Study: Bus system would attract more riders 

A rapid bus system on Geary Boulevard would create faster, more reliable service on the busy corridor while also attracting a quarter more riders, according to a feasibility study released by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority.

Along with Muni, the authority has been researching whether to introduce a bus rapid transit system on Geary Boulevard since 2004. BRT systems typically feature bus-only lanes closed to vehicles, with buses making fewer stops and having priority at traffic signals.

The idea has been controversial in San Francisco, as some business owners have said they would lose customers if normal traffic lanes were converted to bus-only lanes and parking spaces were reduced.

The study, released this month, reviews converting either the outside or center lanes of Geary Boulevard to bus-only lanes, with variations on each scenario. Officials also looked into creating bus-only lanes during peak commuter times and not implementing bus rapid transit at all.

Muni spokeswoman Maggie Lynch said an upcoming environmental review, which is the next step, would clarify which of the five alternatives is superior.

According to the study, a BRT system developed in the center lanes would improve public transit the most because buses would not merge with vehicle traffic. One scenario would create bus-only lanes in both directions that hug the existing median. The other scenario replaces the median with a two-way bus lane separated from vehicle traffic by two new islands.

During the peak evening commute, the center-lane alternatives are expected to reduce travel times up to 14 minutes.

"It’s going to have major, positive effects on people’s lives and commutes throughout the length of the corridor," said Jose Luis Moscovich, executive director of the Transit Authority. "There are many different neighborhoods that are going to benefit — the Outer Richmond, Japantown and the Tenderloin. Currently, they are suffering from very slow bus service."

An outer-lane alternative could save up to 13 minutes during evening commutes, but would likely be slowed by vehicles in the same lane, according to the study.

Construction costs for BRT range from $172 million to $212 million, but an additional $130 million could be tacked on if the system was designed for eventual use by light-rail vehicles. The project would be paid for through a combination of voter-approved sales taxes and federal grants.

Despite transit officials’ support of BRT, some business owners are not convinced their voices will be heard regarding a potential loss of customers. David Heller, president of the Greater Geary Boulevard Merchants and Property Owners Association, said the loss of vehicle traffic would significantly impact his business.

"We’re not against improving Muni. We are against bulldozing a community for a three to four minute difference," he said. "Peoplecome to shop here by car. When you eliminate parking, they will go somewhere else."

Under the various scenarios, between 25 to 285 parking spaces would be eliminated if BRT is implemented.

About one-third of vehicle traffic is also expected to divert off Geary Boulevard at Fourth Avenue in the Inner Richmond and at Fillmore Street in Japantown.

Advocates, however, said more people would likely visit Geary Boulevard’s commercial districts if public transit is improved.

The Geary BRT Community Advisory Committee is hearing a presentation on the study Thursday. The MTA executive board will discuss it on May 1.

arocha@examiner.com

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