We’ve spoken here before about the draft proposals for the Transit Effectiveness Project (TEP), a plan to streamline Muni service and make it faster and more reliable. The proposed changes do not amount to a huge change in the physical environment; indeed, infrastructure investments would mostly be limited to streetscape improvements and transit preferential signal preemption. Many of the changes, as explained that previous post on the draft proposals, are centered on service changes, both through route realignments and increased limited service to reduce travel times. And yet, for all that the Transit Effectiveness Project advocates in the way of incremental changes throughout the system, the plan, taken as a whole, is bold, especially upon realizing that the SFMTA is not simply calling for more rapid service and better reliability, but is also in the process of actually allocating resources to make those priorities a future reality, including fixing the operator shortfall and hiring more schedulers, planners, and street supervisors.
In its broad outlines, the goal of creating an improved rapid network is a critical need, both in terms of narrowing the psychological gap between city neighborhoods, and in providing a service that is dependable every hour of every day — especially because San Francisco’s generally dense population lacks a true rapid rail network. Still, there is a careful balance to execute. The TEP plans articulate an overall principle that favors substantial long-term investment and decreased headways on about 15 major corridors that would form the city’s “rapid” network: these include the light rail corridors and the most heavily used bus corridors (e.g. Geary, Van Ness/Mission), and carry over 75% of Muni’s daily riders.
But on the flip side, the plan cuts service on more lightly-used routes (e.g. Valencia). The hillside neighborhoods located near the geographic center of the city present a special sort of challenge that is frequently encountered by suburban bus agencies, but much less so by Muni. As neighborhoods in a city that is at least groping towards being transit-first, they deserve to have as full service as Muni can reasonably provide; and yet, neighborhoods dominated by single family homes and car owners are not the most natural place to provide very frequent service. Indeed, such neighborhoods seem like natural places to cut service if the goal is to increase transit efficiency. As high a priority as it is to maintain a very reliable network of heavily-used and frequently-served “rapid” routes that would serve the vast majority of riders, it is also important to ensure that the entire city can connect smoothly into that network. A missed run on the 36-Teresita may affect fewer people than a missed run on the 38-Geary, but the 38 runs so frequently that the stranded 36 riders might wait much longer for the next vehicle than the stranded 38 riders, and those long waits could turn choice riders away from transit and towards driving. Moreover, in San Francisco, especially, grades are a substantial concern. It is not rare to see people waiting to take a bus just a few blocks up and over a hill, and so the potential implications to riders of rerouting around a steep hill is a factor that the TEP has considered and should continue to consider as its plans for route realignments evolve. In sum, while I wholeheartedly support TEP’s plan to invest in a “rapid” network, the manner in which the local and community service routes are aligned to feed into that network should be carried out with care and sensitivity, balancing legitimate rider concerns with taking steps that are necessary to increase the system’s overall health.
As usual, then, the devil is in the details, and the TEP folks have actively encouraged members of the public to voice their concerns, so that planners may learn further implications of the proposed route changes and the ways in which those changes will impact the affected communities. But many people who decide to voice their concerns at community meetings are very often not there to praise the plan, but rather, to criticize one minor route change, and then to predicate their opinion about the whole plan on the basis of this minor change. Thus, there is a danger of not seeing the forest for the trees. Public commentary, both critical and complementary, is an essential element of carrying out the upcoming environmental assessment phase, and the folks at TEP deserve to have the public recognize both the plan’s weaknesses and its strengths. But let us not overlook the strengths, which are many. If implemented correctly, the principles underlying the TEP could result in a pretty revolutionary transformation of Muni — as revolutionary as could be, anyway, without building several new rail lines.
In terms of gathering public commentary in preparation for environmental review, it is important that the TEP folks receive not only complaints, but also positive feedback about the serious and very necessary changes proposed in the plan. To anyone reading this: please make your voice heard. Do express your concerns, but please also be sure to convey to the TEP folks what about the plan excites you. And if you have not already done so, please attend one of the many community meetings that are being held throughout the City. Here is a list of the remaining community meetings, running through mid-May, including one tonight in the Mission:
- Wednesday, April 30, 6:00 pm, City College Mission Campus, 1125 Valencia St. (at 22nd St.)
- Saturday, May 3, 10:30 am, Jean Parker Elementary, 840 Broadway St. (at Powell St.)
- Monday, May 5, 6:30 pm, Visitacion Valley Elementary, 55 Schwerin St. (at Visitacion Ave.)
- Saturday, May 10, 10:30 am, Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy, 4235 19th St. (at Diamond St.)
- Monday, May 12, 6:00 pm, West Bay Conference Center, 1290 Fillmore St. (at Eddy St.)
- Wednesday, May 14, 6:30 pm, Bessie Carmichael Elementary, 375 Seventh St. (at Harrison St.)
- Saturday, May 17, 10:30 am, Mission YMCA, 4080 Mission St. (at Bosworth St.)
Even if you cannot make a meeting, you can always weigh in with your thoughts through the online comment form.