Geary Rapid Transit:
Rescue Muni's Plan for Geary Rapid Transit
by Dan Krause, Chair, Service Expansion Committee and Managing Director, Rescue Muni
The following article is also in the January 2005 Transfer with detailed diagrams and photos.
See also our Powerpoint presentation given 5/12/05 at SPUR on the subject.
The Geary Corridor is one of the busiest transit corridors in the nation. Unfortunately, transit service is woefully inadequate. Now the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) is studying ways to bring Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) to Geary, which it hopes will improve service tremendously. The question is, what is the best way to implement BRT on Geary? Rescue Muni is a strong advocate for BRT on Geary, but we are also in support of light rail in the future as well. Therefore, we support a BRT project that is "Rail-Ready" or ready for easy conversion to rail when funding for that project can be secured. We also support aggressively pursuing rail along the Geary Corridor.
Rescue Muni's Strategy for Geary Corridor Transit Improvements - A Phased Approach
Due to budgetary concerns at all levels of government, Rescue Muni unfortunately has come to the conclusion that constructing a light-rail project straight away is not possible at this time, though desirable. A few years back San Francisco prioritized the 3rd Street Corridor (including the Central Subway) over Geary, North Beach and Van Ness corridors for new light-rail service. Unfortunately, since that decision, federal and state funds have become more scarce. Now there is only enough money to finish the 3rd St. Corridor light-rail project with no more money for other light-rail projects for a decade or more.
With decisions of the past and current funding constraints, the only way to get improvements to the Geary Corridor in a reasonable time is to develop a multi-phased approach. Rescue Muni's Steering Committee has recently approved a proposal for a three-phase upgrade program done in segments of the Corridor. Phase 1 will take place on Geary and O'Farrell along the Inner Geary segment (Van Ness to Market St.). Note the Geary Corridor includes Post, Geary and O'Farrell streets along the Inner Geary segment. Phase 2 will take place on Geary Blvd. between 33rd Ave. and around Collins (just west of Masonic). Phase 3 will run under Post St. from over to Geary and continue to around Collins. Exclusive transit lanes will also be extended from 33 rd west to the end of the line.
Phase 1 - Inner Geary Transit Preferential Streets (TPS):
Improvements to Existing Bus Lanes This TPS project is already being planned by Muni and is close to completing the approvals process. The project will speed bus service along Geary & O'Farrell by widening the existing transit lane, building bus bulbs, adding right-turn pocket lanes for autos and eliminating some stops that are very close together. We anticipate the completion of this project sometime in the first half of 2005. Please see the article by Andrew Sullivan in September's issue of the Transfer and Daniel Murphy's article on Page 15 of this issue for more details.
Phase 2 - Outer Geary "Rail-Ready" BRT
Rescue Muni is advocating for a "Rail-Ready" BRT project along the 2.6 mile stretch of Geary Blvd. from 33 rd to around Collins (just west of Masonic). This segment of Geary is being targeted due to high-level of cross traffic and congestion. A longer segment is not realistic for this phase because of funding constraints. This project will upgrade the Corridor to Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service, a higher level of improvement compared to the Transit Preferential Streets (TPS) project taking place in the Inner Geary. In addition, Rescue Muni is deeply commited to the concept of "Rail-Ready" BRT, which allows for an efficient conversion to light rail with minimal disruption to the street or to existing transit service. The philosophy being, tear up Geary only once. It will also be cheaper because there is no need to demolish the existing BRT system and start over instead, Muni would make small changes to the existing infrastructure. Rescue Muni has a goal to complete the BRT project no later than 2010.
Elements of a "Rail-Ready" Geary BRT Project:
Phase 3 - Convert Entire Geary Corridor to Light Rail
Converting the Geary Corridor to light rail will begin by constructing a subway tunnel under Post St. (Van Ness to Market) over a number of years while maintaining BRT service in Outer Geary and enhanced bus service along Geary and O'Farrell streets along the Inner Geary. See article in the September 2004 issue of Transfer titled "Rescue Muni's Vision - Central Subway and Geary Rail" for a detailed description. Simultaneous to subway construction, Outer Geary grade separations will be constructed at key intersections, especially between Masonic and Laguna. As completion of the tunnel and grade separations nears, overhead electric wires suitable for light-rail vehicles will be installed along the entire length of the Corridor. Once the tunnel and electric wires are complete, conversion to light rail will be relatively fast. Some small modifications may be needed to Outer Geary, but the large infrastructure work will have already been completed during construction of the Rail-Ready BRT phase. The goal will be to have minimum disruption of rapid-transit service during the conversion process. Rescue Muni has a goal of completing the light-rail project by 2020.
Elements of a Geary Corridor Light-Rail Project
The Current Situation: Muni and the San Francisco County Transportation (SFCTA) are currently planning to construct Inner Geary TPS in 2005 and Outer Geary BRT within the next five to seven years. Currently, they are not seriously planning to implement light-rail service. In addition, it is not clear what type of BRT project we are going to get because the SFCTA is heavily involved in the conceptual design of the BRT project. There may be philosophical differences between Muni and the SFCTA on how to design and construct BRT along Geary. Rescue Muni is very concerned about the potential to get a mediocre BRT project that is not "Rail-Ready", or something done on the cheap.
The SFCTA, not Muni, is currently running a Geary Corridor Citizen's Advisory Committee and producing a Geary Corridor Study. The Citizen's Advisory Committee will be creating recommendations on how to proceed with the development of a BRT (and potentially light rail) project along Outer Geary. After taking input from the community via this Citizen's Advisory Committee, the SFCTA will produce the Geary Corridor Study, which will likely produce the preferred project alternatives for inclusion in a future Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for Phase 2 work only.
Proposal to Implement and Fund Rescue Muni's Vision for Geary
As described above, Rescue Muni has a much more ambitious agenda for the Corridor. Rescue Muni is very concerned about how the SFCTA and Muni are going about planning for Bus Rapid Transit along Geary and certainly are distressed that light rail has dropped out of all planning efforts. How can we achieve Rescue Muni's bold vision to construct both "Rail-Ready" BRT and light rail for the Geary Corridor in light of the current planning efforts and the fiscally constrained times we live in? Below is a proposal for funding Rescue Muni's vision for Geary Rapid Transit. The this proposal has NOT yet been approved by the Rescue Muni Steering Committee, but it will be brought before the Service Expansion and Steering Committtees in the near future. We need YOUR input on what we should ultimately recommend to Muni and the SFCTA on financing this crucial project.
Strong Vision: The reason to have a BRT phase is because we want faster and more reliable service as soon as possible, well before light rail can be completed. Therefore, we must avoid the typical federal funding process, which is very long and laborious. If we went through the federal funding process, the fastest we could have BRT would be 2015. Therefore, we strongly encourage the usage of Proposition K funds immediately to produce all environmental and engineering studies for the project. Construction of BRT should utilize both Proposition K BRT funds and bond money (if approved by voters). This strategy should get us a completed project by 2010. Other miscellaneous sources of funds should be explored regionally. State funding should be explored but not counted on due to the current budget crisis, but this could improve in a couple of years or so. There is a slight possibility of obtaining a federal earmark, but we don't to slow the project down, so this option is highly unlikely.
Begin Official Federal Process Now for Geary Corridor Light Rail: A significant level of federal funding will be required to construct light rail along the Geary Corridor. To receive this funding, projects have to follow a federal process. We are strongly advocating that the current planning going on at the Geary Corridor Citizen's Advisory Committee (CAC) and the SFCTA should result in the commencement of this federal process, which requires the following studies be undertaken:
Fortunately, Muni has a head start on this process because of previous studies. Muni has done much systems planning work which can be used in producing a "Systems Planning Study." Both the required "Corridor Study" and Alternate Analysis Study" can utilize detailed information from large study Muni produced named the "Geary Corridor System Planning Study", which was completed by Merrill and Associates in 1995. Of course parts the Merrill and Associates report are clearly out of date and need updating.
Muni should quickly produce the first three studies in the process and move onto an EIR/EIS and then Preliminary Engineering without hesitation. Again, funding these studies can be included in a transit bond. However, we urge Muni to begin some of the low-cost studies immediately.
Develop Two Separate Funding Plans & Begin Lobbying for Funds Now: The first step to developing a funding plan is to estimate the costs of the project first. We have done some research on potential costs of both Phases 2 and 3 (BRT and light rail) by extrapolating numbers from other similar transit projects. Please note the following items will have to be priced out in great detail and the numbers represent a ballpark for planning and advocacy purposes. On the revenue side, the numbers for joint development and redevelopment taxincrement financing are very rough and based on extrapolations from other redevelopment projects such as the Transbay Terminal. In other words, please don't hold us to these numbers. These funding plans should be viewed a potential scenarios only, understanding that the numbers below may vary significantly and that there are other ways to creatively fund these projects.
Funding Scenario #1 - Phase 2: Rail-Ready" Bus Rapid Transit
Estimated (Rough) Costs of Phase 2 - "Rail Ready" BRT
1. $200M - Construction of 2.6 miles of exclusive transit lanes, including tracks and stations from around Collins (just West of Masonic) to 33 rd Ave.
TOTAL ESTIMATED COST FOR GEARY RAIL-READY BRT - $200M
Funding Scenario for Phase 2 - "Rail Ready" BRT
1. $50M - Prop K BRT/TPS Category Money
2. $110M - Local Transit Bond #1
3. $40M - Misc. Regional/State Sources (MTC Discretionary, Prop. 42, etc.)
TOTAL REVENUE PRODUCED BY FUNDING SCENARIO - $200M
Funding Scenario #2 - Phase 3: Light Rail
Estimated (Rough) Costs of Phase 3 - Conversion of "Rail Ready" BRT to LightRail Service
1. $1B - 1.7 miles of Subway Construction (Portal just West of Laguna to downtown, stub-end terminus station at Montgomery and Post); This cost estimate includes 4 subway stations (Van Ness/Post; Leavenworth/Post; Stockton/Post; Montgomery/Post), the purchase of light-rail vehicles, the expansion of Metro East and engineering. This lump sum was extrapolated based on the current cost estimates of the Central Subway.
2. $60M - Masonic/Geary Intersection reconfiguration to allow for BRT to take over the auto tunnel.
3. $50M - Short viaduct going over Divisadero and Scott streets.
4. $50M - Extention of trench under Fillmore to allow train to go under Steiner and Webster.
5. $15M - Widen trench under Fillmore to allow for two auto lanes in each direction (in addition to one frongtage lane in each direction).
6. $50M - Grade separation of Park Presidio under Geary Blvd.
7. $50M - Overhead electric wires on the Outer Geary portion of the corridor (from Laguna Portal to the ocean).
8. $100M - Financing Costs (to pay for interest for cash flow shortfalls due to long schedule in receiving all Federal & State contributions).
TOTAL ESTIMATED COST FOR UPGRADE TO LIGHT RAIL FROM "RAIL-READY" BRT - $1.35 BILLION
Funding Scenario for Phase 3 - Conversion of "Rail Ready" BRT to LightRail Service
1. $25M - Joint Development at Muni's Presidio Maintenance Yard
2. $75M - Regional Money (Flexible money from the Feds but run though MTC)
3. $100M - Masonic Area TransitOriented Development
4. $175M - Local Transit Bond #2
5. $300M - State Funding (assuming a better economy, Prop 42 funds, & possibly a statewide rail bond for various transit projects statewide)
6. $675M - Federal New-Starts 50/50 Matching.
TOTAL REVENUE PRODUCED BY FUNDING SCENARIO - $1.35 BILLION
Description of Funding Sources: Due to underinvestment in transit projects both nationally and at the state level, all proposed projects are in high-level of competition with one another. If we are to be successful in obtaining matching funds from state and federal sources for both Phases 2 and 3, it requires a high level of local funding.
Currently we have very little local funding committed for Muni transit expansion projects after we complete the 3 rd Street Light-Rail and the Central Subway. There is only one pot of money that is designated for other transit expansion projects. Proposition K, which passed in November of 2003 set aside $110M for BRT and TPS (Transit Preferential Streets - things like bus bulbs which enhance regular bus service) projects citywide over the next 30 years. This is a deplorable amount of local money for Muni transit expansion projects for such a long period of time. Most of Proposition K's money for Muni was designated for maintenance and vehicle purchases. While Rescue Muni supports maintaining the system we have before we expand the system, the fact remains that the 1Ž2 cent sales tax extension that Proposition K provided was simply not enough money to build the system we will need in the coming decades.
There are three main ways to raise additional local money for Geary as well as other capital transit expansion projects:
1) General Obligation Bonds: San Francisco residents frequently have passed local bonds for capital projects of all kinds such as Laguna Honda. San Francisco currently has some room to increase its bond debt and remain financially healthy. Rescue Muni is currently studying two bond proposals that could be allocated for transit improvements citywide, with the centerpiece of both being the Geary Rapid Transit Corridor. The first bond would be put on the ballot in the near future and provide funds for Phase 2 (BRT) and studies for Phase 3 (light rail) and the second bond would be placed on the ballot in 5-8 years and provide funds for the construction of Phase 3 (light rail).
2) Joint Development at the Presidio Maintenance Yard: This strategy involves taking Muni-owned land and working with a developer to construct a project there. Revenues from the sale or lease of the land or air rights can go to Muni, which can then use the money for light-rail work and operations along Geary. Due to the long lead time of such development, funds raised will go to Phase 3 (light rail), not BRT. Rescue Muni sees the Presidio yard at Masonic and Geary as a huge opportunity for joint development by selling the air rights of the site to construct a development over the existing bus yard while would like to see this process begin immediately by having Muni and the Geary Corridor Citizen's Advisory Committee start planning for development of this site.
3) Redevelopment Tax-Increment Funding at the Masonic and Geary Area: Money can also be raised to fund a project by designating a Redevelopment Area. After the redevelopment as taken place, any additional property tax raised above today's current level can be applied directly to projects within the Project Area rather than going the City's general fund. These funds pay back bonds that are issued for construction. This process is called tax-increment financing. We see a huge opportunity around the Masonic and Geary intersection to intensify land-uses, especially the moribund shopping center and the Presidio Maintenance Yard sites just to the South and North of Geary respectively. Again, the money raised would be applied only to light rail, not BRT.
A significant upgrade of transit for the Geary Corridor is long overdue. Public officials have put it off before and it is likely that they will only pursue minor improvements this time around unless we the citizens demand higher standards. Yes it will take longer and cost more money. But doesn't one of the busy transit corridors in the entire nation deserve a major investment? Of course it does - and now is the time to begin.