Geary’s ‘Temporary Emergency Transit Lanes Project’ Made Permanent

By Jonathan Farrell

During a lengthy online meeting July 20, the Board of Directors of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) approved a permanent change on Geary Boulevard.

SFMTA deputy spokesperson Stephen Chun described the project as “an interim improvement that was a part of our COVID response efforts, which is referred to as the Temporary Emergency Transit Lanes that were installed along segments of Geary Boulevard at the end of 2020.”

This view looking east from Parker Avenue shows red paint covering the roadway along Geary Boulevard to emphasize that the lanes are for buses. taxis and right turns only. Photo by Michael Durand.

Though the project was originally intended to be temporary, the board approved making it permanent at the July  meeting.

Chun outlined the complexity of the project.

“There are three related Geary efforts underway,” he said. “They are the Geary Bus Rapid Transit Project (BRT), which is being delivered in two phases, and the Geary Temporary Emergency Transit Lane Project. 

“Phase one of Geary BRT (eastern portion) is referred to as the Geary Rapid Project. This is nearing project completion on time, on budget and covers Geary Boulevard east of Stanyan Street,” Chun said.

“Phase two of Geary BRT (western portion) is referred to as the Geary Boulevard Improvement Project. That is in the Richmond District between Stanyan and 34th Avenue,” he said. 

The third piece of the Geary transit plan was influenced by the pandemic.

“The Geary Temporary Emergency Transit Lanes Project is a part of SFMTA’s COVID response efforts and advanced interim transit improvements in the same general vicinity as phase two of the BRT project,” Chun said.

Chun said COVID-19 played a role in altering the BRT project plans.

“The plans are recommended to be modified from lanes being at center to side-running,” he said.

Chun said SFMTA’s Temporary Emergency Transit Lanes “is projected to reach its goal on time and on budget. Anticipated completion is later this summer.”

The Temporary Emergency Transit Lanes were approved to become permanent by the SFMTA Board at the July 20 meeting.

Chun said that, despite recent increases in traffic citywide, evaluation results have shown that the new transit lanes and other transit treatments have improved the 38-Geary bus line’s performance, with minimal traffic impacts to Geary Boulevard or parallel streets. 

“With regards to longer-term improvements, we are now recommending updating the project design to be side-running lanes through the entire Geary Boulevard corridor, instead of including a center-lane running segment between Arguello and 28th Avenue,” Chun said.

“The scope of improvements in the Richmond District is expected to include additional transit lanes, bus and pedestrian bulbs, enhanced median refuges, and traffic signal upgrades,” he said.

Chun said the work on the transit lanes might coincide with other needed roadwork.

“It may be coordinated with related infrastructure upgrades sponsored by other city agencies, such as the Department of Public Works (DPW) sponsoring the repaving, and San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) sponsoring the water/sewer work, but that has not yet been finalized,” he said.

District 1 Supervisor Connie Chan, who reprrsents the Richmond District on the SF Board of Supervisors,  stressed the importance of community involvement in the process.

“I look forward to seeing the results of the SFMTA outreach to be conducted this summer and fall so our constituents can inform the future of the Geary BRT,” Chan said in a statement. “My priorities for Geary Boulevard are to improve pedestrian safety, deliver efficient and safe transportation on the 38-Geary bus lines, and ensure our small business merchants and residents are informed of any proposed changes.”

Former supervisor for the Richmond District, Sandra Lee Fewer, expressed her concerns for the future of Geary Boulevard. Being raised in the Richmond District and currently still very active in the community, she considers reliable public transit crucial. 

“A significant portion of the City’s working-families population lives on the west side of the City and the Richmond District is at its heart,” Fewer said. 

“I would say the one crucial thing SFMTA should do is a feasibility study with BART,” she said. They should really work together on the possibility of an underground subway along the Geary corridor so the community has real transportation options.”

David Heller, president of the Geary Boulevard Merchants Association, is skeptical of the plan. 

“Plans for Geary have been going on for 15 years. Things are different today, especially due to COVID-19,” Heller said. 

Heller noted a decline in business activity, especially since COVID. 

“Foot traffic along Geary has slowed. It’s sad!” he said.

Regardless of any subsidies coming from the Federal government, Heller believes as costs continue to rise and revenues/income has decreased, “money isn’t all there.” 

“Sandra has really done a lot for the Richmond, especially concerning these plans for Geary Boulevard,” Heller said.

“I am looking to the future of transportation in the Richmond, especially along the Geary corridor,” Fewer said. “The plans developed 15 years ago may no longer be adequate for the changing population of the Richmond and the city of San Francisco. It is time for SFMTA and BART to collaborate on the possibility of bringing an underground rail to the west side. The planning needs to start now. Let’s discuss some real options outside of what is being proposed. Enough with the ‘Band-Aids.’ It’s time to focus on a real transit system for the Richmond that isn’t impacted with increasing surface traffic and one that connects the Richmond to the rest of the Bay Area.”

 Meanwhile, the projects are moving forward.

“We are planning two rounds of outreach later this year,” Chun said. “It is to share more about the recommended change in alternatives and seek input on aspects of the detailed design before pursuing needed approvals anticipated early next year.” 

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