Van Ness may sacrifice turns for transit 

click to enlarge Left behind: A proposed bus rapid transit system on Van Ness Avenue would prevent drivers from taking left turns for large portions of the busy artery. - COURTESY RENDERING
  • Left behind: A proposed bus rapid transit system on Van Ness Avenue would prevent drivers from taking left turns for large portions of the busy artery.

Heavy-duty buses would run down the middle of Van Ness Avenue in two dedicated lanes, while motorists would be prevented from making left turns along most of the artery, under a proposal being recommended by planning officials.

The vehicles would travel on grade-separated lanes and benefit from traffic lights timed to speed up transit service. Called bus rapid transit, the system would replace Muni’s buses on Van Ness Avenue, which are frequently mired in traffic.

For the past several years, the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, a local planning body, has reviewed possible alignments for the BRT vehicles, and Tuesday the agency made its first public recommendations for the system’s design.

Under the plan, buses would travel in the two central lanes on Van Ness Avenue, divided by a median. Passengers would board the right side of the vehicles from central platform islands that flank the median. The system is scheduled to be ready for service by 2016.

Because of this alignment, autos would be barred from nearly all left turns on Van Ness Avenue between Mission and Lombard streets. The lone exception to that ban would be Broadway, where motorists would have two left-turn lanes.

The design chosen by the authority, a combination of two separate proposals, was selected over an option that would have had the BRT vehicles traveling on the far-right lanes of Van Ness Avenue. Michael Schwartz, a planner with the authority, said the center-lane design was chosen because the BRT service would be able to maintain its speed and reliability benefits while keeping costs relatively low. The median on Van Ness Avenue would not have to be removed, and by having central platforms, the service could be provided by buses with standard right-side boarding designs, a much cheaper alternative to vehicles with doors on both sides. Also, there wouldn’t be a net loss of parking spaces on Van Ness Avenue as part of the design.

Schwartz said the exact price for the project has not been determined yet, but it would likely be less than $125 million. The agency already has secured $55 million in federal dollars, $20 million in local tax dollars and a $5 million pledge from the California Pacific Medical Center, which is building a new hospital on Van Ness Avenue.

The rest of the funding would come from a combination of state, local, and federal sources.

He predicted that the left-turn restrictions would not be a major impediment, since many motorists already use nearby streets — notably Franklin Street and Gough Street — for north-south travel.

The authority presented the design at its Citizens Advisory Committee on Tuesday. It will be submitted for approval to the full authority board and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s board this month. The SFMTA operates Muni.

System proposal: Predicted benefits of bus rapid transit:

  • Reduce transit travel time by 32 percent
  • Increase transit reliability by 50 percent
  • Reduce transit delays by more than 40 percent
  • Increase transit ridership by 35 percent

Source: Transportation Authority

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