Cafe Owner, Breed, Sway Muni to Keep Two 21-Hayes Stops Within a Block

Muni’s 21-Hayes will continue to make an inbound stop for Central Coffee at Central Avenue, a short block after its stop at Masonic (seen in background). Photo: Aaron Bialick

There’s a reason Muni’s 21-Hayes still stops twice on the block between Central and Masonic Avenues — the owner of the cafe on the corner of Central demands it.

The SFMTA announced last week that it will ditch plans to remove the inbound bus stop at Central, after a persistent protest campaign by the owner Central Coffee, who insists the stop keeps him in business. As a result, bus commuters will continue to slog through the North of Panhandle neighborhood.

SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin said “we are no longer recommending” removal in an email blast last Friday. Approval of the stop removal was taken off the SFMTA Board of Directors’ Tuesday agenda.

The decision was made “based on community feedback” and a push from D5 Supervisor London Breed, according to Reiskin’s email. In a statement, Breed said she “received many neighborhood concerns about the removal of the Hayes/Central bus stop.”

“The large community contingent requested SFMTA staff and directors to keep the bus stop on Central and Hayes,” she said. “For my part, I asked SFMTA to listen to the neighbors concerns about removing the bus stop. And to look for creative solutions to address their concerns while implementing Muni Forward.”

Under Muni Forward, the SFMTA is starting to implement stop consolidations along some routes. Protests against have typically come from seniors and the disabled riders near each individual stop — not merchants.

Reiskin wrote in the email:

As we work to improve Muni citywide, selective bus stop removal is one of many tools in our toolbox to reduce travel times and create a more efficient public transit network. By optimizing the location of bus stops and reducing the number of stops, we can improve service for customers, reduce conflicts between buses and other vehicles, improve safety for people walking and bicycling, and decrease the amount of time buses spend stopped at stoplights.

In 2009, Muni reported that 70 percent of Muni stops are closer than its own policies dictate. A 2010 SFMTA survey found that 61 percent of riders said they would consider walking farther if it made their overall trip faster and more reliable.

The 21 Hayes currently stops at every block for four blocks in NoPa. Image: NextBus
The 21 Hayes currently stops at every block for four blocks in NoPa. Image: NextBus

“I’ve nearly given up on the 21 bus because it’s so miserably slow,” said NoPa resident Jesse Enlund. “It’s frustrating to know that it’s only about twice as fast as walking.”

The 21 currently stops at all four blocks between Masonic and Baker Street. The SFMTA’s policy is to provide stops closer together on steeper grades, but the stretch is mostly flat. Other stretches on the 21 and many other Muni lines are two blocks long.

“I’m not sure how those stops were created in the first place, but the SFMTA has done years of work on [Muni Forward] and it’s past time to start implementing those recommendations,” said Sarah Harling, a friend of Enlund’s who lives a few blocks from Hayes and Masonic.

“There’s a tradeoff, every stop has a constituency,” Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich told Streetsblog when the stop spacing report was published in 2009. “The other thing that unfortunately has happened is that keeping every stop has been mythologized as a social justice movement.”

Flyers with large text reading, “HELP US SAVE THE 21 HAYES MUNI LINE!,” were distributed to neighbors of Central Coffee. They claimed that removing stops would “likely result in a further reduction in the number of passengers travelling on this line. As with the now defunct 26 Valencia and 4 Sutter bus lines, the 21 Hayes could be deemed inefficient and permanently removed at a later stage.”

On the contrary, Enlund said, “I would gladly walk a few more blocks to know I could get three miles in less than 30 minutes.”

Central Coffee’s owner, Ali Ghorabi, told the SFMTA Board last week that the stop has “enabled me to stay in business” for 20 years, and that older and disabled customers “have really come to depend on that stop, although there’s actually two stops very close by.” He said the “particular grade” of his stop makes it easier for them to board than at the other stops, which are busier and often blocked by small shuttles.

Georgianna Barker told the SFMTA Board that removing the stop would discourage transit use, and that keeping the stop “encourages neighborhoods to mix and have a more cohesive sense of community.”

“Transit is never just a question of cost-benefit analysis,” she said. “Even the most nuanced calculations will inevitably fail to take into account the effect that multiple viable options for transit will have on neighborhoods and on people… This may be a question of one or two bus stops, but it speaks to our shared future.”

Radulovich said he didn’t know of research on whether a bus stop directly in front of a business “is more important than one, say, a block away, but it stands to reason that since urban businesses depend on foot traffic, a location next to a transit stop would increase foot traffic.”

“In any case,” he noted, “it’s heartening that some neighborhood businesses are keener to have a bus stop in front of their storefront than parking spaces.” (If the stop is removed, the curb space would be turned into car parking.)

Both stops at Central (in each direction) were originally supposed to be removed in 2012, along with stops at Scott and Broderick Streets, but only the latter two were removed. The stop changes were expedited to make up for parking spots removed for the nearby Fell and Oak Street bike lanes.

On Tuesday, the SFMTA Board will still vote on the removal of the outbound bus stop at Lyon Street, a block away, which, again, was supposed to be paired with the removal of the inbound Central stop. So the 21 will stop twice on the block going inbound — once for coffee — but only make one stop outbound.

“The SFMTA should be educating their customers and making some tough decisions that will benefit everyone in the long run,” said Enlund. “Having a ridiculously slow bus line erodes confidence in the SFMTA and could potentially lead to less ridership and yet more complaints about the system. It’s sad to know that this is just one of many decisions that affect the overall quality of the Muni system.”

“People need to see the big picture,” he added, “and it should be up to the transit officials to make decisions that are in the best interest of all transit users, and not just the micro-community.”

“Should all the other cafes get to have their own bus stop, too?,” Harling wondered. “Bread and Butter doesn’t have a stop,” she said, referring to a cafe on the corner of Hayes and Ashbury Street, a block from Masonic. “But should it?”

  • timsmith

    Amateur hour. Clearly neither Breed nor the cafe owner actually ride the bus.

  • As Tom Radulovich notes, I guess the fact that a merchant thinks transit riders are a good thing for business is at least a nice contrast to the Polk Street nonsense.

  • OneSF

    If they really can’t remove the stops at Central, why don’t they just get rid of both stops at Lyon to make up for that?

  • Andy Chow

    If that area has a lot of Google buses, etc, let them use that stop and have Muni skip it.

  • p_chazz

    To speed up the 21, SFMTA should create a 21-R that would skip stops. Then, reduce service on the 21 and increase service on the 21-R.

  • JJ94117

    I applaud the MTA on this decision. Central Coffee has been at this location for over 20 years, and Ali lives close enough to walk. He contributes to the neighborhood in many ways, including food and coffee donations for neighborhood events. These are the types of merchants we want to remain and add to the vibrancy of a neighborhood.

  • BBnet3000

    I’m sure there’s a lot of businesses with owners who contribute to their neighborhoods. If they all get a stop in front, we can’t run bus service as efficiently as we should.

  • Greg Costikyan

    As a NYer who lived in SF for 3 years, I was astonished at how close the bus stops are together. Not that buses in NY run quickly, but that’s more a matter of traffic than the number of stops. NY bus stops are typically 2-3 blocks away, but NY blocks are larger than SF ones. In some cases, SF’s approach is justified; e.g., in an area with steep hills, walking a distance can be onerous so, sure, space the bus stops closely. In other areas, an eighth to a quarter mile walk (2 1/2 to 5 minutes for most people) is entirely reasonable. And if the net result is a quicker transit for most people, the extra steps are more than justified. Space out the stops. (I used to take the 21 to work from Alamo Square to Market, changing for another bus to SOMA on occasion. It would take me about 45 minutes by bus — and about 45 minutes to walk. That’s nuts. It took me about 20 minutes by bike, so you can guess what I normally did.)

  • gb52

    I’m all for supporting small and local business, but having a bus stop in front of your shop should not be a guarantee, and in the city, you cant keep everything the same, you have to allow for change. You cant subsidize a single store using muni patrons, and MUNI funds. We need to move MUNI FORWARD, and do what needs to be done to improve our transit services. Moving a stop a block away will not instantly destroy a business. If you offer quality service, people will continue to come. (But maybe if MUNI really becomes faster and more reliable, people may not have time for that cup of coffee.) As an alternative, maybe it’s time to add a parklet, or a bike corral to really set your business apart. It seems like a great opportunity for change.

  • Justin

    Another example of how SFMTA can’t do what they need to do to improve the reliability and efficiency of Muni service and cave into the usual BS and nonsense. One can imagine why we can’t get anything done or move forward with improvements as small as this one or other bigger improvements.

    It’s ridiculous to have bus stops at four consecutive blocks, it unnecessarily slows down the service. SFMTA should have stood firm and remove the two bus stops at Hayes St & Central Ave and the other at Hayes St & Lyon St. That area is mostly flat and removing them would in my opinion have little to no adverse impact to the area being the people who live there and the businesses that set shop there. It would only serve to make the service faster and more attractive.

  • yermom72

    replace the bus with a cable car that moves slowly enough that people can climb on and off at any point, and it never has to stop

  • DragonflyBeach

    Then it should create a 21L, and decrease service on the former two.

  • Richard Mlynarik

    They should rename the 21L the 21RXXX, issue a bunch of press releases, up staff overheads and consultant hourlies, personally give Reskin an even more deliciously large slice of the city budget and retirement funds, get rid of parking meters altogether, and then demand MOAR SALES TAX MONEE MOAR MOAR FOR MUNI.

    Always remember: if you don’t want more money for Muni and you don’t think Muni is TEPping FORWARDing into the Rapid future you’re clearly a pawn of Koch Brothers.

  • sebra leaves

    Since when do cyclists care about Muni service? Whether you believe it or not, your riding days are limited. Watch your elderly family members for a glimpse at your future and show a little sympathy for others every now and then.

  • Michael Smith

    I’m rather disappointed that my fellow transit advocates haven’t appreciated the details of this issue. Yes, stop consolidations are a good thing when stops are too closely spaced. Yes, this will piss off some people who want to keep their transit stop. But when correctly done, it is a win for the community and should be done.

    But just exactly which stops should be removed??

    Somehow folks failed to see that this isn’t about removing just this one stop, doubling the space between stops. That would of course be a good thing. And there are specific guidelines for stop spacing. The old guideline was 800′-1000′ per stop. The new, and arguably better SFMTA guideline for speeding up Muni is 900′-1400′ feed. If you remove just the Central Ave stop you get a stop spacing of 975′, which is actually within both guidelines. But if you remove both the Lyon and Central stops then the space between stops is tripled, not doubled, to 1450′, which is above both guidelines. Now you have a problem.

    There is no question that at least one of the the Lyon or Central stops should be removed (along with other such closely spaced stops). But the discussion completely changes when the SFMTA is proposing to go beyond their well thought out guidelines for walking distance.

    And I certainly hope the SFMTA realizes they are far better off removing the stop at Grove and Laguna, which has an absurd spacing of 265′ on level ground.

    And even better yet, change the routing of the inbound 21 to stay on Hayes till Polk. This would shave 2 turns plus 2 blocks off of the trip and would avoid the congestion and many street closures at Grove and Polk. Plus the support poles for the overhead trolley wires are already in place. All they would have to do is change Hayes to a 2-way street between Van Ness and Polk (as was already done for several other blocks of Hayes) and put up the power wires.

  • I think cyclists care very much about Muni service, even if the younger ones don’t utilize it much yet. But why do you bring cyclists into the picture? This is about bus stops and headways, not someone’s deathless obsession for parking and against cycling.

  • AndreL

    So MUNI has therefore an obligation to keep a busy bus lane crawling at low speeds just to guarantee his store foot traffic?

    This reminds me of people getting bitter upon alternative school calendar changes because it denies local business cheap student workpool for some summer event.

  • murphstahoe

    You just explained why cyclists care. Because when we can’t ride anymore – we’ll take MUNI. You, however, do not care about MUNI because they can have your car keys when they pry them out of your cold dead hands.

  • als

    What’s the chance that having that great big seldom used clear curb out in front of your coffee shop is what’s important? Great place to stash your car for “just a minute” while you get your coffee. And hey, the MUNI drivers stop in the street if the bus zone is full so no big deal.

  • murphstahoe

    The owner also demanded a big NEXTMUNI sign be placed so that drive up customers would know how much time they could idle in the bus stop 🙂

  • Christopher Childs

    Most cyclists have a very strong incentive to support a full spectrum of transportation options. Realistically, riding my bicycle is not the most reliable or flexible choice for me to make. People driving or taking the bus have made a similar assessment, and since there’s no way I’m driving my car downtown every day, I’m interested in good MUNI service.

  • I thought removing 1 or 2 stops in this area was going to be less controversial than this given its logicalness (word?). As @disqus_BqcFgCmZDL:disqus noted, the Grove & Laguna stop is ridic, but speaking just to the Panhandle, perhaps SFMTA had some overreach with stop removal, ahem, consolidation, proposals, but does that now mean we get none??

  • Jesse

    Thanks for showing everyone how absolutely out of touch you are, Sebra.

  • Jesse

    I guess the SFMTA should have their Oprah moment where everyone gets a bus stop for doing great work for the community.

  • Man, if my business is struggling I’m just going to petition for a muni stop in front of my door. That seems to be the secret here. Pay attention struggling SF businesses!

  • keenplanner

    I can sympathize with the business owner, but those stops are only a few hundred feet apart. It seems like his plea is akin to Polk Street Merchants who didn’t want to give up some street parking even though 90% of their customers arrive on foot.
    Really, get rid of the stop and buy the guy a sandwich sign for the corner of Masonic. A majority of the thriving cafes in SF don’t have MUNI stops outside their front door, and the cafe or kiosk at Church/Duboce right at 2 MUNI and BUS stops shut down rather hastily due to lack of business.

  • JJ94117

    I agree that there are excess stops on this line. However, they can’t take Masonic away because of the transfer. They can’t take Baker away because of the retirement community there. The stop at Broderick was removed for parking when the much-needed bike lane on Fell was upgraded, and a smart move. That leave Central and Lyon. Neither one is “necessary”, but it would have been just as easy to remove Lyon as Central. Given the choice, the removal of Lyon would have less of an impact on the neighborhood than removing Central. I would have thought that they would get rid of the stop at Lyon, in order to keep Central.

  • SFnative74

    You sound as if “cyclists” are people who never get around by any other means than by cycling. You may be surprised that “cyclists” also drive, take transit, or walk.

  • SFnative74

    Why take the 21 when you can walk and get there nearly as fast, but at least with a little exercise, some space, and some fresh air?

  • I say just get rid of all the bus stops.

  • Gezellig

    At least some younger people living on/going towards hills have figured out that bike + transit can be an amazing thing 😀

  • Gezellig

    Reminds me of Mikael Colville-Andersen’s funny takedown of the oft-misguided assumptions behind the “cyclist” label–he points out labeling someone as a “cyclist” is akin to calling someone a “vacuumist.”

    For people with bikes, it’s a tool used as needed as context dictates.

    Btw, this can encompass a wide range of people–including my own octogenarian grandparents who happen to hop on their bikes once or twice every day.

  • SFnative74

    I am a vacuumist, but I also sweep on occasion.

  • NoeValleyJim

    Not everyone is as narrowly self-interested as you are. Plus, many of us take Muni when we are not bicycling.

  • NoeValleyJim

    I used to ride the 21 as well, when I first moved to San Francisco 20 years ago. I eventually made the same exact calculation as you and became a cyclist.

  • M.

    You must have some decrepit older family members. 8-80 is a reality in most of the world – the real world.

  • M.

    And in mid-century circles, akin to calling people ‘Communists’

  • M.

    And some older people do just fine cycling up those hills.

  • M.

    Opposite battle happened on Polk St. where a merchant battled to have a bus kiosk moved on the *theory* that it would obscure his shopfront. Which would certainly be true if everyone is barreling up Polk at 45mph.

  • M.

    Love this thread, assuming it’s satire.; a big leap these days.
    So, shortly after Triple-X rebranding the 21, it will be time to tear up the streets for maintenance. By the time the protests die down and compromises are set in stone – (except of course for an 11th hour change demanded by a myopic optometrist with pull) a finely tuned, on-demand ride service network of driverless, silent, non-polluting, and incontrovertibly cute vehicles will be established. It will make moot the current controversies re. bus stops, Uber-menschen ride shares, gargantuan shuttles marauding bus stops, public transit itself, etc. In that messianic transit era, all doubt that SF is, in fact, the ‘Innovation Capital of the World’ will be long swept away.

  • DragonflyBeach

    Then Muni will do another re-branding of all its Metro vehicles and stops, make a “L-Taraval L”, and a “N-Judah R” with travel times at least 42 minutes to Ocean Beach rather than 45 (all the trains will be branded Limited and Rapid, since they can’t pass around normal, trains), a call the system: Muni Metro 2: Electric Boogaloo.

  • DragonflyBeach

    SFMTA: Oh that’s too expensive to run, we’re charging 6 dollars per ride.

  • stevenj

    Amazing that the owner of Central Coffee thinks that all those young people (the vast majority of Central Coffee’s customers) cannot walk the 2 minutes or less it would take to get to his shop from 1 block away. Having had quite a bit of coffee (very good coffee I might add) at his shop I’ve noticed the times I’ve sat there and drunk it that most of his customers do not come on the bus – they walk there.