San Francisco Transit Riders is developing and advocating for a Rapid Rider Network. We want to see a network of Rapid lines that reaches every neighborhood in San Francisco, that has skip-stop spacing, that arrives at least every 10 minutes, running end-to-end across the city in 30 minutes by 2030.
After several months of outreach on the street, at workshops, and at community meetings, we are ready to push for Rapid service on three lines: riders want the 22 Fillmore and the 29 Sunset to have overlaid Rapid service (a 22R and a 29R). The T Third is supposed to be Rapid, but is slow and unreliable. Riders want to see it arrive frequently and reliably, and take somewhat less than an hour to get to Civic Center.
We are now ready to put together campaigns to make these Rapid projects reality. SFMTA staff shared their time with us at a recent workshop to provide background and context for the current Rapid network, and to answer questions as needed about our particular campaigns.
Muni Forward and Muni Rapid
As part of Muni Forward, which came out of the Transit Effectiveness Project (TEP), Muni started a major overhaul of service in 2015. In addition to a 10% service increase, there were new route connections, new vehicles purchased, and an equity strategy was developed (with help from San Francisco Transit Riders). Muni started using bigger vehicles on certain routes to address crowding and increase capacity.
The Rapid service that came out of Muni Forward was not just a rebranding of the former Limited service. Muni defines Rapid service to include:
- High-ridership corridors, with high service levels
- High frequency service (should be every 10 minutes or better)
- All-day service (not just peak period), and some even on the weekends
- Can be bus or rail
- Generally crosstown routes
- Longer stop spacing
- Transit priority treatment
When looking at making a line Rapid, planners take into account the following considerations:
- Physical space: Streets need to be wide enough for Rapid buses to pass the local ones. This can be achieved by bus bulbs at Rapid stops and curb-side bus stops for local service. The Rapid bus stays in the travel lane and can pass a local bus at the local stop.
- High service levels: To provide both Rapid and local service on the same corridor, there needs to be frequent service so riders needing the local service aren’t waiting longer for it. For example, if a bus currently only comes every 10 minutes, and every other bus becomes Rapid, a local bus won’t come for about 20 minutes. So in order to be successful with Rapid service on a lower-frequency route, the overall frequency needs to be increased, which means more vehicles and more drivers, which of course costs money. Those resources either come from another part of the system, or from raising more funding.
- Uneven pattern of usage: To figure out correct stop spacing on a Rapid route, planners have to take into account which are higher-traffic stops, where transfers are, etc. If all stops are equally popular, it’s more challenging to skip any of them.
Making a Route Rapid, San Francisco Style
Muni’s process for making a route Rapid is frankly way too long. First, there’s working on conceptual design and preliminary engineering. This alone can take a few years, with a lot of outreach. Once staff has narrowed the project down to a few possibilities, there is another round of outreach with actual proposals. The project can be modified during this process, then is taken before the SFMTA Board for approval and legislation.
Once legislated, a portion of the project is slated for early implementation. These are the quicker fixes, things that can be done in-house, like curb paint, painted zones for boarding, and sometimes moving or removing stops. Early implementation is generally timed with route schedule changes and when operators sign up to drive different routes.
Then, final design and engineering is done, and construction happens in partnership with Public Works and outside contractors, often with more outreach beforehand.
As we’ve seen, all this outreach is never enough. There are always folks who say they weren’t included. Outreach and other delays can push a project out so far that there are entirely new neighbors or different challenges in the area.
In the end, Rapid has shown that it works and is worth it. Rapid bus ridership has gone up 22% in the past 3 years, during a time ridership is falling pretty much everywhere else.
Taking that promise of Rapid treatment to improve service and increase ridership, San Francisco Transit Riders is looking to expand the Rapid network to not just serve the highest-capacity lines, but to serve the entire city. We want a Rapid network that serves more North-South and East-West routes, reaching every neighborhood.
With traffic congestion a major and ever-increasing challenge, street design for Rapid service, especially red transit-only lanes and transit signal priority, can make Muni faster and more competitive with the cars that are choking our streets.
With that context in mind, we can look more closely at our first target routes, 22 Fillmore, 29 Sunset, and T Third. These three are picked due to popular demand, but also because there are key opportunities right now to make this happen.
The 22 Fillmore runs along 16th Street, which is about to get a major facelift, providing an opportunity to push for Rapid service. The 29 Sunset is getting a lot of attention as riders ask for more service. Students at Lowell High School are making a case for a 29 Rapid, and many other schools and communities would benefit from better service more frequently. The T Third is getting a lot of attention as Chase Center is about to open; the Central Subway is about to open; and Supervisor Shamann Walton is shining a light on poor transit service to his district.
Read Three Rapid Projects to get involved with making these routes rapid!