SFMTA Pushes Red Transit Lanes on Church Street to January, Citing Rain

What Church Street would look like with new transit lanes and a colorful reminder that cars are not allowed. Photo simulation by SFMTA.

Red-colored transit-only lanes on Church Street won’t come until some time in January, according to SF Municipal Transportation Agency spokesperson Paul Rose, who cited rainy weather as the reason for the delay. The project would be one of San Francisco’s first to add transit-only lanes with colorful pavement to emphasize that they’re off-limits to drivers. Implementation was originally expected in September, but was pushed back to November to coordinate with a construction closure. “We need 72 hours of guaranteed dry weather to get the work done,” Rose said.

Part of the Muni Transit Effectiveness Project, the pilot on Church Street would dedicate the two center traffic lanes between 16th Street and Duboce Avenue exclusively to Muni trains, buses, and taxis. The SFMTA has only used colored pavement in one other location — on the light-rail lanes on Third Street. Church would be the first street to see colored pavement on a transit lane that’s also used by buses and taxis. SFMTA planners say the project should help reduce delays on Muni’s J-Church and 22-Fillmore lines on a section where Muni vehicles are often held up by private automobiles.

City officials also celebrated the completion of the Church and Duboce Track Improvement Project this month, which included replacement of Muni tracks for the N-Judah and J-Church, as well as a green bike channel and widened boarding islands, murals welcoming bicyclists to the Wiggle, and, most recently, an art installation that also functions as seating for the N-Judah stop. The SFMTA had tried to install the Church transit lanes during the project’s final construction closure, but said crews were unable to do so due to rain.

  • Gneiss

    The only thing I’m worries about here is how this pushes cyclists off the road.  Right now when I cross Market on Church St. cars simply go into the other lane to avoid me on the bike and it’s comfortable to take the inner lane.  I fear that car drivers who are already impatient on that stretch, will simply try and push cyclists into the line of parked cars adjacent to that lane, or try and squeeze by after going into the transit lane.

    The stretch between Market and Dolores should really be turned into shared pedestrian/car/bicycle space, with no through car traffic from across Market and right turning traffic diverted onto Sanchez.  But – again an act of God (and probably an EIR) would be required before SFMTA would attempt that kind of approach. 

  • Melvintodd

    MTA doesn’t quite seem to be aware of what a major bike corridor Church is, since it’s not officially part of the bike network. It is the flattest connection between the Wiggle and Valencia, Dolores Park, and many other major destinations in the Mission, so of course it’s as or more popular than Sanchez, which is hillier.

    Sharrows and speed bumps in the outside lane might be the best approach.

  • Justin Ryan

    Thank you SFMTA! This is a rare truly Transit-First improvement, and things like this are sorely needed across the city. I trust you will work with SFPD to strictly enforce the lanes.

    Now to really show the citizens of SF that you want transit to move and the streets to be safe for everyone:- enable signal priority at Church and Market for the 22, F, and J.- ban all private car traffic on Church between Market and Duboce- ban cars from both F stops on either side of Church. Streetcars usually lose at least one green light here waiting for the space to clear.- do whatever it takes to make the Church/Market/14th intersection SMALLER, to calm traffic, reduce crossing distances, and generally make it look less like Walnut Creek and more like a pedestrian-oriented neighborhood. 
    – repeat for the rest of the city. 

  • Mario Tanev

    SFMTA’s lack of urgency is disheartening.

    I commend them for planning this, but they initially announced it for September. At that point they knew that any delay will most likely be compounded by rain. Delay they did until November, when rain was more likely (now until January, with rain still more likely). It didn’t rain on the weekend on Thanksgiving nor did it rain on the weekend of 12/07-12/09 (which they explicitly said they were aiming for). Furthermore, during the same time the green bike lanes on Fell somehow managed to be painted during the week. 

    This is a seriously important improvement. It’s meant to be a pilot to measure how much of an improvement this would be and act as a template for other lines. Delaying this means delaying on other lines as well. And making riders wait 4 months more than promised behind cars blocking the J from stopping at its stops means SFMTA lacks urgency.

    Again, good intentions, but sloppy and slow execution so far. In light of the TEP that has been delayed for 5 years, more delays seem like they are just part of the slothful culture. I have no faith that this will get done in January.

  • Mario Tanev

    And it’s really embarrassing how many buses have announcements claiming that the “red carpet” is coming in November. It hurts when your J can’t pull into the Church and Market stop and has to miss two light cycles due to cars crowding in front of it.

  • Mario Tanev

    Also, they could have installed the left-turn limits and the signs indicating cars are not allowed even if they couldn’t plaster down the paint. This would actually add a nice control to the experiment to see what value the red lanes add vs just having restrictions.

  • Mario Tanev

    The most ridiculous part is that they waited 2 months to coordinate with the Duboce track work, yet they didn’t end up coordinating anything. So now they have to wait another 2 months. Classic “perfect as the enemy of the good”.

    Not the SFMTA’s responsibility (though it should have been), but I get similar feelings about the botched bike share rollout.

  • Sprague

    Great suggestions, Justin.  Clearly, in a transit first city, prioritizing transit vehicles at the inconvenience of other motorized traffic should be commonplace and not the exception.  (Some readers may recoil at the notion of private motorists being inconvenienced in any way, but this is what has made so many European streets so wonderfully livable and pleasant.)  The idea of closing Church near or at the Duboce intersection to cars makes sense.  Unless automobile traffic were to also be restricted along Steiner, the Wiggle bike route and Duboce Triangle neighborhood would suffer a resulting increase in car traffic.  If San Francisco was as progressive as it strives to be, both streets (Church and Steiner in the vicinity of Duboce) would have no or restricted automobile access.  (Of course, just like the Church Street transit only lanes, taxis could be exempt from some of these restrictions.)  One need only look to scores of European cities to see how well true transit first policies work in making neighborhoods and cities both livable and very functional.

  • mikesonn

    There is a huge Muni fail happening right now at Church/Duboce. Awesome.

  • Sprague

    Mario, your critique seems accurate.  Generally, it seems like Muni’s game has been improving but the ridiculously slow roll-out of TEP is a huge disservice to the majority of Muni riders.  The recent improvements to the 76 seemed to happen with breathtaking speed, but I can only imagine this was due to the promise of outside funding (from the National Park Service).  One of many transit improvements that occurred while I lived in Vienna, Austria, was a one mile extension of a light rail line.  That city promised and then delivered on the project within twelve months.  In many cities, transit improvement is achieved within months and new subway lines are built within a few years (not decades).  A comparable dedication to transit first principles is missing in this “transit first” town.

  • Anonymous

    So what happens when the city is finally composed of different colored tracks separating out each kind of transportation? Isn’t this just hacking parts out of the shared space of the city piece by piece?

  • Richard Mlynarik


    I guess nobody anywhere in the world that doesn’t have 9 months without rain a year — you know, the other 95% — ever manages to do any construction or any paving or any painting.  Because it might rain.

    (Fun fact to know: the liars and scammers and mafiosi and criminals who built the stupid BART extension to the happening urban freeway median of Dublin claimed that “rain” made the construction take a year longer than “projected”.  And let’s not mention the cost and “budget”.)

  • Richard Mlynarik

    Yes, it is.  The problem being?

    Conversely, how about we “hack out” that ~30% of shared space on our rights of way that is separated out to storing private automobiles?  Because hacked out separated space for one kind of transportation is teh bad. 

  • Guest

     They did put up at least some of the signs.  I haven’t seen any no left turn signs, but there are definitely some transit only lane signs on NB Church north of Market.

  • No one has given me an answer to the question of the 22 NB stop at church at Duboce. Will they use the J platform? Also, would 22 bus cameras be used to enforce the lane?

  • Anonymous

    I think you mean Market and Duboce, rather than Market and Dolores?

  • Ted King

    Great idea – close Church St. between Market and Duboce to private cars.
    Reality check – what about access to the big Safeway supermarket and its neighbors ?

    I think that such a closure would [1] cause traffic jams on Market St. and [2] trigger multiple lawsuits over the probable loss of business to Safeway and its neighbors. It makes me wince to consider what kind of Rube Goldberg intersection would have to be created to deal with the access problem near the eastern end of the Safeway triangle. An added complication is the thundering herd that flows from Duboce (east of Market) to Buchanan (north of Market) and on past the U.S.Mint.

    P.S. I’m a transit rider who breaks his ride home from the Main Library by riding the F-Market to Market and Buchanan. Then I walk over to Safeway, do some shopping, and head home via the 22-Fillmore / J-Church (Church at 14th stop).

  • Sprague

    Ted, I think the way a closure of Church Street would work well would be to close it to all vehicles except transit and public safety vehicles as well as bicycles and taxis between the northernmost entrance to the Safeway parking lot and the southernmost driveway on the block of Church north of the Duboce intersection.  One major accomplishment of restricting vehicle access on certain streets is to speed up transit.  Then transit (ie. both the 22 and the J lines in this scenario) becomes faster and more reliable, becoming a viable alternatives to driving for an unknown number of Safeway shoppers and others.

  • mike

    I like the idea of closing Church to private vehicles between Duboce and the Safeway parking lot entrance. Create a mini-transit mall where we have all these transit lines and pedestrians passing through, and so many cyclists traveling to/from the Wiggle. The intersection of Church and Duboce is no fun as a cyclist, with two lanes of cars going north on Church there and seemingly every other driver not noticing the cyclists coming from the Duboce Bikeway on the right. Closing this short section of Church also decreases the amount of commuter traffic on Church south of here, which would improve transit operations for the J and 22 along more of the street. Concurrently, beef up the traffic calming on neighboring north-south streets, esp those just to the west.

  • mike

     Take 17th St to Sanchez and head north – it’s part of the “dirty Wiggle.”


    In order to install the red paint on one block of Church Street, there needs to be three days of no precipitation and 24-hour temperatures above 55 degrees so the paint will dry properly.  Monitoring the weather forecasts in early November, it looked like those conditions would be met by the time environmental clearance was obtained and installation of the red paint between Market and Duboce could be completed.  Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate and temperatures were lower than anticipated (around the 50 to 52 degree mark at night during the last half of November).  Temperatures have, of course, continued to dip below 55 degrees at night and we do not anticipate them to rise above that level until early Spring.  Since it will take three nights to paint one block, the total project will take nine nights (most likely implemented over three weekends).  The Fell Street bike lane was installed because they used different material that is less weather dependent but cost prohibitive for this larger colorization. On a more macro scale, the TEP is currently in an environmental review period.  We are expecting to release the Initial Study at the end of January and the Draft EIR around mid-summer.  Currently, there are two TEP pilot projects being implemented prior to EIR certification (there may be additional pilots over the next year) which are: 1. the 76X Marin Headlands pilot that includes consolidating a number of stops in the downtown and extending service to Saturdays, and 2. the Church Street red lanes pilot.  Both pilots were promoted on the same car card with the expectation that we would install the red paint on Church Street in November.   We learned a valuable lesson in that we should not include implementation dates on such fixed sources of information as issues may delay implementation, but we are pleased that the cards did convey our intention of bringing travel time and reliability improvements to Muni riders.   Please continue to follow the TEP process at http://www.sftep.com.  Your input and participation will help ensure a better Muni for all.

  • Bruce Halperin

    The 22 and J require separate overhead wires.  I’m not sure the 22’s trolley poles could reach over the shelter on the NB boarding island just south of Market if it were to take the center lane.

  • Sprague

    To the SFMTA, thank you for the explanation and the candor.  Please continue to implement service improvements (as soon as possible) that enhance Muni’s safety, reliability, and speed.

  • Justin Ryan

    SFMTA, thank you for taking the time to explain this, and I highly recommend you do so more often in a more visible location, like a MUNI blog. When MUNI service and improvements suffer and get delayed, people assume that transit is not a high priority, and that the SFMTA has no idea what it’s like to actually ride MUNI. I’d like you to read an apology from the Director of the Capitol Corridor train service: http://www.capitolcorridor.org/news/whats-new/apology-to-riders-for-the-extensive-delays-experienced-on-capitol-corridor-trains-december-12-2012/ . These messages to riders are sent when there are major problems, admitting that it is unacceptable, and telling riders what went wrong, why, and what they are doing to fix it — even when it’s not their fault. As a result, I have confidence that their leadership actually cares about their riders. When MUNI melts down (frequently), we don’t get a single word of notice or, later, any explanation. So we assume you just don’t care, or are too lazy to communicate.

    Communicating these things would have a huge effect on your horrible public image; We know you are underfunded and understaffed, but there is very little evidence that you are actually trying. For example:

    1. With very long metro station platforms, why do trains only board one at a time? There are obviously smarter ways to use a single track.

    2. Why do you send 3 L trains outbound when the next J is in 39 minutes?

    3. If the following bus is 58 minutes away, why do two buses arrive at once? Why can’t the second one wait to bridge the gap? 

    4. Why does a metro train packed with 100 people wait for 5 minutes for a light at 4th and King, while hundreds of solo drivers get a green light?

    5. Why don’t you post police or PCOs on Market to keep intersections clear? Buses and streetcars can watch several green lights go by while intersections are clogged. All it would take is a little enforcement. 

  • TomT

    Sprague, I cannot recall offhand but streets like Church and Steiner have private driveways and garages so, at the very minimum, you’d have to allow vehicular access for those who live and/or work on those streets. And of course that means allowing any vehicle to enter and enter those blocks, and having enforcement of some kind.
    The block of Duboce that was recently closed to cars didn’t have that problem because luckily it just happened to have no driveways or garages.

  • Sprague

    Tom, I fully agree that access to existing garages and parking lots has to be maintained.  One way this could be achieved is by making Steiner a cul-de-sac for motorists in the vicinity of Duboce Park.  Bicyclists and emergency vehicles could continue straight (like with the design of bike boulevards in Berkeley).  And on Church Street, only a section without existing driveways and garages could be closed.  Perhaps, at least initially, such a restriction would only be in effect for a limited number of hours daily (like 7 am to 7 pm on weekdays).


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