Bus rapid transit may spell relief

According to city transportation planners, it takes Muni buses approximately 22 minutes to travel the 2-mile length of Van Ness Avenue, one of the most congested thoroughfares in San Francisco. Exasperation would prompt anyone with a pulse to ask whether there’s a better way to get up and down Van Ness. Fortunately, by 2011 there should be a better way, and it will be called bus rapid transit.

Although the San Francisco County Transportation Authority hasn’t chosen a final proposal for how the new $90 million transportation system would be configured — some proposals include dedicated bus lanes in the center of the Van Ness corridor while others place them on the sides — BRT on Van Ness is bound to help speed up public transit on a street that doubles for U.S. Highway 101 in The City.

There is a sense of urgency for finding ways to speed up public transit in the wake of figures showing on-time performance deteriorating on many of Muni’s most popular lines. While the 49-Van Ness was among the few major lines with significant improvement in on-time performance between fiscal year 2006 and fiscal year 2007 — 62.9 percent to 73 percent, respectively — further progress must be realized before the voters’ 1999 Proposition E mandate of 85 percent on-time performance for Muni is realized.

In addition to Van Ness, BRT systems have been proposed for Geary Boulevard, Potrero Avenue and 19th Avenue, and the three latter BRT corridors should prove to be valuable links to an overall system.

The BRT slated for Geary Boulevard has sparked some neighborhood opposition from business owners concerned that parking will be eliminated. The SFCTA has addressed some of those concerns at public meetings, but the agency may have to do a better job of selling its Geary Boulevard plan than it already has. One thing is certain, though: Traffic on Geary Boulevard, whose 38-Geary Muni line boasts the system’s third highest ridership and saw a 71.4 percent on-time performance in fiscal year 2006, is not about to get better any time soon.

The Potrero Avenue BRT, pointed to along with 19th Avenue as likely candidates for BRT systems in Muni’s Short-Range Transit Plan for 2008-2027, would be a welcome leg of a BRT network in The City that could rush through traffic along Potrero Avenue in the eastern Mission and connect to Van Ness Avenue. Muni has projected BRT on Potrero Avenue will cost about $42 million.

As it would over a Potrero Avenue route, BRT proposed for 19th Avenue would permit buses to avoid transit-frustrating commingling with vehicle traffic. In addition to providing relief for the heavily congested 19th Avenue — a corridor linking San Mateo, San Francisco and Marin counties as part of U.S. Highway 1 — BRT might very well save lives on that notoriously deadly thoroughfare by calming traffic with its dedicated lanes and priority signals. And though Muni expects BRT on 19th Avenue to cost $239 million, the bonus to pedestrians would be welcome, indeed.

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