Transit Authority favors center lane option for Geary bus

by Thomas K. Pendergast

One of the alternatives to the Geary Bus Rapid Transit (Geary BRT) plan was chosen for extra scrutiny in an environmental study by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) recently, and one of the six-member Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) working with them has resigned in protest.

The planning for improvement of bus service on Geary Boulevard started in 2005 and four options were developed by the summer of 2012.

The first option is to do nothing and just let the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority (SFMTA), Muni, try to improve service through operating procedures. The second option is to dedicate the right-hand lane in either direction as bus-only lanes. The third and fourth options would create bus-only lanes down the center of Geary. One option would have duel medians on either side of those bus lanes where passengers can board and exit the buses. The other option puts a single median straight down the middle of the boulevard, with bus-only lanes running in both directions on either side of it. New left-side-loading buses would be required for this option.

Now, the SFCTA has refined an alternative which creates bus lanes down the boulevard's center with medians on the sides; however, it adds other ideas included in other alternatives.

Options 2, 3 and 4 would reduce street parking on the boulevard and eliminate many, or perhaps all, left turn lanes between Gough Street and 33rd Avenue. The new alternative would preserve many left-turn lanes and might even increase parking spaces.

The SFCTA's David Parisi said the second, third and fourth options would place 12 stops between Gough Street and 33rd Avenue, while the new alternative would create 21 stops in that section. The other options would allow for local buses to run with the rest of traffic, while the new option would eliminate local bus service altogether.

Parisi said the average spacing between local bus stops is 900 feet but the new option would place stops about every 1,100 feet. Because buses would have dedicated lanes, however, this would speed up the travel time because buses wouldn't have to be dealing with vehicular traffic.

"People who ride a local bus today could have a much better benefit under this option than under any of the other system options," Parisi said. "Primarily that's because the spacing has been extended a little bit."

As for left turns, options two and four might eliminate all 44 left turn lanes currently in that section, while the new option would only eliminate 20 left turn lanes, leaving 24 in place.

Although he expressed approval of the latest option, one man on the CAC was apparently fed up with the overall pace of development.

"I'm concerned because we've had these conversations before," said Kieran Farr. "I see repeating elements here like reaching out to citizens and the business community again. It really makes me sad but I'd like to say that I have lost my trust in the (SFCTA) working on this project and one of my concerns here is that I am concerned that the (SFCTA) involvement is slowing this down, compared to if the (SFMTA) handled this project directly.

The SFCTA is comprised of the members of the SF Board of Supervisors overseeing tax funds and the SFMTA is the governing body for Muni.

"I am very concerned and I'm sounding the alarm, and I think it would be appropriate for me to resign at this point because I feel as though my presence does not help accelerate the project, if we're going to deliver this project at a date that is acceptable to our residents," Farr said.

"We're still on the same time schedule that we presented a year ago. It sounds like you have some fair alarms tonight but we've been transparent as ever," Parisi responded. "I assure the CAC that the schedule is still what it is. We're making great progress. We're in environmental assessments right now. The outreach was critical that we did last summer and fall, and it's given us some good answers to go forward with some alternatives in design. We're excited where we're at."

Andrew K. Lee, an SFMTA transit planner who has been working on the project, also responded to Farr.

"If we had tried to adhere to the schedule that we originally laid out we would not have the community support to actually get board approval once we got there. So, we've been delaying and it's not because we don't want to do something. It's because we don't think we have a project that we can get through the approval process," said Lee. "So, all the work that we've been doing … is our attempt to get a project that we think has enough community support to go through. There's been delay. We recognize the frustration; we have it ourselves. We definitely want something to happen. We think this is the best way to do it, frankly."

One benefit the planners see to options 3, 4 and now 5, is that they all place buses down the middle of the boulevard, which should be helpful if the City goes ahead with plans to eventually put a new light-rail system down Geary, as passenger platforms along the medians would already be constructed and might only need minor alterations.

"That's an aspect of BRT, rail readiness, to try and make it as fast as possible," said Parisi.

The Geary BRT project is expected to be completed sometime in 2020.

For more information about the Geary BRT plan, go to the website at