M Ocean View Improvements Still Put Cars First

Upgraded signals are supposed to let trains get priority at traffic signals, but Streetsblog found that Muni continues to wait

An M Ocean View crossing onto 19th. Photo: SFMTA
An M Ocean View crossing onto 19th. Photo: SFMTA

Note: GJEL Accident Attorneys regularly sponsors coverage on Streetsblog San Francisco and Streetsblog California. Unless noted in the story, GJEL Accident Attorneys is not consulted for the content or editorial direction of the sponsored content.

Muni’s M Ocean View trains are supposed to be getting a jump on traffic. But is that happening in practice?

SFMTA recently completed upgrades to its M Ocean View service on 19th Avenue, with paving, track and signal improvements on its right-of-way between Junipero Serra Boulevard and Rossmoor Drive.

From the SFMTA release:

The project goals were to boost reliability and on-time performance of the M Ocean View through the heavily traveled 19th Avenue corridor, increase pedestrian safety around the Muni track right-of-ways and replace a section of aging track around 19th Avenue and Rossmoor Drive.

A centerpiece of the project is the addition of Transit Signal Priority (TSP), which should favor the M Ocean View at traffic signals, turning them green for the train.

Muni added colored pavement and more treatments to help keep cars off the tracks where they leave 19th Ave.
Muni also added colored pavement and updated  treatments to help keep cars off the tracks where they leave 19th Ave. All photos Streetsblog/Rudick if not indicated

“The M Ocean View improvements–planned transit priority at the massive Junipero Serra/19th Avenue intersection, and track replacement–seem like smart near-term improvements with some tangible, albeit modest, benefits to riders on the M line,” said Livable City’s Tom Radulovich.

But when Streetsblog traveled down the M Ocean View today to get a sense of how well it’s working, it wasn’t clear that anything–as far as train operations and reliability go–has actually changed. Trains this afternoon were as bunched, irregular, and as herky-jerky as ever. They certainly didn’t seem to have any priority over automobile traffic.

This afternoon at about 12:30 Streetsblog saw two M Ocean Views, more-or-less nose-to-tail, still stopping and waiting to cross 19th.

Inbound M Ocean View trains left the Stonestown Gallery station, started moving, but then stopped–as they always have–before crossing out of the median of 19th Avenue at Rossmoor, even though there wasn’t any car traffic in the way. The train had to hold as the traffic signal started its phase from red to green.

This signal, which is supposed to allow trains to cross 19th, was still green until the train was forced to stop and wait
This signal, which is supposed to allow trains to cross 19th with priority, was still green for cars and red for the train as it approached–the train was forced to stop and wait… even though there were no cars approaching.

Streetsblog has emailed SFMTA to find out why the new signal doesn’t start changing when the train leaves the station, so it doesn’t have to stop and wait to cross 19th Avenue, and will update this post accordingly.

Despite the new signals, Streetsblog saw M Ocean Views waiting and waiting for the green light
Despite the new signals, Streetsblog saw M Ocean View trains waiting and waiting for the green light at Junipero Serra also.

And what about the other set of signals, at 19th Avenue and Junipero Serra? Streetsblog was only able to watch two trains cross this location, but they also didn’t seem to have any signal priority–let alone pre-emption–at the intersection.

“I’m not surprised Muni hasn’t fully taken advantage of transit signal priority,” said Cat Carter, spokesperson for the San Francisco Transit Riders. “Seems that’s a pattern–take the T Third for example.”

Again, Streetsblog has inquiries out to SFMTA to find out from them what’s going on.

Do you ride the M Ocean View? Let us know if you’ve noticed improvements since these upgrades were implemented. Post below.


Update, 4:30 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 13, from SFMTA’s Erica Kato, a spokesperson for the project:

Transit Priority is in at Rossmoor and working correctly as currently designed. It is designed for the trains to stop first before giving them the green light to discourage train speeding, protect pedestrians and because of the existing conditions/stop locations. This is better than the previous existing condition, which the light turned green for the train movement every 2 minutes no matter what is happening ( e.g. train/no train/train just too far away to make it).

Transit Priority was added at Junipero Serra northbound only as an extension to the green if trains are present. The idea is that it makes trains less likely to be blocked by left-turning vehicles and more likely that they make it through the intersection in only 1 cycle. This is not designed as signal preemption.

We are still analyzing how the project is working and can make tweaks to the timing in the future to keep improving the intersections.

  • gb52

    It probably should be made clear that upgrades to these two intersection will not fix MUNI. Bunching and gaps are mostly created by mechanical issues and issues in the Market Street Subway, and if trains come in, in a bunch, they will leave the same way. Ideally the upgrade reduces the bottleneck in this area.

    Further, while I agree that Transit Signal Priority (TSP) can be given a much more noticeable queue jump, it begs the question if overall transit delay has been reduced. We should not make the public believe that TSP is a cure all such that a train will never need to stop, because there are too many variables that may cause a train to miss it’s signal and a signal cannot be held indefinitely. As always SFMTA is in charge of balancing the needs of all street users, so we need an effective and reliable TSP to reduce delay but not significantly increasing the delays for others.

  • The wait at St. Francis Circle is over 5 minutes and doesn’t even begin to factor in M and K/T trains vying to get through one after the other because they cannot. One train per signal change. I waited 10 minutes here only to wait another 5 minutes at JS and Ocean.

    This isn’t rocket science. It’s poor transit planning.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Muni also claimed to have signal priority when the T-Third launched but anyone with eyes can see that it does not. My theory on this is that nobody in SFMTA leadership actually knows that TSP is. I know from firsthand experience that ex-chief Nat Ford certainly did not know what signal priority means. He thought it meant that when the train comes to an intersection, it gets its phase of the signal, but when it is absent it does not. That’s literally the opposite of what transit signal priority means.

  • Kieran

    The M needs real signal priority like what VTA’s LRVs have down in the San Jose area-They never wait for light cycles..They simply breeze right through all intersections..Muni should’ve been doing precisely that long ago..

    One thing that this article mentions in passing but overlooks about improving is the section of the M Ocean View madness being a roughly 200 foot(more or less) stretch of track going toward the Winston intersection on the right of way. There has been NO mention of improving that shared left turn lane that both the M and autos use..Cars frequently drive on that section of the trackway to make a left turn into Stonestown, not only causing the M to be even slower but that reeks of an asinine lack of planning..

    Instead of cars being able to drive onto the M tracks(which should NEVER happen), they still should turn left, but from the adjacent lane next to the trackway. My solution for Muni to make sure that inbound Ms heading toward the Winston intersection never get impeded by auto traffic ever again-tear up that roadway and make it the exposed trackway right of way that the rest of the M right of way consists of on 19th ave. That could easily be done within a week as long as there’s round-the-clock construction going on.

  • Chris

    Muni would rather do a multi-decade study about possibly eventually digging a massively expensive tunnel underneath St. Francis Circle than solve the problem speedily and economically now. Why? Fear of the westside car drivers whining about minor traffic delays. So much for SF’s so-called transit-first policy.

  • Andy Chow

    There are two left turning lanes from northbound 19th onto Winston Dr. Muni could realign the tracks so that the track doesn’t have to share lanes with cars. There’s room on the southbound side of 19th Ave where the tracks can be shifted.

  • Andy Chow

    There’s so much Muni can do because of the competing “vision zero” priorities. SF traffic lights are operated based on timers because of synchronized signals and to provide walk signals (with fixed timing that can’t be realistically shortened, especially without having any knowledge whether there’s anyone on the crosswalk in a particular moment) at every block without the “beg” button that you dread about. In VTA land signals have sensors and pedestrians have to push a button to get the walk signal, so there’s more flexibility to change the signal timing and pattern to provide transit priority.

  • Kieran

    Nah. Realigning the tracks to the southbound lane makes no sense. The simplest way is to just dig up the present shared trackway/roadway back into exposed rails so that way autos can’t drive on the tracks anymore and leave it at that.

    That will be the most effective and the quickest solution for this conundrum. Realignments do make sense in certain instances, for certain. But this time the tracks shouldn’t be realigned.

  • Roger R.

    Thanks. Wrote about that turning pocket in a previous article: https://sf.streetsblog.org/2016/06/06/m-ocean-view-subway-is-this-project-really-about-trains/

  • david vartanoff

    No reason to spend megabucks to move the tracks. Jackhammer the concrete and for good measure put a curb at the edge to make clear where autos are not welcome. Transit First.

  • BW

    I do realize that the point of this article is to illustrate delays to transit. But it’s a stretch to say that the improvements “puts cars first”. For example, no photos were taken to show the new pedestrian signals at Rossmoor (previously none) that have to countdown before the train gets its signal. Likewise, the photo at Junipero Serra was taken at an angle to deliberately omit the new pedestrian crossing island (previously none).

  • Not so fast blaming car drivers. I ride transit and drive. I’m accustomed to the constant road improvements and construction that affects my trip. It’s par for the course. No different than rerouting buses or suspending train service from time to time to do necessary repairs and improvements. You simply have to deal with it.
    The problem is the MTA. They’re in charge of devising an effective Transit First plan, but fail miserably. Just look at their approach to fixing the M line delays between WP and SFSU…a massive multi-billion dollar tunnel. They are out of touch and incapable of doing their job.

  • crazyvag

    Anyone notice that Muni signal triggers are placed a few feet past the station? Examples, N platform 4th & King outbound, Embarcadero & Folsom outbound. In each case, the vehicle has to closer the platform doors, advance about 10 ft, and wait a full cycle for a green light for up to a minute without letting any passengers on?

    I don’t know if you can get more passenger hostile setup than Muni.

  • crazyvag

    I disagree that we are able to time lights for cars for multiple blocks, but have no ability to predict when a train will arrive knowing the departure time from the last station. Isn’t that just basic high school math? If you know a train is going to arrive, then you don’t start a green cycle that can’t finish in time.

    Secondly, it’s time to spend some money on better crosswalks. For example, the crosswalks on embarcadero have a 30 second countdown even though 2-3 lanes of cars take 10-15 secs to cross even at the glacial pace of 2mph. The cycle can certainly be shortened or interrupted to accomodate a train.

  • crazyvag

    True. I think this really needs to be a time-lapse video to better illustrate the point with a stop watch timer showing number of seconds of delays.

  • Mike

    “The cycle can certainly be shortened or interrupted to accomodate a train.”

    You’re suggesting that the city turn the pedestrian signals off in the middle of a pedestrian crossing? Or that it not give pedestrians enough time to get across the street? Good luck with that approach.

  • Mike

    Or maybe it’s because the signals are timed to give pedestrians enough time to cross the street.

  • keenplanner

    Shocking! Next you’ll tell me that none of the crosswalk buttons gives pedestrians any time benefit!
    For years, SFMTA has been making “improvements” that don’t delay traffic for years! There are so many places where signal priority could improve MUNI service but this just doesn’t happen. Why do they seem to find small challenges the hardest to pull off, but seem to continuously be seeking funding for big projects? Why is it so difficult for them to make improvements that could impede single-occupancy drivers?
    Money and politics? Shocking!

  • keenplanner

    Same on Haight/Octavia and Haight/Market. Drivers trigger something but have to wait a full cycle to advance. On eastbound Haight at Octavia, they can’t even advance on a green light because they need to wait for all the opposing traffic to turn left before they get the special MUNI signal! How FU is that?

  • keenplanner

    That particular stop is to be moved into Parkmerced, just across Winston from SF State, or at least that’s what’s in the plan. It’s a better location all around, since the 19th/Winston intersection is in the top 5 for car/ped collisions, probably people trying to catch the train, which, BTW, can enter and leave the station before the opposing light turns green. Thanks for that, MUNI.
    It would be a miracle if they can get the re-aligned M tracks to go all the way to Daly City BART! That makes so much sense, but our transit fiefdoms are always working against each other, at the expense of the rider.

  • keenplanner
  • keenplanner

    Not really. We have transit-bike-ped priority language in the city charter. SFMTA doesn’t seem to realize this.

  • keenplanner

    When I attended SFSU, during morning peak hours, it was almost impossible for the trains to turn L out of Rossmoor to get to their right-of-way in the median. Cars were always blocking the tracks, and each signal cycle would bring more. The MUNI operators had to just proceed with care and hope they didn’t get hit.
    The same is happening on Market at evening peak. SF seems to have abandoned its “don’t block the box” enforcement, so each new intersection brings selfish drivers trying to cross market but proceeding when there was no place to go. They end up blocking all Market westbound lanes, and also bike lanes and crosswalks. Peds practically have to crawl across the hoods to cross the street. It’s a safety hazard and a huge bus delay, but nothing is being done. Disgusting!

  • Kieran

    Thanks Roger. I’mma read that shortly.

  • Kieran

    Yea you have a point about the M line. Especially at the Rossmoor right of way area, it’s been like that since the 80s. It is sadly such an easily fixable problem yet Muni still hasn’t fixed those problems. Transit just has to be prioritized over peds and autos, especially on Market and 19th ave, just to name a couple streets. The traffic signals must prioritize Muni transit above all else.

    Maybe at the Rossmoor/19th ave area of the right of way, it can be camera-enforced so that fines for cars to be on M tracks while a streetcar’s coming/obstructing the M could be instituted. It could be say, a 500$ fine. That’d get drivers off the tracks pretty damn quick and traffic/M streetcars flowing more smoothly.

  • crazyvag

    Well, take a look at the crossing of Embarcadero and Folsom. The light crossing timer is set at 30 secs. But what if… and bear with me – the timer was set to 15 secs. The half of pedestrians that cross both directions of Embarcadero would simply do what the other half does – remain near the station – both off the street and off the track.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    You know it sounds crazy, but this is exactly what VTA does, and even worse. Suppose you are crossing Mathilda at Innovation in Sunnyvale, and you have the pedestrian signal in your favor. When the VTA train is coming down Mathilda the pedestrian signal instantly goes to red, and the cars on Innovation immediately get a green arrow to turn across the crosswalk! This murder scheme is apparently justified by the need to clear out any cars that might be stopped on the rail crossing.

  • I’ve seen all the proposals to extend the M to Daly City BART. It will never happen. The “vision” plan link you provided has that famous dotted line for “future expansion” for the M connecting to Daly City. We all know what that means…if it’s not part of the initial plan it will never happen. Rerouting the M through Park Merced will simply slow down the system even more as it snakes its way through the complex.

  • disqus_xAyKh6iUKV I agree


M-Ocean View Subway: Is this Project Really About Trains?

Thursday, SFMTA joined several agencies at the Bay Area 2040 open house in Oakland. One of the projects presented was the M-Ocean View improvement plan. As the Examiner reported today, SFMTA is now leaning towards an all-underground option, with a tunnel stretching from West Portal to Parkmerced. This project, at around $3 billion, would re-align the […]