New $346M SFMTA Bus Rapid Transit system opens Friday

A major bus and car corridor along Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco is finally finished with its $346-million makeover. Bus riders are getting their first chance to try the Bus Rapid Transit system on Friday starting at 10 a.m. 

The new bus-only red lanes run down the middle of Van Ness Avenue from Geary Street to Union Street.

"The buses are protected from congestion and not only the Muni number 49 and 90 but also all of the Golden Gate Transit buses," said Jeffrey Tumlin, the SFMTA Director of Transportation at a kickoff ceremony Thursday evening.

The Thursday event was held to illuminate the colorful public art light sculptures created by Jorge Padro, an artist and MacArthur fellow, who was retained as part of the mandate that construction include funding for public art. 

Muni says the new system will lead to faster 15-minute rides for bus riders along the two-mile stretch, as well as improve traffic flow for other drivers who won't be slowed by Muni buses blocking lanes.

"It will completely free up the traffic flow on Van Ness Avenue in ways people haven't seen before," said Gwyneth Borden, Chair of the SFMTA Board.

The SFMTA has released an introductory video showing community members how the system works.

The SFMTA says the project took six years to complete in part because the construction crews at the site uncovered old water pipes that weren't on the maps and other issues below ground that led to delays.

"They found shallow power lines that they didn't know who they belonged to. They found Native American artifacts...all things that lengthened the process," said Gwyneth Borden, chairwoman of the SFMTA Board.

The long construction process, though, was painful for many business owners.

"It was horrible, it had a huge impact with business," said Gabriel Mendez, owner of Mel's Kitchen at Van Ness Avenue and Geary Boulevard.

Mendez says the construction, the lack of foot traffic, and changes to parking caused their business to drop by about 50% compared to before the construction.

"They could drive their cars, park on the street and just pay a meter. That's all gone. It's really impacted parking," said Mendez, "We just hope business comes back on this street."

"It was kind of a nightmare. It was an eyesore to look at. This is way better," said Andrew Kennedy, a San Francisco resident who lives near the new corridor.

Neighbors also say the cleaner look and fresh pavement is a relief to see, and they hope the new bus system will be more efficient for riders, drivers and bring business back.

"Having something that's going to be a lot more rapid a lot quicker is going to be more enticing to use," said Matt Gronow, a San Francisco resident who lives near Van Ness Avenue.

"I'm really optimistic and hopeful that with this beautiful new accessibility and speed reliability that people have for public transit, businesses will see record attendance because now it'll be easier to get to them," said Borden.

The brightly colored sculptures are designed to be easy to see and keep space clear for people with visual impairments and wheelchairs.

Jana Katsuyama is a reporter for KTVU.  Email Jana at and follow her on Twitter @JanaKTVU or Facebook @NewsJana or