Muni takes steps to reduce surge in bus crashes

Muni officials are taking steps to decrease the number of bus and light-rail collisions with private vehicles and objects on San Francisco streets.

During the last five months, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has seen a decrease in light-rail collisions. Bus collisions, though, are trending upward, according to data obtained from the transit agency by SFBay.

In February, the SFMTA reported that 113 buses either collided with another private vehicle or by hitting an object such as a pole or a transit shelter. In June, that number increased to 173 collisions, the SFMTA reports.

The total number of collisions between February and June 2016, which includes each type of Muni vehicle (buses, cable cars, light-rail vehicles, historic streetcars), was 806. Of the 806 collisions during the five-month period, 726 collisions of those involved buses.

Light-rail vehicles saw a total of 22 collisions during the same five-month period.

John Haley, the transit agency’s director of transit, updated SFMTA board members at the policy and governance meeting on Friday on actions his staff is taking to address the growing trend of Muni bus collisions:

“As we look at this as challenge, I think of the things to some degree to frame the issue in perspective. We’ve got a growing system. We’v got a booming city. You’ve got an increasing population, increasing construction, special events, all of that.”

Haley said the operating environment in The City is challenging at times as the transit agency introduces more service and more Muni vehicles on the streets, but said the transit agency is factoring all of environmental challenges into their solutions:

“This is a trend we’re addressing head on in continuing to look at the actions that we need to take.”

Haley said while most of the collisions involved minor damage and injuries, the collisions still have an impact on service causing delays for riders and operators involved.

Solutions

Some of the actions taken by the transit agency including forming a collision reduction plan that entails following up on each crash no matter how minor, said Haley.

Another committee of three SFMTA staff members will follow-up on each collision even further by analyzing video, reads the reports and goes out to the collision site. The transit agency’s budget funds the group, said Haley.

There is also a safety campaign underway for all operators called the “STOP Campaign,” which began last month. STOP is an acronym for operators to use when they see a hazard: “Stop, Think, Observe, Proceed.”

Another way the transit agency is trying to reduce bus collisions is by looking at data where collisions often occur.

The SFMTA looked at 13 locations in The City that have no projects underway to prevent collisions.

Some of the hotspots for vehicle collisions included Mission and Main streets, Fourth and Townsend streets, and along Third Street.

Britt Tanner, a senior engineer with the SFMTA, said both of these intersections had 10 or more collisions during the last year.

At Mission and Main streets, buses are getting side swiped on the left by passing vehicles at the bus terminal, said Tanner. One of the solutions is to move the center traffic line to widen the lane:

“We’re looking into the best way that we can move the center line over to widen the travel lane or potentially eliminate one of those lanes that should eliminate that pinch point that’s happening in that traffic lane.”

Tanner said she is still assessing which is the best option, but should have a plan implemented by the fall.

Another location that has seen a number of collisions is at Townsend and Fourth near the bus stop alongside the Caltrain station. Tanner said there are conflicts with vehicles making right turns in front of the bus.

A solution the transit agency is looking at is moving the bus stop back from the intersection.

The T-Third line has also seen its fair share of collisions with vehicles making illegal left turns. Painted words on the road and ‘no left turn’ signs haven’t stopped drivers from turning left along Third Street.

Tanner said the transit agency has developed a low-cost plan that has already been tested at Embarcadero and Harrison Street.

She said the transit agency would install quick curbs, plastic curbs and safety posts at the approach of intersections to remind drivers that they are not allowed to make a left turn:

“We are going to reinforce that once again with some safety posts and plastic curbs and to really remind drivers they’re not suppose to be making that turn at that location.”

The project will take longer to implement because the transit agency has to buy 300 pieces of the plastic curb for 40 intersections along Third Street. Tanner expects to complete the project by the end of 2016.

Buses Versus Fixed Objects

Objects such as poles and transit shelters are also getting in the way of Muni buses. Transit officials said they analyzed the data to find out where the most fixed object collisions occurred and to see with which objects Muni vehicles were likely to collide.

SFMTA staff visited sites where there were three or collisions with fixed objects.

One example Tanner gave was at Sixth Avenue and Geary Boulevard, where the 44-O’Shaughnessy was hitting the roof of the bus shelter on both the inbound and outbound bus stops. The recommendation was to move the bus stop back, which the transit agency completed this week.

Haley said the transit agency is full engaged in reducing the number of collisions:

“We’re confident that the way initial positive trends we’re seeing will be expanded across the system and will reduce the incidents.”