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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:
  • Continuous exclusive transit lanes along the ENTIRE 2.6 mile segment. With the goal of converting to light rail in the near future, we must maintain complete separation of transit lanes from automobile lanes wherever BRT construction takes place. If we construct mix flow lanes (cars and buses sharing the same lane) on any blocks where BRT is constructed, a complete re-construction will be required for conversion to rail or there might be the temptation to run trains in mixed flow. We are categorically opposed to running BRT or light rail in mixed flow because of detrimental effect on reliability and speed. We don't want a repeat of the 3 rd Street Light Rail Project, where Muni is constructing 10 blocks of mixed-flow lanes right in the heart of the Bayview Commercial core. Muni will regret this decision when reliability on their brand new rail line is poor because trains will be stuck in heavy automobile traffic. To create the two exclusive bus-only lanes required for "Rail-Ready" BRT, the elimination of one lane of automobile traffic in each direction is necessary as well as the elimination of angled parking on certain blocks. Automobile users will also benefit because most buses will be removed from car lanes, reducing traffic and other bus-auto conflicts caused by buses pulling in and out of stations and hogging two lanes at times because they are too wide.
  • Close access to cross traffic on lightly-used roads that currently cross through Geary. Currently there are a high number of intersections with cross traffic along Geary between 33rd and Masonic. By blocking traffic from crossing Geary on selected streets, interference to transit vehicles will be reduced, improving speed and reliability.
  • Construct the concrete bed of the transit lanes with enough strength for Light Rail Vehicles (LRV). A "Rail-Ready" BRT project demands we pour a concrete substrate that can support full rail operations. Otherwise when we convert to rail, we will have to stop bus service for several years, jackhammer the bus lanes and redo the bed of the road to support rail. Not only would this be immensely more expensive, it would throw buses back into mixed flow traffic for several years. In other words it would be a complete mess.
  • Put the rails in now! Another requirement of "Rail-Ready" BRT is to lay the rails now. It is our understanding that rails can sit for many years without harm to their functionality. And when it comes to rapid transit projects, the rails aren't the main cost of the project. Again, if we don't put rails in now, the bus lanes will have to be torn out and reconstructed, creating a mess.
  • Construct stations with side platforms as oppose to center platforms. The main benefit of stations with side-platforms for BRT is we can use standard buses with right-side doors. If we construct center platforms, either buses have to run contra-flow to automobile traffic creating safety issues or we have to order special buses with left side doors, driving up the cost of the Phase 2 project. With an opening date of 2010 in Rescue Muni's plan, we envision utilizing existing buses for a couple of years, until Muni's scheduled replacement of the buses takes place in 2012. If Muni has to buy buses two years early, they have to use local funds for the purchase without help from other funding sources. Side platforms also allows for two landscaped medians in the street which creates a more distinct and separate transit right-ofway from auto traffic as well as creating a more pleasant urban design. These two medians can then give way for left turn lanes for cars and station platforms.
  • Include station amenities such as quality shelters and real time information systems. Technology that allows people to know when the next bus is coming by displaying GPS information at the station and on the internet and mobile phones will encourage additional ridership. Comfortable stations that shelter people from the wind and noise of auto traffic will also encourage ridership.
  • 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
  • Take over the Masonic auto tunnel for Light Rail. We are proposing to reconfigure the Masonic/ Geary intersection to allow for lightrail vehicles to be the sole occupant of the tunnel under Geary and Masonic. To accomplish this, we are advocating for a design which adds two auto lanes at the street level by decking over the entrances to the tunnel, causing them to narrow so that just enough space remains for light-rail vehicles to enter the tunnel in both directions. This scenario will allow for four auto lanes of through traffic at the surface on the west side of the tunnel and potentially six auto lanes on the east side of the tunnel at rush hour (see before & after images in the newsletter). Rescue Muni is totally committed to keeping transit lanes grade separated at this intersection; otherwise service will be slow and unreliable. A viaduct over the Masonic/Geary intersection is not desirable because of urban design issues and certain strong opposition from residents and merchants in the area.
  • Construct other key grade separation projects at the following streets that intersect Geary: Webster, Fillmore & Steiner (by extending the center portion of the trench under Fillmore for light-rail vehicles, allowing them to go under Webster to the east and Steiner to the west); Scott & Divisidero (by constructing a short viaduct over the two streets see images in newsletter); Park Presidio (most likely by dipping Park Presidio under Geary). There is no point in investing large sums of money in rapid transit projects if they are not very "rapid." Grade separations at congested intersections can really speed up service. If we complete the grade separations described above as well as closing the Baker/Geary intersection, we lay the groundwork for a faster light-rail line, which will encounter no cross traffic whatsoever all the way from the terminal station at Post and Montgomery to a few blocks west of Masonic. In addition, the trains won't be slowed at the intersection of Geary and Park Presidio.
  • Construct stations with side platforms as oppose to center platforms. With an upgrade to rail, additional stations will be constructed to the Outer Geary. These stations should have side platforms to match the BRT stations built in Phase 2. The exception to this rule are grade-separated stations, where center platforms will be required because of spatial constriants related to stairs, elevators, and escalators. Divisadero and Fillmore stations are likely to have center platforms.
  • Next Steps
    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:
  • Systems Planning Study;
  • Corridor Study;
  • Alternate Analysis Study;
  • Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement (EIR/ EIS); and
  • Preliminary Engineering.
  • 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.
    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.)
    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).
    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.
    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 12 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.
    Copyright 2005 RESCUE MUNI. All rights reserved. Questions? Send us email.