History in Motion

Today in History: The Making of the Geary Expressway

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Thursday, October 4, 2018

Travel back 45 years ago today to Oct. 4, 1973 for a glimpse at the transformation of Geary Street into the Geary Expressway. Starting in the mid-1940s, cities across the U.S. were undergoing massive transformations amidst post-war cultural changes that demanded more development based around automobiles. San Francisco was certainly not immune to this "auto fever," and the Geary Expressway was a direct result of these demands.

overhead view of Geary boulevard
View east from Geary and Masonic, looking at construction of Geary Expressway underpass and Muni's Presidio Division (at left) on October 4, 1973.

Geary has always been one of the city's most important streets, undergoing change after change from the early days of steam trains and cable cars run by the Geary, Park and Ocean Railroad to the birth of the San Francisco Municipal Railway in 1912 and beyond. Following World War II, city officials and planners were eyeing Geary once again for a transportation transformation. Multiple plans were considered including running BART along the road and north to Marin County. Amidst the fever pitch of redevelopment and automania, the decision was made to replace Muni's streetcar lines with buses and create a wide expressway dubbed the "Great Wide Way.” 

In addition to transforming the streets in this part of town, the Geary Expressway was part of reshaping of the character and population of the surrounding neighborhoods that still affects the city today.

View of Geary construction
View west from Presidio Avenue showing the construction of the Geary Expressway tunnel between Presidio and Masonic.

Construction of the Geary Expressway took about 15 years, with excavations and wrecking balls coming to the street in early 1960. By the mid '70s, six to eight lanes of asphalt cut across town from Van Ness and into the avenues.

Today, Geary is yet again undergoing a transformation through the Geary Rapid Project, which started construction this week. This project aims to calm the expressway, improving pedestrian safety and transit speed along the corridor, which sees 54,000 Muni riders a day.

Check out more great historic photos from the SFMTA Photo Archive online and follow us on Instagram!

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Press Release - Geary Rapid Project

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The Board of Directors of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) this week approved the proposed street changes for legislation for Geary Rapid Project. This civic improvement project is bringing much-needed transit and safety improvements to one of San Francisco’s most-traveled corridors. With more than 54,000 daily customers who rely on the 38 Geary and 38R Geary Rapid, the Geary Rapid Project aims to improve the efficiency of the bus route, while making the corridor safer for people walking.

“This is another investment in our transportation infrastructure that will significantly improve transit reliability along the Geary corridor,” said SFMTA Chairman of the Board, Cheryl Brinkman. “These are the types of projects that not only improve bus operations, but improves safety and accessibility for everyone who walks or rides a bike along the corridor.”

The approved changes are on Geary and O’Farrell between Stanyan and Market streets include a series of improvements aimed to make bus service more reliable and attractive including almost two new miles of transit-only lanes in each direction and nine new bus bulbs. Bus bulbs extend the sidewalk to provide more space at bus stops and decrease delays by allowing buses to remain in the travel lane.

“Bringing rail-like bus service to Geary Boulevard will greatly serve the 54,000 daily customers who travel this busy corridor,“ said Ed Reiskin, SFMTA Director of Transportation. “Geary connects multiple neighborhoods from east to west and is one of the most heavily-used bus corridors west of the Mississippi. This project will also address the serious safety need along the corridor with new signalized crosswalks, enhanced medians and a set of upgrades to improve the experience for people biking across Geary along the north-south biking routes."

Changes also include a host of Vision Zero improvements to address the Geary corridor’s designation as a high-injury corridor, where people walking are eight time more likely to get hit by a car. To address safety, all intersections will be “daylit” by painting red curb at the approach to intersections to increase visibility, pedestrian countdown signals will be added at all locations that do not yet have them, and 18 intersections will receive new pedestrian bulbs. By extending the sidewalk at intersections, pedestrian bulbs increase safety by shortening crossing distances and reducing motor vehicle turning speeds.

Near The Fillmore and Japantown, additional safety improvements were approved to address infrequent and long pedestrian crossing opportunities. Here approved changes include calming traffic by reducing the number of travel lanes from four in each direction to two general travel lanes plus one bus-only lane in each direction. New signalized pedestrian crossings would be provided at Buchanan and Webster streets, and the Steiner bridge would be demolished to make room for upgraded pedestrians crossings on both sides of the street.

Building on years of outreach conducted during the planning and environmental review stages of the project, SFMTA conducted comprehensive public outreach to consult with the public on the project’s detailed design in Spring and Summer 2018 including open houses, mailings, surveys, door-to-door outreach, and over 60 stakeholder meetings. Recent design changes in response to community feedback included retention of the Commonwealth and Stanyan local stops and re-design of the Laguna Rapid inbound bus stop as a bulb instead of an island.

The first set of safety and transit treatments, including bus-only lanes, will begin this fall and are expected to be completed by the end of 2018. Major construction of the Geary Rapid Project will follow and is expected to continue until spring 2021. That work includes water and sewer upgrades, roadway repaving, removal of the Steiner Street pedestrian bridge and major transit and safety improvements, such as bus and pedestrian bulbs.

The Geary Rapid Project is the first of two phases of improvements planned on Geary as a part of the Geary Corridor Bus Rapid Transit project approved by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority and the SFMTA in 2017. The second phase of improvements would bring similar transit and safety improvements west of Stanyan to 34th Avenue.

For more Geary Rapid Project details and to sign up for construction updates, please visit sfmta.com/GEARY.

Transit and Safety Treatments Coming to Geary Starting This Week

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San Francisco – The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), which manages all surface transportation in the city including the Municipal Railway (Muni), has begun work on the Geary Rapid Project.

The Geary Rapid Project completed its federal environmental review this summer and parking and traffic changes were legislated by the SFMTA Board on August 21, 2018, paving the way for a better Geary. The project, on Geary and O’Farrell between Stanyan and Market streets, aims to bring much-needed safety improvements and more reliable bus service to one of San Francisco’s busiest corridors. 54,000 daily customers rely on the 38 Geary and 38R Geary Rapid.

"Bringing Geary BRT to San Francisco is another key investment in our transportation infrastructure," said SFMTA Board Chair, Cheryl Brinkman. "Not only will this project improve bus operations, but it improves safety and accessibility for everyone who uses the corridor."

The first set of transit and pedestrian safety improvements will begin this week and are expected to take about four to six weeks. Those include almost two new miles of transit-only lanes in each direction on most blocks between Stanyan and Gough streets. New bicycle markings will also be painted to help cyclists cross Geary at Webster, Steiner and Masonic.

On October 6, bus stops at Masonic, Presidio, Fillmore, Webster and Hyde streets will be relocated or removed to improve transit reliability and efficiency. At Spruce Street, 38R Geary Rapid service will be discontinued, though 38 Geary and 38BX Express service will remain.

"Geary connects multiple neighborhoods from east to west and is the most heavily used bus corridor west of the Mississippi," said SFMTA Director of Transportation, Ed Reiskin. "Along with improving service reliability, this project will make Geary a much safer street for all who use it with new signalized crosswalks and enhanced medians."

Geary is one of San Francisco’s high-injury corridors, where people walking are eight times more likely to get hit by a car. In alignment with the City’s “Vision Zero” goal of eliminating traffic deaths by 2024, intersections will be “daylit” by painting red curb at the corners to increase visibility of people crossing the street, and some intersections will receive painted safety zones, a temporary treatment before pedestrian bulbs are installed.

As a result of transit and safety treatments, some on-street parking will be removed and there will be loading changes in places. The Geary Rapid Project retains 98 percent of parking within two blocks of the corridor.

After the first transit and safety treatments are completed this fall, major construction of the Geary Rapid Project is expected to begin at the end of 2018 and continue until spring 2021. That work includes water and sewer upgrades, roadway repaving, removal of the Steiner Street pedestrian bridge, new signalized crosswalks at Buchanan and Webster streets and bus and pedestrian bulbs.

The Geary Rapid Project team consulted with community members to get feedback on the project design in Summer 2018 including two Open Houses, dozens of stakeholder meetings and a bus stop changes survey. Project feedback included over 400 responses to the bus stop changes survey, feedback forms collected at project Open Houses, feedback provided via email or phone and feedback provided at stakeholder meetings.

“I have been a member of the County Transportation Authority Citizens Advisory Council and currently a member of the SFMTA Geary BRT Community Advisory Council,” said Richard Hashimoto, President of the Japantown Merchant Association Board of Directors. “As some of you may know, the Japantown neighborhood has the highest concentration of seniors in the city and I am so pleased that both agencies have listened to our concerns and reinstated crucial rapid stops for the seniors and retained the pedestrian overcrossing at Geary and Webster.”

The Geary Rapid Project is the first of two phases of Bus Rapid Transit planned on Geary. Plans are also underway for the Geary Boulevard Improvement Project, which would bring similar improvements west of Stanyan to 34th Avenue.

To learn more or sign up for updates, please visit SFMTA.com/Geary.