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The SF County Transportation Authority Board unanimously approved the plan for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) down Van Ness Avenue yesterday, adding one extra stop for the service between Broadway and Vallejo following protests from residents of a nearby senior center.

Van Ness Avenue BRT will run approximately two miles from Mission to Lombard, converting two mixed-flow traffic lanes into dedicated bus lanes with new stations, adding transit signal priority along the route, and eliminating all left turns along Van Ness Avenue except at Lombard (northbound) and Broadway (southbound).

The BRT service should be up and running by early 2018 assuming construction commences by late 2015 as is currently planned, reducing travel time down the two-mile corridor by an estimated 32 percent, a savings of seven minutes per trip.

Comments from Plugged-In Readers

  1. Posted by noodle

    Not to complain, and maybe this is a stupid question, but why would it take two years to start construction, and then another ~2 years to complete it? What, exactly, is difficult about this? Is there a Gantt chart of this thing in a public document somewhere?

  2. Posted by anon

    Yay! Only 20 years start to finish for this project!

  3. Posted by curmudgeon

    noodle..I expect the two years of construction has to do with utility relocations, staging, etc. Anytime you are moving curbs (which you are to some degree with this project) it is not as simple as it might initially appear.
    As for the two years to start…I’m assuming they still need to complete final engineering (projects are usually not quite there at the point of project approval…why waste resources if the project isn’t approved), plus the time to advertise bids and select contractors.
    These projects are NEVER fast. The public process is very deliberate and and all the statutory hoops need to be jumped through in order to proceed.

  4. Posted by guest

    I’m also confused as to why this project is going to take 5 years–or more accurately won’t start for 2 years and will take 2.5 years to construct.
    Aren’t we just repainting some roads and building some small bus platforms on curbs? Seems like it could be done within 6 months and wouldn’t require much lead time

  5. Posted by PolkNeighbor

    Imagine the congestion during this construction. Half the lanes will be blocked for over 3 years. In Asia they build huge new airports in half the time!

  6. Posted by noodle

    Thanks, curmudgeon. I hadn’t thought about the relocating utilities angle. That said, some of the relocation, re-relocation, and re-re-relocation of utilities I see for other big projects on my walk to work does seem a bit… inefficient.
    Hopefully this works, and it sets the stage for something better along Geary…

  7. Posted by cfb

    Better than nothing, I guess.
    The city should build a subway down Van Ness instead. Geary too, then increase height limits along parts of Geary. And extend the central subway to north beach and fisherman’s wharf, then loop it around to connect to the van ness subway. Also, extend the market street subway to treasure island (the new geary line can terminate there), and build all those proposed residential towers there. Let’s extend BART all over the place too, while we’re at it.
    If only I were supreme overlord of this city, and had unlimited funds. Of course none of it would be done before the end of this century though.

  8. Posted by mdg

    Compared to how things are done in SF, it seems like ROME WAS IN FACT BUILT IN A DAY

  9. Posted by badlydrawnbear

    @cfb
    keep in mind that subways cost, in 2013 dollars, about a billion a mile based on SFs central subway and NYC’s Second Avenue subway projects.

  10. Posted by SubwayInstead

    People should look at the online information about this project. Estimates are that bus travel time will only increase by “up to 2 minutes”, but since the number of stops is reduced by 50%, travel times could be increasing slightly more than 2 minutes.
    As was mentioned previously, private bus and tour bus traffic will not be able to use the bus lane, so expect bottlenecks to continue on Van Ness after completion.
    I would MUCH rather see a subway project instead.

  11. Posted by badlydrawnbear

    @SubwayInstead
    I am not sure where you got 2 minutes from. Everything I have seen estimates 6-7 minute improvement.
    Regardless, when you consider that is a shorter travel time for ever ride of every bus every day over several decades and the increased efficiency and productive that brings to the city and it’s residents the economic impact will far outweigh the projects costs.
    And while I too would rather see a subway, a 2 mile subway would cost about $2 billion based on current subway projects in SF and NYC.
    So you can have a 30% decrease in travel times for $125 Million or spend $2 Billion on a subway that covers the same distance (sorry not sure what the travel times would be for a subway under van ness).

  12. Posted by Rob

    Im 100% for the train option… Two additional considerations aside from cost that could weigh against the eventuality of a train on Van Ness: Are there enough people taking the route to make a train efficient or cost-effective? And, will the city be able to afford enough train cars even if there were enough people?
    Sadly, we don’t even have enough cars to make half the lines we currently have operate efficiently.
    Overall, shit just takes tooooooo long in this city. Lot’s of room for improvement though!! Woo!

  13. Posted by sfnative

    This is a horrible idea!
    With 1 less lane, traffic will still be very slow with 2 lanes. The right lane will be slowed by cars making right turns where pedestrians will be certainly slowing the way. Then, there will be the issue about those cars making a left turn at the lights (such as Hayes St and Lombard- if there will be any) breaking the bus route. If the left turn lane is eliminated, this will make for more cars turning right- see above. If there is a left turn signal, the buses will certainly be slowed. So, what will be accomplished by constructing this?
    The best solution is to make an underground train/metro that connects from the Van Ness terminal. Spend the money prudently.

  14. Posted by lyqwyd

    @sfnative
    “what will be accomplished by constructing this?”
    7 minute (30%) speed improvement for bus riders. It will also reduce bunching, meaning more regular service. It also creates pedestrian safety improvements. Those are all very worthwhile improvements.
    I’m all for a subway, but it ain’t gonna happen.
    As pointed out above it’s too expensive, second, if it took 20 years just to get BRT, how long will it take for a subway? Probably 200 years.

  15. Posted by K&L

    @ sfnative.
    you bring up some good points as to why this will not be good for car drivers. Note, this project was not designed to improve traffic or congestion for cars. It is designed to improve bus transportation, improving travel times for those taking the bus, with the goal to increase bus ridership.
    The new SF mantra seems to be car+city=bad whether car users like it or not.

  16. Posted by RoundTheBlock

    I know many of us here in SF want to think we can be just like NY, Boston, and DC with a robust subway system, especially since we are “just as densely populated as NY.”
    The truth is, this will never happen here. Those systems were built decades ago and the NY Subway system was built mostly with private money during very corrupt times. This made it easier to build multiple lines quickly without regulation. The only reason NY is getting the 2nd Ave subway is because the groundwork for it was already there.
    BRT is a good option that many cities are using very successfully now – Denver for example. And before I get the “how dare you compare SF to Denver – SF is denser, more cosmopolitan, etc…” remember that we aren’t just trying to make our transit better, but also get people out of cars…which puts us in the same boat as Denver, LA, Seattle, Dallas, Atlanta, Cleveland…NOT NYC.

  17. Posted by BTinSF

    There go the nice mature trees in the Van Ness median. And all for an extra couple of minutes.
    A tree really doesn’t have a chance in San Francisco.

    • Posted by Ed

      I totally agree about the mature trees. It’s a shame. And now more pollution because we don’t have the trees to help. It’s going to be one uglier street. No left turns are going to create a pure clusterf@&k for right turns. Can’t the brains in this city come up with a more efficient idea.

  18. Posted by Mark

    Sadly, BRT will not get people out of cars. Only a robust mass transit system will change behavior based on the basic principle that people will choose public transit if it’s fast, reliable, nearby, goes where demand is highest and is relatively cheap.

  19. Posted by RoundTheBlock

    @Mark
    When robust mass transit isn’t an option, this has got to be the next best thing; moreover; I think behaviors can change. Once you start taking lanes out for BRT (which is happening), increase density (which is happening with all the building going on), and start closing down parking lots (which is most definitely happening all over downtown), you’ll see the demand there. Central Subway, extending the F Line, BRT down Van Ness and Geary are ways to get to some sort of robust system.

  20. Posted by jeff

    I am sorry they will be removing the mature trees and the old historic and unique street lamps. There is a group organizing to try to save and make them reuse the street lamps as they are unique to Van Ness and some of the oldest in the city, or California for that matter.

  21. Posted by Futurist

    Most, if not all of us complaining about the rotten public transit we have in SF, will most likely be retired and living in Palm Springs or Maui by then.
    And I’ll still be driving my little German SUV.

  22. Posted by frog

    BRT is a great solution if we can’t have subways – assuming of course that the busses actually work and the wait times between busses is short enough.
    As for traffic due to right turns, many places in this city need to have protected right turns for efficiency – 4th and Market should be the first. I’d even suggest electrifying the crosswalk when the green arrow is lit, ensuring that every method of locomotion waits its proper turn.
    There are two issues:
    Van Ness is 101 through SF and we do have to think about how to best have a north-south route through the city. (A tunnel that goes from the golden gate bridge to the new 16th street I-280 on ramp?) Or more likely, directing more traffic to Gough and Franklin.
    What is the point of getting rid of cars in this city? We don’t really have a smog problem, or for that matter, most of the problems associated with car usage in other cities. Traffic is ultimately self limiting, and is worsened by a lack of parking. Commuting 3 miles by car really isn’t what’s affecting the environment – it’s really the people living in rural pennsylvania who have to commute 20 miles each way in an SUV. (I used to be one of them.) But it really doesn’t matter any more. The anti-car crowd has already won. I’ll always own a car, but unless I’m heading to the outer sunset, I don’t drive point to point in the city, ever.

  23. Posted by PolkGulch

    If it was not for the 50% reduction in bus stops, the increased travel times for bus traffic after completion would only be 2 minutes. It is the reduction of stops that gives them up to the optomistic 7 minutes saved figure. This is discussed on “Save Muni” and other sites.
    Part of the SFMTA information mentions the need to “calm” and “slow down” traffic on Van Ness. This will only dump more traffic on the neighborhood side streets. I would rather keep the traffic on Van Ness.

  24. Posted by sfnative

    @lygwyd
    While I see your points, “7 minute (30%) speed improvement for bus riders. It will also reduce bunching, meaning more regular service. It also creates pedestrian safety improvements. Those are all very worthwhile improvements”
    I believe that the opposite will occur when it comes to pedestrian safety (save platform). The increased traffic in busy streets will increase the likelihood of mva associated injuries when making right turns onto crowded intersections (for pedestrians and bikes). Proposing a “No right turn on red” will obviously increase back up. Even if the pedestrian sign is red, and there is a separate green for right turns, there will always be someone crossing that crosswalk. It’s human nature to see any green to move forward.
    Increased gridlock will tie up some intersections, causing delays to the crossing of the Muni. When accounting for the number of cars that flow through 6 lanes of traffic currently, if I were to develop a flow model of traffic that went down 4 lanes instead of 6, account the delays for right turns or left. There will certainly be a large amount of congestion.

  25. Posted by Mark

    “BRT is a great solution if we can’t have subways – assuming of course that the busses actually work and the wait times between busses is short enough.”
    Given SFMTA’s track record for operating its system, this is doomed.
    @frog: I live in the outer sunset and after a couple of years dealing with MUNI I now drive whenever I can. And this is coming from someone who had not driven in 15 years. I didn’t need a car in DC/Arlington or NYC and thought the same would hold true in SF. I was wrong. Or, possibly my frustration and lack of patience with a mismanaged system wore me down. Probably a combination of the two.
    @RTB: I couldn’t agree with you less on this topic. Let’s just leave it at that.

  26. Posted by anon

    Sadly, BRT will not get people out of cars. Only a robust mass transit system will change behavior based on the basic principle that people will choose public transit if it’s fast, reliable, nearby, goes where demand is highest and is relatively cheap.
    The only things that “gets people out of cars” are density and lack of parking. It has nothing to do with transit. If you can’t park a car at your destination, you don’t take, it’s as simple as that.
    Yet another reason that fixing the taxi cartel strangling this city is more important than some fairy tale about fixing Muni.

  27. Posted by Futurist

    So, tell us: why is it so important to “get people out of cars”?
    Are we not allowed choices?

  28. Posted by lyqwyd

    I don’t know that it’s “so important”, but here are some reasons that “get[ting] people out of cars” is good:
    reduced pollution
    improved safety for other road users
    reduced traffic for those still in their cars
    improved speed for public transit vehicles
    Now of course this project is not about getting people out of their cars, it’s about improving transit and pedestrian safety. Since the width of a road is fairly fixed, creating BRT will impact the space available for private autos.

  29. Posted by laurelheights

    On a recent visit to Buenos Aires, a 3 km BRT was implemented in 6 months on Avenida 9 de Juilo which is about the same distance as Van Ness. It was quick and efficient way to cross the city and just as fast as taking the Subte C-line subway.

  30. Posted by anon

    So, tell us: why is it so important to “get people out of cars”? Are we not allowed choices?
    I don’t much care either way, but here are some arguments that lyqwyd didn’t bring up:
    1. More space for cars necessarily means less for people. I like walking around where people are.
    2. The city can make more money off of more people through taxes, etc. An extra parking spot provides very little in the way of taxes. I’d like a larger tax base to keep the amount I need to pay in check.
    And of course, why are we not allowing the choice of whether or not to build parking? We still require parking in almost all circumstances, but you seem to only care about places where we’re not allowing parking. What about the choice to not build it?

  31. Posted by Justin

    For a sprawling urban region with the longest commutes in distance and duration, the people who must never leave the 7 x 7 have no clue how little transit there is here. ( see Atlantic Monthly Cities for statistics) The Bay Area has less density than Los. Angeles yet is trying to force people out of cars causing companies to have to pay for private bus transit. Now, even the private bus traffic is being penalized by not being allowed to use these bus lanes.

  32. Posted by BobN

    I say we implement the reduction in stops immediately, see what kind of time improvements we get by doing just that, then decide if it makes sense to spend $125,000,000 for a teeny bit better time.
    The amount of money to be spent on this is absurd.

  33. Posted by lyqwyd

    @Justin
    The Bay Area is a region that includes huge completely unpopulated areas, Los Angeles is a city, apples to oranges comparison.
    Also, as I pointed out above, this is not about trying to force people out of cars, it is about improving transit in SF.
    I’d be fine with letting private buses use the lanes if they help pay for the construction, or pay an annual fee for using it.

  34. Posted by anon2

    Love the 50% reduction in stops. Should be relatively cheap to implement that idea system wide, now. But especially on Van Ness to help with the construction delays. Speed everything up, add back parking spaces from abandoned stops.

  35. Posted by Jeff

    125 Million!? I agree with BobN, since they are planning on reducing the number of stops by 50% anyway, why not try that first and see if that would help speed things up?
    The idea of spending 125 million to remove mature trees, historic street lights and then basically build bus lanes that create most of their time savings by reducing the number of existing stops is true SFMTA planning insanity at its finest.

    • Posted by Ed

      best reply yet. Yea try the decrease in stops before creating the mess.

  36. Posted by TESLA

    No one is mentioning Electric Cars. They don’t create smog. They can be recharged with with Home Solar Energy Systems. They eliminate the problems of carrying groceries on a bus or a bicycle. Electric cars will replace oil burning cars in the next 50 years. The new buildings going up have a current parking space per unit ratio of less than 1:1. The life span of the apartment buildings in this city is more than 50 years. Where are you supposed to plug in and recharge your battery? I see a lawsuit coming.

  37. Posted by anon

    ^I don’t care about the pollution aspects from operating cars. I just like dense urban areas for the ability to walk places and be around more people. Electric cars don’t help create more places like SF, they help create more places like Phoenix.

  38. Posted by Nissan Leaf

    Uh, before cars there were horses and horse drawn carriages, and yes there were bikes and trolley vehicles as well. What type of luddite fantasy are you trying to create “anon”? The horse crap on the streets is why there were “mud rooms” in houses back in the day. Personal transportation other than walking and bikes will ALWAYS be a part of our urban fabric. Every time subways are brought up they are shot down as “Too expensive” by the bike crowd.
    TESLA is right, cars are going electric, and the silly anti personal transportation vehicle jihad is going to create enormous congestion for parking.
    They may put on skinny jeans and ride bikes on weekends, but all of the employees standing in line to ride polluting busses 30 plus miles south to work every day are living an existince more like Phoenix, than any urban fantasy you are hoping to create “anon”.

  39. Posted by anon

    ^Personal transportation is fine, just not this ridiculous notion that we need 1:1 parking for all units everywhere.
    No need to “create” an urban fantasy, we already have one. It’s called San Francisco. I’d just like to create more of it.

  40. Posted by frog

    Anon,
    Strangely, I agree with you. Developers should develop parking to ratios that mirror the population. That might mean 1:1 parking ratios or 1:2 ratios for cars, 1:1 for scooters and 3 bikes per household. I can choose to buy or rent an apartment with parking under those circumstances.
    But without reliable parking for cars or scooters or even bikes, any of these transportation modes are pointless.
    (On an unrelated note: As someone who has had a bike stolen and of course has multiple friends that have lost bikes as well, I would happily pay a few dollars for supervised “valet” bike parking when I choose to bike. This entire “buy the cheapest bike you can find so people don’t steal it” is completely stupid.)

  41. Posted by lyqwyd

    Electric cars are great, but they are not a magic bullet, and do not solve many of the issues stated above. Also as TESLA already pointed out, it might be 50 years before they have any significant impact.
    And the silly anti public transportation vehicle jihad has already created enormous congestion for traffic and parking.

  42. Posted by Anonalso

    While at Northwestern University in Chicago, our condo had the choice frog mentions. Private parking for 2 bikes per unit, LOTS of scooter parking and about 1.3 auto spaces per unit. We rented our parking space out. The only congestian I see in San Francisco is being caused by MTA policies .
    Chicago had such great transit options we did not need a car and most of the cars in our garage would get used about only twice a month.

  43. Posted by Alex

    I still think that it would be more beneficial for the neighborhood to have a subway instead of BRT

  44. Posted by lyqwyd

    I don’t think anybody is opposed to a subway, it’s just that it’s about as likely as everybody getting personal teleporters.

  45. Posted by RobBob

    @TESLA, haha, no one is going to be charging anything with solar… maybe if someone can figure out a way to extract electricity from fog.

  46. Posted by Jimmy (No Longer Bitter)

    @RobBob: you’re on to something there. There are no sunny parts of California. Everywhere is foggy. Solar cannot work.

  47. Posted by lyqwyd

    I think RobBob is referring to TESLA’s claim that people would be recharging with “Home Solar Energy Systems”, which does seem pretty far fetched to me.

  48. Posted by Jimmy (No Longer Bitter)

    Electricity is a fungible commodity. You can generate it in one place, and, within reason, transport it to where its needed. I don’t think their claim is far fetched at all. Did the exact energetic electron that you generated get used to power your exact car? No, but who cares.
    All electrons are created equal.

  49. Posted by lyqwyd

    Sure, you can use some solar power to charge a car, or for any purpose, but it’s unlikely that many people are going to be doing much car charging with home solar power, especially in SF.

  50. Posted by anonanon

    “Electricity is a fungible commodity.”
    The problem is that there isn’t some gigantic battery where you can store all that solar-generated electricity. That means that weather-dependent sources like solar and wind can at most complement energy sources that let you adjust power generation based on demand. If you look at electricity generation in California, most of it comes from fossil fuels and you have nuclear and hydro making nontrivial contributions. Solar is a tiny fraction in spite of large areas with sunny weather and generous government subsidies.

  51. Posted by Alai

    Chicago had such great transit options we did not need a car and most of the cars in our garage would get used about only twice a month.
    I find this line of reasoning bizarre. Who in the world is the sort of person who is willing to pay the cost of a parking space– tens of thousands– plus car payments, insurance, etc– for something they only use twice a month? Do we really want to cater exclusively to people with more money than sense?
    The only congestian I see in San Francisco is being caused by MTA policies .
    Lots of neighborhoods in SF have parking congestion. Very few have parking maximums– most have parking minimums. Are those the MTA policies you’re referring to?

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