The planning of bus rapid transit projects on Geary and Van Ness may make it seem as though BRT is wholly new to San Francisco, but in fact, we have been trying to incorporate at least some BRT elements for quite awhile now, most notably the so-called “bus only” lanes used on certain routes. So-called, because the bus-only lane is rarely enforced, and drivers know it. Too often, crowded downtown streets encourage drivers to take advantage of the additional space afforded by bus-only lanes. Even “altruistic” drivers, who realize they need to move out of the lane, get clogged in traffic as they try to change lanes, so that the bus-only lane is still blocked, even by mere inches. The end result is the bus still needs to stop and wait until the lane is clear. And, of course, drivers freely double park in the bus only lanes, forcing buses to merge into lanes crowded with autos, and then merge back into the bus-only lane. All of these obstacles hamper reliability and slow down service, contributing to Muni’s exceptionally slow average speed of 8 mph.
We have some good news to open the new year. A pilot program has started this week which mounts surveillance cameras directly on Muni buses. These cameras will catch drivers who are double-parked in bus-only lanes, allowing officials to issue a $100 fine to the offending driver. (Actually, the Chronicle reports that in the initial stage of the pilot program, drivers will only receive a written warning, but once it is clear things are working as they should be, actual fines will be imposed.) This program is inspired by one that London put in place in 1997 and which has been quite successful there — not only in cutting several minutes off of travel times and increasing reliability, but also in boosting bus ridership. Other cities around the world have followed suit, and the MTA hopes that San Francisco could duplicate this success. This week, cameras have been placed on two 14-Mission buses, and two 38-Geary cameras will follow soon. The number of cameras will increase over the course of the next few months and will expand to other routes:
Courtesy San Francisco Chronicle.
Even for streets on which it is difficult to build completely dedicated lanes for buses, the least we can do is give the bus-only lanes we currently have a fighting chance at success. Smaller, incremental changes like this can go surprisingly far to increase the quality of the transit experience.