One of the most underserved transit markets in North America is finally a step closer to rapid transit. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is the recommended technology for the Geary Corridor in San Francisco, according to the new Alternatives Screening Report from the San Francisco Transportation Authority.
I've followed this issue for over 20 years as a San Francisco resident and
transit planning consultant. I wish
there were a rail transit subway on Geary, but in the real political and
financial world, BRT is a reasonable outcome.
If we care about the environmental goals of transit, it would be wrong
to wait another generation to have any decent transit option on one of
Geary is a frustrating case. It's the core of a wide corridor that's now the largest part of San Francisco without rail transit. But what's more important is that it's the largest part of the city without rapid transit, regardless of technology.
A compromised but still functional rapid transit plan is now moving forward, and while the rail advocates are understandably disappointed, the cost difference is simply enormous. The report cites costs of $2.5 billion for an all-surface rail line, which would still be very hard to design into the downtown streets, and up to $5 billion for a rail line that ran underground downtown. At $200 million, the busway is a bargain by comparison, and capable of achieving simliar speed and reliability over most of the corridor.
The disappointment is not that this is BRT, but that it's not a complete corridor. A busway will run along most of the corridor, but will turn into on-street bus lanes east of Gough Street, where Geary splits into a couplet to run through downtown. There's also no clear notion where the line should terminate; current Geary buses flow into a segment of Market Street and onto the Transbay Terminal, an awkward routing exposing the service to many sources of delay. These compromises will have some effect on the reliability of the entire line, because a line is only as reliable as its least reliable point.
Until those problems are addressed, it will be wrong to call this a complete rapid-transit corridor or a complete example of BRT, though of course people will call it that and use it to judge BRT a failure.
BRT vs LRT comparisons often ignore the fact that BRT, by
its nature, is easy to compromise. The
commonest such compromise is to say "downtown, it's just too
hard." That's how
Yes, the next generation may get to see rail transit in the
corridor, but we've been waiting long enough for functional rapid transit on
Geary. It's time to build what we can,
while demanding a better solution for downtown.