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Van Ness bus-only lanes get first airing

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Plan would set aside space for Muni, provide real-time arrival information for riders

City residents got their first look Tuesday night at plans for a rapid bus service that could reduce travel time up and down Van Ness Avenue and could be in effect by 2010.

The San Francisco County Transportation Authority is looking at creating a lane solely for buses, giving them priority at traffic signals and using real-time information technology at bus stops to tell riders when the next bus is arriving. The measures on one of The City’s most traveled thoroughfares would significantly speed up travel time, according to the authority, by allowing buses to travel unimpeded by cars or double-parked vehicles. A September poll done by David Binder showed 55 percent of city residents supported the idea of rapid bus service.

The authority is finishing a study, which is expected to be completed by December after a series of community meetings, to examine the feasibility of implementing the bus rapid transit system, according to the Transportation Authority. On Tuesday, the Transportation Authority held a public workshop soliciting public input and displaying renderings of the new system.

Advocates of the setup say buses would run twice as fast because they would not be slowed down by vehicle traffic, and more riders would use the Muni service because of the speed.

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“As far as we know, based on years of looking at the need and looking at other transit systems, the most important thing Muni needs to do to reduce costs and win back riders is implement bus rapid transit or similar measures on all of its core lines,” said Gabriel Metcalf, the executive director of San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association.

There are several different ways the express lane could be set up. One option would be to convert the center lanes to bus lanes and either separate them from traffic with landscaping or a curb that cars could not go over. Another option would be to convert the far right lanes on each side of traffic to bus-only lanes.

The authority said the service could cause the loss of some street parking and increased traffic congestion, though they say they believe the congestion increase would be minimal. If the plan is ultimately approved, no portion of Van Ness Avenue would be under construction for more than three months.

Metcalf said the system is a cost-effective way of providing safe and reliable transit across The City instead of building a subway system. The Transportation Authority estimates that the cost would range between $61 million and $65 million, depending on what option is chosen. About $20 million has been allocated from voter-approved transportation bond funds, while the rest would come from federal grants and other sources. If the authority’s board approves the plan in December, an environmental impact review would begin in the fall with the service potentially running by 2010.

What is Bus Rapid Transit?

» BRT is a system that combines features from rail systems with the flexibility and cost savings of using over-the-road vehicles.

» Vehicles usually operate in their own sealed-off lanes that speed up service and maximize their use.

» BRT services tend to run twice as fast as normal bus lines because they are not slowed down by vehicle traffic.

» The vehicles used are normal buses and no tracks or rails are needed.

» BRT service can be set up on normal streets by simply changing the way lanes are set up.

Source: BRT Policy Center, SPUR and San Francisco Transportation Authority

sfarooq@examiner.com

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