by Paul Kozakiewicz
The largest public works pro- ject in decades is about to hit the Richmond District.
The Geary Boulevard Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project would re-engineer Geary Boulevard in an effort to provide better mass transit. The plan is to take two traffic lanes on Geary and to convert them to city buses only. That, and a number of other measures, such as removing boarding locations, could speed up bus service and attract new customers.
The SF County Transportation Authority, which is comprised of the members of the SF Board of Supervisors, is set to vote on Jan. 5 to approve an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the project and to choose a preferred alternative. A “hybrid” plan, consisting of parts of several other plans, is being recommended by transit planners.
If that vote is successful, the SF Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA, or Muni) will vote and if the tally is an “aye,” final planning and construction would be readied.
Richmond District Supervisor Eric Mar, who is termed out of office and supports the Geary BRT project, has been pushing the SFCTA to schedule a vote be- fore he leaves office. The Jan. 5 SFCTA meeting is three days be- fore he exits, and his replacement, incoming-supervisor-elect Sandra Lee Fewer, will be taking the District 1 seat at the SFCTA. Fewer has expressed serious mis- givings about the current Geary BRT plan being proposed.
According to the EIS, the #38- Geary bus line has about 50,000 people boarding for a transit trip on a normal day, with the great- est traffic volumes riding be- tween Masonic and Van Ness av- enues.
The EIS says transit riders on the #38-Geary could save be- tween 10 and 20 percent of their time while riding the whole length of the bus line from 48th Avenue to the Transbay Terminal at Fremont and Mission streets. Riders going from 25th Avenue to Van Ness Avenue are predict- ed to save between 15 and 30 percent.
According to the EIS, the Geary BRT could result in less traffic on Geary during peak travel times.
But critics of the plan say it neglects the concerns of mer- chants, since the SFMTA refused to do an economic impact study for the project, and causes ancillary problems for the neighbor- hood, such as years of construction, traffic being diverted in large numbers from a major traffic corridor to side streets, and the loss of parking spaces and transit boarding locations.
The proposed hybrid BRT plan, if approved, would remove 11 of the #38- Geary’s 33 transit stops between 34th Avenue and Market Street in the east- bound direction, and 9 of the 34 transit stops in the westbound direction.
One of the modifications made by the BRT environmental document includes creating more pedestrian enhancements, mostly pedestrian bulb-outs, which will require the loss of an additional 10 park- ing spaces on Geary and 15 more on side streets than previously called for.
The SFMTA did make one concession for merchants in the Laurel Heights, when it removed a proposed BRT stop at Geary and Spruce Street, making the intersec- tion a local bus stop only. Laurel Heights residents will be able to catch the Geary BRT at Arguello Boulevard or Masonic Avenue.
Transit improvements for Geary al- ready in the works, primarily via the city’s Transit Effectiveness Project and which will be implemented with or with- out the Geary BRT program, include giv- ing the buses traffic signal priority; in- stalling pedestrian countdown signals at all Geary intersections; building 14 new pedestrian crossing bulbs and curb ramps; purchasing and maintaining 60-foot-long articulated diesel buses with low-floor boarding; and, installation of traffic sig- nals at a half dozen dangerous intersec- tions.
Taxis and private buses would not be permitted to use Muni’s dedicated traffic lanes.
The environmental report noted that Geary has very few bicycle riders due to having to share the road with vehicles, but cyclists cross Geary in bulk at numer- ous intersections. During a five-year peri- od from 2006-2010, there were 69 report- ed collisions between motorists and cy- clists – most of them east of Van Ness
Avenue – and a greater number than the citywide average between Cook Street and 22nd Avenue.
The SFMTA used a population model for the Richmond District to justify its $300 million Geary BRT plan. It says rid- ership will increase from 50,000 boardings a day now to 64,000 boardings by 2020, and 77,000 boardings by 2035 without BRT improvements. But, by building the BRT, ridership is projected to increase to 82,000 boardings by 2020 and 94,000 boardings by 2035, a 23 percent increase in ridership over the “no build” alterna- tive. One BRT option predicts a ridership increase to more than 100,000 by the year 2035.
In its final EIS, the SFMTA significant- ly increased future resident projection numbers for the Richmond over its earlier incarnation.
The EIS says the Geary BRT will not have any negative consequences on the community, even during construction, say- ing: “In fact, because the project would re- sult in decreased levels of air pollutant emissions, improved transit amenities, and improved transit travel times, the Draft EIS found that the project would enhance community connectivity such that benefits to businesses and economic activity would be expected within the study area.”
Vehicles traveling on Geary are expect- ed to decrease in the SFMTA’s models be- cause more drivers will opt for the Geary BRT for their travel trips, left-hand turns will be greatly restricted and vehicles will benefit from buses keeping traffic signals green longer.
For air quality, because the EIS claims there would be 20,000 fewer vehicle miles traveled per day by 2020 and 40,000 fewer miles traveled by private vehicle by 2035 for its preferred “hybrid” alternative. The EIS claims there will be 5,841 metric tons of “greenhouse gases” per year not ex- pelled into the environment by the year 2035.
“The reduction in traffic with the build
alternatives is primarily due to the reduc- tion in traffic capacity caused by the re- moval of mixed travel lanes, but also due to improved transit service,” the report says.
If the SFMTA’s preferred “hybrid” plan is adopted, the movement of vehicles to other Richmond District streets could cause problems at four intersections by the year 2020, and at eight intersections by 2035. Those impacted by 2020 are at the intersections of Geary and Laguna and Gough streets and Van Ness Avenue. Also impacted will be the intersection of Fulton and Stanyan streets. By 2035, other inter- sections adversely affected will include Geary and Parker Avenue, California and Arguello Boulevard, California and Presidio Avenue and Anza Street and Park Presidio Boulevard.
The Geary BRT plan, which would take from 90 to 130 weeks to complete, would create 51 additional pedestrian bulb-outs (for a total of 91 in the project area) and “daylight” Geary intersections, halting ve- hicles stopped at a red light farther back from the intersection and removing park- ing spaces to create more sight lines for pedestrians, cyclists, etc. Parking would be limited from 10 to 30 feet away from intersections on Geary and five to 20 feet on side streets. Most of the bulb-outs will be located along the #38-Geary bus line west of Cook Street. For the SFMTA’s pre- ferred hybrid plan, there would be a loss of 310 (of the 9,800 currently existing) parking spaces between 33rd Avenue and Gough Street. As well, 182 trees would be removed, of which 118 are deemed “sig- nificant.”
The SFMTA originally looked at three different plans for improving transit on Geary, but because of unique factors along the #38-Geary bus route it decided to cre- ate a hybrid plan, consisting of portions of all three. The result created a quilt-work of transit options, including making no changes on Geary west of 33rd Avenue, running buses on the side, or outside lanes between 33rd and 27th avenues, shifting the bus lanes to the center of Geary from 27th Avenue to Arguello Boulevard, and then transitioning the buses again to the
outside lanes for the remainder of their trips downtown.
To finance the $300 million Geary BRT, the SFMTA is hoping to get $100 million from the federal government’s “FTA Small Starts” program, $50 million from sales tax revenues, $50 million from other city agencies, $30 million from a November 2016 sales tax measure (which voters rejected), $20 million from the state’s “cap and trade” receipts, $13 mil- lion from a 2014 general obligation bond, $10 million from developers contributions, $10 million from the federal OBAG Program, $10 million from the “transit performance initiative, and money from the Lifeline Transportation Program ($5 million), the state’s vehicle registration fee ($5 million), an SFMTA revenue bond ($5 million), and a “transportation sustainabil- ity fee” ($5 million). Although funding sources have been lined up for $313 mil- lion, the federal Small Starts grant is only eligible for projects costing $300 million or less. (As of presstime, the $100 million earmarked for the Geary BRT via the FTA Small Starts program has not yet been ap- proved by the federal government.)
The annual operating and maintenance costs of the “hybrid” BRT system favored by planners would increase about $13 mil- lion a year, going from $37 million with a “no build” system to $50 million for the “hybrid” plan.
As part of the Geary BRT’s mitigation plan, it will use newer equipment to keep noise levels down and rubber-tired vehi- cles instead of vehicles with tracks to min- imize vibrations during construction. As well, the SFMTA will use a qualified ar- borist to identify opportunities for saving mature trees, and to monitor the safety of newly-planted trees along Geary Boulevard.
Residents located within 300 feet of construction areas will be notified “at least two weeks in advance” by mail and media.
For more information and detailed block-by-block maps of the Geary BRT, go to the website at http://www.sfcta.org/geary-corridor-bus-rapid-transit-final-eir.