SFMTA sees success with Geary transit lanes

June 17, 2021
SFMTA has been able to lock in 50-75 percent of travel time savings for Geary customers where transit lanes were added.

Despite increasing traffic trends citywide, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s (SFMTA) transit lanes on Geary Boulevard are keeping riders moving. 

SFMTA’s service has remained critical for San Franciscans making essential trips throughout the pandemic. The Temporary Emergency Transit Lanes program quickly installed temporary transit lanes on key routes across San Francisco to help preserve the travel time gains seen during the early days of the pandemic.  

Since emergency transit lanes were installed in the Richmond neighborhood last winter, SFMTA has been able to lock in 50-75 percent of those travel time savings for 38 Geary customers where transit lanes were added. 

The new transit lanes are building on the success of the Geary Rapid Project, which is making much-needed transit and safety improvements between Market and Stanyan Streets and is now close to wrapping up construction--on time and on budget. Combined with the emergency transit lanes in the Richmond, 75 percent of the Geary corridor now has transit lanes. 

The Geary corridor also features new wooden sidewalk extensions at some of the 38R Geary Rapid’s busiest bus stops. These temporary extensions allow buses to stay in the transit lane when picking up and dropping off passengers, making them more accessible and reliable. 

After the temporary emergency transit lanes were installed, they were evaluated using several criteria, including recommendations heard from the community to ensure that the improvements aren’t creating unintended problems. Metrics looked at include bus travel times, bus crowding and effects on vehicle traffic. 

Some of the key takeaways are: 

  • Transit lanes have improved 38 Geary bus performance despite increasing traffic. In spring 2021, after transit lanes were installed, 38/38R Geary travel times were up to four percent quicker than in fall 2020 just before the lanes were installed, and up to 13 percent quicker compared with pre-COVID levels. 
  • Minimal traffic impacts to Geary Boulevard or parallel streets. While SFMTA did see reduced traffic speeds on Geary Boulevard between fall 2020 (before the lanes were installed) and spring 2021 (after lanes were installed), those reductions were similar to speed changes observed on control streets 25th Avenue and Arguello Boulevard. Notably, streets parallel to Geary Boulevard experienced even smaller speed reductions, indicating that diversions to other streets have likely been minimal. 
  • Most people who took the evaluation survey support making the transit lanes permanent, with 52 percent of the more than 700 people surveyed supporting maintaining the lanes; 15 percent were neutral or unsure; and 33 percent were opposed. 
  • Considering the positive evaluation findings and support for maintaining the transit lanes, SFMTA is proposing to make them permanent. The legislation for doing so will be presented to the SFMTA Board of Directors, likely in July 2021. 

Project staff will also host a “Virtual Office Hours” session on June 30 to answer questions about the evaluation results and next steps. 

Revised Geary Boulevard Improvement Project design 

The Geary Boulevard Improvement Project (Phase 2 of Geary BRT) had previously envisioned transit lanes in the center of the street between Arguello Boulevard and 28th Avenue. In light of the emergency transit lane evaluation results and other factors, the SFMTA is now pursuing a revised side-running design, which could include additional transit lanes, bus stop modifications and safety improvements. Outreach to seek input on these changes is planned for later this year.