Geary transit improv­ements set to arrive early

San Francisco transit planners are moving ahead with plans to start work on some of the components of the Geary Bus Rapid Transit project earlier than expected.

The San Francisco County Transportation Authority, which is made up of all the members of the Board of Supervisors, approved $873,000 to fund the planning of near-term improvements for the 38-Geary route at Tuesday’s meeting.

Chester Fung, a transportation planner for the SFCTA, said last week at authority’s plans and programs committee, that there has been a desire to implement some of the improvements now along the route, which carries an average of 53,000 riders on the weekdays:

“The idea is to improve customer service now and to build support for improvements over time.”

Fung said construction for improvements like extending the transit-only lanes by one to two miles between Gough and Stanyan streets along Geary Boulevard, adding 15 to 20 transit and pedestrian bulb-outs and moving 20 to 25 bus stop locations from the near side to the far side, could be done earlier before the opening of the Geary BRT system in 2019.

Improvements would also include adding six pedestrian countdown signals and adding 15 right turn pockets.

Construction for the earlier elements would begin as early as the end of next year through 2017, said Fung. The cost for the improvements is between $15 to 20 million.

He said planners will decide on the selection of improvements based on which improvements they will most likely keep for the full bus rapid transit system and high-priority pedestrian safety locations.

Fung said riders could save from four to six minutes in each direction with the early implementation of the near-term improvements.

Supervisor Eric Mar, who represents the Richmond District, said many of the early improvements will help with the busy Muni route citing that the 38-Geary’s ridership is as big as Caltrains entire system:

“I think it’s urgently needed now as it was years ago and we’re doing our best with these early actions to kind of get people ready for the a more fuller robust rapid Geary for the future.”

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is in the progress of installing transit signal priority at 86 intersections, which would hold green lights for approaching Muni buses, said Fung. It also completed the red transit-only lanes at Geary and O’Farrell this year.

The transit agency also this month approved the purchase of 61 60-foot low-floor hybrid electric-biodiesel buses earlier this month, which the 38-Geary will use.

As for the rest of the Geary BRT project, Fung said he’s aiming to complete the environmental process by the fall of 2015.