Sierra Club: Speed up MTA service to save $, prevent cuts

LRV 3 MPHIn response to SFMTA’s budget deficit and threatened service cuts and fare hikes, the Sierra Club San Francisco Group has some policy recommendations. Below is their letter by our board member, Howard Strassner. (Note: this is not Rescue Muni policy, though we are long-time proponents of expanded rapid bus service.)

85 Second Street, Box SFG, San Francisco, CA 94105
February 3, 2010

To: Board of Directors
Municipal Transportation Agency
One South Van Ness Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94103

Re: 2009-10 Reduce Traffic by Using Transit Streets for Transit

Dear Directors,

Muni has budget shortfall problems that your forecaster can not predict will be eased soon. However, your Market Street experiment shows that even a small reduction in traffic helps increase Muni’s speed. On busy lines faster runs will provide better service while allowing a bus to be removed and reduce operating costs.

San Francisco drivers have long impaired Muni service. Average speed data prepared for the Transit Effectiveness Project Briefing Book shows that Muni’s systemspeed (Figure 6-8) slowed from 9.2 mph in 1975 to 8.1 mph in 2005, or 12%. During almost the same time census data shows that San Francisco’s automobile population increased from 212,000 in 1960 to 377,000 in 2000 or 77.9%. These cars did stay parked and their drivers added to the congestion which slows Muni. Your budget problems result from a transit system which costs more to operate each year, while operating at slower speeds and carrying fewer riders. This death spiral must be reversed. You took a unique step to reduce unnecessary auto traffic with the Market Street experiment. This shows that simple changes can increase operating speeds while reducing operating costs and improving the transit experience for riders.

The Sierra Club suggests the following:

  • Implement Forced Right Turns on more narrow transit streets (Divisadero, Fillmore, Stockton and others) with signs to direct auto traffic to turn right and cameras to aid police enforcement. A short “Jersey barrier” near a few intersections where Muni does not stop could force all traffic except buses, trucks and emergency vehicles to turn right. The latter would use the center lane to continue. Buses would use their current stops at the curb. It may be necessary to remove a few parking spaces to allow space for the right turn. The results, similar to Market, will be more walking, biking, Muni use and maybe more traffic on parallel streets. Unlike Market Street cars could still park at the curb. It should be clear that many narrow commercial neighborhood and transit streets cannot also be auto thoroughfares. Forced right turns are a major component of Transit First.
  • Study the more capital intensive version of the above with Muni operating in a dedicated center lane with adjacent boarding islands. No left turns would be allowed. Cars and trucks could park along side the Muni right-of-way except at the center boarding islands. Sidewalks would be removed with cars and trucks moving at pedestrian speeds. Drivers and merchants would have more parking because no space would be lost to fire hydrants or red corners. Through traffic would choose to use parallel streets and emergency vehicles could use the Muni lane.
  • Implement additional improvements not considered in 1975 which include: strict signal priorities; low floor buses; proof of payment and others in the TEP Briefing Book. Since the Metro subway was not in operation in 1975 Muni should be able achieve average speeds greater than the 9.1 mph recorded in 1975. We can no longer afford the status quo.
  • Urge the Federal Government to allow the Central Subway funds to be used for Bus Rapid Transit to speed Muni on the wider transit streets, and to convert narrow transit streets into Transit Preferential Streets. Muni can no longer afford a Central Subway that does not reduce operating costs. Our Federal, State and City governments all have financial problems requiring Muni to use capital for a permanent solution to Muni’s financial problems.
  • The Sierra Club and transit advocates are ready to help you make these changes. We will transmit our suggestions for revenue increases in a separate letter because you will need time and money to escape the status quo.

    Very truly yours,

    Howard Strassner, Emeritus Chair Transportation Committee