Skip to content

On More Transit First Nineteenth

A consideration of the design and study process for Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and Transit Effectiveness Project (TEP) offers some interesting comparisons.

The BRT study was performed by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFTCA) and included a Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC). The CAC considered details leading to alternatives to be studied, over a five year period. TEP had a short period of CAC support, considering mostly generalities, and very few details. The BRT CAC helped by considering almost all alternatives, with some discussion, before some alternatives were discarded without study. The CAC members listened to each other, with minimum time limits, and voted on the alternatives to be considered. TEP is now going out to community meetings to present their TEP developed proposals in which the public offers some help but mostly vents on their preconceived concerns, because their time is limited. Both methods conclude with a legally required published Environmental Impact Report (EIR) which did and will generate many dismissive and supportive comments. One possible advantage of the TEP process is that more people, than a CAC, may make useful suggestions at the discussion tables, if the facilitator and note takers do a complete job. However, I suggest that the BRT process, with public comment, resulted in a more complete EIR which allowed BRT staff to consider and propose a Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) within the alternatives considered which may also meet many of the EIR comments.

Based on the above, while pleased that the TEP defined proposals for Nineteenth which will go a long way to reduce transit running time; I have appointed myself as a one man CAC to suggest an extreme measure to be considered as another build alternative to be studied for Nineteenth Avenue.

The Nineteenth Ave study should include a center running lane alternative, as a dedicated lane and a sub-alternative, without a dedicated lane, but with “don’t block the box” signs in the bus stop areas. These alternatives should be studied, and the results published, to see if there are any serious differences to bus or traffic running times compared to the TEP proposals. Rather than pre-judging and than waiting for comments and possible delay and legal actions, it will be useful for the public and the elected legislature, who will make the final decisions, to have all of the data. The center lane alternatives, for transit, will have the advantages of: passenger boarding islands that cost less than bus bulbs because of fewer drainage problems; less impact from parking and right turning cars and a more complete utilization of far side stops and transit signal priorities. A completely dedicated lane may not be necessary because traffic, which is already prohibited from making left turns, may be able to avoid parking and right turning cars by using the center lane and then leave if a bus is just ahead or stay in the lane and not impact buses because there is ample time to keep the bus stop area clear. This may be even better for traffic who will want to avoid the side bus lane because a bus may stop at a bus bulb ahead of them. There is one disadvantage to center running. This would make utilization of flag stops for disabled riders, if necessary, as discussed in my essay On Stop Spacing impossible. This additional study need only consider a portion of the route similar to the Van Ness BRT.

My suggestions at the discussion table included: Try to have more right turn pockets and far side stops (except for Ocean in order to eliminate the Eucalyptus stops and still serve Lowell students); Average the walks for Rivera and Santiago riders (while eliminating one more stop) by alternating stops say Santiago northbound and Rivera south bound (as discussed in the essay On Nineteenth) and Eliminate the stop at Wawona because: Grove residents will find the Sloat stop closer; the stop spacing will still be every two blocks and swimmers going to Sava Pool can easily walk to and from Vicente or Sloat.

The proposed right turn pockets should work nicely to reduce the inpact of right turning cars on transit and other traffic. A further improvement may be possible by considering that pedestrians desiring to cross most of the east/west intersecting streets will have more than ample time because the crossing time available is a function of the time necessary for north south traffic. For these narrow streets it may be useful to delay the start of the pedestrian walk time, to allow right turning cars to clear. This is the opposite of those streets that have delayed right turn signals but this change would be safe and useful. The SFMTA, with the cooperation of the Board of Supervisors, should be able to replace most parking losses on Nineteenth with diagonal parking on nearby streets.

My further suggestions are: Consider improvements on Lombard and at the Bridge, as part of the initial study, as described in my essay On Nineteenth, because all running time reductions will be useful. I notice that a simple stop sign at the entrance to Bridge parking lot helps a lot (though a yield to transit sign may help more). Another stop sign at Merchant will be useful. I suggest that the wall of the new Bridge information center would be a good place for amps and info on the 28 bus. Drivers are delayed answering questions that might be answered with a large sign on a blank wall. Please don’t change the Fort Mason terminal for the 28 until changes to the 43 are ready to be implementated to maintain easy access to the Marina and Fort Mason.

Another concern deals with the TEP extreme proposal for the 28L. Similar to the above, extreme can be good but it will always be better for the EIR process to also study less extreme proposals. The advantages of a 28L bringing East side riders directly to the West side (and vice versa) is good. I suggest that the 28L with very few stops should be compared with a 28L with all of the now reduced number of 28 stops on Nineteenth Avenue. Even with low floor buses, making riders board a 28 and then transfer to a 28L because they want to go to another destination might not save too much running time. As Muni does more things better and ridership increases it will become obvious that over crowded buses are responsible for a significant portion of delay, as well as discouraging ridership. If the 28L makes all of the 28 stops it will help decrease over crowding in the core of both routes. I suggest that the 28L become another line like the 49 and 14, which share part of their routes.

This essay will not be complete without pointing out that the Central Subway study and EIR, without a CAC even though it had lots of meetings to discuss the Muni proposal, included essentially only one build alternative and did not stretch to include any of the alternatives included in the BRT and TEP studies.

Howard Strassner, May 2012. This essay is being accumulated on a blog:


On Muni and Land Use

Transit is an integral part of land use. That is why almost every environmental organization considers these issues together. However, the City of San Francisco mostly thinks of these issues separately. The Planning Department considers land use plus sometimes environmental aspects of transit. The SFMTA plans for transit and the County Transportation Authority plans transportation and transit. But nothing these agencies do is final and so transportation and land use finally come together at the Board of Supervisors. But, now the SFMTA is contemplating some new impacts on land use.

The SFMTA already has major impacts on land use: The provision and quality of transit service creates land values for property owners (an apartment house on Third Street is named for the nearby ‘T’ station) and more and more renters and owners are seeking convenience to transit. The SFMTA owns parking garages and lots which create values for nearby merchants and property owners. They will inherit a downtown hotel because they allowed a developer to use land that was formerly a bus terminal (We can only hope that this property will still be useful after 75 years. The Fairmont is over 100 years old and recently sold.) For years the SFMTA has collected Transit Impact Development Fees (TIDF) on new commercial property because they would have to provide transit service for workers and patrons that came to the property.

Now SFMTA and Planning are considering TIDF for new residential projects. This is an opportunity to consider the impact of fees on land use and transit service. Fees, if they are known before a property is sold, reduce the profits due to land appreciation that a current property owner might desire. If the fees are high enough this might delay the sale of the property. A new developer considering the purchase of property will decrease her offer to reflect the fees to be paid plus interest and profits. Also the dollar cost of the fee may impact the nature of the development. Even so the fee will have only limited impact on construction jobs or permanent employment, because something will be built. I suggest that the SFMTA consider imposing fees that are truly transit first.

By this I mean that Muni should consider that existing transit will find it easier to deal with a few more riders than a few more cars. Therefore the fee on new residential parking should be much higher than the fee on the residence itself. However this is illogical because the planning code generally requires that almost every residence constructed include some parking. A government can’t require something and then tax it (the real estate tax is an exception because it does tax the garage as well as the house). Therefore this new SFMTA venture into land use should include a request for a code change from minimum parking requirements to maximum allowable amounts of parking (hopefully low). A City wide zero requirement would be absolute transit first. However, this process should start by covering the sites discussed below and then expand to cover other dense areas and finally to new single family housing.

The SFMTA currently owns a number of small parcels used as parking lots. All of these lots are in strong commercial areas with good transit. These lots will be suitable for the construction of new residential units. Currently these lots do not produce any real estate tax (a portion of which provides Muni operating funds. A minimum analysis will show that the total annual parking meter fees collected on a lot is less the portion of real estate tax, on land, produced by a nearby lot used as residential. It should be easy for a developer to propose some mid-rise housing without parking and minimum loss of commercial parking due to structure and access requirements. Developers typically complain that the banks will not make loans on residences without parking or less parking. The question must be asked why does SF do business with banks that will not make loans on construction that is good for SF? The neighbors’ concerns that new neighbors with no parking will take their currently vested parking spots can be mitigated by denying this particular address any residential parking permits. The need for jobs and housing should move these projects along.

Howard Strassner, May 2012 This essay is being accumulated on a blog:

On Community Organizing

On Community Organizing


I wanted to sit through all of the speakers for Fareless Muni for all Youth, as my silent signal of support for the MTA Board but there seemed to be an infinite number of speakers and probably even more reasons why it will be impossible to have different fares for different youth. Unfortunately, even with all the organizing and effort there is only funding for two years and so a future source must be found.


It is peculiar that the lowest earning segment of our population agues so strongly for free fares for the highest earning segment of our population. This may due to a federal requirement, Department of Transportation (DOT) that all segments of the population (except for specially named groups) be provided with transit service at the same fare. I originally suggested different fares based on the model of the Department of Agriculture (DA) and school lunches. The difference in policy is informative. The DA is concerned with distributing food surpluses to maintain farm income and therefore allows for pricing to move food. This allows Georgia, not noted for concern for the less well off, to offer different prices for schools lunches, based on family income, with no stigma. My son puts money in a card for our grand children and it comes out full price. Others get a discount and some kids get the same card for free lunch. In this way none of their school mates know who paid what for lunch. That seemed to be a reasonable approach for Clipper Cards for Youth. But this is probably not possible because the DOT exists to move funds for highway and transit construction without any concern for funding transit service. Maybe the laws or regulations can be changed.  


I suggest that more of the community organizing and efforts be directed to long term funding for Muni because they are major users of transit. I also suggest that the SFMTA Board can help to promote this new effort by promising to use some of the revenues generated from new meters and additional time on existing meters to extend Fareless Muni for youth beyond the next two years with permanent funding. It is also peculiar that some of the same people who speak out for free transit want to also preserve free parking. An even larger source of future funding will be increasing the parking tax and here extensive community organizing will be helpful. Increasing the parking tax used to be part of future MTA budgets but this writer, not a good community organizer, was in charge of the referendum effort to raise the parking tax. The effort failed but the tax increase should be back on the agenda.




On the Muni Budget

On the Muni Budget


Almost every year, for many years, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency starts the year with a struggle to balance their budget. This year, 2012, the process includes many improvements. First the budget is now on a two year cycle which should allow more time for policy reflection along with additional funding. Secondly it appears that a large percentage of additional revenue is from parking fees and fines along with a small increase in fares. Thirdly most of the items are listed is some detail (including showing first year increases and continuing revenue separately). This will facilitate discussion. The latter could be improved by numbering the items.


Many of the items are for cost recovery and the SFMTA is commended for staying up on these details as a good first step to maintaining the necessary funds to provide essential transit service.


Extended Meter Enforcement Hours including Sundays:  This will work well with SF Parks to help provide convenient parking for patrons to nearby businesses, the original purpose of meters. The public will need the explanation that this will come along with market rate fees and the elimination of time limits. Some people feel that free parking, after six, is their right as a resident even though they have been driving and causing congestion during Muni’s peak service times. Others come, after six, and pay high valet parking fees. One of the most egregious free parking after six zones is around the Opera House where coming just before six saves a $10 parking fee. Sunday meters will be mostly for revenue but many people will find that ride sharing is a good way to start their day.


Additional Metered Spaces: While a good argument can be made for more meters the MTA has invited trouble and limited revenue by concentrating the meters in one Supervisor’s district. It should be possible to find 500 to 1,000 parking spaces that should be metered in almost every district. On More Parking Meters in the blog  lists many reasons for more meters. Each area will have special reasons for and against adding meters; but this is a major policy change and it will take time. I have a few suggestions, to start the process, in each of three districts:  Add 20 meters around the West Portal Station, in my neighborhood to better serve nearby merchants; Add about 100 meters around USF where transit is good and Add some meters around Davies Hospital where it you are lucky you park free while the hospital garage charges four dollars for the first hour.


Enforce and Extend Parking Garage Policies: The SFMTA should stop extending discounts to commuters. The MTA should instead charge a premium for those who enter or leave a garage during Muni’s peak service times.  


Increase Fares for Cash: Muni should be moving to all Clipper Cards to speed up service by facilitating all door boarding. The fee increase for cash should be at least fifty cents, to start, and then there would be no need to charge for transfers which only slows down boarding. The fee should be high enough to quickly move Muni close to a zero cash operation. This will eliminate the need for vulnerable outdoor fare machines at BRT stations. Moving towards zero cash will take time for education and more locations to obtain adult and reduced fare clipper cards.


Student Fares: Needs another essay, see On Community Organizing.


Public Transit Fares: Discussions on these increases, which seem to be properly limited to the  inflation index would be improved  by showing the total increase in revenue fror each increase.


The proposed revenue increases should help keep Muni solvent a little longer but more efficient operation is necessary along with policy changes on residential parking and an increase in the parking tax for long term solvency. These will be the subject of near future essays.



On More Meters

On More Parking Meters


Almost every year the SFMTA tries again to add a few more meters. We all know the drill. The SFMTA knows that Muni needs the money and that there can never be enough of anything that is given at no charge. But, there must be a public hearing on every change and that is something to be thankful for. However, most of the public that comes to speak is opposed to change because it will cost them a few dollars or force them walk a little longer. In addition most of those who complain have a neighbor or two who rides Muni and complains about less then reasonable service, but they don’t come to speak about meters. I suggest that it a SFMTA Director’s job to think about what the riders would say if they came.


Based on the latter I will forget that I am a Muni advocate and play the role of a Director, Mayor appointed and Supervisor approved and try to balance the needs of the many SF residents who may be affected by parking meters and to develop an argument for and then against more meters.  Uniquely the SF Municipal Transportation Agency is charged with developing policy concerning transit and parking. Also, their first charge, the same as “All officers, boards, commissions, and departments” in the rest of the City, is the Transit First Policy which can be found now in:


The reasons for more meters include:

1)      Reducing congestion caused by cars driving around looking for a free or cheap parking place. Too often this congestion increases the cost of providing Muni transit service.

2)     To the extent that parking is essential for the prosperity of local businesses, meters induce turnover, rather long term parking. This is the original reason for parking meters and more meters will be good for local businesses. This is especially relevant because SF policy is for market rate meters, and in time perhaps without time limits.  

3)      The results of studies and applications show faster transit when buses operate far from parking including: the Van Ness BRT study; long term operation of Market Street with no parking; downtown Mission Street with no parking; the Stockton pilot with no parking and the increasing numbers of popular “parklets”. This indicates that many Muni lines will operate, in the near future, on corridors with greatly reduced amounts of parking, as the best way of providing improved service for more riders at the same or reduced cost. However 2) above shows that in some areas parking is essential for neighborhood commercial success and so when parking along a Muni corridor is decreased, providing meters in areas that are currently without meters, will be  a good way provide replacement parking for the nearby commercial area.

4)      Converting free parking to metered parking also generates some additional funding (if the total number of meters increases) for Muni, which annually has to struggle to find operating revenues without unduly raising fares.


The reasons for no new meters include:

5)      Streets that are not commercial have never had meters before and San Francisco has a long term policy to not install meters in front of residential buildings.

6)      Some car owners don’t have access to off street parking and can’t afford to pay for parking.

7)      The merchants and their employees, in the adjacent commercial area, don’t have access to off street parking and some can’t afford to pay for parking.

8)      A string of parking meters or even a multi-spot meter is ugly.


Before returning to my advocacy role and responding to 6) and 7) above this will be good time to review the priorities of streets that are or should be considered for additional parking meters. The following are listed in the order of generally accepted priority:

9)      Movement of emergency vehicles. This use is ranked highest because when necessary a fire truck or ambulance can block most other traffic.

10)  Safety of pedestrians and bicyclists at intersections. Of course, pedestrians should only jaywalk with care and bikers must be allowed to safely share the street.

11)  Movements of goods and services. The fact that we give this a high priority is evidenced when we allow moving vans and contractors to pre-empt parking when necessary. Meanwhile Fed Ex, UPS and UPS trucks double park for moments with impunity, though this should not be permitted on a Muni street. All of these movements are essential for our prosperity.

12)  Automobile movement for people for whom transit, walking or biking is not or not considered adequate.

13)  Play ground for kids. But, kids have to get out of the way of moving vehicles. I was fortunate during the time and place of my childhood because there were few moving vehicles.

14)  Free parking in a parking lane. On any rational basis this is lowest priority use for street space, but some consider that this use has the highest priority and we use Residential Preferential Parking Permits to limit availability, in some neighborhoods, only to residents. We also reduce availability with curb cuts. This low priority is my main reason for not responding to 5) above.


This leaves us with the balance of improving Muni service, for people, many of whom can’t afford a car, versus people who can’t afford to pay for parking. This balance should include the following considerations:

15)  Muni is attempting to provide a service such that residents will not need to own or frequently drive a car, and these people will rarely have to pay for parking at a meter.

16)  SF supports improved transit service within the region which reduces the need for owning a car.

17)  Car sharing services are available to people who only drive infrequently and these people will only have to pay for parking when they are using a car.

18)  The average cost of car ownership is $8,000 to $10,000 a year and so people with only very marginal needs for a car will prosper by choosing not to own a car in order to avoid paying for parking. When these people get rid of their car they leave more parking spaces for their neighbors or their relatives (below).

19)  The table below, based on census data, originally used for a letter on residential parking limits, shows the history of car ownership in San Francisco. The table shows that the increase in car ownership in San Francisco corresponds closely with Muni’s history of decreasing average speed.  The table also shows that 47% of the increase in car ownership is due to an increase in multiple car ownership per unit while the number of people per unit actually decreased. Other data will show that a lot of San Francisco has become more affluent. This probably explains why fewer people per unit own more cars. Unfortunately the Census Bureau no longer surveys automobile ownership information any longer, so I cannot update this table.







Delta 40 yrs

% Change








Total Housing Units






Units w/ zero cars






Units w/ one car






Units w/ two cars






Units w/ three or more






Total Cars






Units w/multi Cars (5+6)






Cars in multi car Units (7-4)






Cars in multi car units (9/7) X 100

35.5 %

63.6 %

28.1 %



People / Unit






People / Car







While it is difficult to tell some one that they should consider not owning a car. I list below some of the reasons that this will be good for them in San Francisco:

20) They will save a lot of money which they can spend on more necessary items, per 18)

21) If a young person delays owning car they will in time save enough to purchase a home

22)  They will not have to worry about moving the car on street cleaning days

23)  Since the table shows that such a percentage of cars are owned by households with more than one car it should be easy for many of these households to live with one less car.


Finally, more meters are good for: local businesses; Muni; a prosperous SF and even the people who get rid of a car because they are unable or willing to pay for parking. This essay and others can be found on


On Coupling

On Coupling


Soon after subway operation started, Muni tried in-route coupling (with the old Boeings), in order to increase the average headway between trains in the subway. This was supposedly too time consuming and unreliable. We should note however that for many years Muni was compelled to operate two car trains with two drivers (even though the driver on the second car did nothing) and this may have something to do with the decision that coupling was unreliable. Coupling is currently only practiced in the train yards to make up trains after maintenance and a nights rest. In-route coupling is now only used to deal with disabled cars.


It seems that the new Breda cars may have built in coupling problems. I understand that there are three batches of Bredas. One batch only couples well within the batch. Two of the batches can couple with each other. I suggest that this is not a large problem and that Muni should get kits to make the electrical and mechanical coupling components of all LRVs compatible. This is either a Breda problem or became a problem when Muni accepted cars that didn’t couple together. There are many reasons that quick reliable in-route coupling is essential for Metro operation.  I suggest that these may sum together to justify some capital cost to implement in-route coupling.


1) Muni has maintenance problems keeping LRVs on the tracks. Often there are insufficient cars to make up the scheduled trains. Meanwhile running two car trains to the ends of the L, M and N routes when there are very few riders onboard only wears down the cars while not providing necessary service. I suggest that, if coupling could be done reliably in a few seconds, that Muni has appropriately located turnback tracks that could be used to uncouple an out-bound second car and move it to a location to couple with an in-bound car. This should not require too much driver time and will allow time in the shop for cars to be adequately maintained and ultimately reduce maintenance cost and increase the life of the cars. Please see essay On Turnbacks or a Better ‘N’ Judah found in as an example.


Each of the lines, L, M, and N, have about 30% of their run time, as two car trains, during peak hours, when single car operation would be sufficient for these section of these routes. In the future the ‘T’ will also need two cars on a portion of it’s route while a signification portion of the route will be well served by a single car.   This amounts to about 10% of peak hour service. Thus in-route coupling could save as much as 5% of LRV maintenance cost (Muni provides a lot of service off peak when one car trains are sufficient, for the entire route, and coupling will not reduce maintenance).


2) In-route coupling makes it easy to reduce the number of trains per hour running in the subway during peak time. This possibility was noted in the essay On Turnbacks and may be necessary if the low cost improvements suggested in the essay On Service Times do not improve service sufficiently.


3) Hopefully as service improves there will be more riders and in-route coupling will be essential to provide carrying capacity with only two or three car trains running in the subway. It will essential to do the in-route coupling near the subway entrances because it is difficult to run three car trains on the service potion of a route. It must be noted that almost every in-route coupling will require an in-route uncoupling.  Further, Breda cars cost over $3 million and Muni cannot expect that future subsidies for more cars will always be available from the Federal Government even if Muni can find local matching funds. 


4) In-route coupling allows Muni to provide more frequent single car service at the low ridership ends of the route than it can provide with less frequent two car trains. Riders will appreciate the shorter waits and better service and not mind the few moments required to couple and uncouple. Better service at the ends of the routes and in the core also results in more riders and increased fare collection as well as fewer auto drivers to add congestion to the surface portion of routes.. More riders also increases the need for two or three car trains in the core of each route and indicates that in-route coupling may save more maintenance than noted above.


5) In same way that two car trains now reduce the total number of drivers during peak hours; no single car trains and more three car trains in the subway will further reduce the number of Muni drivers required to provide peak service levels (with careful scheduling).


More TEP Scoping Comments


419  Vicente, San Francisco CA

phone 415-661-8786  email


November 30, 2011


TEP Planning

Planning Department .

1660 Mission Street, FAX 558-6409

San Francisco CA 94103-2414


Re: Transit Effectiveness Project EIR Scoping Comments


Dear TEP Planning,


Stop consolidation (SC) on many lines will be an important component of effective transit but many will not embrace SC until it is proven that SC will not severely impact those who can only walk short distances. This letter, submitted as an individual, is in addition to my Sierra Club letter, of this date, because my Sierra Club colleagues are among those who need more proof. Proving that SC has no serious impacts should be part of the TEP EIR. The EIR should first study and predict the reductions in running time due to SC and secondly describe an implementation method that has no impacts on the walking impaired. I have the following scoping comments to help both steps:


I have published essays in my blog concerning SC. These include: On Stop Spacing; On Nineteenth; On Stockton including Chestnut and On Mission.


On Stop Spacing presents a SC policy which should be studied in the TEP EIR, “I suggest that a stop spacing policy for the 28 (and as a start for consideration of other lines) be a stop at: every transfer point: every major stop and one stop between transfer stops, when the distance between these stops is long (long for now is TBD).” The essay On Stop Spacing includes a discussion of how few people will be impacted by CS and how little their additional walking distance will be. This essay also includes the concept of “flag stops” (FS) for people who are unable to walk too far which should also be studied in the EIR.


On Mission includes an estimate of the time saved by each stop eliminated by CS by considering the difference between the Limited and the Local running on the same route.


The TEP EIR should study provision of a loading ramp/bus bulb for FS for stops lost to SC on routes that where the bus runs in the right hand traffic lane alongside parked cars. These bus bulbs could be a prefabricated four foot wide slabs fastened to the roadway. A short width of grating between the bulb and the sidewalk will handle drainage. I saw something similar in Paris where they provided a pedestrian safety refuge using a meter plus circle of concrete fastened through the roadway with a pipe as a traffic deflector.




The TEP EIR should study the provision of similar bulbs on routes that where the bus runs in the center lane of streets with two traffic lanes. Here the bus driver will have to observe a FS passenger and swerve over to the right hand lane to pick him up. This should be possible because these streets do not move a lot of traffic. Even so this will not be too easy and these bus drivers should not be drivers with minimum experience.


CS combined with FS, on streets with three traffic lanes, per above, may not be practical and full BRT may be useful. The essays On Nineteenth and On Stockton show that sometimes existing stops are reasonably spaced and/or reducing one stop may require too many changes for too little advantage. But, it should be studied.


Sincerely yours,



Howard Strassner