An Update on Van Ness BRT
March 15, 2011
The 38 on Geary Boulevard. [Photo by Colleen McHugh]

Several weeks ago, I attended a briefing at the SFCTA on the progress of the Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit project. BRT along Van Ness is currently in the midst of final environmental studies and preliminary engineering. Public comment will be solicited this spring on the Environmental Impact Report, after which the project team will recommend a preferred alternative for adoption by the Authority and SFMTA boards.

The Van Ness BRT project is true Bus Rapid Transit – it is not a simple rebranding of an existing line with a new paint scheme and logo. Van Ness BRT calls for the conversion of one lane in each direction to a dedicated bus lane, with overhead wire to power clean electric buses. The project will feature all-door, level boarding and proof of payment to speed up passenger boarding and drop-off. Buses will get transit signal priority for green lights at intersections, and traffic signal optimization will be implemented along the corridor to time all traffic lights.

A review of the three design alternatives can be found on this fact sheet. Alternative 2 converts the rightmost lanes to bus-only lanes while retaining the existing center landscaped median. Alternative 3 is a center-lane dual median option that creates two dedicated bus lanes completely separated from traffic. Alternative 4 converts the inside traffic lanes to dedicated bus lanes, and places BRT stations on the center median.

Van Ness BRT is expected to yield a multitude of benefits. The BRT project is expected to decrease transit delay by 33-43%, compared to no project at all. Travel time for transit will decrease 18-32%, and transit reliability is expected to improve as well due to stop consolidation.

The Authority's study shows how corridor-wide performance will increase with the implementation of BRT. Person-throughput, the volume of people traveling through Van Ness Avenue, will see an improvement by up to 12% according to the SFCTA. BRT will provide time-savings and better performance for transit riders at the same operating cost. With projected increased transit ridership, the transit lane would carry more than each auto lane, and at some areas would carry more than the two auto lanes combined.

Overall safety on Van Ness is expected to improve with BRT implementation. The project will bring features to reduce the types of collisions most often observed on Van Ness Avenue. Broadside collisions will be reduced by eliminating most left-turn pockets and installing a protected signal phase for the remaining left turns. Rear-end collisions will be addressed by reduced stop-and-go auto traffic and more visible traffic signals on mast arms. Pedestrian-auto collisions will be reduced with pedestrian countdown signals, wider pedestrian refuges and corner bulbs at crossing locations. Finally, sideswipe collisions will be reduced by separating the buses into their own lanes from mixed-flow traffic.

SPUR’s analysis of Van Ness BRT as part of our Critical Cooling report suggests that the project will have obvious benefits on the city’s transportation network, and will also have a potential carbon savings of 600 metric tons a year. Additionally, Van Ness BRT plays a key role in helping to build out San Francisco’s Rapid Transit Network. Creating a rapid transit network is critical to reversing Muni’s downward spiral.

The whole project is expected to cost $118 million. 64% of the total is derived from Small Starts and anticipated funding, while the rest will come from Prop K and other federal and local dollars. Construction on Van Ness BRT is expected to begin in mid to late 2013, with revenue service slated for mid 2014.

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