SF’s BRT Service Line on Van Ness Is (Still One of ) the Most Stunning Public Transit Routes in the Country

When it opened on April Fools Day of this year, San Francisco’s BRT line became another addition to Muni’s network of public transit routes… and remains a drop-dead-gorgeous one, no less.

For the better part of two years, I found myself maneuvering up and over elongated planks of thin plywood splayed across the sidewalks at Post Street and Van Ness Avenue while construction of San Francisco’s Van Ness buss line neared a finish. On more than one occasion, I feared those pieces of composite lumber would surrender at any given moment under the weight of a heavy step. Or as a result of holding a densely packed tote bag. Or by way of a cuffed cough. Or anemic sneeze.

Those twenty-four months were mired in frustration. I was enraged that it was taking this long to, more or less, erect cookie-cutter SFMTA bus stops that merely shouldered red paint and various bits of shrubbery. (The current Avatar-like light installation and recent planting of many drought-resistant plants, however, are very nice, welcoming touches to the otherwise utilitarian design.)

I was tired — so tired — of fishing out stray pieces of asphalt from inside my sneakers. All I wanted, much like the other 880,000-plus individuals who call San Francisco home, was for the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service along Van Ness to finally open after decades of planning, empty promises, and cumbersome construction

When it opened on April 1st (of all days), BRT’s route on the downtown roadway debuted to the public to wild fanfare and media attention. It, simultaneously, might’ve also matured into (still one of) the most breathtaking bits of rapid transit anywhere in the country, especially when viewed from above.

In a picture tweeted by Kyle Grochmal early this year, the bird’s-eye view of the two-mile-long Van Ness BRT corridor — running north-south, between Lombard Street and Mission Street — shows the newly opened transit line in a spectacular light… literally and metaphorically, speaking.

From the aerial vantage point, the brick-red bus lanes are clearly visible, contrasted by the muted asphalt around them. What else is clear? The fact that even after 27 years of sloth-sped planning… There are still vehicle throughways on the service line; Muni buses must heed red traffic lights to let automobiles pass through.

(Don’t even get me started on the lack of safe bike passage still absent on Van Ness. BRT’s absence of bike lanes has left cyclists inching closer to car traffic. I count myself as one of them.)

But yes, BRT is another glorious and gorgeous feat of human engineering that San Franciscans can fawn over. Given that the rapid transit line on Van Ness will cut travel times for Golden Gate Transit, as well as the 47, 49, and 90 Muni routes by 32% — meaning an estimated 1,887 hours of travel time will be saved every day for Muni riders on Van Ness — there’s more pause in the day to appreciate it.

And… well, also go about drafting emails to the SFMTA Board of Directors calling for, amongst other necessities, quicker construction times, better pedestrian safety measures, and routes that mitigate the need for a rapid transit line to stop at traffic lights (???).

Feature image: Courtesy of Twitter via @KCGrock

1 Comment

  • Daphne

    Making a connection to a BRT bus is a nightmare. Hop off an inbound 1-California at Clay & Van Ness, and you have to walk a block down to Sacramento, then use the crosswalk to go the middle of Van Ness, and finally walk half a block back up to the BRT bus stop. Your BRT bus will glide by while you run.

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