Bus speed boost hits roadblocks 

It’s a Catch-22 in planning for rapid bus service along Geary Boulevard: have riders walk long distances from below-ground roads or lose parking spaces.

The plan to speed up mass transit along the east-west corridor that handles roughly 23 million traffic trips per year has faced a number of roadblocks, including funding, community resistance and now, geographical hurdles.

The Geary Corridor Bus Rapid Transit is to replace the 38L-Geary Limited service by providing the bus line with a number of advantages it currently does not have, including a dedicated traffic lane, priority at traffic signals and new bus stations where passengers would be required to buy a ticket before boarding.

But the plan for bus rapid transit along the busy traffic corridor must overcome what planners call complex locations at Masonic Avenue and Fillmore Street bridges.

Proposals for the bus system that would run from Van Ness Avenue to the ocean include dedicated lanes that run down the sides of the boulevard or lanes that are in the middle of the road. The goal of the $200 million BRT system is to increase speed, efficiency and ridership.

One roadblock, however, is what to do when the buses arrive at certain intersections along Geary Boulevard where the roadway dips below the sidewalk level.

Three options exist for dealing with these sites, which include Fillmore Street and Masonic Avenue: have the pedestrians cross three lanes of speedy traffic at a crosswalk underneath the bridges, have them exit on either end of tunnels and walk to their transfers and shopping, or have the buses stay aboveground, which could sacrifice up to 300 parking spots between Van Ness and 33rd avenues, according to documents from the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, the local agency in charge of the BRT.

The fight over what to do with the buses at these two intersections could intensify the debate about the entire system, which aims to speed travel time by 25 percent, according to the TA.

Geary Merchants Association President David Heller, who has a history of opposing the BRT because of the potential loss of parking spaces, says many people feel the project isn’t necessary.

“We have over 50 empty stores, and nobody wants to rent with construction,” he said.

But the vice president of the Planning Association for the Richmond said it could be worth the wait.

“I think people are willing to suffer through the issues if the end result is something that really works for everybody,” Michele Stratton said.

The Transportation Authority’s initial projections in 2006 estimated that the costs could fall anywhere between $172 million and $212 million for widening sidewalks, creating bus stops and other improvement projects, but those estimates are being reevaluated.

As much as $75 million can be secured through federal funding, up to $35 million through the sales tax secured by Proposition K for transportation, and a “laundry list” of other grants, said Tilly Chang, the TA’s deputy director for planning.

kkelkar@sfexaminer.com


Taking over the 38L-Geary Limited bus line

The new bus rapid transit project would replace service on the bus line, but faces roadblocks at key stops such as Geary Boulevard and Fillmore Street and Geary Boulevard and Presidio Avenue.

38-Geary Limited daily boardings

10,679 Average daily boardings for the outbound bus

10,625 Average daily boardings for the inbound bus

717 Daily outbound boardings at Geary Boulevard and Fillmore Street

688 Daily inbound boardings at Geary Boulevard and Fillmore Street

414 Daily outbound boardings at Geary Boulevard and Presidio Avenue or Masonic Avenue

725 Daily inbound boardings at Geary Boulevard and Presidio Avenue or Masonic Avenue

Source: SFMTA Transit Effectiveness Project

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Kamala Kelkar

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