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SFCTA Board Approves Van Ness BRT Plan With an Extra Stop

The plan for bus rapid transit on Van Ness Avenue was unanimously approved today by the SF County Transportation Authority Board, which is comprised of the Board of Supervisors. The plan, which includes transit lanes that run along a center median but converge to load at right-side boarding platforms, is generally the same design that received initial approval from the board in June last year, although a stop was added between Broadway and Vallejo Street after protests from members of a nearby senior center against the removal of the existing stop.

At the hearing, many elderly attendees called for the inclusion of the extra stop, while transit advocates supporting the project countered opponents who complained about the removal of car parking and traffic lanes, as well as what they perceived as a high construction costs for minimal gains in speed and reliability.

The BRT redesign is expected to shave seven minutes from bus travel times on the two-mile stretch of Van Ness and make service more reliable. Supervisor Scott Wiener, who said the time savings estimates are too conservative, lambasted opponents' "completely misleading" claims that seven minutes were unsubstantial for the cost of the project, which will also include pedestrian safety improvements.

"It will probably get quoted in the press, and there will probably be some narrative out there about how this is $125 million to save seven minutes," said Wiener, who pointed out that with 16,000 estimated Muni boardings on Van Ness (not including riders who board its lines on other streets), "you're talking about millions of dollars of economic savings a year."

"If we could have that level of savings all across our system, it would absolutely revolutionize Muni," he said. "This is an extraordinary project -- it's not perfect -- but it is very, very good and a positive step for the city."

Wiener said he was concerned about the precedent that the preservation of the Vallejo-Broadway stop would set for stop consolidation plans on other BRT lines and speed upgrades included the Muni Transit Effectiveness Project. The extra stop would reduce the estimated transit speeds on Van Ness by about 15 seconds on average, according to the SFCTA.

Tilly Chang, the SFCTA's deputy director of planning, said planners determined that preservation of the stop was warranted because of the proximity to the senior center and the steep grades its residents would have to climb to reach the nearest stop. She also argued that because the stop has relatively low usage, "we don't think this will be particularly burdensome for travel times."

The stop preservation, which was supported by Supervisors David Chiu and Jane Kim, shouldn't set a precedent for future stop removals since its conditions are generally unique, said Chang. "We really deliberated for quite a while on how this context may apply citywide."

While the project may not be perfect, Peggy da Silva of the SF Transit Riders Union called it "a great first step" and "an exciting way for us to build a better system of transportation in this city." Noting Van Ness BRT's preliminary silver rating from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy -- one of the first in North America -- she added, "We want to see it adhere to the gold standard."

Van Ness BRT is expected to open in 2018.

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