S.F shows off bus rapid transit

Muni riders got their first look Thursday at a proposed rapid bus system on Geary Boulevard that advocates say would make commutes on the busy corridor quicker and more reliable.

Muni and the San Francisco Transportation Authority are studying the feasibility of introducing “bus rapid transit” [BRT] to the five-and-a-half-mile corridor that carries more than 55,000 public transport riders a day. The setup would create a lane solely for buses that would be closed off to vehicle traffic, with buses making fewer stops and being given priority at traffic signals. Customers would be encouraged to buy tickets before they boarded to reduce stop time, and real-time information technology would be used at bus stops to tell riders when the next bus was arriving.

Because it would eliminate the impact of double-parked vehicles and other obstructions, Municipal Transportation Agency Executive Director Nathaniel Ford said BRT would significantly speed up travel time and make the service more reliable. He said it is a cost-effective alternative to building an expensive rail system.

“Every morning it’s going to be there at 7 o’clock, and I don’t know how you measure [the value] of that,” he said.

The project would cost $150 million to $200 million, according to the authority, and could be completed by 2011. It would be paid for by a combination of a voter-approved sales taxes and federal grants.

Some Geary Boulevard merchants have expressed concerns that BRT would cut back on parking and that construction would be disruptive to local businesses. Officials say the loss of street parking would be minimal and would be outweighed by more people using a more reliable public transit system. Transit officials also say construction would be minimally invasive, more akin to street repair work. Ford said the Geary corridor would keep two lanes of vehicle traffic.

A recent study done by pollster David Binder showed 78 percent of city residents supported the idea of rapid bus service, according to the transportation authority. Gabriel Metcalf of San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, a public policy group that supports BRT, said it has been popular in cities across the country where it has been introduced.

“It’s the darling of most business communities because it is so much cheaper than rail and almost as good,” he said.

The City is also looking at introducing the service to Van Ness Avenue and eventually to Potrero Avenue. Ford said the three corridors would be the start of a network of rapid transit services across The City.

Another community workshop will be held to discuss the project Saturday at 2:30 p.m. in the Self Help for the Elderly building at 408 22nd Ave.

What is Bus Rapid Transit?

» BRT is a bus rapid transit 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.

» BRT usually allows buses to have traffic signal priority, allowing buses to move faster.

» Tickets are often required to be pre-brought, speeding the loading and unloading of passengers.

» 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

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