Bus Rapid Transit, Geary BRT, Muni / SFMTA, San Francisco

SFCTA Moves Forward With Geary BRT Alternatives

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.

38_1_geary-powellThose 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.



9 thoughts on “SFCTA Moves Forward With Geary BRT Alternatives

  1. It shouldn’t be too hard to turn a Geary rapid bus line into a “rapid streetcar” line at some point in the future. If you use lightweight streetcars like the Portland Streetcar’s you can greatly reduce the capital expense involved. There’s no reason to build the heavy-duty tracks for the Bredas when they’ll be stopping every half-mile anyway.

    Posted by Jake | 6 May 2009, 10:06 am
  2. Integrating Geary and 19th Ave. in the regional rail network plan is a great idea. Incorporating BRT on Geary in the local plan will be an additional solution to improve transit flow. My only concern with BRT is the section east of Van Ness. Autos constantly block the bus-only lanes which slows the buses to a crawl most of the time.

    Posted by Mark | 6 May 2009, 11:20 am
  3. Note from Eric:

    [Comment is off-topic, and has been moved to the open thread:


    Posted by Aught Six | 6 May 2009, 1:12 pm
  4. If they go with BRT, how feasible would it be to “upgrade” to light rail later on? I like to think the platforms could be adapted easily, especially if they are in the middle, but the tricky part would be connecting with the rest of the rail system, especially given the weird alignments WRT the Central Subway and whatnot.


    Posted by dannyman | 6 May 2009, 1:42 pm
  5. @dannyman
    An all-surface light rail alignment could be grafted to the Market surface tracks, then from there to 4th and King. The smarter thing to do would probably be to elevate the streetcar tracks above Geary, 3rd, and Mission to the front of the new Transbay Terminal.

    Posted by Jake | 6 May 2009, 2:43 pm
  6. MUNI can barely run the light rail it has now, has designed gargantuan flaws into their latest light rail extension, decimated service to the BVHP area by removing the 15… why on earth shouldn’t they go for BRT?

    Posted by Alex | 6 May 2009, 3:10 pm
  7. How soon can they build this? I’m partial to building things that can happen sooner so that I can enjoy them before I get old, and also because I have a feeling that getting people used to a steady stream of new projects will create a momentum for future upgrades (like Van Ness BRT, Caltrain/HSR Downtown Extension, etc).

    Posted by MikeD | 9 May 2009, 11:02 am
  8. MikeD: the report discussing the alternatives was a first step toward EIR prep. EIR should be complete by the middle of next year, with project delivery in 2013. Latest word on cost is about $150-$200 million.

    Posted by Eric | 9 May 2009, 11:10 am


  1. Pingback: Open Thread and Early May News Roundup « Transbay Blog - 6 May 2009

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