Construction to begin on 16th Street bus lanes

Riders are excited, but business owners are concerned

The most transformative — and potentially disruptive — transit project since the opening of the Van Ness bus rapid transit line is set to begin construction.

On May 9, construction crews will break ground on the second phase of the 16th St. Improvement Project, adding bus-only lanes and other transit improvements between Church Street and Potrero Avenue, with the goal of speeding travel on the 22 Fillmore and other lines by 25%.

Business owners along the popular restaurant and nightlife corridor are wary, especially in light of the long and arduous Van Ness project about a mile north. But bus riders are excited to experience improved service on one of Muni’s busiest lines.

“I think it’ll be great,” said Travis Perry, who commutes on the 22 from the Mission to Harmonic Brewing at the Chase Center. “Whatever makes it quicker to get to work, I’m fond of.”

The $16 million construction project, scheduled to last through the summer of 2023, will see a westbound bus only lane installed between Potrero and Church, and a short eastbound bus only lane between Bryant and Potrero. Other measures to improve bus speeds include the elimination of stops at Harrison and Guerrero, new “bus bulbs” for quicker boarding and additional traffic signals.

Other aspects of the project include the improvement of the overhead traction wires that power the 22 bus, new street trees and minor underground sewer upgrades. The red bus lanes will be one of the final elements to be installed, an SFMTA spokesperson said. The project will benefit the 22, 33 and 55 buses, as well as UCSF shuttles.

The 22 has seen the strongest post-pandemic recovery of all of Muni’s lines, linking essential workers to booming employment hubs like UCSF’s Mission Bay campus and Chase Center. On weekends, the bus carries a whopping 130% of its pre-pandemic passenger load.

But business owners, who are still recovering from the pandemic, are worried about how construction will affect incoming deliveries, as well as delivery workers picking up food orders.

“The main concern is deliveries,” said Art Herzallah, owner of Freekeh and the Pork Store restaurants on 16th Street. “Uber drivers aren’t going to want to come to pick up food, and Costco drivers aren’t going to want to come drop off.”

Art Herzallah, owner of Pork Store and Freekeh restaurants along 16th Street. (Craig Lee/The Examiner)

Art Herzallah, owner of Pork Store and Freekeh restaurants along 16th Street. (Craig Lee/The Examiner)

Other restaurant owners echoed those concerns.

“Most orders come from delivery,” said Boo Jirakittana, manager of Lers Ros restaurant on 16th Street. The construction is “gonna be a problem for us,” he said. Though he’s noticed an increasing number of delivery workers arriving by bike, the large majority still arrive by car, Jirakittana said.

Omar Augustini, owner of Truly Mediterranean restaurant, said his business relies on deliveries “a lot” and that longtime customers order by phone and drive to the restaurant to pick up. “We don’t know what to expect. I’m very curious.”

Herzallah has attended several community meetings related to the project. He said SFMTA told them that construction would proceed in block by block increments, with each section taking about six-to-eight weeks.

SFMTA and the Office of Economic and Workforce Development have convened a working group to develop a marketing campaign for the 16th Street merchants, and to provide technical assistance to businesses. The agency said not every block along the affected corridor will see significant construction, and on those that do, it’s working hard to ensure no outdoor dining parklets are removed.

Several people waiting for the 22 at 16th and Valencia said they hadn’t heard of the construction project. When the project was described to her, Mullane Luigi replied, “Dope… I’d like to see more bus and bike lanes throughout The City.”

This article has been updated with comments from SFMTA.

bschneider@sfexaminer.com

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