SFMTA Plans for COVID Traffic Realities

Agency takes a hard look at how the city's economy and the transportation system it relies on can function as the pandemic continues

Photo: SFMTA
Photo: SFMTA

As San Francisco re-opens, traffic is quickly returning. And if something isn’t done about it, and done fast, “There can be no recovery,” explained SFMTA director Jeffrey Tumlin, as part of a new “Transportation Recovery Plan” presented to the SFMTA board earlier this week.

The plan lays out a framework for how the city can avoid complete gridlock–and the stagnation that would cause–as the economy starts to re-open. Obviously, thanks to COVID, it would be dangerous to pack people into buses and trains like before. That means there simply has to be more room reserved for bikes and the additional buses required on certain streets so that transit riders can safely distance themselves on board.

Mayor London Breed’s Transportation Advisor, Paul Supawanich summed up the geometric realities described in the report via this tweet:

“We’re very concerned that as people understandably retreat from public transit to their private cars out of a sense of security or safety… the problem is the roadway system can not accommodate any more vehicle traffic,” Tumlin added to the board.

The report prescribes the emergency rollout of bike lanes, slow streets, and dedicated transit lanes, as the only way to keep the city moving.


It also acknowledges that protected bike lanes will take time–which the agency doesn’t have. “I’d been projecting August as the return of severe congestion,” said Tumlin, acknowledging streets are already starting to gridlock, with the economy barely reopened. “Turns out I was wrong.”



Instead, it will shift focus to expanding the network of slow streets, which can happen almost overnight. And to help exploit those slow streets: a huge expansion of bike share.

A comparison of how much space is taken up by modes. Image: SFMTA
A comparison of how much space is taken up by modes. Image: SFMTA

“We’re going to have to find a very different way of doing things,” said Tumlin. That includes continued teleworking, he said, but it won’t be enough on its own if people on bikes and scooters aren’t given roads to use where they feel safe and if buses don’t have their own lanes.

Streetsblog invites readers to check out the full presentation and share their thoughts below. One can also watch Tumlin’s presentation to the SFMTA board HERE, starting 1 hour 39 minutes in.


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