Paint job boosts transit efficiency in San Francisco

October 9, 2014

A mere fresh coat of paint has led to significant improvements in San Francisco’s public transit service. While the city has long designated transit-only lanes, the city’s buses and light rail are frequently plagued by cars entering their designated lane. Until recently, many of the lanes featured simple stencils noting this transit-only restriction. But since the painting project was introduced last year, Planetizen reports, another area in the city is seeing a marked improvement after the lanes were colored in completely with a coat of red paint.

Traffic on the Golden Gate bridge at dusk

Merely painting transit lanes boosted on-time performance for two afflicted SFMTA bus lines by 20%. From torbakhopper.

Most recently, travel times on two particular bus lines which serve about 15,000 commuters were reduced by 5%, while on-time performance on those same two lines had jumped by 20%, according to San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), which operates the lines. The changes occurred after a three and a half-block length of street was outfitted with a new coat of paint, reports Planetizen. It seems that citations for drivers violating the transit-only lanes are up, too: SFMTA parking officers have written 26 citations in the seven weeks following this latest fresh coat of paint.

The new red lane treatment, which SFMTA says is “designed to help motorists differentiate space reserved for buses and taxis from the normal traffic lanes on Market Street, is part of a project called Muni Forward, a rapid transit network designed to increase efficiency on the city’s most-frequented routes. These rapid routes are planned to haul 70% of the system’s passengers.

As the San Francisco Examiner reported, the lanes were first introduced last year as part of a pilot project. SFMTA Transportation Director Ed Reiskin explained to the newspaper, “As a transit-first city, we need to be smart about how we improve transit to make it an attractive, reliable choice for San Franciscans… These lanes represent a low-cost measure to decrease travel time by reminding and preventing cars from using transit-only lanes.”

San Francisco isn’t the first nor the only city distinguishing its transit-only lanes with color. New York City’s bus-only lanes are designated Bus Only and/or also painted red, while, in May of this year, the Seattle Department of Transportation announced plans to try red bus-only lanes in violation-prone areas. Cities’ bike-only lanes are also often designated with specific colors; in Washington, DC, for example, cyclists are relegated to green lanes.

As the first locality in the country to experiment with painted bus lanes, New York introduced red bus-only lanes in 2007, following the lead of international cities including Seoul, Edinburgh, London, Melbourne and others. At the time, then-president of NYC Transit Howard H. Roberts Jr. told the Times, “The act of physically segregating buses from other vehicles is a critical step in helping us improve bus service for our 2.5 million daily bus customers… [The lanes] should not only serve as a strong reminder to motorists that these are bus only lanes but also aid the city in effectively enforcing these laws.”

Learn more about San Francisco’s other Muni Forward projects, such as bus shelter replacements, new traffic signals, and new limited-stop routes, online here.

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Category: Parking Tech, Transportation

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