The case for a new subway line
OPINION Geary Boulevard transit riders deserve a real solution to the problems plaguing the busiest travel corridor west of the Mississippi River - not a short-term fix, such as bus rapid transit (BRT), that will waste millions of dollars of taxpayer money and create even more problems and congestion for the troubled street.
Transit experts have hailed BRT as cutting-edge technology and a cheaper alternative to light-rail and subways. They point to successes in countries such as Japan, France, and Brazil - and even some US cities such as Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Successful they may be.
But the streets these BRT programs operate on look nothing like Geary Boulevard.
More often than not, these streets have no parking - and eliminating parking is something we can't do to the residents and merchants along the corridor.
These model corridors are extremely wide and remain so throughout the course of the BRT route. On Geary we face much more challenging lane widths throughout the Richmond and east of Van Ness Avenue, not to mention the daunting challenges of how to handle the Masonic and Fillmore interchanges.
The current study of BRT on Geary is in its final stages. After three years the transit authority staff has offered the Geary Citizens Advisory Committee "choices" to recommend to the full board.
These choices include different arrays of BRT and one non-BRT option that encompasses much cheaper repairs such as proof-of-payment boarding through all doors, transit signal priority, and other improvements.
None of these choices, however, contemplates the issues Geary and O'Farrell Street face east of Van Ness, and they all assume police and traffic control will step up their enforcement of the diamond lane.
But there's one solution we have not considered. Yes, it is the most ambitious and the most expensive, but it also could be the most transformative and could spur more people to leave their cars behind and embrace public transit: bury the Geary and create a subway.
We owe Geary corridor residents and riders this solution. Why can someone in Berkeley or Hayward get to downtown San Francisco faster than some of our residents?
Big problems require big thinking, big solutions, and, most important, leadership. So far we've had none of that on Geary. It's time for our city leaders to champion a solution that can grow along with the city and help solve the congestion issues that will only continue to get worse.
San Francisco holds itself out as one of the world's finest cities. If that's the case, we all should remember the world's great cities move people underground - not in buses. *
David Schaefer is vice chair of the Geary Citizens Advisory Committee.