Supervisor Norman Yee Puts West Portal Motorists Over Transit Riders

Pushes to veto study of traffic changes that would finally start prioritizing Muni over private cars

A train full of 100 people or more waiting behind private vehicles on West Portal Avenue. Photo: SFMTA
A train full of 100 people or more waiting behind private vehicles on West Portal Avenue. Photo: SFMTA

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The SFMTA is planning to pilot a short stretch of transit- (and taxi) only lane in West Portal to help reduce delays to trains, in one direction, only during peaking morning rush hour. The idea is to look for ways to make the K and M lines, which are consistently slowed by automobile traffic, faster and more reliable.

From the SFMTA presentation showing the proposed changes:


However, Supervisor Norman Yee, who represents the district, is attempting to block the pilot.

Streetsblog was leaked a printout of an email from Yee to SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin and the SFMTA Board. In it, Yee creates a Catch-22. SFMTA is doing the pilot to see if getting cars out of the way will make Muni trains faster and less prone to delays. But Yee seems to want them to prove that it will reduce delays before they do the pilot, to justify doing the pilot to see if it will reduce delays.

From Yee’s email:

If you cannot show that the most significant cause of transit delay is street traffic or pedestrian movement, why should the City and SFMTA spend its resources on “fixes” that do not address the actual cause? Why should the community be impacted negatively by proposed changes if these changes do not address the actual cause?

First of all, how does he even know the community will be impacted negatively by a pilot that hasn’t happened yet? The San Francisco Transit Riders’ Rachel Hyden put it well in a letter to the Supervisor:

It’s difficult to understand your rationale for opposing this important transit reliability and pedestrian safety project, given that you are President of the Board of Supervisors in a city with a transit-first policy. As a Director on the Transportation Authority, you are charged with upholding a mission to make travel safer, healthier, and easier for all.

Hyden adds that:

Further, you have a strong record as a Vision Zero advocate – a program that works to reduce dangerous private vehicle movements, like those happening at West Portal. You have recently introduced a resolution to speed up safety improvements across the city.

Yee’s email to the SFMTA also quotes a merchant who claims that: “The only thing holding up the Muni and Metro at that corner is the buses and trains themselves.”

That’s obviously not true. While there are many factors that cause Muni delays–and many of them clearly do come down to Muni itselfgetting blocked by private cars is indisputably a factor. Keep in mind that West Portal Avenue has angled parking spots up and down the street and a lane of traffic in each direction, in addition to the lanes with the tracks. So most of the street would remain dedicated to motorists even during the pilot. The SFMTA study is simply to look at what would happen if transit riders–who represent the vast majority of the users of the street–were given just the center lanes.

Also from Hyden’s letter:

To suggest any effort by the SFMTA to improve transit operations at West Portal isn’t necessary is difficult to digest. There are 80,000 riders traveling through West Portal every day. As a neighbor whose only mode of transportation is Muni, I am at West Portal with the rest of the commuters as we are routinely stranded, kicked off the train, and nearly hit by private vehicles at West Portal. We are desperate for anything the MTA can do to make it better.

Hyden is writing to the same Norman Yee, by the way, who co-sponsored a San Francisco resolution calling climate change an “emergency.”

SFMTA should do the pilot; if anything the transit-only lanes should extend in both directions for the length of the street, not just for a few blocks. And if it shaves even one minute off for the 80,000 people who use transit, they should make the tracks through West Portal and the rest of the run, all the way to Balboa Park, into transit-only lanes with concrete barriers to eliminate intrusions by automobiles, including taxis. There are plenty of traffic lanes in the city available to motorists that aren’t essential to the entire transit system. Parochial interests aside, when it comes to transit versus private cars, the voters of San Francisco have made their wishes on this issue crystal clear.

Tell the SFMTA board how you feel tomorrow, Tuesday, May 21, 1 p.m., Room 400, Floor 4, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, S.F. Or email them if you can’t make it MTABoard [at]

  • “Author” sounds angry. Too bad. Maybe if SF had a real transit system that was fully grade separated/dedicated ROW with signal priority the author wouldn’t be whining about trains getting stuck behind cars making left-hand turns. The pilot project won’t change much. Trains will continue to bunch up outside of West Portal because the major flaw is the design of the Market St. subway and the limitations of having more than one train in the West Portal station at a time in either direction.

  • david vartanoff

    While improving fluidity at WP will not cure tunnel operations, it iss useful in itself.

  • sebra leaves

    It is good of our city officials to start questioning the judgement of the SFMTA given all the obvious mistakes and coverups uncovered recently. Most Muni riders point to a holdup in the tunnel, not on West Portal. There is a strong need to protect what is left of neighborhood merchants. We have not seen one street yet recover from the street improvement projects that SFMTA has rolled out. Thanks to Norman Yee his decision to take a stand for West Portal.

  • djconnel

    You’ve got a photo there of a train full of potential customers being blocked by a car with 1 or 2. Show any evidence anywhere in the world at any time in history that favoring transit is bad for commerce. You cannot, yet there are many contrary examples.

  • sf in sf

    Thank you for this coverage, would’ve missed this otherwise! I’m going to email the board and tell them to keep the transit priority project. Shame on Yee for standing in the way of better transit.

  • crazyvag

    Why can’t we spend some money on expanding the station so trains going straight and turning don’t have to share the same platform?

  • Treat it like Judah, but allow left hand turns from the car lane to the right of transit.

  • david vartanoff

    FWIW The Judah trackway was to be only the first, but when it was built, the drivers got out their pitchforks. Plans to do the raised trackways on the other routes were scuttled. Look at Ocean which was completely rebuilt a decade ago

  • KJ

    The last time my family rode a train through West Portal, a car smacked into the train and we were forced to wait about 15-20 minutes to clear the car. There needs to be a clear path for transit through this area.

  • Kieran

    I agree with you on your points. The West Portal stretch seriously needs right-of-way where there’s barriers so cars can’t drive on the tracks. To expand on your point about the flaw of the Market St subway design, they should’ve originally put a local and express track in both the inbound and outbound directions.

    That way, the subway could operate 24 hrs because there’d be enough tracks to go around during the maintenance in the middle of the night. In that, when one set of tracks/wires are under maintenance, the adjacent set can be used for service.. The same can be said about the Twin Peaks Tunnel, in fact.

  • LazyReader
  • I live on Ocean and it is a complete mess all the time. This is one good case for bus substitution because trains, cars and bikes all jockey for a limited amount of space. Plus, there is always a double parked truck that blocks the right hand lane (which is also the bike lane). Forbidding left hand turns would only push more traffic on side streets which north of Ocean aren’t really in a grid with many of the streets too narrow to accommodate two-way traffic without one car having to pull over. It’s a mess.

  • Huge problem with double tracking was the TP Tunnel itself which was integrated into the Market St. subway. The city would have had to bore a second tunnel from Castro to West Portal.

  • In the 35 years that the Buffalo light rail system has been in operation the downtown shopping district through which the rail line runs has continued to decline.

    You are correct in that anyone on a train is a potential customer, just like anyone in a car driving the same route is a potential customer or someone on a bike or sidewalk. If the city was so hell bent on being a Transit First city then create a Transit First transit network.

  • 27-Byrant

    I think they are doing a good job here. The SFMTA. Yee doesnt even know what talking about.
    Subway service are on track so you no doubt expect trains behind another..they cant reroute like buses.

    They should improve the 48 Service and the 57 Parkmerced service have them get off west portal faster to avoid further delays.

  • Kieran

    I know. My point is that if the Twin Peaks Tunnel originally had a local and express track in both the inbound/outbound directions, along with the Market St subway having the same track arrangement, then San Francisco would’ve actually had a 24 hr subway.

    It’s too bad that neither tunnel was equipped with enough tracks to enable 24 hr operation.

  • Cole the Happy

    I took the M out to SF State for 2 1/2 years, ending about a year ago. The last two miles from West portal Station to the University took as long as the first 5 miles from Civic Center to West Portal on a good day when everything was running well. The light at Junipero Serra & Sloat alone takes over two minute to cycle through. I knew a lot of students who didn’t trust transit to get them to class on time on test days & drove instead. Transit lanes and transit priority signals are crucial for this route.

  • Also add unpredictable train schedules and arrival times to the mix. No wonder Uber/Lyft are popular.

    The other night during evening rush it was a 23 minute wait for an outbound M. All downhill from there.

  • And a clear path for vehicles. Cars hitting trains (and vice versa) isn’t the norm. The norm is poor transit planning and operation.

  • Oofty Goofty

    A big part of the problem is that in practical terms West Portal usually has only one lane of traffic in each direction, because so many people stop/park/loiter in the rightmost lane. But they turn their hazard lights on, which apparently is the magic gateway now to parking wherever the hell you feel like it.


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