SF Transit Agencies Say BRT Improvements Will Set Stage For Future Rail Line On Geary

Major changes are set to arrive on Geary Boulevard over the next five years, as the 38-Geary transitions into a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line with bus-only lanes and accessible boarding islands intended to speed up service. But in the long term, San Francisco transit agencies are also looking into a future rail system on the corridor, which would potentially integrate these near-term investments.

“We have wanted rail on Geary for some time, and there are subway planning efforts going on in parallel,” Liz Brisson, the major corridors planning manager for the SFMTA, told Hoodline. However, the question remains whether that rail line would be part of the Muni system, or be integrated into BART. 

Ultimately, Brisson said, the Geary corridor could resemble Mission Street, which has both BART stops at 16th and 24th Streets and the 14-Mission bus running along the corridor. Despite the presence of BART, the 14-Mission remains one of Muni's busiest routes, and a Geary line could take a similar tack, continuing to run independently aboveground with BART running underground.

Alternatively, she said, the addition of transit-only lanes, new stops and crosswalks for BRT could lay the groundwork for a new Muni light-rail line.

A rendering of transit-only lanes at Geary and 24th Avenue. | Image: VIA SFCTA

Given the potential for adding rail in the long term, some community members have called for the BRT plan to be scrapped altogether. But Brisson said the BRT project will provide “near-term benefits, sooner," which is why it's moving forward.

She also said there are still many larger strategic questions to be answered about the overall future of public transit in San Francisco, including a potential second transbay rail crossing. If that second BART line is ultimately directed down Geary Street after servicing the major Financial District stops, an additional light-rail line would be unnecessary. 

Then, of course, there's the question of funding. No development-based funding sources are currently available specifically for Geary, and while the cost of a new rail line could potentially be covered by San Francisco's long-term (20+ years) transportation budget, "the competing transportation needs of the city and the greater Bay Area make such a project unlikely" in that timeframe, according to the agencies.

For now, BRT will continue to move forward on Geary, with the next major step being further public outreach on the final design of each BRT project phase, Brisson said. 

As we previously reported, public comments led to several significant changes to the project plan between the draft environmental impact report, issued in November 2015, and the final document, issued this month.

The public is invited to attend the SFCTA's board meeting on January 5th, when the board is expected to certify the final Environmental Impact Report (EIR), allowing the project to move forward.

Phase I of the BRT project, currently scheduled to begin in fall 2017, will see red transit-only lanes painted along the sides of Geary, from Market to Stanyan streets. Phase I will also include an upgrade to the traffic signals on the same section of the route, as well as the addition of sidewalk bulb-outs and median refuges, but those will have a longer lead time, Brisson said. 

Map of the two BRT project phases | VIA SFCTA

Next year, SFMTA will also start the application process for federal funding to support Phase 2 of the project, spanning from Stanyan Street to 34th Avenue and anticipated to begin in 2019. 

Because the 38-Geary sees more than 55,000 riders per day, the project will automatically rank quite highly, based on the eligibility criteria for the federal funding, said Colin Dentel-Post, senior transportation planner with SFCTA. The engineering and design process for Phase 2 is also expected to begin later next year.

We'll keep you posted on the project’s milestones, and upcoming opportunities to weigh in on the SFMTA’s design process.

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