Often late, slow and delayed, the J-Church can be a source of frustration for the nearly 17,000 Muni riders who use the rail line on weekdays.

Residents and riders of the J came out earlier this week on Monday to share thoughts and ideas to improve the rail line and hear about near-term improvements that transit planners with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency are proposing.

Near-term improvements include traffic signal timing improvements for the J on Church Street from 14th to 18th streets, adding a traffic signal at Cesar Chavez Street, removing an inbound stop at 30th Street, and a traffic signal timing improvement at San Jose and Santa Rosa Avenue.

Additionally, the SFMTA is proposing safety upgrades to several transit stops by painting a buffer zone 22nd to 30th streets.

Isaac, a freshman at Lowell High School who did not want give his last name, said he waited as long as 36 minutes for a J to arrive at Church and Market streets on Monday afternoon heading back home.

Eric Douglass, a frequent user of the J and resident in Noe Valley, said of the J known to have bunches and gaps in service:

“It happens probably once a week.”

Data from the SFMTA shows the J having an on-time performance of 44 percent in October.

Transit officials said the J is supposed to arrive every nine to 10 minutes on the weekdays and every 12 minutes on the weekend.

The streets are not only the issue for the J, but also what happens inside the subway.

Any delay inside the tunnel from Van Ness to Embarcadero stations can delay the J, as can any issue at the Duboce portal where the J and N-Judah enter into the subway.

Cat Carter, interim executive director of San Francisco Transit Riders, said the near-term improvements are just a start:

“Riders on the J need relief now.”

Carter said the J could some better management of the line when there are significant gaps in service:

“It can be frustratingly slow. It can be frustratingly erratic.”

SFMTA Director of Transit Julie Kirschbaum said the transit agency will test out switching the J from inbound back to outbound near the Embarcadero and Harrison transit stop. The Embarcadero station will still be last stop for riders.

Kirschbaum said the idea is to relieve congestion at Embarcadero station from having to turn around fewer trains. About to five to eight J trains enter the subway every hour, Kirschbaum said.

A major change that will require more outreach is to terminate the J at Church and Market and to have riders head down to the subway at Church station.

The idea was brought up at a SFMTA Board of Directors meeting by board chair Malcolm Heinicke. Significant amounts of study would be required before it comes up for approval from transit officials.

In the meantime, the near-term improvements will most likely head to the SFMTA board sometime next February or March, but not before a public hearing.

The transit agency plans to review feedback from the open house event and two pop-up events this week to refine the proposals.

Michael Rhodes, the project manager for the near-term improvements, said it would not take very long to get the improvements on the ground once approved by board since most of the improvement just involve paint and traffic engineers’ work with the signals.

Muni riders can visit the proposals on the SFMTA’s website.

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 jerold@sfbay.ca or at Twitter @Jerold_Chinn.

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