Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit System finally opens: here's what it is

On Friday, San Francisco launched its first rapid transit system on Van Ness Avenue. Leaders are calling the area the new Van Ness, after multiple improvements were made to beautify the corridor and make it easier to travel through. 

The Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit system is 19 years and nearly $350 million in the making. The project was approved in 2003, and construction began in 2016. Construction took longer than expected because crews also had to replace 1800s-era water mains and build an earthquake-resistant sewer system.

The redesign included creating red transit-only lanes in the center of the street, where Muni buses, Golden Gate Transit buses and emergency vehicles can travel without getting caught in the congestion of other vehicles.

It also included upgrading pedestrian crossings, creating platforms for riders to wait for buses, and adding new landscaping.

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Many riders were celebrating the changes on day one.

"Once we knew it was opening, we said, ‘We’re coming here today to ride the new Muni'," said Meg Durbin. She and Clinton Lewis made sure they took a ride on the new bus system during their weekend San Francisco. 

"This is just another fantastic addition to the city," said Durbin.

The point of the new system is to keep buses separated from traffic to make the bus route faster. Traffic lights even prioritize buses, giving them a green light as they approach intersections. So far, passengers believe it's working.

One of the best benefits riders noticed is the safety of the new platform.

"You’re not in danger of getting hit as much. You know, and it’s wider," said frequent rider Pamela Osgood. "When they were building it, it was awful. But now we got it, right? I’m very grateful as a person who doesn’t have a car and lives in San Francisco. I’m very grateful for our public transportation."

Cyclists are especially happy about the extra room. 

"It’s always a little bit dicey because the buses have to stop, and then you have to load the bike, and there are cars behind. This is going to be fantastic because now we have a second lane, so I’m all for this, and I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time," said Doug Bauer.

There are changes for drivers too. Cars can't make a U-turn on Van Ness at all, and they can only make a left at Lombard Street and Broadway. Some drivers were confused by the new setup on Friday and were seen driving in the new red transit lane.

The hope is that this new system convinces people to ditch their cars and ride the bus instead.