Waiting for BRT

Why is it taking so long to build long-planned bus rapid transit systems on Van Ness and Geary?

Project completion in 2018
Photo courtesy of SFTA
The new layout of Van Ness after the bus lane redesign, slated to finish in 2018. The design ultimately chosen is called the "locally preferred alternative."

By Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez


You're on Muni's underground line, the train stalled just shy of your stop, just stuck there, the light at the end of the tunnel right in front of you. It's a frustrating feeling, right?

With more than six years worth of delays in three major transit overhauls — the Van Ness, Geary and Geneva Bus Rapid Transit Projects — it's beginning to feel just like that.

The projects are designed to speed up the most trafficked transit routes in the city by making the buses run like trains. For the Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit, the 47 and 49 would drive in dedicated bus-only lanes shuttling riders north and south, reducing travel time by a third, according to project estimates.

Van Ness BRT was initially announced in 2004 with a planned unveiling of 2012. Eight years later, the new debut is set for 2018. The Geary Project is even worse, with a completion date slated for 2020.

The Van Ness BRT is finally getting its wheels turning this month, with the Environmental Impact Report set to be approved by a number of governmental bodies: the Van Ness BRT Citizen's Advisory Committee, the Transit Authority board, and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority.

Why the hell has this bus project taken nearly a decade to start its engine? As is customary in politics, fingers are pointed at all sides.

At a citizen's meeting for the Van Ness BRT on Sept. 4, two angry factions gathered in the Old First Church Fellowship Hall on Van Ness. The SFMTA's spokesperson for the project, Lulu Feliciano, wrapped up her presentation to the crowd of about 100, and that's when they pounced.

"Van Ness' three lanes will be limited to two, but it's a highway, isn't it?" asked Carole Holt, owner of Russian Hill Upholstery. "Why do cars have no consideration?" She told the Guardian she worried her customers from Marin would have trouble getting to her store.

Another Polk Street activist, Kelly Gerber, walked right up to Feliciano's face and gestured with his hand like an angry schoolteacher. "Why has no one ever heard of this?" he bellowed, telling us he opposes the loss of parking spaces.

Ironically, transit planners say car traffic would move faster, partially because of the elimination of all left turns along Van Ness except Broadway.

"They're just angry and zooming in on every little detail," Mario Tanez, spokesperson for the SF Transit Riders Union, said of BRT's opponents.

The mostly younger crowd of transit activists showed up in equal force to counter the Polk Street merchants, hoping to stem the tide of NIMBYism.

"We're the generation that will actually see these improvements," Teo Wickland told us. He's an urban planning student who hopes to see Muni running on time.

Feliciano said the project was complicated by having to coordinate multiple city agencies, all with their own goals.

Instead of digging up the same stretch of concrete a dozen times in a decade, San Francisco tries to include as many agencies as possible when cement is broken in any part of the city, she said. Since the Van Ness project is a two-mile stretch between Lombard and Mission streets, many are involved.

infographic showing different city agencies involved in the reconstruction of Van Ness

Graphic by Brooke Robertson

Peter Gabancho, the project manager for Van Ness BRT, said that the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission will put in new water lines, institute a rainwater catch system, and do sewer work. The Department of Public Works plans to repave, and the SFMTA will replace overhead bus lines and light poles.


major commercial streets is that, from the merchants' point of view, people in cars are typically wealthier and will therefore spend much more than some penniless pedestrian, cyclist or transit user.

So for the merchants, it isn't just about the numbers - it's about what they spend. If I drive to a particular store, it's because I want to buy something. Getting more foot traffic from people who just browse and gawp isn't helping my business - it's the high rollers that I need, and they are not going to take the bus. If it's too hard to get here, they will go to the mall instead, and save some sales tax too.

It's not about how many, but about who.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 6:34 am

The problem with your theory that cars are better for business is that it is simply wrong.

Reducing car traffic and increasing walkability is in fact better for business.





reports the following:

Walkability is a driver of economic development. A 2012 study of 66 areas in Washington DC by the Metropolitan Policy Project of the Brookings Institution found that “more walkable places perform better economically. For neighborhoods within metropolitan Washington, as the number of environmental features that facilitate walkability and attract pedestrians increase, so do office, residential, and retail rents, retail revenues, and for-sale residential values.”

Especially important for the Plaza-to-Plaza project is their finding that “walkable places benefit from being near other walkable places. On average, walkable neighborhoods in metropolitan Washington that cluster and form walkable districts exhibit higher rents and home values than stand-alone walkable places.”

Posted by Eric Brooks on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 7:18 am

That might be true for convenience stores and low-margin businesses, which you see far more in poorer areas. But if I am selling high-value items, then i may only need and get a few sales a month. And those sales are likely to go to people with a lot of money, and they aren't going to jump on the number 49 bus. They are going to drive.

Of course, if they are super wealthy, maybe they'll have a driver. But if you look at Polk, there are a lot of higher-end places there, and it takes a lot of cyclists stopping for a $2 item to compensate for one high-roller who goes somewhere else because it is easier to park.

Posted by anon on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 8:30 am

As a person who minored in Business, I'd like to say that you are focusing only on the high end and ignoring all the other possibilities. You sound like the shop owner who told a customer to "go away" because that person didn't look like he could afford his goods. That loses good will among the public because who wants to shop at a store where he or she is not welcome. You think your business is located on Rodeo Drive?

Posted by Dexter Wong on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 10:26 am

I may not care whether I lose goodwill with the public as long as I have enough high-rollers crossing my door to make my business profitable. And, no, I don't want people coming into my store to gawp at what they cannot afford to buy. In fact, high-end stores sometimes buzz in their customers precisely to keep out the riffraff. Some stores on Madison Avenue in NY, you even have to make an appointment to visit.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 10:53 am

You are simply repeating tired old fairy tales that reactionary shop owners all foolishly and falsely reinforce through baseless gossip between eachother, and which originated in the fossil fuel energy corporation influenced Chamber of Commerce (the latter which hates anything that reduces auto travel).

But I'll tell you what. If you really believe that more cars and less walkability is actually better for your shop, then just move it over to Rodeo Drive, and let us all get on with the business of beautifying and economically improving our city with walkable streets, and better transit and bike access.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 11:14 am

get to decide who shops where, who goes where, and how they get there.

People are perfectly adept at making their own decisions and, by and large, they choose to travel by car.

The billions we just spent on the Bay Bridge should tell you that.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 11:40 am

this is simply a troll barrier

it is a signpost to indicate to the reader that other anonymous posters on this thread are beginning to purposely diminish the conversation into nonsensical, petty, mean spirited, irrelevant bickering

the barrier is put in place to signal that there is probably little point in reading more replies in the thread past this point

proceed at your own risk

Posted by troll barrier on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 11:57 am

bumping a troll post past the jump

Posted by racer x on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 12:25 pm

He never considers the facts or objectivity, because he always has an end result in mind. He is not performing genuine inquiry or discovery - he is seeking to elevate his ideas above the majority.

Posted by anon on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 12:17 pm

when he starts lecturing people on finance - something he knows nothing about - his efforts lapse into hopelessness.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 12:40 pm

any transportation problem is "remove the cars".

Lazy one-dimensional thinking like that never solved anything.

Posted by anon on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 12:51 pm

Why don't you do that with your shop? Put curtains on your windows and a sign that announces what you sell but with a prominent notice that admittance is by appointment only. Then you won't have to deal with your riffraff. Or better yet, go online that way you can track who comes by your site and send stuff to them and take credit cards. Quite frankly I don't like a shop keeper who looks at me up and down and wishes I would go away. You can't tell how much money I have by looking at me. Polk Street is not Rodeo Drive, yet. I have lived in the neighborhood for 34 years and have found most merchants that I visit quite welcoming.

Posted by Dexter Wong on Sep. 12, 2013 @ 10:49 pm

not. What matters is whether shopkeepers do. and their business stands or falls by their instincts and judgments, so you know they are getting it right if they prosper.

We should not be second guessing which stores should be where, nor about what marketing strategies a store uses. They are the experts - not you. And the market is always right.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 13, 2013 @ 7:25 am

The problem with the Geary BRT is that it is not necessary from Franklin to the Beach. The traffic problems in the Richmond are caused by only having 2 lanes of traffice between Park Presidio and 27th Ave. Currently, when Bozos choose to double park, Geary is now reduced to 1 lane. Expand Geary to 3 lanes in each direction, and make 1 lane for Muni and Taxis only.
East of Van Ness, the BRT makes more sense.

Posted by Richmondman on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 1:17 pm

CA city. And it is all very well to say, as the transit mob always say, "just take out the parking" but that hurts the local businesses and turns Geary into a freeway.

In fact, that double parking would not occur if there were adequate parking. So how about this? Increase enforcement of double parking but, in return, provide more off-street and convenient parking.

Posted by anon on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 1:35 pm

The problem is that SF has no b*alls.
We cowtow to any and all who have complaints. We stop planning for the people who will actually use this service and start planning for those whose goal is to make sure it never exists.
No concern is too small, no complaint too outlandish.
No expert in the field, no matter how esteemed the world over, carries enough weight to overrule even the most uninformed opposition.
All SF cares about is process. Results may not even be measured.
This is why BRT is taking so much time - witness the fiasco that is GEARY BRT planning - where one civilian has essentially derailed the whole project - David Heller

Posted by Guest on Sep. 12, 2013 @ 6:37 am

Our alleged tolerance of diversity means that nothing ever gets done, and in fact progressives are the biggest NIMBY's in the room, relentlessly opposing any new development that isn't public.

So when progressives cannot get stuff done themselves then, well, turnabout is fair play.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 12, 2013 @ 6:46 am

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Related articles

  • Street Fight

    How whining motorists hijack smart, equitable transit planning

  • Pumped up

    Hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail — in high heels

  • Bay's Guardian: The Troll

    Officials create a new troll to protect a new bridge