Geary Boulevard is a critical commercial corridor in the Richmond District. It has been home to several iconic local businesses, including House of Bagels, Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant and Joe’s Ice Cream. It connects the foggy west side to downtown San Francisco and is the main transit artery of the district. Pre-pandemic, the 38-Geary bus lines were the most traveled bus route west of the Mississippi River.
The pandemic negatively impacted local businesses and essential workers citywide, although many neighborhood commercial corridors in the Richmond District have been resilient and continue to thrive, with new businesses opening on Outer Balboa and Inner Clement. However, central Geary continues to see vacant storefronts and less foot traffic, not to mention the deteriorating Alexandria Theatre. With the impending recession, and with transit service levels below pre-pandemic levels, we need to ensure we are doing everything we can to support our local merchants and workers during these difficult times.
With the upcoming Geary Boulevard Improvement Project, more commonly known as Geary Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), beginning its last stages of installation of transit-only lanes on Geary from Stanyan Street to 34th Avenue, my office felt it was important to work with community members and local merchants to solicit feedback. We worked closely with local merchants to identify ways to mitigate the impact of the project on our small businesses. Meanwhile, we also heard from many transit riders about their needs to have the 38-Geary bus lines fully restored.
Similar to Van Ness BRT, the Geary BRT was initially approved with center-running transit-only lanes, combined with water and sewer system upgrades. But during the pandemic, the SFMTA installed temporary emergency transit-only lanes along the Geary Boulevard corridor for service efficiency. As a result, data found that side-running transit-only lanes produce similar service efficiencies with less construction and funding required. So, in December 2021, I asked for funding from the San Francisco County Transportation Authority in order to shift the project to side-running transit-only lanes, with pedestrian and traffic safety improvements.
Combined with future improvements, this new design for Geary BRT can serve as a model to improve public transit efficiency, increase community benefits and mitigate negative construction impacts – that is, if it is done right.
This is why I am asking the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) to prioritize the existing needs of our transit riders and to restore the 38-Geary to full service before implementing the Geary BRT project. I also asked for the project to prioritize the most critical pedestrian and traffic safety improvements, with the water and sewage system upgrade construction starting later in 2026, after the full restoration of 38-Geary and recovery of the local economy.
To support our local merchants, SFMTA has agreed to my request to halt the extended meter parking on Saturdays and Sundays in the Richmond. And my office will continue to work with SFMTA to provide financial assistance to merchants to modify their shared spaces to accommodate this project. After we have prioritized these most impactful services, then SFMTA can proceed with the conversion of angled parking to parallel parking between 15th and 26th avenues, if the parking conversion is still deemed necessary.
San Francisco can achieve an equitable local economy that supports local businesses and improves and builds mixed-use housing development along our transit corridors. We can start with Geary BRT so the Richmond can become a model for the rest of the City. We can do that by ensuring that the Geary BRT supports our local merchants, while improving pedestrian safety, delivering transit reliability and paving the way for a robust transit corridor to serve tens of thousands of riders daily.
This article was published in the Richmond Review in February 2023