Passengers exit a J-Church train at Powell Street Station in April of 2019. A plan to bring back service on the line includes a transfer to a different train at Church and Market streets for the underground section of the route. (Ellie Doyen/Special to S.F. Examiner)

SFMTA says proposed J-Church changes are an improvement. We say they’re a boondoggle.

By Bob Planthold and Pi Ra

On August 22, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board will be implementing another SFMTA attempt to maintain the present level of service at reduced cost. This plan is called the J Church Transfer Improvements. We at Senior and Disability Action would rather call it the “Limiting Muni Service to Seniors and People with Disabilities Plan.”

In brief, the plan proposes to have the J Church run above ground only, and end at Church and Market. There, J Church passengers would have to transfer to the underground T/M rail line.

At first glance, this seems doable. But looking at the plan from a senior and/or disability perspective, it creates more barriers for Muni services that are already severely access-limited. This transfer plan at Church and Market is much more laborious and time-consuming for all, especially for people with disabilities, seniors, and adults with babies or toddlers in hand.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, traveling on the J Church from home to downtown and back was a one-stop, accessible, timely and safe trip. Now, with the new COVID-19 Muni “express” service with fewer routes and more transfers, waiting for and riding on Muni takes longer. That alone is a problem for people with disabilities and seniors, when many of the bus stops lack benches or shelters. Now, the SFMTA wants the same population to spend more time and physical exertion to exit the J Church train, cross the unsafe intersection of Market and Church Streets, wait for the elevator to the underground Muni station, then wait for and board the next T/M train.

Now imagine doing all of this when the streets are damp from rain or fog and at times the elevator are not working. Does the SFMTA think we need the extra physical exercise because we have been sheltering in place for over 5 months?

This “Improvement” plan also involves:

  • A bus stop change at Church and 14th Streets to the south side of Church and Market, with a new ramped platform constructed there, next to the new 22 Fillmore stop.
  • Inbound J and 22 Fillmore passengers who need to use the Church Station elevator must cross Church Street, go uphill to cross multiple Market Street lanes, and then go uphill to use the elevator.
  • Lots of construction to move bus stops, temporary platforms and train linkage sites. SFMTA type construction projects mean ongoing traffic delays.

We at Senior and Disability Action would like to acknowledge that during this time of reduced transportation service and scary financial realities, the SFMTA has been looking for ways to provide and expand their essential public transit service. So the SFMTA has come up with several creative ways of doing this. For example, the Essential Trip Card program provides individual transportation for seniors and people with disabilities who are unable to access the severely reduced Muni service.

Yet at times, the SFMTA appears to have missed the bus, when trying to address some essential transportation issues. In this case, our pandemic-caused issue is how to provide effective Muni service with a severely cut budget.

The J Church Transfer “Improvements” are no such thing for seniors and people with disabilities who are already having accessibility issues using the pandemic-inspired services.

On Tuesday, August 18, 1:00 pm, the SFMTA board will be holding their next bi-monthly general meeting. If you are concerned about the improvement plan (set for implementation on August 22), please attend and speak up.

To virtually attend the SFMTA Board Meeting, click here.

The agenda can be found here.

You can also provide feedback by emailing “NO to J changes” to: tellmuni@sfmta.com AND to mtaboard@sfmta.com

For more details of the J Church Transfer Improvements go to https://www.sfmta.com/projects/j-church-transfer-improvements.

Bob Planthold is a member of Senior and Disability Action’s Transit Justice Group. Pi Ra is transit justice director for Senior and Disability Action.

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