Prioritizing Bus Riders
San Francisco already has one of the most robust transit systems in the country with buses, streetcars and trains. But the city is using B.R.T. to speed up congested corridors and make bus riders feel prioritized.
■ North-south travel has always been a challenge in San Francisco. Taking transit across town meant riding the notoriously slow 49 bus on congested Van Ness Avenue.
■ The Van Ness Improvement Project, the city’s first B.R.T. line, opened in April 2022, creating an expressway for buses. Poured red-concrete lanes and prominent covered bus stops with arrival time displays were added. Dedicated traffic signals keep buses moving quickly through intersections.
■ The street was also redesigned to improve safety by widening pedestrian islands and replacing traffic signals and crosswalks.
■ Travel times are now down 35 percent along Van Ness. With a fast and consistent way to cross town, riders can connect reliably to east-west buses, heavy rail and light rail. Ridership on the corridor’s main route increased 45 percent in the year after Van Ness opened.
The Van Ness project is what some experts call an “open” B.R.T. system: Other buses can use the dedicated lanes, stop at the improved stations and receive priority at traffic lights.
“You don’t need to go out and purchase a whole new set of trains or buses,” said Tom Maguire, the director of streets for the city’s transit agency. “Buses can join the red lane, they can leave the red lane and that’s a lot more flexible.”
Although they have a good track record, B.R.T. implementations do not always happen quickly and cheaply. The overhaul of Van Ness, which included replacing utilities under the street, took more than $300 million and over five years to complete. Residents and businesses were affected by the lengthy construction.
But despite these challenges, making space and prioritizing buses can have a real impact on people’s ability to get around a city reliably.
“B.R.T. itself ultimately isn’t really an engineering challenge, it’s really a political and cultural challenge,” Ms. SadikKhan said. “But you don’t just build a B.R.T. line. By painting lanes and building stations, you’re making a statement about the kind of city you want to be.”
New York Times