Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit gets a green light

Joël Ramos Headshot

Senior at Bus Stop in San Francisco

The Bay Area’s public transportation revolution charged ahead in San Francisco this month, as agencies gave the green light for Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) to enter the final stages of design and construction.

Both the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) approved and adopted the Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) for the project on September 10. After nearly a decade, approval of the FEIR marks a tremendous milestone in the development of BRT, putting the Van Ness project on track to reach completion in 2018.

Van Ness BRT will combine the best attributes of San Francisco’s light-rail system with the flexibility of buses to provide fast, frequent, and reliable transit service on Van Ness Avenue. BRT will cut travel times along Van Ness by a third, reducing today’s 30-minute ride on Muni lines 47 and 49 to just 20 minutes for the whole Van Ness corridor.

What’s more, San Franciscans will get BRT at a fraction of the cost and in much less time than it would take to build light rail. With more than 16,000 daily riders on Van Ness, that adds up to incredible value for the city that, along with BRT projects in the East Bay and Silicon Valley, can point the way forward for efficient and effective public transportation in our region.

Getting to this point was not without challenges. TransForm played a key role in finding a solution for seniors at the Notre Dame senior housing facility at Broadway and Van Ness, whose bus stop was planned for elimination without a nearby replacement. This location was critical for seniors who don’t drive, and truly need public transportation to get around.

While limiting the number of stops is an important component of creating a successful BRT line, it was clear that the reason for cutting this particular BRT station was to protect a double left-turn lane for cars. That’s not exactly in line with the city’s transit-first policy, and certainly not a strategic choice for balancing the needs of some of Muni’s most dedicated riders.

TransForm was able to work with SFCTA staff, key leaders from the senior center, and advocates at the Chinatown Community Development Center to build support for a BRT stop closer to the senior facility at Vallejo Street. While this stop may add as much as 30 seconds to the length of a trip along Van Ness, we felt that sensitivity to transit-dependent seniors’ needs was worth the addition of a relatively small amount of total travel time. As we look to other proposals to add BRT or improve current transit service by consolidating some bus stops, we hope this helps set a standard for making decisions that reflect the local community’s needs.

TransForm will continue to make sure that the communities along Van Ness are informed and that their engagement is meaningful as the BRT project is implemented. We will also begin getting more engaged around the Geary Boulevard BRT project as it moves through the environmental review process, with the intent of getting Geary BRT into operation as soon as 2019.

For more information about the project, check out the SFCTA’s Van Ness BRT website.

Photo credit: Lynn Friedman via Flickr

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TransForum is the blog of TransForm, California's leading transportation advocate. For more about our work, including ways you can take action and contribute, visit TransFormCA.org.