Poll finds S.F. voters back rapid-transit bus lanes

Foes concerned traffic will worsen, shops will suffer in the Richmond; supporters expect speedier Muni

A new survey of San Francisco voters shows support for the idea of rapid-transit bus-only lanes on two of The City’s busiest corridors.

Supporters of the proposed bus lines, along Van Ness Avenue and Geary Boulevard, say the transit-only lanes would speed Muni along since the buses wouldn’t get stalled behind other vehicles or stopped at traffic lights.

Some merchants in the Richmond district have protested the plan, concerned that removing an auto lane from both sides of Geary would create more auto congestion and harm local businesses.

San Francisco voters, however, seem to be ready to give the idea — called Bus Rapid Transit — a try.

The survey, conducted by David Binder Research on behalf of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, a public policy organization, revealed that 78 percent of local voters polled supported the creation of a BRT network in The City.

Even when asked specifically if there was interest in a BRT line on Geary that would “use center lanes for a dedicated bus-way instead of for car traffic,” 46 percent of those surveyed “strongly” supported the public transportation proposal, with another 19 percent indicating they “somewhat” support plan. Less than one-fourth, or 22 percent, opposed the plan, and another 13 percent said they “didn’t know.”

Beauty shop owner David Heller, president of the Geary Boulevard Merchant and Property Owner’s Association, expressed concern that many of the 55,000 cars that travel on Geary daily would begin traveling on neighborhood streets to avoid increased traffic congestion created by the elimination of one lane in each direction. He said his organization has proposed an alternate plan that would only dedicate “transit-only” lanes during peak commute hours.

Cities around the country are starting to use BRT lines to increase transit use on busy traffic corridors, American Public Transportation Association official David Hull said. Although initially traffic congestion could increase, he said, eventually it would decrease as more people opted for the convenience of a faster bus line, he said.

Some of the funding for the speedier bus lines would come from Proposition K, a city sales tax passed by voters in 2003, to increase investment in The City’s transit infrastructure, including the creation of BRT lines. The rest would come from state and federal grants, San Francisco County Transportation Authority Director Jose Luis Moscovich said. The authority is the lead agency on the Bus Rapid Transit project.

Moscovich said Van Ness would likely get the first line, with an Environmental Impact Review process expected to begin as early as this winter. That project is expected to cost about $77 million.

Because Geary is a longer route, it would cost about $200 million. That project is still in the study stages, “so there’s plenty of opportunity for people to weigh in and express their concerns,” he said.

beslinger@examiner.comBay Area NewsLocalTransittransportation

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