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The Overhead Wire

The cost estimates for the rail line are atrocious. The TA really didn't do their homework on that one and I'm extremely dubious that this will be any better than the existing bus service if A. It's not electrified and B. Nothing is done East of Gough. For my money, might as well wait for rail because when this goes in you can kiss real rapid transit on this corridor goodbye for another 40 years. Quick fixes are what messes up the system. I know a lot of people are going to disagree with me on this point but it's a major reason I chose to live on 24th Street instead of 24th Avenue. I'll have a post up on it soon. It's taking me a while to organize all my thoughts on it.

PS. Great blog. I only recently started reading but am impressed. Looking forward to more analysis.


Except street (or median) running is not really Rapid Transit, in that it still has to stop for cross traffic, and is not isolated from external sources of delay. Muni Metro isn't really rapid transit either, unless you count the S shuttle from Castro to Embarcadero. On the other hand, maybe this Geary BRT project will build demand to a sufficient level that the next upgrade will be a full rapid transit subway (probably still using LRVs) for at least part of the route. Also, I have lost quite a bit of faith in the planning process when I read that the main obstacle to using high floor buses for BRT is that all the curvy "stylized" BRT buses currently built are low floor. I highly doubt commuters care whether their bus looks like a "shoebox" or is "stylized". What matters is how fast it gets them where they're going, and how comfortable the interior is.

Jarrett at HumanTransit.org

Yes, there will be signals, but surface LRT would have the same signals, and if you can pre-empt them for trains you can do so for buses.

I'm not sure why you support high-floor BRT, although I know it's popular in Latin America. Low floor is best practice not just because it's "stylized" but because it makes disabled access easier, and makes stations cheaper and less intrusive in the streetscape. Vertical space in a car is also an important psychological aspect of comfort, and low-floor buys you that.


Well, SF's planners seem to think that the most important reason to go with low-floor buses is that they're "stylized". It's right there in the report. It's completely ridiculous, because there are so many other advantages to low floor buses (and disadvatages too: less interior space and often awkward seating arrangements over the wheels). I think the advantages of level boarding outweigh the disadvantages of low floor, and given that high platform boarding is a complete non-starter for various reasons, low floor is the way to go. But the report's reasoning really makes me question the competence of the people who wrote it and their understanding of transit operations.

Jarrett at HumanTransit.org

Arcady. Fair enough. I do think they chose low-floor for the right reasons, and that the spin re stylishness was added later. In any case, it's the right decision, and when you're trying to get consensus for the right decision, you have to throw in every argument you can think of, and deliberately emphasize arguments that will appeal to non-technical people, and generate good pictures for the media.


I also find it incredibly suspicious that they don't even seem to look at electrification at all, given that there are significant potential benefits to be had, and that SF already has an extensive trolleybus infrastructure, including a depot right on the Geary line. According to a report done for the LACMTA, maintenance is 20% cheaper for trolleybus lines, even if you include the cost of maintaining the wires, and they even claim that just switching to trolleybus attracts more ridership, though to a lesser extent than light rail does. I can see how that would be the case: trolleybuses have better acceleration and a much quieter ride than LA's loud and sluggish "BRTVs" (isn't a Bus Rapid Transit Vehicle by definition a bus?).

Bob Davis

I have sometimes wondered why SF Muni has never gone to electric bus service on Geary. Is it considered a "blue sky route" for oversized truckloads? Van Ness is a US highway, and it has trolleybus wires. One of the reasons why Muni stayed with electric buses and streetcars is that they have their own "in house" power supply from the Hetch Hetchy water and power project. Even the cable car power house runs on hydroelectric power from the far off Sierra. Just as a guess, without asking Muni or Hetch Hetchy, I don't think electrifying the 38-Geary bus line would overload the system.

Jarrett at HumanTransit.org

I suspect Geary was never electrified because there's been an intention to upgrade it to some kind of rapid transit for a very long time, including almost 30 years of my own recollection. Electrification by itself doesn't address the corridor's speed and capacity problems. This is one of those cases where all kinds of infrastructure investments were being deferred because we were going to do rapid transit soon -- a situation that has now gone on for decades.

Geary is also a mixture of frequent locals and frequent limiteds that are constantly passing each other. Trolleybuses can do this if they have separate local and limited sets of wires, but if you watch Geary operations you'll see that much more complex patterns of passing occur in response to overloading. Sometimes when a bus gets full the logical thing is for the empty bus behind it to pass it, but trolleybuses can't do this.


"Geary is also a mixture of frequent locals and frequent limiteds that are constantly passing each other."

This is an often-overlooked argument against the BRT alternative, IMHO. It's par for the course for Muni to remove a local bus line when it builds a new rapid transit line (15/T-Third) but it's not a good decision, especially on a street like Geary with high demand for both local and rapid transit.

In that respect Geary is very much like Mission St, which works very well with BART rapid rail underneath and local and limited buses on the surface. Physically separating these lines while keeping local and rapid accessible from the same sidewalk is the only way to meet both needs.

And if you don't meet both needs - if you remove local service when you install rapid - you won't see the same level of ridership.

Jarrett at HumanTransit.org

Pedestrianist. I agree completely that in an ideal and just world you'd have
a completely separated rapid transit line in a subway under Geary, and that
if you did that, you'd still need buses on the surface, just as you do on
Mission. But when funding constraints dictate that you have to provide rapid
transit on the surface, different tradeoffs come into play. You just don't
have room for a fully separated right of way for the rapid service plus
places for a local service to stop without blocking a rapid behind it. So
planners tend to cite another important fact of life about transit: Most
people will walk further to a better service. (One of the reasons that the
4-Sutter is so marginal toward the outer end is that even some people right
on Sutter find it faster to walk to the more frequent 38 two blocks away
rather than wait for a 4 right in front of their house.) So I suspect it's
not true, as you claim, that we'll lose a lot of ridership if we don't keep
the existing local stop spacing, because many people who board at a local
stop today will walk further to a BRT stop (and still often end up with a
net travel time improvement). Because of this, we've seen repeatedly that
when replacing an ordinary local bus with a higher quality of service, such
as rail and/or an exclusive right of way, we can make a compromise between
ideal local stop spacing (~1200 ft) and ideal rapid-transit station spacing
(~3000 ft or more). So maybe we end up stopping every 2000-2500 ft. The
compromise gives us too many stops for true rapid transit, and not enough
for a local, but it often ends up being the most efficient and
high-ridership solution given that there's no room to have both local and
rapid service. Again, all this follows from a financial reality that we have
to solve the problem on the surface. Note too that this is not about BRT in
particular. LRT lines are frequently introduced with exactly the same
calculation, as was done on the T-Third (although I think the stops ended up
too close together there.) The political process of getting this kind of
plan through is ferociously difficult of course, because there are
mobility-impaired people for whom the loss of their local bus stop is a
hardship. Sometimes compromises get made. (Maybe Geary will end up with a
local-stop bus running in its mixed traffic lanes, but not very frequently.)
But the underlying geometry, combined with the observed behavior of most
riders, argues for something like what's planned on Geary, given that
there's no money to go underground.


Oy. Now, here's my question: what about the full lifecycle costs? The *single most common reason* why half-assed bus solutions win out over rail solutions in corridors where the volume of rail is needed is the capital costs. Everyone -- *even you* -- just calls those the "costs". How about the difference in the maintenance and operations costs, the shorter vehicle lifetimes, paving versus track maintenance, et cetera?

Given that capital costs are generally bonded, it actually doesn't make sense to treat them as "the cost" the way you would if you bought a bicycle from cash.

Now, surface rail is probably still much cheaper than subway over the 50-year and possibly even the 100-year timeframe, but is it *actually* cheaper than the surface busway? The Orange Line in LA is hurting financially due to stuff like this.


Id rather BART just build a subway on this corridor. Its sorely needed. The problem with the busway, in my mind, is that Muni/SF will decide its "good enough" to get down the length of the corridor in 20 minutes, when it could be even faster. Still, id be impressed if it even were that quick when its done.


This corridor would definitely benefit from a subway of some kind. I rode the 38 Limited for the first time today, and it's barely faster than the local 31 and 5 buses to the south, especially with downtown traffic. The dedicated lane of the BRT will not solve very much, IMO.

If it ever gets underground service I'd expect it to be Muni Metro, not BART, which would be fine. I've noticed the streetcars here accelerate faster than the electric buses. But even surface rail would be an improvement.

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