SFMTA approves dedicated bus lanes for Geary Boulevard

San Francisco transit officials on Tuesday gave a key approval to a $300 million bus rapid transit project that will change the way Muni runs the 38-Geary local, rapid and express routes through the Geary corridor.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors approved the state environmental review report and adopted the recommended “Hybrid Alternative” design of the project.

Commissioners of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority approved the same report and recommended design in January.

The project will dedicate red transit-only lanes from Gough to Stanyan streets along the curb edge, then in the median from Stanyan Street to 28th Avenue, and then back to curbside from 28th to 34th avenues.

Transit-only lanes already exist on the downtown portion of the Geary corridor, but will have improved bus stops as part of the project.

Liz Brisson, SFMTA project manager overseeing the first phase of the project, said of the Geary corridor:

“I’d like to frame the Geary corridor as one that’s kind of a victim of its own success in that it carries a high ridership. But in order to serve all that ridership, we have to run the buses closely together.”

Brisson said that without infrastructure aiding the Muni lines, the service results in bunches and gaps in service:

“It affects riders who may end up having to wait longer than they would expect for the bus.”

The bus rapid transit system would save Muni riders 20 minutes roundtrip, according to the SFMTA.

The 38-Geary local, rapid and express routes carry a total daily average of nearly 54,000 riders.

Features of the bus rapid transit system include new bus stop stations in the center-running portion of Geary, which will include removing the median and a lane of traffic from each direction.

The SFMTA will work on the project in two phases. The first phase of the project, which costs $65 million, is fully funded and includes construction of side-running portion of project from Market to Stanyan streets.

Transit officials are still seeking funding for the second phase of the project. Brisson said the transit agency is seeking a $100 million Small Starts grant from the Federal Transit Administration to help fund the second half of the project. The second phase of the project costs $235 million.

Brisson said the transit agency will also make pedestrian improvements along the 6.5-mile corridor including new crosswalks, pedestrian signal countdowns, pedestrian bulb outs and median refuges at lengthy crosswalks.

Geary is the longest corridor on San Francisco’s high-injury network of traffic collisions, and pedestrians are eight times more likely to be hit by a vehicle compared to the average city street, said Brisson.

A SFMTA staff report said that there were 546 collisions and three fatalities on Geary within the last five years.

The project has had opposition from merchants worried about construction hurting businesses and critics of the project who have said the project is costly.

San Franciscan’s For Sensible Transit filed a lawsuit earlier this year against the project citing that transportation planners did not study in full detail the no build option in the environmental review report. Other concerns included construction costs and construction impacts.

Bob Starzel, director of the San Franciscan’s For Sensible Transit, said the group does not like the way the project has been planned. He advised the SFMTA board to not “rubber stamp” the project:

“The only way we could talk you is by a lawsuit. We prefer to do it in a more enabled way.”

Rachel Hyden, executive director with the San Francisco Transit Riders group, said the group is eager to see the first phase of the project completed:

“This is a quick and simple solution to get these reliability and travel time savings improvements on the ground now.”

After Tuesday’s approval, Brisson said staff will work on the detailed designs of the project, which includes the roadway and right-of-way changes. The SFMTA plans to seek public outreach on the detailed designs.

Transit officials also expect to the complete the federal environmental review process later this year.

Brisson expects to bring back a legislative package to the Board of Directors of the proposed roadway and right-of-way changes in early 2018.

EDITORS NOTE This story has been updated from its original version.