Geary BRT Advisor Resigns in Frustration at Snail’s Pace of SFCTA

Bus Rapid Transit on Geary Boulevard was originally slated to open last year. But today, planners are looking at a launch in 2020 — an eight-year setback for a project that was supposed to take advantage of low costs to get off the ground quickly.

Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/octoferret/7108702291/##Octoferret/Flickr##

For Kieran Farr, the cycle of delays, studies, and outreach campaigns by the SF County Transportation Authority was frustrating enough that he resigned from the Geary BRT Citizens Advisory Committee last month.

“I’m highly concerned that we’re doing this over and over again,” Farr told committee members and SFCTA staff at the most recent CAC meeting. “In the parlance of start-ups, which is the world where I come from, what this seems like is we’re having developers re-do the same product five different times without ever launching it to the public, and that’s really concerning.”

Farr said when he applied to join the CAC in 2008, he met with the project’s planners “to express my excitement about this project launching in 2012 which was the original planned start date because that [anniversary] coincides with when Muni was started in 1912 as a rail line, and that was the first municipalized line ever.”

Instead, Farr wrote on his blog, “What I’ve seen in the past 6 years has been a severe disappointment during which I have lost trust in America’s regulatory framework to enact effective transit improvements.”

BRT on Geary has been discussed for at least a decade. The SFCTA completed the first step, a feasibility study, in 2007. Since then, planners have repeatedly revised the project and pushed the launch date back for reasons that baffle the public.

Merchants have opposed removing car parking for the project, and residents have complained about the project’s perceived potential to push car traffic on to parallel streets, putting pressure on planners to assuage the skeptics with more revisions and outreach. Many transit advocates have also urged the SFCTA to build a “rail-ready” project in hopes of someday replacing the 38-Geary, Muni’s busiest bus line (and one of the slowest), with light-rail service.

But as Farr noted, the whole idea of BRT is to provide quality bus service that rivals that of rail, using infrastructure that’s less expensive and easier to engineer, “with quick return on investment for the residents of San Francisco.”

While most of SF’s transportation projects are planned and implemented by the SF Municipal Transportation Agency, San Francisco’s BRT projects (the other project being Van Ness, which has seen hold-ups of its own) have so far been managed by the SFCTA, which is generally focused on managing the city’s transportation finances and long-term planning. Farr told the committee and staff from the SFCTA (a.k.a. the TA) that he wonders whether the project would have been delivered more efficiently under SFMTA management.

“It really makes me sad but I would like to say that I have lost my trust in the TA working on this project,” said Farr. “I am concerned that the TA involvement is slowing this down compared to if the MTA had managed this project directly; and what I’m seeing is that this is actually happening now — because the MTA’s improvements to its operations are basically providing the improvements claimed to have been providing back in 2012.”

David Parisi, a planning consultant for the SFCTA, defended the agency’s progress, insisting that the project is now on schedule, with plans to release a draft environmental impact report later this year. According to the Richmond Review, he told Farr, “We’re still on the same time schedule that we presented a year ago. It sounds like you have some fair alarms tonight but we’ve been transparent as ever.”

“We’re in environmental assessments right now,” added Parisi. “The outreach was critical that we did last summer and fall, and it’s given us some good answers to go forward with some alternatives in design. We’re excited where we’re at.”

The SFMTA does play a part in planning Geary BRT, and Andrew Lee, the agency’s lead planner on the project, argued that the original schedule had to be abandoned to allow time to win over more public support. “There’s been delay. We recognize the frustration; we have it ourselves,” Lee told the Richmond Review. “We definitely want something to happen. We think this is the best way to do it, frankly.”

Planners are narrowing down the alternatives, and for the main stretch of Geary running between Van Ness and 25th Avenues, “a consolidated local and BRT bus option running in the median lanes and with right-side medians/platforms is being considered,” according to an SFCTA report [PDF] to the CAC.

Planners are expected to present the refined design alternatives to the public in the coming months. The next Geary CAC meeting is scheduled for March 21.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

The County Transportation Authority warming up for a long afternoon and evening of comments before the final approval of the EIR for Geary BRT. Photo: Streetsblog

Geary Bus Rapid Transit Study Approved by County Transportation Authority

|
Yesterday evening at San Francisco City Hall, the County Transportation Authority Board unanimously approved the Geary Bus Rapid Transit project’s design and Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR). The approval brings the $300 million project, which has been a decade in the making, one step closer to fruition. For any readers just getting up to speed on […]

Hampered by Tunnels, Center BRT Lanes on Geary Limited to the Richmond

|
Correction 12/17: The next community meeting on Geary BRT is tonight, Tuesday, at 5:30 p.m. at the Main Public Library. The latest iteration of the plan for bus rapid transit on Geary Boulevard includes center-running bus lanes only on the Richmond District segment between Arguello Boulevard and 27th Avenue — about a quarter of the street’s […]
A look at a short segment of Geary that will get true "BRT" upgrades. Image: CTA

SPUR Talk: Update on Geary Corridor Bus Rapid Transit

|
The San Francisco County Transportation Authority (CTA), along with SFMTA, is completing its final environmental review for “Bus Rapid Transit” and other street improvements on Geary. Last week, the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) held an update/discussion about this busy corridor. As many Streetsblog readers already know, the planned improvements are primarily […]

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 […]

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 […]