As we’ve mentioned, Market Street Railway is one of the many stakeholders involved in the Better Market Street Project. The project was triggered by the need to physically repave our main street, but has grown into a wide-ranging re-envisioning of Market, with a process that includes four city agencies, a dozen consultant companies, and numerous interest groups (including us, the Bicycle Coalition, pedestrian advocates, business groups and more).
The city team leading the effort presented a status report to the SFMTA Board of Directors the other day. Stories about it appeared in both the Chronicle/SF Gate and SF Streetsblog. Both, however, missed what we think is the most important story for transit riders: possible elimination (or “consolidation”) of stops on Market between Octavia Boulevard and Steuart Street, the boundaries of the project.
Currently, there are 12 island stops in each direction in that stretch for the F-line streetcars. The presentation slide above (click to enlarge it) shows two options for reducing the number of island stops. (A third option is to leave the stops just as they are.) The “enhanced” option would remove three of the 12 stops (a reduction of 25%). The “rapid” option would cut the number of F-line stops in half, leaving just six, mostly aligned with the BART-Muni Metro stations, and perhaps relocated from street corners to mid-block. (Don’t take this slide too literally. For example, it shows no island stops between Third and Drumm Streets, leaving both the Montgomery BART Station and the new Transbay Terminal unserved — inconceivable that’s not a mistake.)
This concept was presented to us a couple of weeks ago by Muni staff. As they explained it then, the idea would be to speed up downtown service on the most heavily-used surface routes, including the F-line and two or three arterial bus routes (possibilities include the 9-San Bruno and the 71-Haight-Noreiga), in effect making them Limiteds through downtown. Other Muni lines would run in the curb lane with more frequent stops and would in effect serves as Locals.
As part of the transformation, the remaining islands would be made longer and, where possible, wider, eliminating the few that are not currently ADA accessible. Prepayment could be instituted, as at T-line stops, and traffic signals could give priority to the track lane Muni vehicles. You can ([view or download the entire presentation here]:(http://www.sfmta.com/cms/cmta/documents/6-19-12item13bettermarketst.pdf))
This project does not affect stop spacing on the rest of the F-line. On upper Market, the F is the only surface line, the Metro stations are farther apart than they are downtown, and the street grades make walking greater distances less comfortable for many. So F-line stops every block seem appropriate to us there. We’re intrigued, though, with the concept of reducing the number of stops along that part of Market where there are several lines serving the curb lane to carry riders going only a block or two. It makes some sense to focus on speeding up lines that people tend to ride a long distance, including the F. But there are tradeoffs involved, as noted in the project’s own Design Drivers report (p. 13): “…recognize that best practice evidence cautions against long stop spacing for local stop services in a downtown environment.”
One of the busiest F-line stops, Wharf-bound at Fourth and Market, is too narrow to allow an ADA ramp, thus denying access to disabled people. That’s because the boarding island, which predated ADA and is thus "grandfathered," sits parallel to a BART/Metro escalator entrance, which narrows the street. Moving some downtown F-line stops to mid-block would allow wider islands with ADA access and faster boarding for all riders, while leaving more space for other street users by removing the current constrained islands.
While the actual work on Market would not begin until at least 2016, it’s very important that F-line riders and supporters take the time to study the options and make their views known now…both to us, through comments on this post, and directly to the city team. They will be holding two public workshops and a webinar in mid-July. Details here.
Experience with these kinds of projects shows that those who are at the table early can have the greatest influence. This is your chance to make your voice heard on how the F-line will operate through downtown for decades to come. Take advantage of it!
For our part, we will be listening carefully to feedback from our members, whose support makes our advocacy possible, so if you’re already one, either post your comment below or send us an email. If you’re not, we invite you to join Market Street Railway.
We’ll share our position on future F-line downtown stop spacing with you here when we have formulated it. In the Better Market Street Project, we are fully supportive of better bicycle and pedestrian environments on Market (yes, at the expense of further reductions — though not necessarily elimination — of automobile traffic). However, our primary focus, as you’d expect, is on improving the rider experience and efficiency on the Muni lines that serve Market, most especially, of course, the F-line.