San Francisco transit officials and the public had an opportunity Tuesday to comment for the first time on a refined proposal that would restore most Muni routes in the winter.
Under the proposed plan released Friday by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, two routes would remain suspended and several routes would return with route changes and different frequencies. The service changes would boost the agency’s service on Muni back to 85-percent of pre-pandemic levels.
Under the plan, five routes that have been suspended since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic would be restored: 2-Clement, 6-Haight/Parnassus, 10-Townsend, 21-Hayes and 28R-19th Avenue. The 3-Jackson and 47-Van Ness would not return to service.
In an effort to address demand along Brotherhood Way and Sloat Boulevard, transit planners also propose changes to five routes already in service: 23-Monterey, 31-Balboa, 48-Quintara/24th Street, 57-Parkmerced and 58-Lake Merced . The 43-Masonic would maintain its pre-pandemic route to the Presidio, Marina and Fort Mason.
The 52-Excelsior and 66-Quintara, which are currently covering a portion of the 6-Haight/Parnassus, would resume their normal routes.
The road to the latest proposal has been paved with contention, with widespread criticism over delay in full service restoration. The agency in August unveiled three options for winter restoration and followed up with a passenger survey last month.
One option became known as the “familiar network” and included returning all daytime routes back to service. The “frequent network” option would maintain suspension of the 2, 3, 6, 21 and 47 routes, while the “hybrid” option was a mixture of both the familiar and frequent networks.
The agency’s Director of Transit Julie Kirschbaum told the SFMTA’s Policy and Governance Committee that feedback gained from the more than 4,500 survey responses made clear what passengers want.
“What we heard kind of in mass was that people with disabilities and seniors very much value close proximity and ease of access, especially when they live in hilly areas. Seniors specifically depend on routes to access, in many cases, affordable meals, as well as people with disabilities and seniors accessing hospitals.”
Kirshbaum warned, however, that the recent proposal that returns most suspended routes comes with tradeoffs, adding:
“This type of investment strategy we feel at the staff level is the best thing for the city at this time, but it will mean a slower ridership recovery and more crowding on our busiest routes.”
While transit officials are hoping to restore service in February of next year, the plan could be delayed by a month or two, depending on operator availability. Kirschbaum said about 95 operators are either still unvaccinated or have yet to report their vaccination status to the agency.
The SFMTA Board of Directors will also have to decide what to do with the J-Church.
When the subway reopened in May, transit officials decided to keep the J running on the street surface only, forcing passengers to transfer to the Church and Market streets subway station in order to continue heading downtown. Prior to the pandemic, the J was routed into the subway at the Duboce portal near Church Street and Duboce Avenue.
Many J riders called into Tuesday’s meeting to lambast the plan to keep the J as a street-surface rail, saying the transfer is difficult for seniors and persons with disabilities.
Speaking to transit officials Tuesday, Karen Kennard said:
“The intersections at Church and Market and Duboce are busy, dangerous. They’re in the high-Injury network and it’s unsafe to transfer there, especially for seniors, disabled, families with children and people traveling alone at night. ”
Kirschbaum said the staff recommendation to keep the J on the street level is an attempt to increase reliability and decrease traffic in the subway. She plans to present three options to the board, which will range from keeping the J on the street surface, bringing the J back into the subway and running the J in the subway only during evenings.
Director Sharon Lai, who chairs the SFMTA Policy and Governance Committee, did not commit to one of the J options, but said she understands concerns from passengers having to cross that area of Market Street.
“When I push my kids across Market Street, the strollers have flipped before getting caught on the rail, and I’ve seen lots of bicycle wheels getting stuck on their tracks… This transfer is a hard one. It’s open to the elements, you have to cross streets. It’s not like transferring to a protected station in a single location.”
The latest restoration proposal now heads to the SFMTA’s Board of Directors for final approval during their Dec. 7 meeting, but not before hearings are conducted at two different Board of Supervisors’ committees.
Supervisor Dean Preston, who has been a vocal critic of agency plans to not fully restore service, said in a statement that the SFMTA’s latest proposal “offers hope” for Muni passengers, especially in his district where routes were poised for continued suspension.
“The draft plan is a major restoration of service for Japantown and The Western Addition.”