SFMTA wants temporary emergency transit lanes to keep service reliability up and combat congestion

June 29, 2020
The proposed temporary emergency transit lanes would go into effect on four routes and would be removed 120 days after the emergency order is lifted.

A proposal to add temporary emergency transit lanes will go before the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) Board of Directors June 30. The temporary emergency transit lanes would be in effect on four bus lines and are an effort to continue providing reliable service along key routes while also fighting possible congestion that may be the result of people returning to daily routines and opting for personal vehicles over transit.  

“We don’t have a crystal ball to see into San Francisco’s future, but one thing is clear: a citywide economic recovery is dependent in large part on a transportation recovery. And while we work to come back from one crisis, we’re looking to avert another—traffic gridlock,” writes SFMTA Public Information Officer Amy Fowler in a blog post explaining the emergency transit lanes.

The temporary emergency transit lanes are being considered for several reasons:

  • To maintain physical distance, SFMTA needs three buses to move the same number of people as one pre-pandemic bus. Temporary emergency transit lanes would allow SFMTA to act quickly to move more people with fewer resources.
  • SFMTA reports lines saw an average reduction in travel time of 15 percent during the shelter in place order. With no action taken, buses will lose that time savings due to traffic delays, impacting the frequency of service Muni can provide. On streets that already have transit lanes, there has been no or very little Muni time savings with the decreased traffic, which SFMTA says demonstrates how effective those lanes have been at keeping buses moving.
  • Revenue cuts impact SFMTA service hours. The agency estimates only 70 percent of pre-COVID-19 service hours will occur in 2021. SFMTA says if buses get stuck in traffic, that number could be reduced further.

“Our city’s streets simply don’t have room for more vehicles,” said Fowler. “One of the most effective tools we have to improve Muni travel time and reliability are transit lanes. Dedicated transit lanes allow buses to complete trips in less time and return into service more quickly, increasing vehicle frequency and moving more people with more space to physically distance. Emergency vehicles are also able to use the lanes to bypass traffic congestion.”

In early June, SFMTA installed a new transit lane on 4th Street in SoMa as part of the previously approved 4th Street Transit Improvement Project. The 4th Street corridor is used by five of Muni’s busiest bus lines. The agency is using travel time data from this project to evaluate additional transit lane locations based on where those lanes would achieve the biggest time savings and provide the greatest benefit.

The proposed temporary emergency transit lanes include:

  • 14 Mission and 14R Mission Rapid: Mission Street in SoMa
  • 19 Polk: 7th and 8th Streets in SoMa
  • 43 Masonic and 44 O’Shaughnessy: Locations on Presidio, Masonic, Laguna Honda, Woodside and Bosworth streets

SFMTA says the proposed temporary emergency transit lanes on the routes above benefit customers living in neighborhoods with high percentages of people of color and low-income households. The neighborhoods include Ingleside, Outer Mission, Excelsior, Visitacion Valley, Bayview, Mission, SoMa and the Tenderloin. Since improvements support more frequent service on the entire line, all passengers will benefit, even if the transit lane isn’t in their neighborhood.

Should the SFMTA Board approve the proposed temporary emergency transit lanes, the temporary emergency transit lanes would be striped only with white paint and identified with “Bus/Taxi Only” stenciling making them easily reversible. As a temporary measure, these lanes would be automatically removed 120 days after the emergency order is lifted, unless there is a public process to make a lane permanent.

“To prevent congestion from putting our customers at greater risk and paralyzing our economy, we cannot delay. It is critical that we install temporary emergency transit lanes over the next 6-12 weeks, before traffic congestion returns in force,” said SFMTA.

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Group Editorial Director

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine and group editorial director of the Infrastructure and Aviation Group at Endeavor Business Media. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the editorial direction of the group and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.