New devices on Geary stoplights: No, you’re not being watched

Photo by Rob R.

A couple of readers have written in to ask about the new devices that have been attached to Geary stoplights from Arguello to Park Presidio.

They’re not stoplight cameras, or cameras of any kind. They’ve been put in place to make the Muni buses on Geary run more efficiently.

“It is a Proxim Radio, which is one component of Transit Signal Priority that is currently being installed along Geary to give signal priority to Muni to reduce travel time and to make it more reliable,” said Paul Rose, spokesman for the SFMTA.

The GPS devices are designed to keep lights green when a Muni bus is approaching. The system also has the ability to make red lights shorter based on the presence of a bus.

The system was installed on Mission Street earlier this year to speed up the 14-Mission, 14L-Mission Limited and 49-Mission-Van Ness lines.

Jeff Flynn, service planning manager for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, told the Examiner that the system is “cutting four to five minutes, or 10 percent, off the travel route times from beginning to end” along Mission.

The SFMTA wants to get the system installed on Geary Boulevard in advance of the $240 million Bus Rapid Transit project that is slated to debut in 2018.

The SFMTA didn’t tell us when this signal priority system will go into effect on Geary, whose 38 and 38L lines carry 55,000 people per day, but it could take some time due to aging lights and signal boxes.

“It’s an aging infrastructure that we’re replacing and upgrading and that can be constraining,” Flynn told the Examiner. “But from what we’re experiencing so far, that isn’t causing as many problems.”

Sarah B.

Geary Blvd. at 17th Ave.: Visualization of center-lane Bus Rapid
Transit with dual medians. View more


  1. Thanks for posting this, Sarah! Supervisor Mar has been working with the MTA to speed up transit on the 38 Geary lines–the most used bus line west of the Mississippi! Transit Priority Signaling is one such step. It should be fully operational within the next few months. This, along with the newly-painted transit-only lanes between Van Ness and Market will make quite a difference.

    Stay tuned as we’ll have more announcements in the near future regarding near, medium, and long-term improvements along Geary!

    Shoot me an email or give me a call if you wanna share/learn more!

  2. I am super excited about this. For years I’ve wondered why SF doesn’t have lights that work better with the buses.

  3. This sounds great re. helping with the 38 cattle cars. It’s really frustrating getting to an intersection where the bus stop is before the light, the light being green, then people taking a long time getting on and the light turning red just as everyone is on.

    Also nice to know that the rapid transit project is proceeding (despite the best efforts of a reactionary neighborhood paper editor who will remain unnamed).

    And I hope those little boxes are better at locating buses than 511 transit. I recently waited at a 38 stop for about 20 minutes as 2 or 3 phantom 38’s arrived and departed according to 511 (though it was a positive outcome in the long run as I just got frustrated and walked most of the way…).

  4. Thanks for the link Sarah; that was amusing (as well as informative) and it brings up something that I hadn’t really researched yet, and that’s how 511 gets it’s bus location info.; it sounds like maybe it uses NextMuni…

  5. Since most of the bus stops are situated just before the stoplights on that stretch of Geary, does that mean that cross traffic (on 12th/6th/3rd and for one way of Arguello and Park Presidio each) will sit while the bus is loading? If so, it might be a good idea to shift all of the bus stops to the other side of intersections…sometimes loading time is very slow.
    It should really help around 9th Ave!

  6. @Stephen – Based on that Examiner story, it sounds like shifting bus stops is something the SFMTA looks at when evaluating the system. But not sure what the plans are for that on Geary.

    Sarah B.

  7. Thanks for the explanation on those things. I noticed them a week or so ago as I cruised along Geary. I think they’ve got a heavy does of “ugly” built into them. In this day of high-tech everything seems like it can be made pretty small. They’re so large I’m sure they’re undoubtedly an obsolete version of the technology involved, probably acquired by Muni at an extraordinary cost.

    You don’t need a big antenna to identify a big bus!

    Maybe they’ll last two or three years before they get replaced by some current technology, which would be much smaller and less obtrusive.

    If NextMuni was accurate it would seem that data from that system could be used to adjust the signal timing. But I guess in San Francisco the NextMuni people have their version of where the buses are and the traffic light people will have their own version of where the buses are.

  8. To Stephen and Sarah’s points: Yes! That’s called “bus stop optimizing” and is in the works for many stops.

  9. sounds like this is going to be great for traffic as well as us commuters on the 38s. The picture makes Geary look so clean, lol. Maybe the next step will be to clean the streets and sidewalks?

  10. Title should say you are getting watched – and tracked and your license plate is too – just not by these particular devices. License plates are constantly being captured and stored in a privately owned database. SF police and others love this stuff.

    BTW – On Fifth and Balboa and elsewhere there are new devices up there with blue lights on them you can see at night. Anyone know about these?

  11. Does anyone know what’s up with the bus shortages lately for the 31AX?

    Last week several busses were consecutive no-shows, and upset riders who called 311 didn’t get much of a response. Someone in line said we have a driver shortage in the city, but I haven’t seen any articles about it.

    The line went around half the block at the Davis and Pine stop on Friday, when the 4:05, 4:22, 4:38 failed to show.

  12. @Foggy Bus –

    Peter Lauterborn, one of Supervisor Mar’s aides, made this statement which we published in an October 2014 article:

    Good news for riders of the Muni 31AX bus. Peter Lauterborn, aide to Supervisor Mar, sent out an email recently about some planned improvements. β€œThe good news is that Muni is hiring around 40 new drivers a month. This should have an immediate improvement in service City wide. Second, in the Spring of 2015 Muni will embark on the first round of service increases around the City. Based on your testimony and our pushing, the MTA has agreed to change their plan and include a service bump for the 31AX.”


  13. Foggy Bus, Absenteeism on Fridays and Mondays during Football season is normal especially if the 49ers or Raiders play on Thursday night for Friday’s missing runs and Sunday for Monday’s missing runs.

    New hires don’t really make much difference as seniority is the only way to get assigned to non dangerous runs and shifts. Don’t be deceived by the political PR. The last decent year on Muni was 1968 (when there was only one express in the Richmond, running on Clement, but there were Balboa Limiteds and timed transfer points).

  14. I have a question about “bus stop optimizing” and pedestrian signals.

    Most of the stoplights on Geary have pedestrian signals that let pedestrians know how much time they have to get across the boulevard. Does this system of “bus stop optimizing” allow ample time for people to cross the street? Would it go suddenly from “15 seconds left” to “zero seconds left” if there is a bus in the vicinity?

    I wonder if there is anybody who knows how that works. I’d hate to see a little kid or an elderly get stuck in the middle island on Geary Boulevard.


  15. On Mission I believe they count down normally and then just stay red while the bus passes and then the cycle resumes with the cross street getting green.

  16. Easy is right. The pedestrian countdowns on the signals are unaffected. What does happen is a signal will stay green on geary (or mission) for another ~10 seconds if a bus is still approaching.

  17. I look forward to when these little boxes become operational. I can then create a “Hack Box” to make them think I am a Muni bus and get all green lights! πŸ™‚ Just like a Stingray to make you think I am your cell tower…

    The Gear Rapid Transit will be an economic boondoggle. There is not one Large Capital Transit Project in the SF Bay Area in the last 25 years that produced anything close to the ridership increases or reduced costs that the original justifying documents predicted. Not one.

    On Geary in the Richmond the project will constrict auto traffic and parking. {Some will like that and some will not} The real issue will be a drop in business. The people who drive, will just drive further to shop where they can park. They will not shift to transit.

    So the business owners will take it in the cash register.

    There were alternatives that could have given most everyone their cake and eat it too on the Geary transit issue. However, in transportation/political circles every 15 years or so there is a “mode of the moment”. From about 1988 to 2000 it was Light Rail. Since then it has gone to Bus Rapid Transit.

    Those who are Transportation Planners and Managers do not get promoted by thinking out of the box or pushing ideas that are not “easy” on the local elected folks. So, there was never any serious look at the alternatives. Yes they went through the motions of Alternatives Analysis, but no one really expected anything other than BRT to come out of the process.

    We will have a number of years of disruption, business will loose money, and in the end we will not get much to show for it except maybe 10 minutes saved on a ride to Market Street.

  18. Whaddya wanna bet the contracts for these miraculous boxes were given to Rose Pak and/or Wille Brown’s “talented friends.”

  19. Wholeheartedly agree with you JD! The Geary Rapid Transit project is completely unproven, costly, and environmentally unsound due to the lengthy construction time (at least three years). Some of the horrible trade offs include: lane closures, massive construction, noise, traffic congestion and reduced foot traffic for the businesses on the Geary.

    Furthermore, residents along Geary will have to endure the wonderful improvements whether they like it or not. For the record we live on Geary right in front of a proposed BRT station so you can only imagine our gushing enthusiasm.

    All of these “changes” that BRT proposes come with open promises and good intentions, yet utterly lack a thorough understanding of the financial and environment ramifications that will result. As you noted JD, “We will have a number of years of disruption, business will lose money, and in the end we will not get much to show for it except maybe 10 minutes saved on a ride to Market Street.” And these wonderful changes is what the supervisors will take credit for, leaving residents, businesses and taxpayers paying for years to come. Lovely. The supervisors and BRT supporters will say, we accomplished so much to help transform our great City into a world class public transit mecca. Hardly. If they really wanted to transform our public transit system, analyze it from the ground up, starting with safety, environmental issues, reliability, and most importantly learn from international cities such as Hong Kong, Taipei, London and analyze what worked for them (ground to ceiling transparent barriers, automated transit maps, underground connections, etc).

    Ultimately, the BRT needs to prove it is more than just a cosmetic improvement (because that is all it is currently), it must become a solution to the ridership needs balanced with the needs of businesses, drivers and residents. I believe we will be lucky if the BRT even ends up saving riders ANY time considering the YEARS of construction needed, massive driving inconveniences, LOST revenue to businesses, and HUGE COST to taxpayers.

  20. The changes to the lights on Geary to speed up the 38 look like a low-cost improvement to transit. Maybe before committing hundreds of millions to a BRT on Geary, incremental improvements like these could first be put in place. Who knows, an overpriced BRT may not even be necessary. Wouldn’t the prudent approach be to test the waters first?

  21. Sounds good in theory yet the last few months traffic is way worse. Whereas the lights seemed somewhat timed before, now I hit a red light at each intersection…and it’s the same shadowing a bus.

  22. I agree with Jack. The last few months that the boxes have been up has created a nightmare. It doesn’t seem to be improving unique ability to carry out its duties any better than anyone else so the box is seem to be totally inefficient it moving traffic.

    although I think a good transit system is essential to the major metropolitan area,Muni has been inefficient for the last 20 to 30 years so these little boxes art helping one bit. It seems like a big waste of money once again instead of improving the system in a substantial way.

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