Van Ness rapid transit construction to begin Oct. 24

The much-talked about and highly-anticipated Van Ness bus rapid transit system will finally start construction this month after years of community meetings and a long environmental review process.

Officials from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency are warning drivers of future construction impacts along Van Ness Avenue to build San Francisco’s first bus rapid transit system, which transit officials said will make Muni buses run faster.

Peter Gabancho, project manager of the Van Ness Improvement Project, said the transit agency is targeting to start construction on Oct. 24 along the avenue.

Another project is also set to begin just right next door on Polk Street that transit officials said will make it safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. Construction on Polk Street will also have impacts to traffic, which is to begin on Oct. 17.

The SFMTA is encouraging people to either walk, take Muni or bike to destinations on Van Ness Avenue and Polk Street if possible.

Most of work will be on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. for both projects.

Crews will work on the Van Ness Avenue in three phases.

The first phase includes replacing the underground sewer and water systems and replacing a portion of the fire department’s water system along Van Ness Avenue. Crews will work on this portion of the project from 2016 to 2017, according SFMTA transit officials.

In 2018, construction will begin to build out the bus rapid transit system. The system includes center running transit-only lanes, new station platforms and new medians.

As work begins in the center lanes, motorists will be unable to make left turns at most intersections along Van Ness Avenue.

From 2018 to 2019, crews will work on sidewalk extensions, installing new overhead power lines, painting crosswalks and training Muni and Golden Gate Transit operators.

The bus rapid transit system will open for service in 2019.

Other features part of the bus rapid transit system include transit single priority and low-floor Muni buses for faster boarding. The reduction of bus stops has been in place since June.

Construction on the fiercely-debated Polk Street project will get worked on in different segments along the corridor.The project will take approximately two to years to complete, according to the San Francisco Department of Public Works.

The project includes eight blocks of a raised bikeway in the northbound direction, 39 blocks of repaving, sewer replacement on 11 blocks and traffic signal upgrades at nine intersections.

New trees, streetlights, 11 pedestrian bulb outs and water infrastructure upgrades are other features of the project.

Both projects have previously been met with opposition and controversy from the public including merchants, residents and transit riders.

On Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a resolution urging the SFMTA to make efforts to preserve the street lamps along Van Ness Avenue. The existing trolley and streetlight poles are deteriorating, according to the transit agency.

The transit agency had originally planned to save four out of 224 street lamps.

SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose said the transit agency will sit down with Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who introduced the resolution, and discuss acceptable options to either reuse or repurpose the street lamps.

If an option is available, SFMTA staff would need to conduct a study to figure out a budget, scope of work and timeline for the work, said Rose.

At a community meeting Wednesday to discuss construction impacts on Van Ness Avenue and Polk Street, the transit agency said the San Francisco Arts Commission and Historic Preservation Commission had already approved new trolley and light poles on the avenue.

If there is a developed new design, it will again need approvals from the same commissions.

The public can visit the SFMTA website to learn more about the projects on Van Ness Avenue and Polk Street.