Thursday, May 03, 2007

Leave Geary alone

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is all the rage now among the city's pseudo-wonks. They seem determined to "fix" Geary Boulevard and replace the 38 Geary Muni line with this very expensive---more than $200 million!---scheme. I've been a passenger on the 38 Geary since I first moved to San Francisco in 1961, and it has always run often and quickly between Van Ness and the ocean. It's only the Eastern, Van Ness to Market St. portion of the 38 line that gets bogged down in that densely-populated part of the city, mostly because those portions of Geary (38 outbound) and O'Farrell (38 inbound) have only two traffic lanes.

The 38 Geary has always been an efficient, well-traveled Muni line. In fact, the 38 Geary is the most-used bus line in the whole Bay Area, with 49,000 boardings a day. Reading the articles in the media (below in italics) on the proposed Geary BRT, I can't find any fact-based justification for this boondoggle. The 38 Geary is "sluggish"? Says who? Since when? What's the alleged problem with the 38 Geary that BRT is supposed to fix? David Schaefer, on the Geary Citizens Advisory Committee, while claiming to be concerned about wasting taxpayers' money on BRT, advocates building a subway under Geary Blvd., which would cost billions.

SF and Muni would be better off spending all that money on new buses and more drivers.

McGoldrick recall bid stirs the Richmond
Merchant group says he's out of touch with district
Wyatt Buchanan, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 4, 2007

A group of Geary Boulevard merchants has taken the first steps to recall Supervisor Jake McGoldrick, who represents the Richmond District.

Organized as the Committee to Recall Jake McGoldrick, the merchants filed paperwork with the city on Monday to allow them to begin raising money for the recall drive.

Recall backers say McGoldrick is out of touch with residents of his district, pointing to his support of a six-month trial closure of some roads in Golden Gate Park on Saturdays. Voters in the district overwhelmingly rejected Saturday closure in the 2000 election.

They also say McGoldrick has not solicited the input of district residents on a plan to create a bus rapid transit route on Geary Boulevard that would involve closing some lanes to automobile traffic.

"The whole community is frustrated," said David Heller, president of the Greater Geary Boulevard Merchants Association. Heller owns a beauty supply store on Geary Boulevard and is co-chairing the recall committee with Mark Golmyan, who owns a Russian delicatessen on the street.

Heller was one of six people to run against McGoldrick for the District One seat in 2004.

McGoldrick countered that those who want to see him gone are spreading "lies, distortions and inaccuracies -- gross inaccuracies" about his record and his position on issues.

"I think it's a very sad day when some folks can't engage in debate, discussion and disagreement without blowing up the ship," McGoldrick said. He said the recall threat amounts to "going nuclear."

Recalling a city official in San Francisco is a complicated process that among other things requires giving official notice to the subject of the recall and gathering signatures of 10 percent of registered voters within a district to qualify a recall election for the ballot.

Heller said recall proponents want to time a recall vote to coincide with the November election.

If McGoldrick were recalled, Mayor Gavin Newsom would appoint his replacement.
E-mail Wyatt Buchanan at

Geary 'bus rapid transit' gets green light
The Municipal Transportation Agency has approved a study to examine the impacts of a BRT, or bus rapid transit, lane on Geary Boulevard.

Tara Ramroop
The Examiner, 2007-05-02

A controversial plan to speed the travel time and boost reliability for the sluggish 38 Geary Muni line earned official support from a key agency on Tuesday. Advocates of “bus rapid transit”—a system featuring bus-only lanes closed to other vehicles, allowing buses to make fewer stops and take the right-of-way at oft-clogged traffic signals—say that the improvements would ease commuter woes on Geary Boulevard.

Meanwhile, critics, namely a number of merchants, say the plans to remove parking spaces would push drivers away from their shops and hurt business dramatically.

The Municipal Transportation Agency executive board nonetheless unanimously commissioned an environmental report delineating the impacts of a bus rapid transit system on the heavily trafficked street. Should the San Francisco County Transportation Authority board also OK the environmental impact report later this month, the report is expected to start this fall and be completed in 2009.

BRT, which has been in research phase for Geary Boulevard since 2004, functions much like a light-rail system, but with a smaller price tag. Construction costs for BRT range from $172 million to $212 million, with an additional $130 million put on the tab if the system was designed for use by light-rail cars. Van Ness Avenue is slated to be the next street to have the system.

If the environmental impact report is approved in 2009, construction on the project could start in 2010 and service could begin in 2012, according to a Transportation Authority feasibility report, also approved on Tuesday.

“We all know that there are too many people who drive from the west part of the city to downtown,” director Peter Mezey said, noting that Geary often sees the brunt of this traffic.

David Heller, president of the Greater Geary Boulevard Merchants and Property Owners Association, which has led the charge against BRT, said based on an unofficial survey he and his fellow merchants took recently, an overwhelming number of Geary patrons said they drive to the stores. Anywhere between 25 and 285 parking spaces would be eliminated if BRT is implemented, a change Heller fears was not properly considered in the study.

“We’re not against fixing Muni, but let’s just work together,” Heller said.
Muni spokeswoman Maggie Lynch said the approved recommendations will head to the Transportation Authority board on May 22.

Pending approval with that board, an environmental study would begin sometime this fall, Lynch said. There are no cost estimates for the environmental study, Lynch said.

Bury the Geary: The case for a new subway line
By David Schaeffer
OPINION (SF Bay Guardian, April 25, 2007

Geary Boulevard transit riders deserve a real solution to the problems plaguing the busiest travel corridor west of the Mississippi River---not a short-term fix, such as bus rapid transit (BRT), that will waste millions of dollars of taxpayer money and create even more problems and congestion for the troubled street.

Transit experts have hailed BRT as cutting-edge technology and a cheaper alternative to light-rail and subways. They point to successes in countries such as Japan, France, and Brazil---and even some US cities such as Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Successful they may be.

But the streets these BRT programs operate on look nothing like Geary Boulevard. More often than not, these streets have no parking---and eliminating parking is something we can't do to the residents and merchants along the corridor.

These model corridors are extremely wide and remain so throughout the course of the BRT route. On Geary we face much more challenging lane widths throughout the Richmond and east of Van Ness Avenue, not to mention the daunting challenges of how to handle the Masonic and Fillmore interchanges.

The current study of BRT on Geary is in its final stages. After three years, the transit authority staff has offered the Geary Citizens Advisory Committee "choices" to recommend to the full board.

These choices include different arrays of BRT and one non-BRT option that encompasses much cheaper repairs such as proof-of-payment boarding through all doors, transit signal priority, and other improvements.

None of these choices, however, contemplates the issues Geary and O'Farrell Street face east of Van Ness, and they all assume police and traffic control will step up their enforcement of the diamond lane.

But there's one solution we have not considered. Yes, it is the most ambitious and the most expensive, but it also could be the most transformative and could spur more people to leave their cars behind and embrace public transit: bury the Geary and create a subway.

We owe Geary corridor residents and riders this solution. Why can someone in Berkeley or Hayward get to downtown San Francisco faster than some of our residents?

Big problems require big thinking, big solutions, and, most important, leadership. So far we've had none of that on Geary. It's time for our city leaders to champion a solution that can grow along with the city and help solve the congestion issues that will only continue to get worse.

San Francisco holds itself out as one of the world's finest cities. If that's the case, we all should remember the world's great cities move people underground---not in buses.

(David Schaefer is vice chair of the Geary Citizens Advisory Committee)

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