Commentary – Robert Starzel

BRT: Late on the truth

by Robert Starzel

You may have greeted the news of the imminent Geary Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project with hopefulness a year and a half ago, when transit agencies were promising as much as a 35 percent savings in riding time.

Well, they did scale that back to 20 minutes. But, by that they actually meant if you travelled both ways from maybe 48th Avenue to the bus line’s terminus downtown. Not many of us realized that at the time, though.

But legions of public relations people for several years sent out this and other information that turned out to be misleading.

When the SF County Transportation Authority (CTA – which is composed of the members of the SF Board of Supervisors) voted on the Geary BRT, only one supervisor asked a question about the $300 million project. And, why were bus travel times projected for 2035 about the same as they are today? (Remember, the project goals were to make buses faster to attract more riders.)

The supervisors had already made their decision before the public meeting was held and they voted unanimously to move the project forward.

Oh, and the answer to the single question about travel times, which was bureaucratic gibberish, is included in the 300,000-page record supplied by the City for a lawsuit filed by San Franciscans for Sensible Transit.

Sensible Transit was formed after a public meeting was held at St. Mary’s Cathedral at which no one was allowed to ask questions … you could have left a written record of your thoughts but no one else would have known what they were. A real travesty of the public process.

Sensible Transit advocated continuing incremental improvements (instead of constructing a BRT) using bus controls over traffic stop lights, electronic payment, more low-loading buses, roadway paving and other ideas as they became available. Some of these were coming into use anyway, but data for the actual use of them was not applied to the analysis of the alternative project, which would not have required any construction tearing up Geary Boulevard.

Sensible Transit asks in its lawsuit that the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the project be redone. The California Environmental Quality Act requires certain examination of some issues that the CTA, in more than 9,000 pages, $17 million in cost and 10 years of preparation time, left out.

Among those omitted are any acknowledgement whatsoever of the impact of ride-hailing services, such as Uber and Lyft and others. Those services started here in 2009 and reached a saturation level of 45,000 vehicles a day on city streets as the EIR was in preparation in 2016.

They are direct competitors to public transit and can easily snatch riders away from buses when people feel the door-to-door service is worth it. Transit riders certainly might feel that way if they had to walk as far as 280 feet farther to a bus stop, which would be the case because of the more sparsely-spaced bus stops of the BRT route. (That would make the bus ride technically faster, but you would have to spend longer walking times than usual.)

The Geary BRT in the Richmond would reduce traffic lanes, which would be more crowded because of ride-hailing vehicles darting among the ubiquitous double parkers.

There are many other omissions in the EIR prepared by the CTA but aided by Muni. From the huge database our volunteers had to pick through, we had an astonishing glimpse into the workings of these agencies.

We found transportation planners manipulated data when it did not suit them, rushed into the EIR and missed being able to qualify for $100 million in federal funds. They counted on the missing funds for the BRT project, nonetheless, and $30 million more from a failed November, 2016 sales tax increase.

“… transportation planers manipulated data when it did not suit them, rushed into the EIR and missed being able to qualify for $100 million in federal funds.”

The supervisors rushed a vote at the CTA just four days before recently elected District 1 Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer was seated and could have asked serious questions about the plan.

But, there is far more in Sensible Transit’s opening brief, which was recently filed in court. Go to the website at for more information.

And, please join Sensible Transit for $25 or make a contribution to support the legal case being handled by Davis, Wright and Tremaine.

You’re sensible, right? Good. Join us.

Robert Starzel is a Richmond District resident, attorney and former chairman of the boar 

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