Google Bus sewers

Bulky shuttles belong on car-centric corridors, not neighborhood streets

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STREET FIGHT With most city officials supporting the accommodation of private transit in some form, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is now vetting where tech workers should board and egress the private corporate commuter buses that ply the 101 and I-280 between San Francisco and Silicon Valley suburbs. A list of proposed bus stops was circulated in June, and the first round of bus stop proposals is set for approval in August.

Short of a proper environmental study, which is the subject of ongoing litigation, the list deserves more scrutiny and deliberation because certain areas of the city — such as Hayes Street in the Western Addition and 18th Street in the Mission — might be effectively made into Google Bus sewers.

I hope SFMTA is open to reconsidering some of these proposed bus stops.

Rather than jamming oversized interstate highway-scale coaches on human-scaled, walkable, and bikeable streets with important Muni routes, SFMTA ought to steer them where they are more appropriate: on the wider, car-oriented streets that bifurcate the city.

For example, the current proposal for private commuter buses in the Western Addition is to have these mammoth and incongruent buses running on Hayes Street using Muni stops at Clayton, Steiner, Laguna, and Buchanan.

This is bad news for passengers on the 21-Hayes, a key neighborhood-serving electric trolley bus that has gotten short shrift in the city planning process. With 12,500 boardings daily, the 21-Hayes is often at capacity every morning before it crosses Van Ness.

Just last week, I was on a packed 21 that was blocked (illegally) by a huge corporate bus on Hayes. With an already dense and slow traffic situation, this added at least 30 seconds to the trip before the 21 could access its stop. Repeat that multiple times in the morning and afternoon and you can see that this will be a mess. It's not worth the dollar the SFMTA collects for such stops, that's for sure.

Concentrating the private buses on the 21 line (or the 33 in the Mission) will block Muni where Muni is already slow, unreliable, and overcrowded. It will also diminish walkability and bicycle safety on Hayes and other streets identified in the current list (including the commercial corridors on Divisadero and 18th Street in the Mission.)

Rather than streets such as Hayes, SFTMA should redirect the private buses to the multilane, one-way couplet on Fell and Oak streets, only one block south. Along the corridor, SFMTA could collaborate with the private systems to establish new bus stops (red paint) at Clayton, Masonic, Divisadaro, Fillmore, and near Octavia. This scheme would limit clunky turn movements onto neighborhood streets by oversized buses and contribute to traffic calming.

In the mornings, the buses would pick up passengers on Oak Street, starting along the Panhandle, then travel towards Octavia Boulevard before swinging onto the freeway southbound. In the evenings the buses would exit the freeway at Octavia, and stop at drop-off hubs on Fell, between Octavia and Laguna, and then stop incrementally toward Golden Gate Park.

Additionally, the city needs to consider a space for the underpaid, nonunionized drivers to pull over and rest before and after long segments of freeway driving. We want these buses to be safe.

Similar arrangements should be made to spare 18th Street in the Mission from reverting to a Google bus sewer, with emphasis on private corporate bus stops on South Van Ness or Guerrero-San Jose. Surely there are other examples in other parts of the city.

The urgent affordable housing crisis aside, this could be a win-win from a transportation perspective. Tech workers would no longer get blamed for blocking Muni and they can know that while waiting for their bus, they are contributing to calming erstwhile hazardous streets.

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