SFMTA’s emergency response transit lanes program shows long-term success

June 2, 2022
The program improved reliability on lines serving 40 percent of all Muni riders.

San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s (SFMTA) Temporary Emergency Transit Lane program used a quick-build approach to install more than 15 miles of emergency-response transit lanes in about 18 months, and now has the numbers that show its success.  

Program evaluation summary 

During the early months of the pandemic, with traffic at an all-time low, Muni routes saw a 15 percent reduction in travel time on average and as much as 50 percent on certain corridors. Building off this analysis, SFMTA identified key routes that could benefit from transit lanes that would preserve those speed and reliability improvements. 

These transit lanes improved reliability along the entire line, improving rider experience in Muni Service Equity Strategy neighborhoods and throughout the city. This allowed SFMTA to provide more frequent and less crowded service at a time when resources were very limited. 

SFMTA launched the Temporary Emergency Transit Lane (TETL) program to preserve this time savings even as traffic returned, so people making essential trips on Muni wouldn’t get stuck on slow and crowded buses. The program also helped SFMTA provide as much frequency as possible despite pandemic-related limitations on operational resources and build up Muni’s resiliency to ensure an equitable and sustainable economic recovery. 

Overall, the TETL program saw the following measurable benefits: 

  • Travel times savings of up to 31 percent. 
  • Improved reliability on lines serving 40 percent of all Muni riders. 
  • Up to 89 percent of surveyed operators stated that the improvements made their jobs easier. 

The TETL program helped make the last two years the fastest expansion of transit lanes in the city’s history, benefitting riders on the 1 California, 14 Mission/14R Mission Rapid, 19 Polk, 27 Bryant, 28 19th Avenue, 38 Geary/38R Geary Rapid, 43 Masonic/44 O’Shaughnessy and T Third. Moreover, all these projects benefit lines that serve neighborhoods identified by the Muni Service Equity Strategy. 

With these results early in the program’s implementation, six of the seven TETL corridors were made permanent in late 2021 and early 2022 after extensive evaluation and outreach. One corridor, the Park Presidio Lombard Temporary HOV Lanes, will continue as a longer pilot to allow for further evaluation in partnership with Caltrans. 

The TETL program was a critical piece of the SFMTA’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Moving forward, the initial shelter-in-place travel time savings analysis used to identify corridors for TETL improvements will be used to identify additional corridors for future improvements as part of Muni Forward, the SFMTA’s ongoing transit priority program.