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No joke, Van Ness Improvement Project ‘finally done’

At long last, San Francisco Muni and Golden Gate Transit buses began rolling down the new center, red transit-only lanes just before 10 a.m. Friday with bus operators picking up the first of public riders to experience the new Van Ness Avenue corridor.

Mayor London Breed and other VIPs boarded the first bus down Van Ness Avenue to the Galileo Academy of Science and Technology high school to celebrate the project’s completion. From a press conference held outside the San Francisco War Memorial building, Breed noted that the project has been years in the making, adding:

“No, this is not an April Fools joke. This is finally done. It has been a long time coming.”

Ching Wong/SFBay San Francisco Mayor London Breed cuts a ribbon during a celebration of Van Ness Improvement Project completion in San Francisco, Calif., on Friday, April 1, 2022. (Ching Wong / SFBay.ca)

The Van Ness bus rapid transit corridor is part of the now completed $346 million Van Ness Improvement Project, led by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency which went well beyond the transit lane work, including ripping up of the entire corridor to replace water and sewer lines that were more than 100 years old.

Additional project achievements include replacement of Muni’s overhead contact system, which helps power electric trolley buses, new transit shelters and new LCD displays that show bus arrival times.

The project also included a number of pedestrian safety improvements at crosswalks: countdown signals, better visibility and center refuges.

Members of the public and city officials gathered Thursday night at the Van Ness Avenue and Geary Street transit stop to witness an art installation created by Jorge Pardo light up for the first time.

Secretary of the California State Transportation Agency Toks Omishakin applauded the project’s focus on efficiency, environmental benefits and equity, added:

“The fact that we’re coming up with solutions like this that are going to make it less costly, more equitable for people to be able to move about is exactly the direction that we need to go.”

As Breed said, the project has been in the works for decades. The City first identified Van Ness Avenue as part of the Four Corridors Plan in 1995.

In 2003, voters approved use of Proposition K sales tax funds to plan the rapid transit service. The project then went through a lengthy environmental review led by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority — the final environmental impact report was certified by the SFCTA commission in 2013.

Van Ness BRT groundbreaking
Jerold Chinn/SFBay President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors London Breed gives the countdown for construction crews behind her to start digging the median on Van Ness Avenue between Grove and McAllister streets. (Jerold Chinn/SFBay)

Construction for the project began in late 2016 with the underground utility work beginning the following year.

Jeffrey Tumlin, the SFMTA’s director of transportation, said he recognizes how project construction impacted residents and businesses along the corridor over the years, saying:

“I really want to extend my gratitude and sincere apologies to all of the business owners and residents along this corridor. Thank you for your patience, you put up with years of noisy and disruptive work at all hours of day and night.”

Tumlin said the agency has implemented lessons learned from the Van Ness project in planning for current transit projects, including Taraval Street and Geary Boulevard.

The project has been under city official scrutiny for some time, culminating in a June 2021 report released by the Civil Grand Jury.

Despite the extensive bureaucratic process to get the project up and going, and the long construction timeframe, Breed said the Van Ness improvements will bring “meaningful change” for transit riders who will save approximately 32 percent in travel time along the new corridor.

Breed added:

“As we start to reopen, we have to make sure that we can get people around efficiently and safely.”

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