New D4 Supervisor Katy Tang: Curbing Muni Switchbacks a Top Priority

Katy Tang (right) and Mayor Ed Lee (left) on a merchant tour on Irving Street yesterday. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Katy Tang was sworn in Wednesday as the supervisor for District 4, comprised of the outer and central Sunset. Tang, who grew up in the district, was appointed this week by Mayor Ed Lee to replace Carmen Chu, who Lee recently picked to serve as the city’s assessor-recorder. Chu spent five years on the Board of Supervisors, during which Tang served as her legislative aide.

Streetsblog caught up with Tang at a publicity event yesterday, where she and Lee visited merchants on mid-Irving Street and spoke with reporters. When asked about her priorities for improving transportation in the Sunset — from Muni to pedestrian safety to bicycling — she touched only upon the issue of curbing Muni switchbacks.

Switchbacks are often used by Muni managers as a way to re-distribute vehicles to other areas on the system where managers determine they’re needed most. In SF’s outer neighborhoods, this often forces Muni riders off their train, where they are told to wait for the next one, which, according to Muni, should be no more than five minutes behind.

Here’s what Tang had to say on the matter:

As you know, the Sunset District is one of the furthest districts away from the center of the city, so transportation is obviously a very important issue that is ongoing. I think that the issue of switchbacks has been a continuing problem that we need to work on with the MTA, and making sure that when our residents are trying to get home, for example, after a long day at work that they aren’t abandoned at Sunset Boulevard, midway. So I think that’s very important, but I think it’s also very important to make sure that we’re working together with MTA on this.

While Tang’s focus on Muni switchbacks falls pretty much in line with Chu’s limited record on transportation issues, her district has plenty of other livable streets issues to tackle, like rampant sidewalk parking and calming traffic on deadly motorways like 19th Avenue, Sunset Boulevard, and Lincoln Way. With its excessively wide streets, the Sunset also has plenty of room for improvements like protected bike lanes, bike boulevards, and more pedestrian space to help liven up its commercial districts.

  • Anonymous

    Carmen’s office was always really responsive to residents on Muni issues, even if they didn’t mimic Newsom and send out a press release every 5 minutes. Chu’s office was always helpful to those of us in the Inner Sunset when our previous supervisor (now “Sheriff”) was not responsive to anyone in the Inner Sunset. I’m sure Sup. Tang will continue that tradition.

  • Jamison Wieser

    Supervisor Tang’s comment strikes me as missing the forest for a single tree (one in that district of course) and out of touch with the SFMTA which last month announced $6 million worth of improvements over the next year to improve service along with the N-Judah. 

    She’s in a pretty fortunate position with the N-Judah right now with the fixes about to roll out that will address the pinch points and bunching that lead to turnbacks. She really only needs to make sure nothing gets in the way right now.

  • Guest

    SO what is a MUNI manager to do when you have MUNI trains in a bunch?  Run them faster? Skip stops?  Skip taking a break?  I haven’t seen as many switchbacks recently on the L-Taraval, but I always felt that if you really wanted to eliminate them, you’d also start running skip stop service or express the first train to the second half of the route. But that really doesn’t make up very much time.  We need to work on other improvements like transit priority at traffic signals, and what’s most important for riders is safety around trains.  CARS DO NOT STOP when people are getting on and off trains and cars cross double yellow lines in other areas.  Quality of life issues.

  • Guest

    Poor topic to choose as a way to  introduce herself.    

    She is talking about the time of day when the buses in other parts of the City are beyond capacity.   What’s wrong with waiting 5 minutes and combining the riders on two nearly empty buses in a part of the city where the fewest people live per square mile.

  • Jamison Wieser

    Much of the bunching come from pinch-points where trains get backed up: think of 9th Ave where trains have so many passengers line up it misses a light or two, then there are very few passengers for the following trains so it gets ahead of its schedule and the gap until the next train after that means a lot more riders have gathered during the extra wait time.

    Skip-stop service has been considered (the N-Judah trains even have the signs for them) but they would still get bunched at the pinch points. Some riders could see their wait time more than double. 

    SMFTA doesn’t have enough trains or enough room in the subway to schedule in some extra short turns so the upcoming improvement project is aimed towards the evening things out to eliminate that bunching. 

    NX was another – more immediate – way to relieve some of the pressure by picked up passengers in the outer sunset and then bypass the pinch-points using a different route. It has helped a little with crowding since every rider who takes the NX is extra room when it gets to 9th and Irving or UCSF. And it has attracted a lot of riders because another goal of the SFMTA is to make Muni more attractive to existing and potential riders.

  • Jamison Wieser

    SFTMA is tackling a lot of opperational issues like bunching and crowding through the Transit Effectiveness Project (TEP) which took the first holistic look at the system in four decades. A lot has changes since then and maybe some bus lines should be combined, or some should split in two. 

    There is a lot of good stuff in the works in the TEP and the draft environmental study was published a few months ago if you want all of the nitty gritty details and find out what’s in store for your line:

  • Ian Turner

    What we do in New York when this happens is pick one of the trains (generally the frontmost one) and have it run express for a few stations. Only people who were planning to disembark at the skipped stations need to change trains. Everyone else on the express train gets a shorter ride, and the bunch is de-bunched.

    In more extreme cases of bunching, sometimes we take the frontmost train and have it run super-express (skipping 4-6 of the next 10 stations), then have the following train run slightly less express (skipping 2-3 stations).


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