Work begins on Van Ness transit corridor


The first dirt was dug up by construction crews, and now the real work begins to construct San Francisco’s first bus rapid transit system on Van Ness Avenue.

For more than a decade, transit officials and planners have been working on the project, which includes constructing a center-running dedicated transit-only lane along a two-mile stretch of Van Ness Avenue, so that Muni buses in the corridor can run faster and be more reliable, transit officials from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency said on Wednesday during a groundbreaking ceremony.

SFMTA’s Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin told SFBay that Muni riders on the 47-Van Ness and 49-Van Ness/Mission will see a completely different Van Ness Avenue once the project is complete in 2019:

“Muni riders will have a much quicker ride up and down the corridor, which will also make for a more reliable service.”

Reiskin added that Muni riders on both those lines know all too well what buses have to deal with each day with all the traffic congestion on Van Ness Avenue.

President of The Board of Supervisors London Breed said while the project is not creating a subway, she said the bus rapid transit system is a way to make Muni buses run faster:

“It is not undergrounding, but it is a way to speed up this line and we are hoping, based on preliminary numbers, that it will change travel times for those commuters by over 32 percent.”

Students who attend Galileo Academy of Science and Technology will no longer have an excuse for tardiness once the bus rapid transit system is complete, said Breed:

“The next generation of young people won’t be able to use the excuse that Muni was late when they get to school late, like when I was able to do back then.”

Supervisor Aaron Peskin was first skeptical of the project back when transit planners were discussing the proposal in the 1990s, though Peskin said his mind changed when he went on a trip to Quito, Ecuador 15 years ago:

“They had an incredible bus rapid transit system and I was an immediate convert.”

Besides the transit improvements, the project includes installing sidewalk extensions known as bulb-outs, protected median refuges for pedestrians, high visibility crosswalks and audible countdown signals. In addition, new streetlights and the repaving of the corridor are also part of the project.

Crews are not just working above ground but also underneath Van Ness Avenue.

Sewer and water lines from the 1800s will get replaced including upgrading the fire department’s auxiliary water supply system.

Mayor Ed Lee, the former head of the Department of Public Works, said he was just as excited as the above ground work as he is with the underground work:

“When we tear up the roads and the medians and do all this traffic-related improvements, we are now improving as a city that while we’re there, let’s take care of what’s underneath as well.”

Funding for the projects comes from a combination of local, state and federal funds.

The City received $75 million in federal funds from the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) Capital Investment Grant and from the Buses and Bus Facilities Grants Program.

Leslie Rogers, the FTA’s regional administrator, said the cities have some catching up to do as bus rapid transit systems globally are in place:

“Bus rapid transit technology is a globally proven strategy to address mobility, improve public transit and how we do address traffic.”

The project also received local Proposition K funds from the San Francisco County Transportation Authority.

Tilly Chang, executive director of the transportation authority, said The City’s first bus rapid transit system will be a model for other cities in the nation and globally for fast and reliable transit:

“We will set a new standard of fast and reliable transit for Muni.”

Preparation for the project already began last October with crews already shutting down traffic lanes near the median and prohibiting most left turns on Van Ness Avenue.

Muni bus stops have already been eliminated to match the stops of the bus rapid transit system.

The public can visit the SFMTA website for construction updates on the project.

Jerold Chinn
Jerold Chinn is the San Francisco Bureau Chief of SFBay. A San Francisco native, he has spent a decade covering transportation in San Francisco. Send tips to or at Twitter @Jerold_Chinn.

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