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Exploring Options: Developing Bus Rapid Transit Along Geneva Avenue

Geneva Avenue is a major arterial road linking neighborhoods as the Excelsior, Crocker-Amazon, and Sunnydale in southeastern San Francisco. However, its role in the eyes of San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority is as a major transit corridor, which takes advantage of the medium-density commercial and high-density residential structures lining the thoroughfare. SFMTA’s short-term goal for Geneva Avenue is to convert it into a bus rapid transit corridor, similar to what is being done along Van Ness Avenue and Geary Boulevard, with a long-term vision of converting it into a light rail corridor. The question I have in mind for Geneva Avenue is, how much time and money are needed to upgrade one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares into a transit-friendly corridor?

Describing Geneva Avenue

Geneva Avenue runs on a northwest-southeast direction between Ocean Avenue (near City College of San Francisco) and Bayshore Boulevard (near Cow Palace). With a total distance of roughly 2.81 miles (4.52km), it is one of the principal thoroughfares connecting the northern fringes of San Mateo County and southern San Francisco, with a portion of the route lying in neighboring Daly City.

​Currently, multiple San Francisco Muni and SamTrans bus lines operate along Geneva Avenue, including:

  • 8-Bayshore (City College – Fisherman’s Wharf via San Bruno Avenue and Downtown)
  • 8AX-Bayshore ‘A’ Express (Geneva & Schwerin – Pacific & Kearny via San Bruno Avenue)
  • 8BX-Bayshore ‘B’ Express (City College – Fisherman’s Wharf via US-101)
  • 9-San Bruno (Ferry Plaza – Sunnydale via Potrero Avenue)
  • 9R-San Bruno Rapid (Ferry Plaza – Sunnydale via Potrero Avenue)
  • 28R-19th Avenue Rapid (California & 6th – Geneva & Mission via 19th Avenue)
  • 43-Masonic (Fort Mason – Munich & Geneva via UCSF Parnassus and Forest Hill Station)
  • 54-Felton (Daly City BART – Bayview District via Alemany Blvd, Balboa Park, Bacon Street, and Hudson Avenue)
  • 88-BART Shuttle (Balboa Park BART – Mission & Sickles)
  • 91-Owl (West Portal Station – San Francisco State University via Balboa Park BART, Third Street, Downtown, Chinatown, North Beach, and 19th Avenue)
  • SamTrans 24 (Westmoor HS – Old County & San Francisco via Alemany and Geneva)
  • SamTrans 29 (Brunswick & Templeton – Lipman Middle School via Geneva and Bayshore)

Multiple nearby routes provide connections to Geneva Avenue, including the:

  • J-Church (light rail) – at Balboa Park
  • K-Ingleside (light rail) – at Balboa Park and City College
  • M-Ocean View (light rail) – at Balboa Park
  • 14-Mission – at Geneva & Mission
  • 14R-Mission Rapid – at Geneva & Mission
  • 14X-Mission Express – at Geneva & Mission
  • 29-Sunset – at City College
  • 49-Van Ness/Mission – at City College
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Overview of transportation links and improvement plans around southern San Francisco, focusing on Geneva Avenue (SFCTA)

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Two Muni buses approaching Balboa Park BART on Geneva & San Jose Avenues

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Muni’s Cameron Beach Light Rail Yard, which stores the modern Breda and historic streetcar vehicles

Three of the most prominent transportation structures found along Geneva Avenue are concentrated on the corner of San Jose Avenue, Balboa Park BART, Cameron Beach Muni Light Rail Yard, and the Curtis M. Green Muni Light Rail Yard. Balboa Park BART and the Green Light Rail Yard are attached right next to each other, while the Beach Light Rail Yard is located directly opposite from the two structures, with the light rail yards being the terminals for the J-Church, KT-Ingleside/Third Street, and M-Ocean View, and Balboa Park BART offering connections to San Mateo County and various points in the East Bay. The light rail yards also serve as storage facilities for much of Muni’s Breda light rail vehicles operating throughout the City. All of these facilities are close to the main campus of City College of San Francisco, which attracts thousands of students and staff to use public transportation. 

Geneva Avenue, as a thoroughfare serving multiple neighborhoods in southern San Francisco, provides an alternate crosstown route between US-101 (albeit indirectly) and Interstate 280. Its structural composition of low- and mid-rise structures, flanked with vast expanse of green in the Crocker-Amazon neighborhood (McLaren Park forms a southern border at Geneva Avenue), makes it an attractive corridor to live close by. During the day, hundreds of bus trips operate along the corridor, operating to various parts of the City like Downtown, Chinatown, Cole Valley, the Marina District, Bayview-Hunters Point, and Fisherman’s Wharf. Overnights, the 91-Owl does a near full loop of San Francisco’s perimeter, serving those same neighborhoods (except Cole Valley) along the way. In addition, most of the corridor has been rated by walkscore.com as excellent to live in, with the following ratings around Geneva and Mission:

  • Walker’s Paradise (daily errands do not need a car)
  • Excellent Transit (transit is convenient for most trips)
  • Very bikeable (mostly flat, excellent bike lanes)

All in all, Geneva Avenue is a highly likely candidate for a transit upgrade to make public transportation service along the corridor even better. However, my long-term goal for Geneva Avenue is to convert it into a light rail corridor, especially the T-Third Street terminus is less than a mile away from Bayshore & Geneva. And it has the potential to close the light rail loop that can save a lot of time and money operating light rail vehicles around the City (more on this on a later post).

The BRT Proposal

Thanks to Muni Forward, planners and community members have explored various scenarios and options designed to further promote San Francisco as a Transit-First City. Having attended the latest Muni Board Meeting on 7 February 2017,  Kenya Wheeler, a member of the Sustainable Streets team of the SFMTA, presented his team’s progress on the Geneva-Harney BRT Project, due to begin in 2023. He mentioned that the preliminary studies are progressing well, with a full Environmental Impact Report to be released by 2019 and construction soon thereafter. 
Based on the latest iteration, Mr. Wheeler indicated that SFMTA wants to extend the 28R-19th Avenue Rapid bus line further to operate to Bayview-Hunters Point via Geneva Avenue, hence providing a one-seat transit service for residents in the Richmond, Sunset, Parkmerced, Ocean View, Excelsior, Crocker-Amazon, Sunnydale, and Hunters Point districts. The current version of the 28R (formerly 28L-19th Avenue Limited) operates between California Street & 6th Avenue in the Inner Richmond and Geneva Avenue & Mission Street in the Excelsior, stopping at the following:

  • California & 12th (inbound); Park Presidio & California (outbound)
  • Park Presidio & Geary Blvd – transfer to the 38-Geary and 38R-Geary Rapid
  • Park Presidio & Fulton – transfer to the 5-Fulton (nights) and 5R-Fulton Rapid (daytime)
  • 19th Avenue & Judah – transfer to the N-Judah
  • 19th Avenue & Quintara – transfer to the 48-Quintara/24th Street (rush hours) and 66-Quintara
  • 19th Avenue & Taraval – transfer to the L-Taraval
  • 19th Avenue & Wilson – transfer to the M-Ocean View, 18-46th Avenue, 29-Sunset, 57-Parkmerced, and SamTrans 122 (to South San Francisco BART via Colma BART and Serramonte Center)
  • 19th Avenue & Holloway – transfer to the M-Ocean View and 29-Sunset
  • Alemany Blvd & Arch Street – transfer to the 54-Felton
  • Balboa Park BART – transfer to BART, J-Church, KT-Ingleside/Third Street, M-Ocean View, 8-Bayshore, 8AX-Bayshore ‘A’ Express, 8BX-Bayshore ‘B’ Express, 29-Sunset (walk to Ocean Avenue), 43-Masonic, 54-Felton, and 88-BART Shuttle
  • Geneva Avenue & Mission Street – transfer to the 14-Mission, 14R-Mission Rapid, and 14X-Mission Express

The 28R-19th Avenue Rapid bus line is offered as a faster, more comfortable alternative to the more crowded 28-19th Avenue local service between the Richmond District and San Francisco State, and the 29-Sunset between Stonestown and City College via Garfield and Grafton Streets.

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A 28R-19th Avenue Rapid bus at San Francisco State University

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Looking at the long term: Geneva Avenue can become a light rail corridor as a possible extension of the K-Ingleside and T-Third Street lines

SFMTA’s goal for 2023 is to further extend the line eastwards to operate along Geneva Avenue and end up in the redevelopment areas in the Bayview-Hunters Point, with the following stops being proposed (stops in italics being my proposals):

  • City College of San Francisco
  • Balboa Park BART – existing
  • Geneva & Mission – existing
  • Geneva & Munich 
  • Geneva & Santos (Cow Palace)
  • Geneva & Schwerin
  • Bayshore Multimodal Facility (close to Bayshore & Arleta) – will also serve Bayshore Caltrain
  • Bayshore & San Bruno (Executive Park)
  • Candlestick Park
  • Hunters Point Shipyard
  • Hunters Point Transit Center (Third & Evans)
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Route diagram of the Geneva-Harney BRT service

The stopping version of this route, 28-19th Avenue, will continue operating on its normal route between Van Ness & North Point near Fisherman’s Wharf and Daly City BART via Lombard Street, the Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park, Stonestown Shopping Center, and San Francisco State University. SFMTA’s proposal for this line and the 28R would be stop optimization along 19th Avenue, with bus stops to be streamlined to every two blocks instead of every block. However, I floated the idea to Mr. Wheeler that some stops on 19th Avenue will need to remain every block rather than every two blocks, especially the road topography of the corridor has long uphill and downhill sectors between Irving Street and Sloat Avenue, peaking at the section between Pacheco and Quintara Streets. 

Next Steps: Geneva Avenue Light Rail Line?

Given the intensity of transit services along the corridor, with buses operating 24 hours a day and wait times of no longer than every 30 minutes anytime of day and night, Geneva Avenue can be a contender for a full-blown light rail service in the long run. The overall width of Geneva Avenue suggests that it can accommodate light rail tracks and presents opportunities to densify the Excelsior neighborhood even further. Mr. Wheeler even suggested that adding light rail tracks along Geneva can close an important service gap between Balboa Park and Bayshore & Arleta by allowing trains to end service at either the Green, Beach, or Muni Metro East (at Third & 23rd Streets) yards.

A major challenge I foresee in this proposal is collaboration with San Mateo County, especially in laying out tracks along Bayshore Boulevard and Geneva Avenue that are situated in Daly City (part of San Mateo County). Adding light rail service through San Mateo County will require approval from Redwood City, which can take additional time if we deal with converting those roads and transferring property rights to the City and County of San Francisco.

A more intriguing issue might come once the development of the Bayshore Multimodal Center next to the existing Bayshore Caltrain station. Once the area is developed, light rail platforms can be built right next to the Caltrain platforms, and a proper hub can be established with bus lines like the 8-Bayshore, 9-San Bruno, 9R-San Bruno Rapid, 28R-19th Avenue Rapid, and 43-Masonic converging into one transportation hub. The Geneva Avenue Light Rail project can then transform the otherwise barren area surrounding Cow Palace into an attractive neighborhood for commuters working in San Mateo County and San Francisco.

The logical next questions for the Geneva Avenue Light Rail project would be:

  • ​Will the project be better off running at street level to make through connections at Balboa Park easier, or will an elevated or underground alignment be better?
  • How many stations will be created as a result of this project?
  • How much impact will the light rail service have on connecting bus

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