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Transit officials offer tweaks to Geary BRT project

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Transit planners with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency say the Geary Bus Rapid Transit Project could allow riders to save up to 20 minutes per round trip. (Aleah Fajardo/Special to S.F. Examiner)

A major overhaul of how buses and other traffic negotiate Geary Boulevard is set to reach a significant milestone early next year.

The Geary Bus Rapid Transit project, which aims to make buses behave like trains by repurposing a lane of car traffic exclusively for buses, released its final environmental impact report Dec. 9, which may be approved in early January.

Along the way, the project’s planners received thousands of public comments, from fiery verbal lambasting at meetings — where a box filled with paper public comments was stolen, then returned — to online surveys, to meetings with multitudes of community groups.

“We heard from the community,” said Eric Young, a spokesperson for the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, which lead the environmental report.

Along with Young, Kate Elliott, an SFMTA spokesperson; Colin Dentel-Post, SFCTA’s project manager for the environmental report; and Wahid Amiri, project manager for the EIR at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, led the San Francisco Examiner through the most recent changes to the project that will shape Geary Boulevard for decades to come.

The project would see a red bus-only lane run along the sides of Geary Boulevard from 34th to 26th avenues, and the center of Geary Boulevard from 26th Avenue to just past Arguello Boulevard, and then again on the sides of Geary Boulevard the rest of the way to Market Street.

Buses would truly be “rapid,” with the potential for riders to save “20 minutes per round-trip,” according to transit planners.

That time saving would be enjoyed by the 38-Geary line’s 55,000 daily riders, which makes it one of the busiest bus lines in the western U.S., and roughly the same size as Caltrain’s daily ridership, according to transit planners.

Prior to the release of the final EIR, planners heard both complaints and praise for the plan, Dentel-Post said — and revamped the project accordingly.

As many as 91 sidewalk corners would be “bulbed” out to make street crossing shorter and safer. (There were previously 26 new bulb-outs planned.) New boarding islands in center lanes would see buses offload passengers much like trains.

Among the largest changes are that bus-only lanes were expanded nine blocks, from 26th Avenue to 34th Avenue, to give quicker access to nearby schools, and much of the parking originally slated to be lost will be preserved.

All told, 20 parking spaces will be lost along the project, Dentel-Post said.

“That’s not because of the bus lanes, but these pedestrian bulbs at corners,” he said.
And in another bit of good news for drivers, planners will maintain key left turns along the corridor — unlike Van Ness Avenue and its own BRT project, which stopped left turns all along the corridor, much to drivers’ consternation.

One contentious part of the plan, which was derided in public meetings, was the removal of a pedestrian bridge that hovers over Geary Boulevard at Webster Street. That bridge will be saved, thanks to a Z-shaped pedestrian crossing that will allow walkers to be seen better by cars.

Initially, planners were concerned pillars from the bridge hid pedestrians from drivers, leading to collisions.

“We think we ended up with a solution that keeps everyone happy, except frankly those that think the bridge is ugly,” Dentel-Post said.

But, he emphasized, the bridge is not compliant with the American with Disabilities Act. Surface crossing is necessary for those with wheelchairs and other disability needs, he said.

The “Z” shaped criss crossing crosswalks are already in place at Market and Valencia streets, near Martuni’s bar, leading Dentel-Post to nickname it a “Martuni’s” crossing.
However, the Steiner Street pedestrian bridge, which is near Raymond Kimball Playground and is designed similarly to Webster Street’s, will be torn down.

“We had a couple of people saying they wanted that bridge, but not nearly the hue and cry of Webster,” Dentel-Post said. Amiri said 80 percent of pedestrians cross on the surface, not on the Steiner bridge.

Crossing Geary Boulevard at Webster and Steiner streets, there will be multiple concrete median “refuges” and other wide portions of Geary Boulevard, so pedestrians who are slower — like seniors — have multiple points while crossing the street where they can pause.

That may see a traffic lane repurposed at certain portions of Geary Boulevard as well, planners said, but that’s not necessarily a concern.

“There’s really more traffic capacity than is needed,” said Dentel-Post, which Amiri noted “results in speeding.”

On Jan. 5, the EIR will go to the SFCTA board for approval. After that, the SFMTA will bring individual elements of the project to neighbors for further public input, which will require individual approvals by the SFMTA Board of Directors to move forward.

Some Geary Boulevard neighbors have asked the SFCTA commission to delay approval of the environmental report so they have more time to read and analyze it.

The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce also sent a letter to the transportation authority asking for the board to delay action on the final EIR until February or early March, and wrote that meeting during the holidays “does not serve the public interest.”

Responding to the request for delay, Supervisor and Transportation Authority Commissioner Eric Mar said, “The significant community outreach done and many community meetings with those in the audience, and staff work, has been years in the making.”

“There have been endless delays,” he said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that 20 bus stops will be lost to make way for the Geary BRT project. Twenty parking spaces, not bus stops, will be eliminated.

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