Witnessing a Transit-Last City

Advocate relates experience of watching bus passengers being left to wait while police prioritized people in private cars

Muni buses backing up on Market Street before the intersection with Clayton. Note the Jeep being permitted to pass. Photo: Sprague Terplan
Muni buses backing up on Market Street before the intersection with Clayton. Note the Jeep being permitted to pass. Photo: Sprague Terplan

San Francisco lawmakers and bureaucrats love to talk about equity, equity, and equity. And yet individuals in private cars are continually prioritized over people riding transit. Advocate and occasional Streetsblog contributor Sprague Terplan witnessed a particularly egregious example of this a couple of weeks ago on Market Street when, thanks to police activity, Muni buses were left to hang for over an hour while private cars were readily given detours. Here is his account of what happened:

On the evening of April 14, I watched a disturbing scene in which San Francisco police froze bus service and gave total priority to people in private cars. It was because of an incident on the 3400 block of Market Street, “where a person was in possession of a firearm. Officers, including emergency crews, were at the scene at around 7:23 p.m. to make contact with the person” – (according to KRON). Police blocked off Market where it intersects with Clayton Street. I live nearby and can see this intersection from my living room.

Market Street was closed to all outbound/uphill traffic. Motorists in private vehicles were permitted to divert off and on to Market from Clayton, using turns which are normally reserved for Muni buses.

Bus service, on the other hand, was just frozen.

Outbound L Taraval and inbound 33 Ashbury buses started backing up on Market Street (I counted at least six Muni buses stuck on Market, at least two of which were route 33 buses). Muni buses lined up in the left lane, allowing cars and SUVs to pass and detour through the intersection.

If cars could immediately proceed onto Clayton, why couldn’t buses, which for the 33 is its regular route? The L buses at the front of the line could have moved out of the way and the 33 buses could have navigated to the intersection just as the cars did. It is also unclear why the L was not rerouted immediately in the same manner, making the right onto Clayton to continue one block up to Corbett Avenue, which parallels Market. Eventually Ls were detoured onto Corbett, but it was an hour before the buses started moving again, by my observation.

Ironically, the signal at Market and Clayton is one of the 33’s few transit priority features, with the Muni signal turning green as trolley buses approach the intersection. Yet, because of a combination of incompetence or indifference or both, that night Muni froze its buses and ceded all priority to private cars.

One Muni operator even directed motorists through the intersection.

“Transit first” is supposed to be official city policy. I am very supportive of the SFMTA and steps they have taken to speed up Muni service, including the recently opened and fantastic Van Ness BRT.

But when there are traffic delays, collisions, police activity, etc., all steps should be taken to give Muni vehicles priority to move through and away from the site of the incident. Police and traffic enforcement should always prioritize transit riders – for the sake of efficient use of city services, equity, livability, environmental sustainability, and common sense.

Muni’s response: Unfortunately, yesterday’s incident was one in which we were unable to proceed through the area as we would have liked. We recognize that service reroutes do impact our customer’s commute and we try our best to minimize that impact. There are times, however, when there are incidents outside of our control, like last night’s, where the only thing we can do is wait for the scene to clear so that we can resume regular operation and then begin to make adjustments to the affected routes so that we can balance out service in both directions.


Sprague Terplan is a member of the San Francisco Transit Riders (SFTR) and a long-time transit rider in San Francisco and the North Bay.


SFMTA painting the bus 'Red Carpet' lanes on Mission in the Mission a couple of years back. Photo: SFMTA.

Open Thread: Room for Private Vehicles in Red Carpet Lanes?

The SFMTA Board of Directors approved the next step in the $35 million Geary Rapid project on Tuesday, which includes segments of red carpet, bus-only lanes between Stanyan and downtown. The rub: the SFMTA decided to allow privately run transit, including tour buses, tech-buses, and Chariot, to also use the lane (in reality, non-Muni vehicles of […]

Mission Street Transit Lanes: What About the Bikes?

Earlier this week, the SFMTA sent out a release with a progress report on the “Red Lane” paint (actually, a thermoplastic adhesive) they are applying, clearly marking lanes for Muni Streetcars and buses (and taxis): Early signs indicate success. Preliminary data shows transit-only lane violations dropping by more than 50 percent on some segments of […]
A County Transportation Authority rendering of what Market Street was supposed to look like before the program was scaled back.

Open Thread on the Better Market Street Plan

The mainstream media was all over it: private cars to be banned from Market Street under the city’s “Better Market Street” plan. It will also have sidewalk-level protected bike lanes. For advocates in the safe streets community the design announced by the city this week is a major victory and a reason to celebrate. From […]