Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Geary BRT thoughts

Having recently traveled on the #38 Geary line from its starting point at Cabrillo and la Playa by the ocean, I have to admit my opinion of the efficiency of that Muni line failed to take into account the traffic lights on that end of the line. After the #38 turns onto Geary at 33rd Avenue, I counted stoplights---not just stop signs---at 31st Avenue, 30th Avenue, 29th Avenue, 28th Avenue, 27th Avenue, 25th Avenue, 24th Avenue, 23rd Avenue, 21st Avenue, 20th Avenue, 19th Avenue, 18th Avenue, 17th Avenue, 16th Avenue, Park Presidio, 12th Avenue, 11th Avenue, 10th Avenue, 9th Avenue, 8th Avenue, 7th Avenue, 6th Avenue, 5th Avenue, 4th Avenue, 3rd Avenue, Second Avenue, Arguello, Stanyan, Parker, Spruce, Collins, and Masonic.

That is, there are stoplights at almost every intersection on that part of the #38 line. Since I usually take the #38 only between Masonic and downtown or Divisadero and downtown, I didn't understand that the worst part of the line is back where it begins, at 33rd and Geary.

The question about the proposed Geary bus rapid transit is whether spending more than $200 million for a fix is the best way to go. Why not instead simply install the technology to allow Muni drivers on the #38 to manipulate stoplights in their favor? That won't be cheap, but surely it would be more cost-effective than the grandiose BRT proposal.

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16 Comments:

At 10:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think DPT is enabling signal priority on Geary already. That has been called a given with all of the Geary BRT meetings. It's not clear how useful it will be because of some specific issues:

1. The timing challenge is with pedestrian crossing times. Generally, San Francisco allows enough time for a pedestrian across the street (avoiding those pesky push buttons). Geary is a wide street so pedestrians need a lot of time to cross. Thus, it is almost impossible to turn a light green prematurely -- unless you want to run over a pedestrian!

2. One other issue is that Geary buses are so frequent that the signals could not recover from constant timing manipulation.

3. One feature of the BRT design is called an "extended cycle" which keeps the light green enough to let the bus go through it to the next stop.

When the Geary BRT evaluation was done a few years ago, what came to light was that the greatest delay is associated with loading so many people onto the buses. Setting up something like a median station would enable a "paid fare" area and multi-door loading making teh dwell time much shorter. Oh -- low floor buses really help too!

The Geary costs could skyrocket depending on what happens with Masonic and Fillmore. The new vehicles, new street median, stations, striping and signal work would not come close to $200M.

 
At 11:54 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Thanks for the informed comment. It's nice for a change to get a comment from someone who actually knows something.

 
At 12:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why not make some traffic on Geary disappear by putting Geary blvd on a road diet? Why not give cross traffic a chance to cross without having to stop Geary traffic to do so?

 
At 9:33 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

What does "putting Geary Blvd. on a road diet" mean? How do you allow cross traffic without stopping Geary traffic? The cross traffic---including pedestrians crossing Geary---is already there, and we have to deal with it. The previous commenters reference to Masonic and Fillmore refer to the engineering problem of what to do with those intersections---both of which now have underpasses for traffic---in a BRT system.

 
At 9:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Why not make some traffic on Geary disappear by putting Geary blvd on a road diet? Why not give cross traffic a chance to cross without having to stop Geary traffic to do so?"

The BRT proposal already takes a lane, and according to Wikipedia, that's what a "road diet" is. Also from Wikipedia: "Road diets do not displace traffic, unless they have exotically high numbers."

I'm NOT sure the residents of California, Clement, Anza and Balboa would appreciate diverting traffic from Geary Boulevard.

You seem to espouse this belief that reducing lanes somehow always reduces traffic; that is fallacious, dogmatic thinking. It's as much of a non-sequitor as saying that same sex marriage bans always protect the sanctity of marriage. Just like marriage, the outcome of road changes varies on a case by case basis of the street involved.

I'd think that traffic would merely shift to a parallel street if traffic speeds or capacites are significantly reduced on Geary. So, how about this strategy: Encourage traffic to use Geary so that the rest of the Richmond residents do not have to have more drivers on their neighborhood streets? How about letting the Richmond residents decide what is best for them, rather then some sort of "citywide" interest group?

 
At 10:45 AM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

"How about letting the Richmond residents decide what is best for them, rather then some sort of "citywide" interest group?"

Interesting. I assume you also think that residents of the Castro and Noe Valley should not have any input whatsoever in the potential changes to Cesar Chavez - since Chavez is in the Mission/Bernal, despite the fact that Chavez is a primary exit route from the city for Castro/Noe residents. If it were up to Noe Valley, perhaps Chavez would be made into a elevated freeway for all they care about what is going on in that neighborhood, and the Mission folk don't like the fact there is a de facto freeway going through their neighborhood.

You can't plan at a micro level in a city like San Francisco. Even Rob might agree with me on that one (even if we arrive at different end solutions).

 
At 3:14 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"You can't plan at a micro level in a city like San Francisco. Even Rob might agree with me on that one (even if we arrive at different end solutions)."

No, I disagree. The fact that displacing traffic on Geary would surely push a lot of that traffic into the contiguous neighborhoods must be taken into account. Even super-prog Supervisor Eric Mar, who now represents District One, would have to take note of all the negative neighborhood feedback if that's allowed to happen. The operational doctrine now in MTA: the city will do whatever it wants to our streets and it's tough shit if people who drive and the neighborhoods don't like it. The latest example of that is in the DEIR on the Bicycle Plan on Masonic, which I wrote about recently (taking away hundreds of parking spaces on Masonic will only lead to "a reduction in vehicle trips due to others who are aware of constrained parking conditions in a given area").

One of the positive results of our successful litigation: the city's neighborhoods now have fair warning about what the city and the bike nuts want to do to their streets. The Bicycle Coalition calls this negative feedback "nimby opposition."

 
At 3:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Interesting. I assume you also think that residents of the Castro and Noe Valley should not have any input whatsoever in the potential changes to Cesar Chavez - since Chavez is in the Mission/Bernal, despite the fact that Chavez is a primary exit route from the city for Castro/Noe residents. If it were up to Noe Valley, perhaps Chavez would be made into a elevated freeway for all they care about what is going on in that neighborhood, and the Mission folk don't like the fact there is a de facto freeway going through their neighborhood."

You have misunderstood me. Noe Valley isn't the Mission, so why would Noe Valley residents "get their way" over Mission residents? That would be like saying that Tenderloin residents should primarily decide what's best for outer Geary. That's not what I said at all.

Thus, this points directly back to the earlier comment. The only person you want making decisions is an INTEREST GROUP (aka, SFBC) -- not the public through a vote (as you said in an earlier post) and not neighbors through a consensus building process. You imply the neighbors are too narrow-minded or evil in your eyes to have some place at the table. You know, neighbors care about the City as a whole too! I (and other neighbors) are truly offended. I suspect that Rob would be too.

PS. I think discouraging traffic on Chavez is likely going to put more traffic on the other Mission/Bernal cross streets. Do the Mission/Bernal neighbors know this? If they really did, would they want to take traffic off of Chavez?

 
At 3:55 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

1) "How about letting the Richmond residents decide what is best for them, rather then some sort of "citywide" interest group?"

2) "No, I disagree. The fact that displacing traffic on Geary would surely push a lot of that traffic into the contiguous neighborhoods must be taken into account."

There is a big difference between letting the residents of the Richmond "decide" vs taking it into account.

What if the people of the Richmond decided Geary should be reduced to 1 lane in each direction? Do they get their way?

The Mission wants to reduce throughput on Cesar Chavez, and Noe Valley is protesting that it will make it harder to get to the 101. You can't have it both ways - the neighborhood decides if the decision is to not remove lanes, if the decision is to remove lanes, tough shit for the neighborhood that is pushing for traffic calming.

Re: Masonic - that has nothing to do with this post.

Re: Bike Nuts - what does Geary have to do with Bike-nuts? I thought the bike-nuts didn't give a shit about MUNI?

 
At 4:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problems stated: Many red lights, cross traffic and pedestrian crossing on a wide street, are all reasons it makes sense to have below street mass transit. The same problems would be evidenced on Market street had they tried to run Muni trains down that wide and busy thourowfare.Yes, it would surely be expensive, but SF is not becoming any less dense in population.Long-term planning is needed.

 
At 11:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wasn't suggesting the road diet to 'displace' traffic as much as keep people from driving at freeway speeds through the city.

If the volume of traffic decreased, that would be a nice side-benefit.

If you can manage to slow traffic a bit, then you can also change the traffic priority so that crossing isn't such a nightmare.

When you have those things taken care of, you've got a much friendlier street for walking down, for getting onto and off of transit vehicles, and for bicycling. It also becomes a much nicer street to live near.

A road diet would provide opportunities for better sidewalks, tree plantings, public art, places to sit, etc.

High speed/ high volume car traffic keeps us from having this sort of street.

 
At 5:37 PM, Blogger missiondweller said...

There's one solution to overcome the three problems of frequent red lights, wide streets with lots of traffic and long pedestrian crossings, and that is an underground Muni train. Of course, this is an expensive solution and one that would require much time, but then, SF is a dense city that's not going to become any less populated.

 
At 10:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why an underground Muni train and not a surface one?

 
At 5:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Years ago the TA installed a signal priority system on a segment of Geary which failed for a number of reasons. As the first commenter pointed out, the constant manipulation of timing just made things worse. It was also based on infra-red which stopped working if when the signal mounted receivers got covered in dirt and grim, though that was a limitation of that specific technology.

Rear-door boarding and low-floor busses do not require any changes to the street and the TA could fund those buses out of Prop K today since the money was already supposed to be set aside. That might be a good move since the SF MTA is planning to cut back on bus maintenance to cover it's deficit and that's likely going to mean even less reliable service due to break downs.

BRT would help with crossings by creating additional medians in the middle of the street to provide pedestrian refuges. Even though it doesn't actually narrow the street, it changes the perception. This can be taken another step further by also extending the corner sidewalks out because the space currently used at corners for bus stops will be converted into additional parking spaces.

BRT will improve service by eliminating the delays caused by pulling in and out of the corner stops, this last one benefits traffic as well by taking buses out of the car lanes, but some of that delay can be mitigated by moving bus stops to the far corner of the intersection, after the light, where a but will not have to wait through an entire signal if it finishes boarding right as the light turns red. Likewise it will be able to pull out of the stop while traffic is being held at the light, but there are downsides to this as a bus may be ready to pull back into the street right as the light turns green and has to wait through the signal until traffic stops when it goes red again and then for the cars that had been waiting to turn go ahead. There are probably only a limited number of stops where far-side stops would be useful.

To those who've suggested BRT would divert traffic onto parallel streets, there's a few other factors to keep in mind: Though Geary would be loosing two lanes to traffic, it would also no longer have busses pulling in and out of traffic every block slowing things down. Calfornia, Clement and Balboa would all still have that issue and not even all of them are through streets. They would not become instant expressways any more than 18th or 20th Avenues are faster alternatives to 19th Avenue.

The TA had estimates of what that spillover would be, and I do not remember what it was, but it was incredibly low (something like one extra car/min) and could be absorbed, but I suspect most drivers will just stick with Geary because it's the major expressway and not all the other side streets go all the way to downtown and would require crossing over to Geary anyway, so why would I bother if I'd loose the couple minutes I saved having to do that.

Another issue that would effect Geary if BRT was put in would be the additional traffic pulling in and out of the 16% of additional parking created by moving the corner bus stops to the center median. Adding more parking could attract people away from Muni and add more traffic to Geary than could be convinced to take Muni instead were the Geary buses more convenient.

 
At 10:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

All this stuff about putting the road on a diet and creating some kind of pedestrian utopia assumes anyone would want to go shopping along Geary. The city already has a lot of well established shopping districts where people are already coming by transit and could use wider sidewalks. San Francisco should focus on making already walkable neighborhoods like the Upper Haight, Castro, Noe Valley, Valencia and the like more walkable and stop fighting an uphill battle with suburbanites with a 1950's mind set about traffic and transit.

 
At 10:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"All this stuff about putting the road on a diet and creating some kind of pedestrian utopia assumes anyone would want to go shopping along Geary."

Shopping, gardening, hanging out, riding, rolling, exploring, strolling, talking, painting, photographing, playing music, dancing, running, jumping, singing, working, thinking, writing, teaching... lots of possibilites.

"San Francisco should focus on making already walkable neighborhoods like the Upper Haight, Castro, Noe Valley, Valencia and the like more walkable ..."

It is not an 'either, or' proposition.

 

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