A 5-Fulton Muni bus heads down Beale Street toward the Salesforce Transit Center on Monday, July 6, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

SFMTA will install transit-only lane on Beale St this week

A two-way bike protected bike path and wider sidewalks to follow

Even as the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency faces an increasingly grim financial future, it plans to move forward with the Active Beale Street Project.

Approved 4-0 by the SFMTA Board of Directors on June 16, the initiative aims to reduce congestion and encourage travel by bus, foot or bicycle downtown near the Salesforce Tower.

The project will include a 24-hour southbound transit-only lane between Market and Natoma streets and a protected two-way bikeway between Market and Folsom streets. It will also restore the carpool pickup zone on Beale Street to facilitate commuting in groups during afternoon rush hour windows, and install wider sidewalks with green space to increase pedestrian safety.

The transit lane will be reserved for Muni and Golden Gate Transit buses exclusively. SFMTA estimates it will be used by 56 Muni buses on the following routes: 5 Fulton, 5R Fulton Rapid, 7 Haight-Noriega, 38 Geary, 38R Geary Rapid, 30X Marina Express and 41 Union.

SFMTA spokesperson Erica Kato says work on Beale Street is scheduled to begin this week. She estimates it will take one week to complete the first phase, the creation of the transit-only lane.

The swift turnaround is thanks to the Quick Build program, which identifies safety improvements in higher-risk areas for pedestrians and cyclists that can be done quickly and relatively affordably ahead of more comprehensive mitigation construction projects.

Staff puts the cost of the entire Active Beale Street Project at $1.71 million. The city has secured almost $1.1 million from a variety of funding sources, including Proposition K, a countywide half-cent sales tax that directs dollars towards transportation, and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. Staff says it will use future Prop. K funds to close the gap.

Beale Street feeds into the Salesforce Transit Center, and the designated lane will lead directly into the bus plaza.

The Active Beale Street Project is part of a larger “planning vision” called the South Downtown Design + Activation Plan, specifically designed to improve access to the surrounding area.

The roughly 20-blocks around the Salesforce Tower have been transformed in recent years, glitzed up with towering skyscrapers, luxury apartment buildings and a 5.4-acre elevated park on the recently-rebuilt transit center’s roof. The neighborhood is evolving into a swanky hub for tech headquarters and venture capital-backed startups, though critics say the process has overlooked some basic residential pillars such as pedestrian-friendly sidewalks and nearby public schools.

Looking to accelerate the area’s rebranding, local property owners created a Community Benefit District, a non-profit that members pay into so as to fund services beyond what the City provides, and partnered with a creative agency to endow the neighborhood with a new name and, ultimately, a new identity: The East Cut.

Located in the City’s northeast corner and buttressed by the neighborhoods SoMa, Rincon Hill and the Financial District to three sides and the water to the other, the area’s transformation from a commercial, residential hub to a high-density residential area has been facilitated by local government, including the SFMTA.

Staff conducted public hearings and open houses for neighborhood residents throughout the last year, and the Beale Street proposal received support from influential transportation groups such as SF Transit Riders, WalkSF and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.

The improvements are expected to ensure faster travel times and reduce overcrowding for Muni riders headed to the neighborhood or connecting to other regional transit lines through the Salesforce Transit Center as the economy re-opens, according to the SFMTA.

SFMTA views transit-only lanes are a crucial part of its recovery plan. It recently received approval from the Board of Directors to implement temporary reserved lanes for buses and taxis on five other Muni routes: 14 Mission, 14R Mission Rapid, 19 Polk, 43 Masonic and 44 O’Shaughnessy.

“Transit lanes benefit the entire length of the line, not just the particular segment where the transit lane is. The quicker buses can turn around, the more service we are able to provide,” Kato said.

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