Guest Commentary: Transit Riders Support a Faster, Safer L Taraval

The "Safeway Stop" on the L-Taraval. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
The "Safeway Stop" on the L-Taraval. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

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Today, Tuesday, December 5, at the SFMTA Board of Directors meeting (Room 400, City Hall, 1:00 pm), the MTA Board will be voting on the remaining proposed improvements to the L Taraval Muni line. This is a great opportunity for riders to help improve the L Taraval’s speed, reliability, and safety.

The proposed improvements have been studied, piloted, and surveyed. They’re part of a larger project – new tracks that reduce vibration; upgraded overhead wires; water and sewer upgrades; new trees and other streetscaping; transit only lanes; new traffic signals, and of course, boarding islands (since, you know, riders are currently dumped in a live lane of traffic).

San Francisco Transit Riders strongly urges the approval of all SFMTA staff recommended improvements. We don’t want any more delays or compromises when the benefits to transit riders, pedestrians, and the city are clear. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to overhaul a major Muni light rail corridor in support of Vision Zero and our Transit First policy. We must get it right.

The key issues at hand today are transit stop removal and boarding islands. Stop removal is always a controversial issue. No one wants to take stops away from the elderly or disabled. But we are also realistic that Muni vehicles, and particularly light rail trains, can’t stop at every corner. Difficult decisions must be made in order for transit to get riders where they need to go, and in a reasonably competitive amount of time. San Francisco Transit Riders believes the proposed L Taraval stop consolidations balance the stops well. (However, if the SFMTA Board does not support the removal of the additional stops at 44th and inbound 35th and 17th avenues, we urgently insist that full boarding islands be installed at each stop.)

The other main source of controversy is the boarding islands. As an unfortunate compromise, SFMTA agreed to do a pilot program to see if better street markings would keep riders and pedestrians safe. The pilot program failed, showing no real increase in drivers stopping behind the L Taraval, so riders are finally on track to get the boarding islands they deserve.

We commend Supervisor Katy Tang for standing up for rider safety, and thank the SFMTA for working to make this project a reality. These improvements will serve well the 10,000 riders who board in the Sunset; we can hope that more will join them, leaving their cars behind, and enjoying all the benefits of an upgraded L Taraval.

Rachel Hyden is Executive Director of the San Francisco Transit Riders, a rider-based grassroots advocate for world-class transit in San Francisco. A version of this commentary also ran in the SF Examiner.

  • neroden

    Thank you.

  • As a daily rider, I’m all for removing more stops and certainly agree with adding boarding islands. However, if you want world-class transit ditch the outdated streetcar mentality and put in a real light-rail system. Start with that.

  • gb52

    Thanks Rachel. I support the staff recommended changes although as a daily rider, agree that we could really do more as SFMTA had originally envisioned. But being that it is, this compromise solution transitions the neighborhood from a street that has not changed since it was conceived to a street that begins to act as the core of the neighborhood. This is a well needed improvement, and an opportunity that we cannot afford to water down. We need look forward to the next 50 years, and not simply say it’s done when the concrete dries.

    Businesses and neighborhoods change, and transit and streets need to adapt to move people and goods, safely and efficiently.

  • Benny B

    more praise for sup. katy tang, who ginned up opponents to this with nasty comments on twitter and false statements to the press. she is a 2 faced liar who is great at telling you what you want to hear then stabs everyone in the back. she sure has you people suckered good – watch when the SFTRU endorses her bid for the CA Assembly…

  • Benny B

    more praise for sup. katy tang, who ginned up opponents to this with nasty comments on twitter and false statements to the press. she is a 2 faced liar who is great at telling you what you want to hear then stabs everyone in the back. she sure has you people suckered good – watch when the SFTRU endorses her bid for the CA Assembly…

  • david vartanoff

    Streetcars ARE light rail. The N has a reserved ROW from 9th to 19th, and it was originally planned to go all the way out. The same treatment was planned for Taraval, but as the residents and merchants saw how Judah looked they lit the torches and got out the pitchforks. (Of course every so often some oblivious driver uses the Judah ROW as a lane.) Both the original J route through Dolores Park and some of the extension in the Bernal Cut have the off street features of “light rail”.

  • Streetcars are streetcars. Clang, clang, clang went the trolley. Have you ever been on a real light-rail system with true dedicated ROWs and stations, not stops, a quarter mile apart? If not, you should. You will notice the difference and then scratch your head why SF doesn’t have this in place.
    Past tense phrases like “originally planned to go all the way out” are meaningless given that the N Judah still stops every couple of blocks along its route, including this half-mile stretch of dedicated ROW, and Muni plans on doing absolutely nothing to change this.

  • Vernacular usage is that a streetcar is a single unit and “light rail” is a consist of streetcars. Supposedly we’ll be able to return to consists with more than 2 streetcars with the new Siemens rolling stock.

  • Your comment would be more useful if it included actual substance.

  • Fine. You can string together all the “streetcars” you want to make a longer train set, but the bottom line is that SF operates its surface rail like a bus line (I corrected myself) instead of a rail line, regardless of ROW.
    You think navigating SF streets is slow now for 2-car trains? Imagine adding a 3rd or even 4th train to the set and running it in mixed traffic and stopping every two blocks. That’s the problem we face trying to pretend that we have a modern light rail line, unlike in Portland, Denver, Twin Cities, Charlotte, etc. The L-Taraval should have only a handful of stations on its surface route, spaced roughly 1/4 mile apart. If SF wants to run a bus service on Taraval then run busses, not a train.

  • david vartanoff

    “Real” rail transit (light, trolley etc) visited include PDX BAL LA, Sac, SJ, Bos, PHL, and Cleveland. Cleveland’s Green/Blue nee Shaker Heights Rapid Transit which is nearly a century old featured PCC streetcars, what you see on Market St but run trains of 2 or 3,, zipping along private ROW from downtown to Shaker Heights where it became grade level in exclusive medians of streets–thus subject to traffic signals for cross streets. When they got new Breda cars they called it light rail, but operationally nothing changed except eliminating turnaround loops. Boston and Philly have “legacy” streetcar lines very much like SF as they are undergound downtown (Boston’s first subway for streetcars predates the New York tunnels by several years) then running on surface ROW, but much of it in Boston is reserved for the streetcars (again rebranded light rail w/ no substantive operational changes).
    What hobbles Muni (aside from gross incompetence top to bottom) is the refusal to outlaw cars on the trackways and actually use the traffic signal pre emption which was installed as the Bredas were in delivery.

  • Herbert Weiner

    The L Taraval line with its modifications is a fiasco. Seniors and the disabled have to walk long distances to the bus stop and the coaches don’t run any faster. Parking is more difficult and businesses suffer. Essentially, seniors and the disabled have targets painted on their backs. They take a back seat to bicyclists. Certainly, safety is an issue. But overhead traffic lights could have dealt with this as well as the lighted lanes when pedestrians are crossing. This is an expensive wasteful project which MTA prides itself in. When you can’t disembark on the corner of the Taraval police station to file a report, this is a public disservice.

  • This has nothing to do with your imaginings about bicyclists

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