A weary San Francisco has learned to roll its eyes at any announcement of progress on the Van Ness bus lane construction project, but the Van Ness Improvement Project really will have its grand opening in less than a week.
The jokes wrote themselves in February when the SFMTA announced an April Fool’s Day opening date for the Van Ness Rapid Transit Project, a.k.a. Van Ness Improvement Project, a.k.a. Van Ness BRT, a.k.a. six years of endless construction and snarled traffic. We are now three years past the original supposed completion date and $40 million over budget on this thing — which is, essentially, just a red-painted dedicated bus lane. But in recent weeks, social media has been awash in posts from cautiously thrilled and astounded people witnessing, with their own two eyes, test buses actually taking the route.
“We will be celebrating the new Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit system with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the War Memorial on April 1, at 9:15 a.m., and you are invited!,” the SFMTA posted on their website last week. “This immense civic improvement project has not only brought the first Bus Rapid Transit corridor to San Francisco, it also presented the opportunity to do much-needed underground and utilities work.”
What they do not say is that “much-needed underground and utilities work” was completely unanticipated, and was never intended to be in the scope of the project. Several years of the delay can be attributed to SFMTA not realizing the complicated and wildly outdated water and sewage lines they would discover underground, many of which had to be replaced and upgraded.
Gliding past traffic on Van Ness bus rapid transit pic.twitter.com/a9eHgLozIr— Jeffrey Tumlin 🏳️🌈 (@jeffreytumlin) March 23, 2022
Still, the celebration is officially on with a Van Ness Improvement Project Ribbon Cutting Ceremony (RSVP required), which does have London Breed speaking, but does not appear to have Nancy Pelosi or Gavin Newsom lined up, whom the Chronicle reported SMTA did invite in February. There is also a Lighting Sculpture Ceremony on Thursday night, March 31, which will be streamed live on Instagram and Twitter.
Back in 1995, San Francisco dreamed of rail-like transit on Van Ness Avenue.— Ricardo Cano (@ByRicardoCano) March 25, 2022
27 years later, after decades of planning and 6 years of construction delays, Van Ness BRT will be open for service.https://t.co/q1OYfezJ0P via @sfchronicle
Today’s Chronicle takes a look back on the decades of delays and red tape this project hath wrought. While voters approved the Prop. K funding for the project in 2003, the idea itself was actually born way back in 1995. “That seminal blueprint, known as the Four Corridors Plan, dreamed of a rail line on Van Ness Avenue, among the city’s oldest and widest corridors, that would provide San Francisco the north-south rapid transit spine it lacked,” the Chron explains.
Did you notice crews out painting stop-bar markings on the street and curbs in front of the boarding islands on Van Ness? These markings help operators line up the buses for passenger loading and safety. More information can be found on https://t.co/up2Z4dE639. pic.twitter.com/j5mZruzNun— SFMTA (@sfmta_muni) March 25, 2022
Well, what we got is not a rail line, and to the naked eye it just looks like red bus lanes. But there is a great deal more in terms of infrastructure overhaul, modernization, and new bus shelters that were added here. And most importantly, it proved SFMTA could actually, you know, finish something.
“What I’m hopeful is that people see the success of the Van Ness BRT and the Central Subway, and they start to regain faith in the MTA and our ability to deliver projects,” SFMTA Board of Directors chair Gwyneth Borden told the Chronicle.