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Shelter squabble threatens Van Ness BRT

A key federal grant for San Francisco’s Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit project could be in jeopardy.

A letter dated Oct. 27 sent from the Federal Transit Administration said the project is danger of not qualifying for the FTA’s Small Starts grant program because of recent design element changes to the Van Ness Avenue project.

The letter from the FTA’s regional administrator Leslie T. Rogers explains that the recent changes to the project to not include a canopy or roof-type transit shelters to protect riders from weather elements will disqualify the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency from receiving funding from the FTA program.

The transit agency said it had anticipated receive up to $75 million to help pay for the bus rapid transit project along the Van Ness Avenue corridor.

Rogers said in his letter that the FTA’s grant program had updated its definition of a bus rapid transit system and eligibility requirements, which now states that a BRT system should have shelters that offer protection from the weather:

“The provision of weather protected elements is an important feature of BRT projects that serves to enhance ridership and improve the travel experience for the riding public.”

The current Muni red seismic wave shelters, supplied and maintained by Clear Channel Outdoor, Inc. were originally part of the original plan of the bus rapid transit project, but the SFMTA had taken them out because the current members of the Arts Commission disliked them, according to the SFMTA.

Though commissioners from 2008 had approved the red wave design, which can now be seen at most Muni bus stops.

In a letter obtained by SFBay to the Art Commission’s Cultural Affairs Director Tom DeCaigny on Nov. 4, Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin said the SFMTA did oblige to the commission’s request of not including the shelters with the red roofs earlier this year, but now must move forward with the red wave shelters or else it will forfeit funding from the FTA:

“The SFMTA must not risk $75 million in FTA funds needed for the Project by proceeding with the current design without roofs over shelters. A loss of such funding would jeopardize the Project.”

Though the City Charter gives the commission the right to approve designs for all public structures, Reiskin said in the letter that the charter also allows the SFMTA exclusive authority on how it manages its properties and assets.

The letter also states that the transit agency has already asked the City Attorney’s office for advice on the matter.

The City Attorney’s office said the SFMTA is not bound to follow the direction of the Arts Commission if the design:

“… would alter or interfere with the functioning of structures under its jurisdiction, unreasonably delay construction, or disproportionately increase the cost of the structures…”

Reiskin said this would apply in this situation. He said the SFMTA determined that constructing a new transit shelter or designing a different roof for the BRT bus platforms would cost between $5 million to $10 million, which he said the transit agency does not have funding for nor funding to maintain the customized shelters:

“…The SFMTA has neither the time nor the money to start over and explore a new design.”

Reiskin ended his letter by thanking the Arts Commission for reviewing the designs, but said the project has to move forward with the transit shelters provided by Clear Channel.

The $125 million Van Ness BRT system is scheduled to open for service in 2018 with construction to start in late 2015.

The system will include a center dedicated transit-only lanes for Muni’s 47-Van Ness and 49-Mission /Van Ness buses, low-floor Muni vehicles and giving buses priority at traffic signals, which the SFMTA said will improve transit travel times by up to 32 percent and reliability by up to 50 percent for both of those routes

Other funding sources for the project include the local transportation sales tax (Proposition K) and also from state funding resources.

SFBay reached out to the Arts Commission, but has not heard back.

The SFMTA board will take up the parking the changes related to the Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit project at its meeting on Nov. 18 at City Hall at 1 p.m, Room 400.

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  1. Ziggy Tomcich says:

    Shelter from what? On the extremely rare days that’s it actually rains in San Francisco, those shelters provide cover for maybe 2 people and only if there’s no wind. The FTA snobs need to stop micro managing this project and let local transit planners do their jobs. San Francisco isn’t Detroit. Bus Shelters are nice, but that’s all they are here because our weather is awesome most of the time.

    This is already the most expensive and most thoroghly studied bus improvement in the history of humanity! Enough of the BS, just build the damn thing!

  2. Personally I think the Lundgren designed bus shelters are very nice, both functionally and as a design. Happy to see them back in.

  3. sfparkripoff says:

    Wahooo! Time for the residents and businesses to “lawyer up” and kill off the rest of this terrible project.

  4. I personally love the shelters. Whatever makes a bus rider’s day more miserable,

  5. You don’t appreciate how slow the Van Ness section. Speeding up the street design means you can increase frequency with same amount of drivers. Plus, why would you want Muni to spend more money and raise taxes to pay for extra drivers?

  6. sebra leaves says:

    Good news for those who don’t support the Van Ness BRT. Maybe SFMTA will do that right thing and just hire more bus drivers and run more buses on Van Ness instead. They could do that a lot cheaper and a lot faster and serve the folks who are waiting between lines now. While they are at it they could also license some smaller jitneys to run up Van Ness and Mission street and relive themselves of the expense all together while providing for the needs of their riders. Bring back the jitneys!

    1. How does hiring more bus drivers solve the problem of buses being stuck in car traffic? It would increase frequency of service but not speed or reliability.


    2. So you want to make it more expensive to run Muni by hiring more drivers, even more expensive by hiring private shuttle busses on top of that, which just make transit and traffic slower and more congested because of all the extra busses pulling in and out at the corners?

      I don’t see how that helps anyone.

      1. sebra wants MUNI performance to degrade further to bolster the “We must drive EVERYWHERE!” argument.

        1. I know that, but it’s only making traffic worse and the city more expensive for everyone. That includes car owners as well as Muni riders.

        2. You guys are WRONG. If you use the Geary BRT recent EIR, and see that they want to speed up the travel times and that they have certain time goals, you will see that with the new transponder control technology, they arleady are beating the times they were shooting for in 2020 once they blow $300 Million. The TECHNOLOGY has spead up the buses by MORE THAN THEY THOUGHT. But when I asked a Transit Representative about the fact their time trials were from pre signal transponder technology, she said, “They aren’t working as well as we thought”..they are working BETTER than they thought. If you look at the Van Ness EIR I guarantee that their goal travel times are met NOW, because of technology. Sebra has it right. WTF is anyone thinking if they want to blow more money when the signal transponders were game changers. Go to the Geary BRT is online..they wanted to get travel times along Geary down and they have done better than they thought with just the transponders.

      2. Jamison, they have spead up the Geary lines already, since the new transponders. Go to the Muni site and look at the bus schedules. They are all GPS controlled. All the data is there. But since they want to spend $300,000,000 and increase the annual maintenance costs by another $12.5 million over the no build plan, which is really more expensive, the build out of these lanes or the fact that they already got there with 1% of the cost by putting in the transponders. The guys that invented the GPS transponders GOT IT. They nailed it. Do your own homework. These Bus Transit Lanes are a slap in every taxpayer’s face. Every one of you. So that these pencil pushing govt employees can keep getting paid by taking dollars out of your pockets. Go look at the Geary line travel times. Go online to the EIR for the Geary BRT…look in the table of contents, go to the section that shows their predicted travels times for their big, glorious RIP OFF PROJECT…THEY HAVE ALREADY MATCHED THOSE TIMES IN THE LAST YEAR AND A HALF, AND ARE BEATING THEM HANDILY. IT IS A JOKE WHAT THEY ARE TRYING TO DO NOW!!!! San Francisco politicians are screwing taxpayers, but some of you say you really like it. Amazing.

      3. sfparkripoff says:

        BRT cost is 125 Million. Why not save that money and put more buses on the street?

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