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Geary BRT Update: Final Environmental Impact Report released; public hearing on January 5

A rendering of the center-lane configuration at Geary and 17th Avenue

The Geary Bus Rapid Transit Project, aka Geary BRT, reached a key milestone earlier this month: publication of the final Environmental Impact Report (EIR). This final report responds to all comments received on the Draft EIR in 2015, and includes analysis of several modifications to the project’s design made in response to public input received.

The Geary BRT project proposes the creation of dedicated bus lanes along Geary Boulevard spanning from Market Street all the way out to 34th Avenue, as well as accompanying improvements to pedestrian safety, landscaping, street paving, and street lighting.

The end goal of the Geary BRT is to speed up transit service along the busy Geary corridor, which the SFMTA estimates serves over 52,000 riders on an average weekday via the 38 Geary bus lines.

The dedicated bus lane for the 38 Geary would be a “side-running” configuration from Market Street out to Arguello, in which a lane alongside the curb lane, or in some cases hugging the curb itself, would be painted red and reserved for buses and taxis only. Many of these are in use in the city currently.

Alternative 2 in the EIR. Side-Lane Bus Rapid Transit

However once the bus reaches Arguello, it becomes a “center lane” configuration, in which two lanes in the center of Geary would be cordoned off just for bus traffic. New passenger loading medians would adjoin the lanes on blocks where there are stops. This center lane configuration would run out to 25th Avenue.

From 25th Avenue until 34th Avenue, it would return to a side-running configuration.

“Alternative 3” in the EIR. Center-Lane Bus Rapid Transit with Dual Medians and Passing Lanes

In recent years, the SFMTA has made small improvements to the 38 Geary service including more frequent 38 Geary Rapid service (it now runs every 4 minutes during peak periods, down from every 5.5 minutes in 2015), the addition of 38 Rapid service on Sunday’s, as well as a Transit Signal Priority program in which sensors mounted at intersections help prolong green lights when buses are approaching.

The Potential Pot-Holes of Geary BRT

While everyone would agree that more efficient transit is needed in San Francisco, especially to connect the western “Outside Lands” with downtown, the Geary BRT project is not without its critics.

Merchants along the Geary corridor, especially in the Richmond District, fear that the multiple years of construction required to complete the project would all but kill their businesses, and that the dedicated bus lanes would result in lost parking spaces along Geary Boulevard.

Others believe that the $300 million price tag is much too high just to save a few minutes in bus commute time. In their latest FAQ, the SFMTA estimates that the BRT will “save people who rely on Geary bus routes an average of 20 minutes round trip” (or 10 minutes each way).

This last year, the Geary BRT team at the SFMTA, which includes a 13-member Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC), has been out in the community working to understand concerns and issues that community groups and residents have with the proposed project. In some cases, these meetings with the community resulted in changes that are reflected in the final EIR.

One organization they met with was the Holy Virgin Cathedral on Geary between 26th and 27th Avenues, who are concerned that the loss of parking from the Geary BRT will inconvenience their members. As a result, the SFMTA proposed to convert some parallel parking spots on adjoining streets to perpendicular parking to create more spaces.

The Geary Merchants Association has been one of the most vocal critics of the Geary BRT, and launched savegearyblvd.org. The SFMTA says they have met with the group’s leader, David Heller, and that they have developed a set of strategies to minimize merchant disruption during the Geary BRT implementation.

These strategies include minimizing the duration of construction on a given block, forming a business advisory committee, and surveying merchants along Geary in person to better understand their business needs such as key delivery times to their storefronts.

How Geary BRT May Affect Drivers

One of the greatest cries heard against Geary BRT is the resulting loss of parking along Geary, particularly in the commercial portions of the Richmond District. Based on the final EIR, the SFMTA told us that the total amount of car parking is “more or less a wash”, stating that “more than 95% of parking with 1-2 blocks of the corridor would be retained”.

In the center lane configuration, the current perpendicular parking along Geary will convert to parallel parking, but the former bus zones on Geary will also become parallel parking spaces, effectively canceling out the loss from the conversion. And as described above with the Holy Virgin Cathedral, some changes will be made on side streets along Geary to accommodate more parking.

Drivers have also been concerned about the potential slow-downs that the BRT will bring to Geary by removing car driving lanes, installing more pedestrian safety measures meant to reduce traffic speeds, and the additional of bike lanes to Geary.

However the SFMTA maintains that the Geary BRT implementation will have a positive impact on drive times and driver experiences along Geary.

“By giving buses a dedicated lane, buses can move efficiently from stop to stop without conflicts with other vehicles. And, by removing buses from mixed traffic, cars won’t queue behind loading buses,” the SFMTA states. All right turns, and most left turns will also be preserved along Geary (unlike its sister BRT project along Van Ness where nearly all left turns are being removed).

And in what some would argue is one of the biggest bets being made by the SFMTA, they claim, “When transit is quick and convenient, fewer people drive.”

Despite the SFMTA’s belief that a majority of people will just stop driving in San Francisco if given better transit options, we were told that the EIR does account for traffic growth by the time the project would debut in 2020 and as far out as 2035.

“Some intersections would have additional congestion, but at others there would be less congestion because people would switch to riding the bus or driving outside of prime times,” the SFMTA told us during our press briefing.

The Geary BRT project has been in the works since the early 2000’s, long before people were turning their cars into money-making taxis and hailing rides on their smartphones. Recently, the SFMTA submitted a filing to the California Public Utilities Commission, blaming the estimated 45,000 Uber and Lyft drivers for the city’s traffic congestion, ranked among the worst in US cities.

When we asked if the EIR’s traffic projections accounts for the anticipated impact of the growing industry for Uber’s and Lyft’s, we were told that it does.

Public Meeting for EIR on January 7

The final Geary BRT EIR will be under review at an upcoming public meeting of the San Francisco Country Transit Authority (SFCTA) on Thursday, January 5, 2017 (2pm, City Hall, Room 250). At that meeting, the SFCTA will be asked to certify the EIR, which includes approving the design and configuration described in the EIR. The meeting, which will not be the last public discourse on the Geary BRT, is an opportunity for members of the public to speak their views on the Geary BRT project.

If the EIR is approved at the January 7 meeting, the project will then go into final design planning, which culminates with the SFMTA Board taking action to legislate every one of the recommended changes for the project.

But given the historic pace of the Geary BRT project so far, that is a ways off. The earliest any construction would begin is in 2018 on the downtown portions of Geary. It would not be until late 2019 / early 2020 that any construction would occur west of Stanyan.

To find out more about the Geary BRT and the release of the final EIR, please visit gearybrt.org.

UPDATE January 12, 2017: On 1/5/17, The Geary Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project and its Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) were approved unanimously by the SF County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) Board, which is comprised of the SF Board of Supervisors. [via SFMTA]

Sarah B.

24 Comments

  1. I hope we can all band together to stop this money wasting congestion creating boondoggle. Save the money for the subway. this barely decreases time for busriders and greatly increases it for everyone else. They are trying to say this will not stop train or subway planning, but that is BS. If you want transformative transportation, you should be against this. If you want the city wasting tax dollars for more damage than benefit, you should be for it

  2. This project will only speed up the bus line, but will create much more of a negative impact for the entire Richmond district. So many Parking spaces will be lost during construction and after completion. Thinking of the economical impact of this project for the Richmond, less parking means less people shopping or dining. I’ve lived in the Outer Richmond my entire 36 years of my life. I am more than familiar with riding the 38 and driving along Geary. I take the 38R round trip to work in the financial district 5 days a week. I drive everywhere else. Parking on Geary from 27th ave to arguello is scarce as it is. I can’t imagine a family of 3 taking muni to shops on Geary because there is a lack of parking. The family of four will just take the car and drive elsewhere like the Sunset. Honestly, that is what I will do if the GearyBRT happens, I will frequent the Geary corridor less frequently. The negative financial impact for businesses on Geary Blvd is greater than the need to save 8-10 minutes on a bus commute across town. I’ve noticed there are more and more vacant spaces. I don’t own a business in the Richmond District, but I do support the businesses whenever I can.

    Waste of tax dollars and jeopardize local businesses

    GearyBRT project should not happen

  3. One of the few times I’ve actually agreed with David Heller. The MTA is delusional.

  4. I honestly can’t believe all the opposition to basic improvements to our city streets and an attempt (no matter how watered down) to improve transit. I wish this was middle lane “true” BRT the entire way, along with Geary upzoning and dedicated bike lanes at the expense of parking, but let’s take what we can get after 10+ years of exploration. Do we still want a subway ? Yah, so what, this is at least going to get the ball rolling on street scape improvements in the Richmond, and hopefully it’ll jump start the commercial economy a bit along Geary when finished. Right now I live 5 blocks from Geary and avoid it at all costs it’s such a run down, dangerous (for pedestrians and cyclists) mess.

  5. Time and time again, the City and SFMTA panders to the Bike Coalition and young progressives dreaming of a walkable paradise in the image of a socialist European city. Each time these new measures are implemented to take the “evil, dangerous death machines” (aka cars) off the streets, you’re harming accessibility for the elderly, the disabled, first generation non-English speaking immigrants, and poor folks who can’t afford your $5 artisanal toast and $4 hand pour coffees. This city pays lots of lip service to liberal ideals, but does jack/squat in implementing them (re: school ranked choice favors middle class college-educated families over working class ESL immigrant families, due to outreach, time, language, and internet access barriers). This is just one more step to an exclusive homogenous society where the poor, disabled, and elderly have the welcome mat pulled under them.

    “Traffic calming measures” is code for lining the coffers of contractors with taxpayer dollars, and appeasing the squeakiest wheels (Bike Coalition) with snake oil. Putting up a million signs, changing stoplight timing, adding speed bumps, etc. are all measures that don’t stop the issue of illegal driving activities. If someone is already breaking the law by going 50 mph in a 35, what makes you think they’ll go 25 mph when you put up a new sign saying “please go 25 mph” and “please yield to pedestrians?”

    What you need to improve traffic safety is to crack down on the scofflaws. When they are at fault and injure a pedestrian or cyclist, take massive action against them so they become examples to the public. Then again, who am I kidding? We routinely let thieves break into our cars with no recourse, and the meth heads of Golden Gate Park aren’t ever prosecuted. A raving madman can run around destroying trees with little repercussion sans a catch-and-release program by the police. What we need is enforcement, not child-proofing!

  6. I guess we’ll never get over this ad hominem bullshit and learn to just talk about projects on their merits. I’m your pretty classic latte libtard geezer that just finds it a lot easier to bus and walk around town. But, perish the thought, I also have a car and find that it’s occasionally necessary to use. I wouldn’t find it particularly useful to tar people who rely more on driving than other means as fascist reactionaries. And I might be convinced that on balance BRT isn’t a great idea should someone do that by quantifying the pros and cons as they see them, but sorry for my ignorance, I don’t quite see how telling me that it’s only favored by pinkos and will harm us geezers (how exactly ?) qualifies.

  7. why is the meeting to dicuss the project at 2PM on thursday? People have to work and cant make this type of time. this timing of a meeting allows for the bicycle coalition to bring out all of the unemployed or underemployed cyclists to make all the arguments one sided. cycling represents 3% of commuters, but every meeting like this is 50% cyclists and the city cowtows to this vocal younf white male elitist group. Why would they even consider putting bike lanes on geary.? Put the bike routes on side streets. Geary is one of the last routes that you can get somewhere relatively quickly on. stop catering to this elite minority group. And schedule the meeting after 6PM or on Saturdays so working professionals can attend

  8. Its time to get this project going and get it done and not let the vocal Merchants dictate what is best for 55,000 daily commuters on the 38 Geary Bus line.
    San Francisco is far behind all other major cities in good, fast and easy transit.
    We need this project in the Richmond.

  9. Without studying the project for long hours, a couple of things jump out at me as wrongheaded thinking:
    (1) Much if not most of the “wasted” time is not when the bus is supposed to be moving but in getting passengers physically on and off the vehicle. At important hubs like Divisadero at rush hour, it can take a couple of minutes to get everyone on/off, not to mention additional delay from the disabled, parents with strollers, etc. Bus drivers may not be supposed to hold up their buses for “please-wait-for-me!” running passengers, but they’re human and they do, and thank God for that. Technology may offer some improvements, but ultimately people physically have to get on/off crowded buses.
    (2) If you switch to parallel parking along Geary, aren’t you going to back up traffic each time someone gets in/out of a parking space? And you know some people are going to double-park, no matter what the law. I think Geary is going to look like parts of Irving, Taraval, etc. that are impossible to navigate.

  10. Putting in Bart underground would be a good idea, but I’d bet Muni would be against that. The only outcome this will have is the elimination of cars on this street and they will just move to Clement, Balboa, Fulton etc.. The agenda is the elimination of cars that’s the only thing these people want. They don’t really care about speeding up transit.

  11. Just take a look at how the SFMTA has gone overtime and over budget with the central subway project and you’ll see how “great” the BRT will be.

    So what happened to all those promises of “major improvements” that were supposed to have happened system wide back in April?

    Another example of their incompetence and BS is how the 38R was supposed to make travel time faster and less crowded. Guess what? NOTHING different from when it used to be the 38L

    What I want to know is *who* got the contract for the *ad campaign* announcing the brand new 38R?

    Pay for play, pay for play…

  12. Open Letter to the City Authorities:

    Our plea to San Francisco city authorities is to delay the decision for 30 days and consider what you can better spend $300 million dollars on than cutting trees and digging holes on Geary and killing more local businesses like you did on Mission Street. We need economic impact and socioeconomic impact reports on all projects that involve shifting traffic on major commercial streets.

    Wasting time and taxpayer money on a $300 million dollar boondoggle when there are thousands of homeless people on the streets who need immediate attention is a criminal act as far as many are concerned. For once the SFMTA should allow the much cheaper and less disruptive public plan to more forward. See if the public is smarter than the SFMTA. Just give us this one street to prove we can do it cheaper and get better results.

    Notice there is no mention of safety here, only speeding Muni on Geary. Who ever came up with the idea of moving the BRT lanes from the curb to the center and back again? That cannot be a safe move. Already we have seen the results of merging traffic with the BRT on 3rd Street and merging bike lanes and traffic lanes without warning. What happened to merging lane warning signs? Bike lanes crossing over traffic lanes has got to be the worst way to protect cyclists.

    This plan is all about moving more than $350 million dollars of taxpayer money from our pockets into the contractors’ bank accounts. Read the alternative plan and see if you don’t agree that it makes sense to try a different approach.

    – Concerned San Francisco Citizen

  13. OK. If all those against it think going 6 mph for $2.50 (yes, $2.50) is a normal thing to offer residents in what it supposed to be a world-class city, cool. You’re so right!!
    This isn’t about who takes mass transit and who doesn’t, who owns what shop or who drives and who doesn’t. It’s about joining the 21st century.

  14. High speed, high capacity detachable gondolas from the ferry building to ocean beach with stations every 10 blocks. We need more transit either above or below ground. Then car tunnel for Park Presidio – 19th Ave. No more surface-level projects.

  15. The Great BRT may hit its time targets, but if the past is any guide they will not. Even if it does, should we be spending $5.7 million per a rider ($300M in capital spending / 52K daily riders) to have that rider save 20 minutes a day?

    There were alternatives early in the process, but, they were a red hearing. What people need to know is that their is a “culture” in transportation planning circles. In the 1980’s and 1990’s it was Light Rail. By the late 1990’s and into the 2000’s it became dedicated bus lanes.

    Why? Costs. The public just does not want to spend the billions it takes to go underground in earthquake country. Now, since transit planners and politicians careers do not move forward unless they can show they did something, something must be done. Even if it is a half-baked solution to the problem.

    That is why we have the Geary BRT at our doorstep.

    On the actual details of the plan, I have the following comments:

    1. The disruption. Business along the Geary Strip will suffer. People who live on California Street and Anza will see a lot of extra traffic on them over the course of the construction. Make no mistake, this will be a mess.

    2. A perfect pedestrian storm. People have been using their smart phones to cut close arriving to a buss stop to catch a bus. We have all seen this over the last few years. With a center bus way and the technology of the smart phone, people will be running across the street to the center to catch that bus. I predict the law on unintended consequences will kick in and we will not see the reduction in pedestrian injuries that this project is purporting to deliver on.

    3. Traffic. The two lane solution has been put forth by the transit planners as they say they have looked at the traffic load on Geary and they say that the street has over capacity. They also say that leads to increased speeds. I agree with the increased speeds.

    The capacity issue is a tar pit.

    When Geary is down to two lanes, the problem of current double parking, and the every increasing Uber – Lyft double parking, will effectively make Geary a one lane street. The Transit Planners and their political overlords are sticking their heads in the sand on this issue. Enforcement will be non existent and assurances to the contrary are just outright lies.

    Once this project is over, expect to see a 100% to 200% increase in traffic on California Street and Balboa as people look to avoid Geary.

    My mother used to tell me that the right to complain requires that you put forth an alternative. So, below is how I would have solved the problem.

    I would have gone up. I know, people think that anything elevated is ugly. Well, it can be or it cannot be. All depends on the design. Also, going up is about 1/3 the cost of going down with many of the same benefits.

    The Geary strip has, in my opinion, no redeeming quality as far as street scrape is concerned. It is a mutt architecturally. As such an elevated would not be an insult to that street scrape. If done correct, it could actually become a unifying one and give the Richmond a unique image.

    An elevated could provide many positive things:

    1. The first and foremost would be grade separation. Instead of a 10 minute savings each way to downtown, you could save 20 or more. That is substantial.

    2. Operational Savings. In a transit system it is all about driver costs. A train can haul a lot more people with one operator. Also, with grade separation, it takes less trains to move the same amount of people as using buses. In 25 years those savings could pay, or a large hunk of, the capital costs of the project.

    3. Parking. If an elevated were built, two lanes could be used on Geary. Pull outs at every intersection for Urber – Lyft could be set aside for pick ups thus helping with the double park issue that will in fact get worse. Diagonal parking could be put in on the rest of each block and double the amount of parking for business on Geary. That would generate an increase of local economic activity.

    4. An elevated could be, and should be, built with a walking – riding way so that people could walk or bike across this whole end of town and be separated from the cars on the street. Also, loading points would have stairs and elevators so that nobody would have to walk into traffic to access transit. Sidewalk – to – transit.

    5. Disruption. Such a structure can be built like an old fashioned erector set. The footings could be done block by block over a year or two and minimize the area wide disruption. The actual superstructure could then be lifted into place at off hours. Once that superstructure was up the rest of the work would be one overhead and not on the street.

    6. The elevated could go to earth near or at Van Ness and then down to Market Street. Either above ground or in a subway. At the other end it could come to ground around Washington High then out to the beach.

    Such a plan would better address all the issues everyone says they care about. Parking, disruption, separation, operating costs, and traffic. The problem is that one has to get over the idea that an elevated HAS TO be an ugly thing. It can be ugly or it can be nice.

    Imagine all the tourists riding their bikes from downtown to the cliff house and stopping off along the Geary strip.

  16. http://www.sfexaminer.com/geary-brt-expensive-pledge-past/
    Transit planners have been at work for many years to come up with a plan to improve bus service for all of Geary Boulevard, but let’s just talk about the 2.2-mile western portion from Masonic Avenue to 27th Avenue. Planners envision the median there with more than 100 trees replaced by two, red-painted central bus-only lanes for 24 hours a day. Riders would board from narrow platforms in the middle of the roadway, between the bus lanes and other traffic.

    Riders now are accustomed to two levels of service: the infrequently stopping Rapid, and the Local that makes stops every two blocks or so. With only one lane for buses, there will be just one quality of service: Local, as all buses will back up behind the slowest moving one. But Local service will have fewer stops, as statistically that will reduce rider times — even if you have to walk farther to find one.

    That certainly won’t save you any rider time if you like the Rapid.

    Planners, their consultants and a small number of appointed citizens have met over eight years on this plan. In that time, the world has changed, and the future is arriving in the form of driverless vehicles of all sizes. Ride-hail services are snatching riders away from buses, including the BART from downtown to the airport that is hemorrhaging fare money. It is a poor idea to invest $300 million in public money for hard infrastructure for buses alone, imagining they are the only future.

    A public-spirited citizens group offered comment to Muni and officials with the San Francisco County Transportation Authority on this project and were summarily dismissed. They then founded San Franciscans for Sensible Transit to advocate for transit issues all over San Francisco. After much study, they support a number of improvements — more buses, better schedules, holding green lights for buses, street paving and others — at a cost of $50 million as a more sensible idea. See what you can get for these proven steps, they say. Their cost-benefit comparisons are on the website of both the Muni-favored version, called the Hybrid, and the Sensible Transit concept.

    For many, the Rapid service at present is excellent. A rider embarking at 20th Avenue can, on average, get to Union Square in 21 minutes riding the 38R — as fast as cars. In a story in the San Francisco Examiner — “Transit officials offer tweaks to Geary BRT project” — a Muni planner claimed that rider times could be cut by 20 minutes by this project. Really? It’s time to look at this project more critically.

    Planners have controlled the landscape here, and citizens at large have not had a part of the dialogue, which is perhaps the most egregious part of this process. It is, sadly, a transit agency behavior exhibited in big projects on Mission, Van Ness, Taraval and others. It is not honest, nor fair, to citizens who are being asked to live through four years of construction and traffic flow changes that will make their lives difficult.

    Our Transit First Policy first requires that all transportation projects ensure the quality of life and economic health of the community. No studies of economic health were done for the planners, who dismiss concerns about quality of life as well. The potential loss of many small businesses and their jobs is also ignored.

    A representative of Mayor Ed Lee told Sensible Transit that we already have too much retail at street level. If many of these valued shops fall to the huge interruption for their businesses, not many others will want to come into the chaos. That could easily become blight, and that, indeed, is very hard to correct.

    Other vehicles on high-traffic volume Geary Boulevard would be reduced to two lanes. Except when delivery vehicles are double parking, as they do with impunity, then cars and trucks would have to merge to one lane, while the bus lane may be empty at that moment. Left turns would be greatly reduced, and parking will be cut back, too. So there would be swarms of drivers hoping to find a place to stop on the adjacent streets to Geary. Good luck. Parking there is already congested. Do you suppose people would just quit trying to come to Geary stores and shops?

    The SFCTA meets to vote on the project on Jan. 5 at 2 p.m. at room 250 at City Hall. This is the time to find your feet and your voice or prepare to live with a very unfortunate outcome.

    David Hirtz is president of San Franciscans for Sensible Transit and a resident of the Richmond neighborhood for 35 years.

  17. Current times on the 38: 35 minutes from 36th and Geary to Davis St (although it is faster to walk from Montgomery to Davis that ride on the bus. 40 minutes on the 38R to Market. 1 HR on 38 local.
    Easiest was to speed up: 3 lanes from Masonic to 25th Ave. Bus only lanes on Geary from Masonic to 25th Ave. Parallel parking with additional parking on side streets (similar to 19th Ave behind Wells Fargo). Start ticketing double parked UBER drivers.

  18. SF should restrict the number of uber and lyft drivers in SF. its really nuts.

  19. This makes NO sense,what genius dreamed up reducing the vehicle traffic flow on geary,the main street designed to handle it,so passenger vehicles move to side streets not designed for vehicle volume?..a bus/taxi red dedicated lane should be on streets WITHOUT small business’, heavy foot traffic and vehicle traffic and no need for city confiscating the street we have paid for years to use.this to me is the government stealing our paid for asset without compensation.why don’t they just eliminate cars from a quiet street during commute hours for bus/taxi to get thru sf instead of taking our street 24 house a day with red paint.mayor ed Lee please reply..

  20. did anyone attend the public hearing? will this be the only one? will they actually start the project without a single economic impact study? will they actually spend 300 mil to theoretically save a total of 20 minutes round trip? does the sfmta actually care about the people who reside in the richmond?
    did our new supervisor attend the meeting?

  21. this is one of the worst waste of monies ever. lets pay $300M and make congestion worse. only in SF

  22. Another muni scam.probably so they can get there drivers to destination faster so they don’t have to pay over time or set up a toilet along routes.

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