically they still allowed one subway tunnel for intercity/suburban transit, but this may be the long term path to San Francisco as well. Even in San Francisco I am amazed how often people ride the Mission bus where BART runs right below – surface transit is more easily accessible and casual. I do have to admit that the same argument can be used to make stop spacing the horror it is today, but I think it’s a matter of finding the right balance.

    I agree that in some limited circumstances a subway is the clear way to go, such as 30th St BART, perhaps under-grounding N Judah, Geary, and yes, Stockton St. But I don’t know that the political consensus is there for subways everywhere. We’re not a bustling metropolis like New York, Tokyo, London or Paris. While our density is comparable to nice cities in Europe, we’re just not such a magnet for people to live, work and play in as they are. That’s partly because of the continuing decentralization of the Bay Area, a phenomenon not seen in Europe, where big cities continuously eat up smaller adjoining municipalities. San Francisco is becoming a smaller and smaller part of the erratically growing whole.That’s why I think that as a city we can first learn to restrict the car from the city streets, and create a bustling pedestrian environment, which will be reinforced by reliable and easily accessible public transit (albeit slower than grade separated). If we’re ready for it, a pilot experiment can be used to do justify the next one. If we’re not ready for it, well…

  • Anonymous

    It’s not as simple as just subway vs. surface. Take a look at the first table on this blog post. Which category do the existing and planned Muni lines fall into- A, B, or C? 

    The Market St subway, Twin Peaks tunnel, Sunset tunnel, the central subway, and the J between Randall and Glen Park are all class A. BART and Caltrain are also class A.

    The surface section of T-Third is mostly class B, as is the N from 9th Ave to 19th Ave, the M from Sloat to Juniper Sierra, and the J from 18th St to 22nd St. The 38 will soon be class B from 25th Ave to Gough, and the 47 & 49 will be from Mission to Lombard.

    Everything else in the city is class C. We need to move all the class C sections to class B where possible, prioritizing high ridership routes. After Geary and Van Ness, Judah, Taraval, West Portal, Ocean, Geneva, Mission, Potrero, Market, Lombard and Columbus are all great candidates for this treatment. The lanes on Church we’re discussing are another good example of this.

    High ridership routes that can’t be moved to class B should be considered for class A treatment. There are no unused ROWs in this city, and elevated structures would undoubtedly be rejected on aesthetic grounds, so that leaves a subway. And while a subway doesn’t have to be rail, it probably should be. Good candidates for this treatment are Geary from Gough to Transbay, and the N from Church 9th Ave. There are a few others but these clearly have the most benefit.

    We need a mix of both ‘class A’ subways and ‘class B’ semi-exclusive surface ROWs. Class C service on busy routes should be confined to history.

  • Mutie

    Some people live on Church between 16th and Duboce.  Some of those people rely on car transport, such as elderly people who need a car to transport groceries.

  • Gneiss

    The idea that anyone elderly ‘relies’ on car transport is a red herring in such a public transport rich city as San Francisco.  Making Church car-free would make it safer, easier and faster for children, elderly and others who can’t drive or don’t drive to get around.

  • Sprague

    Upgrading the class C transit lines to class B is a worthwhile endeavor in San Francisco, as jonobate writes.  Part of the success of transit in Europe (ie. Vienna) is dedicated right-of-ways for high frequency surface transit (bus and light rail) with transit priority traffic signals and wide stop spacing.  All bus and light rail lines in SF should receive such treatment, at least in their most heavily used sections – whenever feasible.

    Karen, I agree that discouraging non-local vehicle traffic on residential neighobrhood streets would go a long way to making San Francisco a much more livable city.  Car-free streets really make urban spaces welcoming.

  • justin

    why are private cars allowed in this intersection at all?

  • Anonymous

    Why not just get rid of only one side of parking on Church between 22nd and 30th? I believe that would give enough room.

  • Rlrcoaster

    Are you people OUT OF YOUR MINDS?!  
    This is another solution in search of a problem, which is now being created.I live on the 300 block of Church Street, and now his has really gotten personal, and I’m sick and tired of the Nanny mentality that we should be PUNISHED out of cars. 
    Guys, I take transit ever time I can, but sometime I’m sorry but I have to drive.  Why are you making life so painful for us longtime San Francisco residents? 
    I’m going to start a campaign to:• Sue the city for smog-causing traffic jams, create by lane closures city wide• In crease bike traffic control officers to enforce dangerous cyclists• Abolish the SFMTA and make it an elected office• Establish a take-one/make-one parking space law.  This is not Europe.  Tyrannical Victims of San Francisco cannot continue to ruin the lives of all of us by creating traffic jams, but offering no improvements to infrastructure or quality of life.I’M DISGUSTED.–Jamey Frank300 Block Church Street.

  • Gneiss

    RLrcoaster – to those of us who ride bicycles, take transit or walk almost exclusively, these changes do in fact represent improvements to infrastructure and quality of life.  Instead of clinging to your car, why not embrace the changes being made on our streets and try getting around using one of those other modes.  You might find it liberating to not always be worrying about that 2,000 lb hunk of metal you need to haul around and find storage for at all your desitinations.

  • Good luck with that.

  • 94103er

    If you do any of the above, I’ll personally start a counterprotest in front of your house.

  • mikesonn

    @465e3c020e944cc091ce94c6ffbb5c7d:disqus The counterprotest will be that the lane will stay in front of his house because progress. He’s in for a long ride [pun intended] if this is what has him all worked up.

  • Justin Ryan

    who causes traffic jams?

  • Larry

    Because people live there! Do you really expect families to pile everyone on to MUNI?

  • stevenj

    The biggest slowdown along Church St between 22nd and 30th are all the stop signs. There are 5 blocks in a row with stop signs. 9 total I believe the length between 22nd and 30th plus a slowdown or stop fro a switch between 22nd and 23rd. How about eliminating some of them?

  • stevenj

    The average speed of Muni’s vehicles is 8 mph. The same as the top speed of an (1890’s) cable car. Why anyone (including us long time San Franciscans) would want to keep Muni’s vehicles’ running at what they were 118 years ago is beyond me. It’s one of the reasons people abandon transit.

  • stevenj


  • Larry

    Let me guess. You don’t have kids. Or ever need a ton of groceries. Or ever have to drop one person in one place and another person 5 miles the opposite direction. All you transit and bike people are so caught up in you little world where you wish cars didn’t exist. Get real!

  • gneiss

    I have kids. I get groceries. And periodically I need to drop people off in different directions. But I also want safer, more livable streets for me and my family. I’m willing to accept that cars (and the drivers that inhabit them) are dangerous and should not be in close proximity to people walking and biking.

    The idea is not necessarily to get rid of cars, but to make them less convenient to use in areas where people have options to walk, take transit and bike. Fewer cars means more comfort for those other modes of travel. Just because you have a car doesn’t mean you have a right to use it in a dense, walkable, transit rich, urban space.

  • mikesonn

    “Ton of groceries”? This is ACROSS the street from a Safeway! You’d have to park further away if you drove.

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