The SFCTA recently released a report (PDF), which, to no one’s surprise, affirmed the agency’s desire to pursue bus rapid transit on Geary instead of light rail. The BRT route would feature dedicated bus lanes and platforms on wide Geary Boulevard, but no dedicated lanes in the downtown segment of the route east of Gough. The report studied several alternatives to evaluate which should be forwarded into the EIR/EIS process. The recommended choices were BRT running in center lanes (considering both side and island platforms, although the latter would require vehicles with left and right doors), along with a less effective side-running alternative that was also moved forward. East of Gough, different versions of a two-way Geary Street (including a transit mall) were rejected; however, transit preferential treatment was moved forward for EIR/EIS purposes. These are the basic design standards that have already been contemplated in connnection with this project, and really the only potentially tricky section to design will be the configuration of the intersections at Fillmore and Masonic. No light rail alternative was recommended for further environmental review.
Those who dream of one day rebuilding the B-Geary line, figuring that it would be worth the investment, might not be swayed by the TA’s stated excuses for not pursuing light rail: the increased expense and complexity (see this memo or presentation, PDFs), and tight competition for considerable extra funding. From the cost persepctive, something does not quite add up. The TA may have escalated its cost figures based on the astronomically high costs of the Central Subway, because even using the numbers cited by the TA in its report, a six-mile Geary line — including a downtown subway terminating at Montgomery Station, with a west portal at Laguna — should cost something in the ballpark of $1.2-$2 billion, not $5 billion as claimed. Even on the basis of existing ridership (to say nothing of the new riders it would attract), rail would certainly be suitable for the Geary corridor. But there are also good arguments that favor moving forward with BRT at this time. Corridor improvements (increased ridership, ride quality, and so forth) are diluted for the BRT project as compared to LRT, but those improvements would be implemented faster, and at lower cost ($150-$200 million) — and similar improvements could then be carried out more quickly on other major transit corridors throughout the city, as well. Disruptions associated with light rail construction were opposed by neighborhood merchants. Moreover, the T-Third and Central Subway contain a host of diverse planning infelicities that, to be frank, call into question the SFMTA’s ability to oversee additional major capital projects. The current design and alignment of the Central Subway damages a potential B-Geary/T-Third transfer station at Union Square (just as the T-Third transfer to Market Street will be inadequate) — and in the long term, it may make more sense to include Geary in the regional rail network with a BART line instead of Muni Metro. I suspect that there will be strong views on both sides as to whether the SFCTA is making the correct decision by pursuing BRT rather than LRT. I certainly do not want to discourage debate on this topic, since Geary is an important corridor that has been unwisely neglected, and it is worthy of the discussion. But BRT remains the mode of choice going forward.