San Francisco is getting the first ever urban carpool lanes in California on two busy stretches of roadway that lead to and from the Golden Gate Bridge. The SFMTA board this week approved a plan to install temporary HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lanes on Lombard Street and on Park Presidio in an effort to ease (or worsen) traffic congestion.
Coming soon to two of the busiest streets in the city will be new, temporary carpool lanes — part of a pilot project in which the SFMTA is testing whether this will make a positive difference — in which only cars with two more or more people will be allowed. HOV lanes have only been employed on freeways in California, but as traffic rebounds here in the Bay Area, the SFMTA hopes to prove that this is a viable solution for the Golden Gate commute corridors of Lombard/Richardson and Park Presidio.
The lane striping on Lombard will be done before the end of May, as ABC 7 reports, with the striping on Park Presidio to follow. The lanes will remain in place until 120 days after the city lifts its COVID-19 state of emergency. At that point, the SFMTA may decide to make the carpool lanes more permanent, or realize that this was all a terrible mistake.
On the 19th Avenue end of the project, the HOV lanes will start/end on the southern side of Golden Gate Park at Lincoln Way, and continue through the park bypass to Park Presidio and on through the Presidio tunnel. The Lombard HOV lanes will start/end at Van Ness, and terminate on the other side where Richardson becomes Presidio Parkway and 101.
"What this will allow for is our transit busses to run quickly and more efficiently," says SFMTA spokesperson Erica Kato, regarding the HOV lanes. "Traffic is back with a vengeance now, but it will also create some time savings for people who are carpooling."
One commuter who relies on the Golden Gate Bridge, Megan Feeney, tells ABC 7 that she's skeptical about the project, and how carpool lanes will solve the crushing traffic congestion on these routes. "I think gridlock will return. It's eventually going to back to the way it was," Feeney says.
These changes, which will be sure to confuse and infuriate some commuters who haven't heard about them, come at a time of already infuriating weekday traffic on Lombard/Richardson caused by Caltrans road maintenance work. That is ongoing until July, and presumably SFMTA is coordinating with Caltrans on this striping business — which will follow repaving work that's happening this week. During the hours of 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays (and some Saturdays?) — and earlier for northbound drivers — Lombard is reduced to just one lane of through traffic.
How the HOV lane project's success will be evaluated in the end is anybody's guess. The SFMTA says that "Community-based organizations, stakeholders and neighbors will be involved in shaping the framework and process for evaluating and adjusting the emergency HOV lanes in real time." Also, there's a pre-evaluation survey you can fill out now, and public comment will be welcomed via an additional survey after the installation is complete.
So, be sure to buddy up when heading north any time after May! And if this all becomes a total nightmare, be sure to let the SFMTA know.