At Last: Progress on Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit

By Egon Terplan, Regional Planning Director
May 18, 2012
One of four designs considered for bus rapid transit on Van Ness Avenue. The SFMTA has approved a blend between this option and one other. Image courtesy SFCTA

After more than six years of planning, and six months after the release of a draft environmental impact report, we now have a clearer picture of what bus rapid transit on Van Ness Avenue might look like. This past Tuesday, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) unanimously approved a combination of two out of the four designs under consideration.

Bus rapid transit (BRT) is similar to light rail in efficiency, but it uses buses instead of trains on tracks, which makes for lower costs and greater flexibility. Systems typically feature three ingredients:

·      Dedicated lanes, usually in the center of the street

·      Unique branding to make buses highly visible

·      All-door boarding and proof-of-payment systems, often with payment required to be in the station area

The proposal for BRT on Van Ness would include all of these elements at nine dedicated stations between Mission and Lombard streets (see map below). Outside of these special stations, the Van Ness/Mission bus would function as it does today, mixing with cars in the far right lane of traffic.

Image courtesy SFCTA

The current draft environmental impact report / environmental impact statement included four alternatives for bus rapid transit on Van Ness (including a “no build” option that would keep bus service the way it is today). The version that passed the SFMTA board combined options 3 and 4 from the draft into a blended solution with a dedicated center lane and right-side boarding.

Image courtesy SFCTA

SPUR argued in a recent letter to the boards of SFMTA and San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) that the blended alternative has four main benefits:

·      It demonstrates the biggest travel-time reduction, reliability improvements and ridership increases

·      It uses existing vehicles with right-side boarding

·      It maintains as much of the existing median as possible

·      It creates a new urban design amenity on Van Ness by breaking up the street with a more inviting design

The same day that the SFMTA approved the proposal, the San Francisco County Transportation Authority pushed the same decision back for one month. But this a minor lag for the long-delayed project. Meanwhile, momentum for bus rapid transit is growing throughout the Bay Area — in the East Bay, South Bay and on Geary Boulevard.

We are excited to see the Van Ness project take its next step and hope for strong support from the SFCTA next month, as well full certification of the final environmental review this fall. We recognize that transit projects of this scale take time, but we look forward to riding the bus when it (finally) opens in 2017.

Read more about all four project alternatives >>