The Geary BRT: "a raucous meeting"
From the Richmond Review:
Geary bus plan draws vocal concerns at public meeting
Geary bus plan draws vocal concerns at public meeting
by Thomas K. Pendergast
In a raucous meeting with heated verbal exchanges, city officials presented three different versions of a new transportation plan for Geary Boulevard and responded to troubled merchants worried about how it will affect their businesses.
Dubbed the Geary Corridor Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) plan, the estimated $250 million project would essentially split the main traffic artery of the Richmond District. It will reconfigure traffic lanes from Van Ness Avenue out to 33rd Avenue---two for cars and one exclusively for buses. Construction is expected to begin in 2012 and be completed by 2015.
After a feasibility study in 2007, city planners narrowed the plan down to three possibilities, which are currently being studied as part of an Environmental Impact Report. The first plan would make the dedicated bus lanes near the right-lane curbs in both directions, as they currently are, leaving the middle and left lanes for vehicles.
The second and third options would put the buses going eastbound and westbound in the center lanes. With the two center lane options, one would have a loading dock between the east and westbound traffic that all passengers would share, and the other would have buses running next to each other with separate loading platforms on the right side of the bus lanes.
"Buses on Geary are in motion less than half of their travel time on Geary," said Zabe Bent, the BRT's project manager. "This is pretty shocking to many of us. What we want to do is speed up the bus when it's actually moving on Geary and we think we can get to about a 25-percent improvement in the travel speed. We also want to reduce some of the other delays that we see so that's one of the reasons we're looking at a dedicated lane. We want to make sure that the buses are not impinging on the autos traveling but we also want to make sure that autos are allowing the buses to move forward."
She noted that while they expect a decrease in total travel time, "the improvement overall is not just about the end-to-end travel time. The improvement is about reliability...knowing with more certainty how frequently the bus is coming, that the bus is coming in a minute or two minutes, however long it is, knowing that you can count on the bus to be there."
But many local merchants along Geary are worried that construction in front of their shops would discourage shoppers already dealing with a bad economy. Bent told them the City would keep Geary open during construction and other cities had minimized this problem by doing the construction in segments instead of all at once.
"Geary will not be closed during construction," she said. "We are doing as much as we can to find innovative and creative ways for staging the construction. It's one of the things that we'll be evaluating through the process, but we're trying to make sure people still have access to businesses and shops and their homes during construction."
Antonio C. White, a marketing communications advisor with an office on Geary, expressed concern that the project would be a big problem for local merchants. "Merchants can't even deal with a month of slowdown, much less a year. A lot of these small merchants are living week to week and month to month and are barely getting by as it is. Every month we see businesses closing down on our street. It's a horrible situation, so how will you address that?"
"One of the things we're doing is looking at how the Small Business Commission and other city agencies currently help merchants through difficult periods, whether it's through loans and other sorts of things and expanding programs," Bent responded.
A suspicion expressed by several members of the audience is that the new transit system is a precursor to a rezoning effort that would allow for bigger buildings on Geary, pushing out the small businesses that now dominate the boulevard.
One man noted that federal money was expected to help fund the project with "urban renewal" conditions attached. He worried that construction will force small businesses out of business, thus clearing the land for bigger enterprises after lots have been rezoned to allow for a higher density of people and materials.
Bent denied that there was any such plan coming from the Geary Corridor BRT project. "This project does not need land use growth in order to justify the project," she said. "This project is about the current ridership on Geary, not about growth. The Planning Department does not project at this point any new growth in the Richmond as a result of this project. That is not what's currently being planned."
"But you can't guarantee it," a woman in the audience shot back.
The project also has aspects which it is hoped will make the corridor safer for pedestrians, like curb bulbs to shorten the distance for people crossing the street, median refuges for people who don't make it across the boulevard before traffic light changes, and more signal lights in some places, including more "count down" signals.
Another issue that was widely discussed was the preliminary study's conclusion that numerous vehicles would avoid Geary and travel on ancillary streets, like Fulton and California streets, to reach their destinations.
Bent said the EIR currently in progress would give more information about traffic impacts.
Bicycle lanes are not included in any of the scenarios for Geary, except for a short section between Masonic and Presidio avenues that will connect a network of bike lanes running on streets perpendicular to the corridor.
Labels: Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)