Temporary Emergency Transit Lanes
With the economy reopening, traffic congestion is quickly returning and is projected to be above pre-COVID-19 levels. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of people have no choice but to use Muni, such as essential workers who are riding Muni amidst this pandemic. These are the people most at risk when traffic congestion comes roaring back and gridlock threatens our streets. From our bus operators to grocery store and healthcare providers, we are committed to getting essential workers to their destinations safely. Without action, essential workers and transit dependent San Franciscans will bear the costs of traffic congestion, like an increased risk of exposure to COVID-19 on slower, more crowded buses.
Transportation is Required for Economic Recovery
Without transportation, there is no recovery. Our economy cannot function without employees being able to get to work, goods being delivered and customers being able to access shops, restaurants and services. If just a fraction of the people riding transit before the crisis begin driving alone, traffic congestion will be so bad that it could paralyze San Francisco’s economic recovery. Muni must be an effective option that moves people who are dependent on transit while reducing traffic congestion for those who need to drive and supports the delivery of goods, that our economy needs to get back on its feet.
Protecting Muni Customers with Transit Lanes
Creating temporary emergency transit lanes helps protect public health by reducing crowding and improving Muni customer travel times as buses are kept out of traffic. Transit lanes allow buses to complete routes in less time and return back into service more quickly. This enables us to provide more service with the same number of buses. That means with our limited resources, Muni can pick up customers more frequently to reduce crowding and provide more space onboard to maintain distance. Customers also reduce their possible exposure to COVID-19 when their travel time is shortened.
Physical distancing means that Muni buses can only carry one-third of our usual passenger load from pre-COVID-19 levels. We need three buses to move the same number of people as one bus did back in January. Temporary emergency transit lanes allow us to act quickly to move more people with fewer resources.
Although traffic congestion has been lighter than usual since shelter-in-place went into effect, that won’t last. During the initial months of shelter-in-place, Muni lines saw a 15% reduction in travel time on average, with some lines experiencing much higher time savings. We are investing this time savings into more frequent service with the same number of buses, which reduces crowding and supports social distancing. But if we don’t do anything as congestion returns, buses will lose that time savings due to traffic delays, impacting the frequency of service Muni can provide. Meanwhile, on streets that already have transit lanes, there has been no or very little Muni time savings with the decreased traffic – demonstrating just how effective those lanes have been at keeping buses moving. First responders will also be able to use this network of lanes to respond to health emergencies faster.
Temporary Transit Lanes
The initial group of temporary emergency transit lanes was approved by the SFMTA Board of Directors on June 30, 2020. Based on ridership and travel time data, these transit lanes will benefit customers on five Muni routes which are critical to neighborhoods with high percentages of people of color and low-income households.
- 14 Mission and 14R Mission Rapid: Mission Street in SoMa
- 19 Polk: 7th and 8th Streets in SoMa
- 43 Masonic and 44 O’Shaughnessy: Locations on Presidio, Masonic, Laguna Honda, Woodside, and Bosworth streets
These key neighborhoods include Ingleside, Outer Mission, Excelsior, Visitacion Valley, Bayview, Mission, SoMa and the Tenderloin. Since improvements support more frequent service on the entire line, all passengers will benefit, even if the transit lane isn’t in their neighborhood.
By design, the temporary emergency transit lanes will be striped only with white paint and identified with “Bus/Taxi Only” stenciling making them easily reversable. As a temporary measure, these lanes would be automatically removed within 120 days after the emergency order is lifted, unless there is a public process to make a lane permanent.
Map of Approved Temporary Transit Lanes
On-the-Ground Evaluation and Real-Time Engagement
To prevent congestion from putting our customers at greater risk and paralyzing our economy, we cannot delay. It is critical that we install temporary emergency transit lanes before traffic congestion returns in force. The urgent nature of this emergency calls for putting temporary measures into place, directly on the street. This approach allows the city to respond quickly to protect public health and support economic recovery while we work with the community to evaluate and adjust the temporary transit lanes in real time. Areas of evaluation will include:
- Health and safety benefits
- Economic health
- Neighborhood impacts
- Transit performance
- Traffic safety
- Impacts to other road users
We will work with community-based organizations to ensure traditionally marginalized communities are prioritized in the decision-making. Community-based organizations, stakeholders and neighbors will be involved in shaping the framework and process for evaluating and adjusting the emergency transit lanes in real time. Based on public feedback and ongoing, on-the-ground data monitoring of the temporary transit lanes, we can tweak – or even remove lanes – to meet the needs of the community and Muni customers.