Transit Expansion: The Next Stage in Rescuing Muni
By Andrew Sullivan, Chair, Rescue Muni, January 2002

[Maps forthcoming: phase 1, 2, 3, in B&W with modes clearly distinguished; Van Ness BRT, Geary Rail, Ft Mason Streetcar]


San Francisco needs better public transit. This is certainly not a controversial statement ñ even after several years of improvements in Muni, BART, and Caltrain service. Though Muniís reliability is much improved from the days of the "Metro Meltdown" in 1998, bus and streetcar riders still suffer from slow, unreliable service, particularly on streets with heavy automobile traffic. Many potential riders still drive their cars because the bus is not a viable alternative ñ and this only makes the problem worse. Meanwhile, riders who do not own cars still have to plan for potential delays and wasted time.

Increasing demand for public transit, coupled with conditions that make the current system fundamentally unsatisfactory, calls for a much more aggressive program of transit expansion than has been discussed in San Francisco since the Muni Metro was built in the 1970s. Rescue Muni, co-author with SPUR and others of 1999ís Proposition E to reform Muni, recommends that Muni and the San Francisco County Transportation Authority plan now a series of investments in public transit service that can meet the demand for service in San Francisco and the region. We also urge Muni to take full advantage of its transit-first policy, overwhelmingly approved by the voters as part of Proposition E in 1999, to finally allocate sufficient street space to move transit riders more quickly than auto traffic.

The combination of heavy rail, light rail, Bus Rapid Transit, and historic streetcar projects described here will save transit riders valuable time by providing much faster and more convenient service. Passengers will see results very quickly. While this plan includes rail projects that will take many years to build, it also includes 8 lines of rapid bus service that can be in operation by 2006.

Principles and Modes

In designing this program, Rescue Muni has considered several important design principles for better public transit service. We did not just draw lines on a map; instead, we considered carefully existing and projected transit demand, and we looked at the areas where upgrades would have the most positive impact on service. We are looking to build a network that is:

Why the focus on speeding up transit service, when transit operators are faced with severe capacity and reliability problems? The answer is quite clear: faster service is more service. Of course customers get a better experience when the bus doesnít waste time stuck in traffic - but the operator can also run more trips with the same vehicles, and reliability is much improved.

Like Muni in its "X-Plan" draft, we are recommending service expansion using several modes: light rail, an expansion of current Muni Metro service; historic streetcar, similar to the current F line on Market and Embarcadero; Bus Rapid Transit, an innovative system of high-speed bus services that provide fast, frequent, reliable service at low cost relative to rail projects, and heavy rail, in this case the Caltrain line.

Recommended Projects

While Muniís long-term vision does not include a formal project plan, we feel that now is the time to make specific recommendations for transit expansion in San Francisco. What follows is a three-phase plan passed recently by our Steering Committee; further concepts for service expansion are described in our Draft Transit Expansion & Upgrade Plan and Phase Zero Plan, available on our web site (

Phase 1: Bus Rapid Transit, Historic Streetcars, Caltrain (2001-2006)

For the initial phase, we are recommending a bold move to establish rapid bus service in San Francisco, combined with important enhancements to Caltrain and Muniís historic (streetcar and cable car) service. We urge Muni to quickly establish eight Bus Rapid Transit corridors and take immediate action to give buses priority there, with a plan to upgrade all eight to full Bus Rapid Transit by 2006. Techniques used to convert slow, delay-prone bus service to rapid transit include:

The corridors we recommend are:

1. Van Ness (this is Muniís proposed Van Ness Transitway project)

2. Geary (as precursor to Light Rail project in phase 2)

3. Market Street

4. Potrero/Bayshore

5. Doyle Drive/Lombard

6. 19th Avenue

7. Outer Mission

8. 16th Street

For all but two (19th Avenue and Outer Mission) we recommend exclusive right-of-way at all times for the full length of the line. Because 19th Avenue is a heavily traveled state highway, it may make more sense for the buses to share the diamond lanes with carpools, again at all times. Outer Mission lacks the street space for exclusive right-of-way, but other tools (signal pre-empts, bulb-outs, etc.) should be used to speed service.

In addition, we urge completion of the already planned Caltrain electrification and express, to significantly improve regional connectivity, and several extensions of historic service. The most important of these is the extension of the Embarcadero streetcar to Fort Mason, which will be a major improvement in service for tourists and Marina residents alike; we also urge Muni to extend the Powell/Mason cable car to Fishermanís Wharf, build the "G" streetcar to Golden Gate Park, and begin operating the "E" Embarcadero streetcar.

Phase 2: Major Rail Expansion (2006-2012)

The next phase builds on the first to provide true rapid transit service on several key corridors. With an extensive Bus Rapid Transit system put in place in Phase 1, Phase 2 focuses on Muni LRV, Caltrain and the E/F-Line Streetcar. Projects would have been studied in Phase I for cost effectiveness.

Our top priority Muni project in this phase (and in the whole plan) is Geary Light Rail, a long-overdue project that was most recently studied in 1995. Restoring rail service from Point Lobos to Union Square and the Transbay Terminal is crucial to providing rapid service for the tens of thousands of customers Muni serves daily in the northwest quadrant of San Francisco; it is a project that has been promised in one way or another almost since the old B-Geary streetcar was replaced by motorcoaches in 1956.

Two mode options exist for this service: an all-surface configuration, similar to the old B service, and a subway/surface combination that would run underground from Laguna to Union Square and connect to Muniís planned Central Subway. A spur could be built off the subway along Pine or Folsom to connect Geary service directly to the Transbay Terminal. However it is ultimately designed, Light Rail service on this corridor would be built in the Bus Rapid Transit right-of-way recommended for phase one.

Several other projects would occur in this phase as well. We strongly support current plans to extend Caltrain downtown to a new Transbay Terminal, and this project is likely to occur in the phase 2 time frame. In addition, we favor expansion of historic streetcar service past Fort Mason to Crissy Field and the Presidio in this phase; this service would be a huge benefit to tourists and commuters alike. Finally, we urge Muni to make the relatively small investment to extend the California Street cable car service past Van Ness to Japantown. Again, this would make the line much more useful at fairly low cost.

Phase 3: Additional Rail Projects (2012-2020)

Once the top-priority projects of Bus Rapid Transit, Geary rail, and Caltrain extension are complete, several additional rail projects would make the Muni Metro and historic system even more useful. Three projects that would help complete the network are an extension of the proposed Central Subway (if itís built as planned) from Clay and Stockton to Washington Square, to provide connectivity from North Beach to downtown; a Geneva light rail line connecting the Bayshore station on the Third Street line to Balboa Park Station; and a 16th Street historic streetcar (or light rail) line connecting Third to Church, with through service to the Beach or Golden Gate Park via the existing N line.

The 16th Street line would be built in the right-of-way previously established for Bus Rapid Transit. The latter two projects would also increase Muniís flexibility for routing service through the city and moving cars from place to place, as they would make Muniís rail service into more of a multiply connected grid.

Costs and Funding

While we have not completed a full cost analysis of this vision, we understand that the cost will run to several billion dollars. This cost will depend in no small part on the modes chosen for particular projects ñ notably Geary Light Rail, where 1995 estimates of the project with partial subway were just under $1 billion in then-current dollars. Muni has developed rough costs per mile for the various modes we have discussed, which can be used to estimate costs of this project. Clearly new funding will be needed to make this vision a reality.

However, we feel strongly that a choice to fund Muni service expansion is a realistic possibility in todayís environment. Santa Clara County voters supported Measure A (2000) overwhelmingly; this measure supports public transit exclusively and provides local money for projects such as the BART extension to San Jose, light rail expansion, and Caltrain enhancements. San Franciscans experience traffic at least as bad as Santa Clara voters, and we use transit much more; so we believe a well-defined funding package coupled with a realistic service expansion plan has a strong chance of success here.


San Franciscoís transit riders deserve a better system. While it is essential to make the current system more reliable, as the people of San Francisco voted in 1999ís Proposition E, we also feel that it is important to expand San Franciscoís rapid transit capacity to meet this increased demand.

Our plan of rapid bus, light rail, streetcar, Caltrain, and BART expansions is an aggressive one, and we understand that San Franciscans would need to make public transit a major priority in order to fund it. But we believe strongly that this is the right choice. San Francisco is such a pleasant city in part because it is a walking city ñ and for this to continue in the face of population and income growth, it needs a world-class public transit system. We believe that our new transit network, the first phase of which would be running in five years, would be a major step in this direction.

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