Community Meetings, Muni / SFMTA, San Francisco, Transit Effectiveness Project

Have Your Say on the Transit Effectiveness Project

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.

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Discussion

18 thoughts on “Have Your Say on the Transit Effectiveness Project

  1. The TEP is a good step towards fixing Muni, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough. What about cutting some of the least-used streetcar stops, or painting more transit-only lanes?

    Posted by countZ | 30 April 2008, 9:13 pm
  2. The plan recommends more transit-only lanes, and of course Geary and Van Ness are already in planning to have a dedicated transitway, which is even better. I agree some surface Metro stops should be removed, but at the moment, the question of how to speed up vehicles is not focused on removal of existing stops; rather, it has focused on signal preemption, enforcement of transit-only lanes, decreasing dwell time by permitting rear boarding and adding ticket stations for high-traffic stops, and adding more limited service.

    TEP is by no means the end result. It’s a set of recommendations that combines some short-term issues and long-term governing principles, but it’s really just a first step. Still, please make sure that you send your comments in using that linked SFMTA comment form, or by attending a meeting. I’m not sure if anyone from SFTEP reads Transbay Blog, so sending in comments that way is the best way to ensure that your ideas are heard.

    Posted by Eric | 30 April 2008, 9:23 pm
  3. Muni should have gone farther with TEP. I fear that people are liable to think of it as a panacea to solve all of Muni’s problems, rather than a first step towards making Muni run better.

    Posted by countZ | 30 April 2008, 11:04 pm
  4. I’m not exactly clear what you had in mind when you mention “going further.” It would be nice to see stop deletion in some places, but providing more frequent and extended limited service on the “rapid” corridors means that the vast majority of riders are getting faster rides with fewer stops. Capital projects like new rail lines and BRT lanes require diverse funding and are subject to individual environmental review, in any case. TEP can and does recommend that style of improvement, but it would be unwieldy to require that TEP carry out full analysis and review of all those projects simultaneously.

    One of my main complaints with TEP is not so much with its reach, but rather, in thinking through the practical implications of its recommendations. Theoretical 5-6 minute headways on the N-Judah and L-Taraval are nice, but they only go so far without addressing the Metro tunnel’s throughput issues and troublesome choke points like the Duboce Portal.

    Posted by Eric | 1 May 2008, 12:06 am
  5. ^ Point. I hadn’t considered the long and painful EIR process necessary for new capital construction.

    Posted by countZ | 1 May 2008, 12:14 am
  6. Optimization of stop spacing along major corridors is part of the plan. They just haven’t gotten down to the necessary level of detail yet to make recommendations about individual stops (or the locations of signals or stop signs or turn pockets or queue jumps or any of the other hundreds of fine-grained factors along every route).

    Posted by Steve | 1 May 2008, 10:01 am
  7. Yeah, but it doesn’t sound like (so far anyway, from what I’ve heard) ‘local’ network routes are set to receive similar treatment, though some lines could use it in select locations. I should’ve been clearer about distinguishing that in the earlier comment.

    Posted by Eric | 1 May 2008, 12:15 pm
  8. The terminology is a little misleading, many of the local-network routes share corridors with the rapid-network and will benefit from the rapid network improvements. The 30 for example is part of the rapid network (still offering local-stop service) and though the 45 is not part of the rapid network, it shares most of it’s route, and the most congested part of it’s route, with the 30 and will benefit from any of the improvements made on the shared portion of the 30.

    As for Metro, there’s some things that can be done with choke points like the Duboce Portal (which will be rebuilt next year with improvements to the train signaling) and repairs to the Twin Peaks Tunnel will let trains run through there faster, but the real choke point is Embarcadero Station where every single line either stops or terminates.

    Posted by Jamison | 1 May 2008, 1:54 pm
  9. Right. The other major example is the 6, which shares Haight with the 71. But even if you’re only talking about Rapid Network routes, you’re talking 80% of Muni ridership.

    Posted by Steve | 1 May 2008, 2:17 pm
  10. Oh the TEP is a sham if I’ve ever seen one. They want to cut useful ‘local’ routes like the 66, and then they claim to be able to increase metro service. Puhleeze. Anyone who’s taken the L in the past few months has surely noticed the service reduction they’ve pulled recently (fewer two-car trains during peak hours). Maybe their proposed service increase would be to restore it to last year’s anemic levels? Certainly I didn’t see any funds to procure more LRVs.

    Additionally their proposed changes to the 28 are a crock. Turn the Richmond district portion into a limited service area? So what?! Service in the Richmond isn’t the problem! Extend the 28L into Vis Valley? Are you freaking kidding me? The one saving grace of the 28 as it stands is that the 28 is (somewhat) more reliable than the 29. The absurdly long routes (like the 29!) are unreliable in large part because of their length.

    The worst part of their proposed changes is that nobody has even mentioned repurposing the artics for the 28. There is simply not enough capacity on the 28 as-is. That is the primary problem! Crush loaded buses south of Judah are the norm in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening, and during the weekends. Are you seeing a pattern here? Of course, the forty-five minute headways aren’t helping things either.

    While there is substance to the TEP’s report, all we’re going to get out of it are service cuts (or restoration to 2007-level service). Mark my words.

    Reorganization of the routes is not a bad idea, per-se, some of the suggestions in the TEP report are reasonable even. However, MUNI, the MTA, and the Gav have proven that common sense and logic won’t prevail. Look at the subway to nowhere. Look at the elimination of service to CCSF (oh, I meant the K-Ingleside… the T-Third Street? The Katie-Third slash Ingleside? The 10? 20? Ugh). Look at Natty Tatty Ford’s response to criticism of the subway to nowhere. Community meetings or not, nothing good will come out of this.

    Posted by Alex | 1 May 2008, 2:38 pm
  11. Jamison: right, I was referring to more or less purely local routes that do not share street with rapid routes — you know, modulo a section of Market or something. Better speeds in the Twin Peaks tunnel would help accommodate both shorter L headways and quicker turnarounds on the M at State, but on the recommended TEP peak headways, I would like to see how we manage to not have dwells ripple delays throughout the tunnel.

    Posted by Eric | 1 May 2008, 3:55 pm
  12. A tiny bit of extra capacity is gain from moving the J from 9 minute to 10 minute peak, which puts it on a clock face schedule. Taking that extra minute from the J and applying it to a two-car N or L does mean doubling capacity for the training taking that slot, but it’s really just playing around the margins in an overcrowded tunnel.

    Even freeing up more trains through efficiency, there’s still only so many revenue service hours we can get from the current 147 car fleet and the TEP has pointed out we’d need to acquire more.

    Posted by Jamison | 1 May 2008, 4:41 pm
  13. Indeed, and the Bredas are nearing middle age in any event.

    Posted by Eric | 1 May 2008, 4:51 pm
  14. I’ve made this point on here before, but I’ll make it again: it’s about the vehicles, too.

    The current MUNI fleet consists of third-world transit technology implemented by people who seemingly have no regard for the riders and drivers who have to use and operate them daily. High-floor diesel buses, ex-AC Transit Gillig buses that struggle to get up SF’s steep hills, Breda streetcars that have a “Out of Service” warning light built in above the doors, new Orion hybrids where hooligans can shut the bus off with a flip of a switch *from the outside*. . .

    Let’s focus on getting some rapid transit vehicles that are aesthetically pleasing to the eye and can move people quickly and efficiently across town. Low-floor buses with lots of wide doors, well-thought out seating configurations that allow movement within the bus during crush loads are a start. The Orion Hybrids were a step in that direction, but the design of those vehicles combined with MUNI’s disgustingly hideous paint scheme rubs me the wrong way.

    Hey, if LA can do it, why can’t we?

    Posted by PvtEntrepreneur | 1 May 2008, 10:40 pm
  15. Pvt, no one here is discounting the importance of well-designed vehicles, but the step of the process we’re confronting now is to definitively settle on route changes and get the plan through environmental review, so it’s natural that the both the blog post and subsequent discussion would be skewed in this direction.

    Posted by Eric | 2 May 2008, 12:18 am
  16. Ale,

    Is the recent decrease in two-car L-Taraval service only during the PM peak? It’s likely cars are being pulled to provide ball park service on game days.

    Posted by Jamison@adventuresin | 2 May 2008, 7:54 am
  17. Jamison,

    Speed in the Twin Peaks tunnel is not an issue *at all*. They regularly hit 50+ MPH, and are far from capacity from what I can tell. The problem is that it takes 5-10 minutes to get a train through West Portal. Aside from WP, the majority of the problems I’ve experienced have been between Castro and the MMT. In short, capacity is limited by the atrocious switchgear and barely functional trains.

    As it stands the Market tunnel can NOT support tighter headways. No way no how.

    I don’t think the AM service is too bad. Could be ballpark, I think it’s the K/T. Early turnbacks have been a lot more common with the introduction of the T. Last night was fun. Two car outbound L to West Portal (turns into a two car M), waited for the two car M following that to pass. Two car L arrived, got stuck behind a one car M doing a turnback, and was thusly followed immediately by a one car OB L from Balboa Park. Yeah. I sauntered down to Safeway ahead of either of the supposed L’s.

    Reorganizing the lines is just a slight of hand. Without the vehicles or staff to support increased service, nothing will be gained.

    Posted by Alex | 2 May 2008, 12:50 pm
  18. Pvt & Eric,

    My point is, Eric, that what we have now will simply not support increased capacity. Fiddling with the routes won’t even address the underlying problems of unreliable operators and vehicles. The discussion may be skewed towards fiddling with the routes, but simply restoring service levels would solve most of the problems. Routes like the 14 and the 30 are, of course, excepted.

    The Phantoms don’t see regular service, do they? I’ve only ever seen them running J replacement service or driver training stuff out by Lake Merced. The rest of the diesel fleet doesn’t seem to be that bad. Sure I’ve seen broken down diesels, but I can’t remember the last time I’ve ever been on one.

    Thing is tho, the trains are mid-life, but they’ve been terrible from the start… and the powers that be want to avoid spending more money on maintenance. I was putting gasoline into my car this morning when I heard a really annoying alarm. After a minute or so, I looked up to see what it was… yet another Breda with malfunctioning doors.

    I had started to track dwell times and my commute time a while ago. It’s not unusual to see a train stuck at a stop or a station for a few minutes. In terms up uptime (and its effect on punctuality) you’re not looking at how many nines you can shove into 99%, no you’re looking at something absurd like 70% or 80%. Press them into *more* service, and watch them break faster. Or, watch MUNI increase the rate of early turnbacks and claim success (this is what I’m really worried about).

    Posted by Alex | 2 May 2008, 1:06 pm

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