The “Bus Rapid Transit” Battle of Geary in San Francisco


San Francisco, given its density and supposedly progressive attitude ought to have a world class transportation system. Sadly, it does not. A ride on the city’s most popular bus line, the 38-Geary, takes an astonishing 60 minutes (or more) to cross the 6 mile route from beach to bay. I could rant about it well outside the scope of this blog, but I’ll get to the point.
The San Francisco transit organization, MUNI, is begining to turn itself around and wants to replace the clunky ’38’ with a top-of-the-line system knows as “bus rapid transit’. BRT is cheaper than a rail system, but almost as effective – the buses are extra big & they have their own exclusive right-of-way. They switch red lights to green and people pay at attractive station platforms before they get on, thus avoidng bottlenecks at the door. In other words, it will make life much easier for residents and business people alike.
Naturally, there are people who are resistant to change for one reason or another. It so happens that most of them are self-described “Geary St. merchants”, who, frankly, give more thoughtful businesses a bad name. Are they just afraid of change? Or are their concerns more grounded?

For the most part, I think these business people are simply ignoring the big picture. They have gotten so used to a certain rather fanciful idea – that cars are the only way customers will come to them – that they can’t conceive of anything else. This is despite the fact that this pandering has made Geary one of the ugliest streets in the city – something that’s definitely not good for business. Given that no parking places will actually be removed, and that BRT will make public transit at least twice as fast and frequent, this fear is totally unfounded as their customer base can only increase with BRT and the street will be infinitely more attractive.
That said, given the inevitable disruption that will occur during the construction phase of this project, it is only fair that the city offer some form of compensation to the merchants – I can’t emphasize this enough. If the city were to extend this olive branch to the merchants association would it turn things around? How much is enough?
Still need more information to decide – check out for the low-down on BRT. And the “anti BRT” site for a somewhat more narror perspective.
Finally, if you are in San Francisco – please drop in at a rally to support BRT tommorow at noon at Presidio Middle School at 30th & Geary. If you bring this coupon, you’ll get a free drink at Trader Sam’s! Now that’s good business.

Nick Aster is a new media architect and the founder of has since grown to become one of the web's leading sources of news and ideas on how business can be used to make the world a better place.

Prior to TriplePundit Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He worked for, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years and has also been an active consultant for individuals and companies entering the world of micro-publishing. He earned his stripes working for Gawker Media and Moreover Technologies in the early days of blogging.

Nick holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated with a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis.