Muni needs signal priority

March 16, 2011 by MrEricSir

The SFMTA recently announced some big changes to the messy intersection at Church and Duboce, which is a notorious mess for Muni Metro, the 22 line, bicycles, private vehicles, and pedestrians. Streetsblog covered the changes in depth in an excellent article.

One strange aspect to the renovation which Streetsblog mentions is that there will still be no traffic signals at the intersection.

SFMTA staffers said adding traffic signals would cause unnecessary delays to Muni lines, particularly for the 22-Fillmore running north on Church Street, Kaufman said.

Traffic lights = delays? Somehow that statement doesn’t ring true.

Anyone who regularly travels on Muni Metro through this intersection, or the similar intersection at Ulloa and West Portal, can testify that these intersections are a major source of Muni Metro delays. (The West Portal intersection is actually worse, since Muni Metro has a signal but other traffic does not.)

If we really want to be a “transit-first” city, doesn’t it make sense to have traffic signals that give preference to transit? Especially in the case of Muni Metro, which is supposed to be “rapid” but when mixed with traffic is anything but.

Other transit systems give signal priority to trains and buses. Even VTA in Santa Clara County — which admittedly is a lousy system for many other reasons — gives signal priority to express buses.

Since Muni Metro in many cases has special traffic signals which do not apply to cars, couldn’t we at the very least use these signals to allow Metro LRVs to pass through intersections with priority to all other traffic?

Signal priorities could give many other Metro lines an advantage on many lines, including:

  • T line on 3rd St
  • Both the T and N lines on King and Embarcadero
  • M and K lines along West Portal
  • M line on 19th Ave
  • N line at 9th and Irving
  • J line on Church
  • Granted, this is an expensive proposition, as it involves altering traffic signals, adding signal remotes to trains, and operator education. But when it comes to making getting around the city with reliable speed, it’s worth the cost.