Van Ness rapid transit plan catching on 

On average, it takes Muni buses 22 minutes to travel the length of Van Ness Avenue, accordingto city transportation planners. With about 80,000 commuters accessing the corridor each day, Van Ness Avenue, which doubles as U.S. Highway 101, is one of the most heavily congested stretches of road in San Francisco. As a result, public transit is slow and unreliable, transit experts say.

"You’re just as likely to wait two minutes for a bus as you are 10 minutes," said Rachel Hiatt, a senior transportation planner with the San Francisco County Transportation Authority.

Along with Muni, which operates seven bus lines on Van Ness Avenue, the authority is proposing a new transportation system for the corridor that is meant to speed up transit. Called bus rapid transit, it would include bus-only lanes blocked from vehicle traffic, ticket-vending machines at new station platforms and technology that allows operators to control traffic lights to avoid delays.

While a similar project proposed for Geary Boulevard is meeting some neighborhood resistance, the Van Ness Avenue project is garnering support from people who want relief on the congested corridor.

The authority has proposed various configurations of the new system — some include dedicated bus lanes in the center of the corridor and others include them on the sides. Each proposal costs between $85 million to $90 million and would likely be funded through a combination of local and federal funds. The plan is to have a system in place by 2011.

The most popular scenario includes center bus lanes that are blocked off to vehicle traffic by two medians on both sides. Ralph Romberg, who lives on Van Ness Avenue near Pine Street, said such a design makes the most sense.

"The minute a truck pulls into the lane, it blocks the buses and traffic is choked off into one lane," he said of the designs with side bus lanes.

While most scenarios would slow vehicle traffic because two lanes would be reserved for buses, the designs vary on parking impacts — one would create 25 more parking spaces and another would eliminate 36.

Bruce Tenner, who lives on Van Ness Avenue near Pacific Avenue and supports the project, is more concerned with the types of buses that will be used.

"I hope they’re going to use the new hybrids," he said. "I hope they’re not going to use the plain, old, stinky 47-Van Ness buses we have now."

The San Francisco County Transportation Authority is holding a public meeting on the Van Ness Avenue BRT project from 6 to 8 p.m. at its offices, 100 Van Ness Ave., 26th floor.

What is bus rapid transit?

A bus rapid transit, or BRT, system — as depicted in a preliminary rendering above — typically combines the features of rail systems with the flexibility and cost savings of bus lines. Key elements include:

» Buses typically operate in dedicated lanes blocked to vehicular traffic in order to speed up service.

» BRT services tend to operate faster than normal bus lines, as they are not delayed by vehicular traffic.

» Technology that allows operators to control traffic signal lights is often used to further reduce delay.

» Bus tickets can often be prepurchased at vending machines on station platforms, speeding the loading and unloading of passengers.

» BRT service can be set up on normal streets by simply changing the way lanes are configured.

- Source: San Francisco County Transportation Authority

Potrero, 19th avenues flagged as next candidates for speedy buses

While major studies to bring rapid bus systems to Geary Boulevard and Van Ness Avenue are under way, two other San Francisco corridors have been tagged as "strong potential candidates" for similar projects, according to a Muni report released this week.

Potrero Avenue, between Division and Cesar Chavez streets, and 19th Avenue in The City’s Sunset district could both stand "improved and faster transit service," Muni’s Short-Range Transit Plan for 2008-2027 states.

Although the projects "are not on the fast track right now," according to Muni spokeswoman Maggie Lynch, they have been highlighted as possibilities in the transit agency’s largest planning document.

Dubbed a death trap for walkers, 19th Avenue is part of Highway 1, which links Marin and San Mateo counties. The heavily congested corridor serves 85,000 vehicles, 80,000 pedestrians and 14,500 Muni riders each day.

The three bus lines that serve the corridor are forced to commingle with vehicle traffic, which causes delays. While 19th Avenue has been flagged as a possible light-rail route, a more immediate solution would be a bus rapid transit system costing about $239 million, according to a 2002 Muni report.

BRT systems include dedicated lanes for transit and give buses priority at signals.

Along the eastern side of the Mission district, Potrero Avenue between Division and Cesar Chavez streets consists mostly of four lanes of through traffic. A BRT system along this corridor would connect to the proposed Van Ness Avenue rapid bus project, turning Potrero Avenue into a "major transit thoroughfare" in The City, according to the new report.

A BRT system on Potrero Avenue is projected to cost about $42 million, the 2002 report states.

arocha@examiner.com

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