What Geary Boulevard residents and businesses can learn from Van Ness BRT

by on August 21, 2023

The invitation to the opening of the Van Ness Avenue BRT project. March 12, 2022

It was not an April Fool’s joke.

It was a miracle when Van Ness Avenue residents and businesses received the invitation to the opening of the long waited Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit project from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency on March 14, 2022.

The invitation to the opening of the Van Ness Avenue BRT project. March 12, 2022

After receiving the invitation, I walked along Van Ness Avenue from Market Street to Lombard Street to talk to residents and businesses about how the Van Ness BRT project had affected their lives and businesses.

I took notes and photos.

At the end of my walk, I stood at the intersection of Van Ness Avenue and Lombard Street looking down at Van Ness.

Green Day’s song, “Boulevard Of Broken Dreams” just popped up into my head: Van Ness Avenue is the “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.”

Then, it was a beautiful April Fool’s Day.

After putting up with noises, dust, water shutdowns, traffic, and parking nightmares for 6 years, I was eager to attend the opening of the Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit project.

The first Van Ness Ave BRT bus. April 1, 2022

The first person I talked to when I arrived at the War Memorial Veterans building was Jeffrey Tumlin, the Director of the SFMTA, who was well aware of my dissatisfactions with “the Van Mess project.

He sincerely apologized for all the delays and the problems.

He said, “We didn’t know what was underground until we dug up. But, we have learned our lessons and won’t make the same mistakes again with the Geary Boulevard Bus Lanes project.”

He and Mayor London Breed also apologized to Van Ness Avenue residents and businesses during their speeches at the opening ceremony of the Van Ness BRT project.

They acknowledged that Van Ness Avenue businesses were struggling and many had closed permanently due to the project.

Jeffrey Tumlin, the Director of the SFMTA, April 1, 2022

Mayor London Breed. April 1, 2022

Joe Betz, the owner of House of Prime Rib was invited to speak “on behalf” of Van Ness Avenue businesses and share his personal experiences about the project as a restauranteur on Van Ness Avenue.

Joe Betz, the owner of House of Prime Ribs. April 1, 2022

Betz said that of course there were a few problems here and there during the construction on Van Ness Avenue but the city was very good at updating him on the progress.

The project didn’t affect him and his business too much he said.

He left out struggling and shuttered businesses, including Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse on Van Ness because of the construction.

John Maloney, the Regional Vice President of Ruth’s Chris Steak wrote this email to me after they closed their restaurant permanently on Van Ness:

Sebastian,

Thank you for your email regarding Ruth’s Chris in SF.  Our decision to close in San Francisco was not an easy one, but due to the business climate in the city, we could no longer afford to keep the restaurant running while making a profit.  If we ever decide to re-open in SF I will personally let you know.

Thank you,

John

John Maloney

Regional Vice President

Ruth’s Chris Steak House

 

 

Then, It was time for the ribbon-cutting.

Before cutting the ribbon, Mayor London Breed said, “We have waited a long time for this moment.”

The ribbon-cutting moment of the Van Ness BRT project. April 1, 2022

Then, I hopped on the bus with Mayor London Breed, Secretary Toks Omishakin (the Secretary of the California State Transportation Agency), Senator Scott Wiener, Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, Jeffrey Tumlin, and Manny Yekutiel for the ride along Van Ness Avenue.

Mayor London Breed, Scott Wiener, and Jeffrey Tumplin. April 1, 2022

Toks Omishakin sat in front of Mayor London Breed and Scott Wiener. April 1, 2022

Manny Yekutiel, the director of SFMTA Board of Directors (right). April 1, 2022

Mayor Breed was so excited to ride the 49- Van Ness Rapid bus to Galileo High School, the route she used to take when she was in high school.

 

The bus ride started smoothly.

Mayor Breed was overjoyed and told Tumlin that she would like the transit island along Van Ness Avenue to be kept clean all the time.

“I don’t even want to see a shred of cotton along Van Ness,” the Mayor said.

Tumlin laughed and said that he would work with the San Francisco Department of Public Works on that.

I pointed to all city officials on board the blight, the struggling, and the permanently shuttered businesses along Van Ness Avenue.

They just smiled at me without any comments.

Sadly, Van Ness Avenue, where an incompetent city government is on full display, is still a mess today.

Van Ness and Eddy. Aug.7, 2023

Vandalism and drug dealing are rampant.

Property values have plummeted on Van Ness Avenue and even nonprofit organizations are not interested in buying.

 

Traffic is still bumper to bumper every day.

 

After we passed Post Street, the bus ride suddenly got bumpy and slow.

 

As we were approaching Clay Street, Mayor Breed said to Tumlin that the bus was too slow and she couldn’t go all the way to Galileo High after all.

 

And just like that, she immediately got off the bus.

 

I asked Tumlin why the bus was slow and missed a few red-light stops.

 

He said that the bus driver was still not used to it and extra careful because of all the VIPs on the bus.

 

We slowly but surely made it to Galileo High.

 

I was certainly looking forward to the gourmet refreshments they would provide to the invited Van Ness residents and businesses after everything they must put up with during the 6 year-construction.

 

I was expecting an exquisite buffet spread catered by McCalls which usually caters to the city’s galas.

 

Well, here was what we got: Blocko’s vegan tacos and lemonade concentrate.

Toks Omishakin, the Secretary of the California State Transportation Agency
stood next to Jeffrey Tumplin, the director of SFMTA. April 1, 2022

Looking back, my experience of riding the first Van Ness BRT bus reminded me of my participation in my late friend, Anne Rice’s Funeral Second Line Procession in New Orleans which was somber, sad, and devastating.

6 years and $346 million just to make the 49 Line run 3 minutes faster? 18 permanently shuttered businesses, vegan tacos, lemonade concentrate, and a tote bag at the end of the project?

Souvenirs from the Opening Ceremony of the Van Ness BRT project, April 1, 2022

I would say, “They Were Killing Us Softly.”

Everything was too late.

The Van Ness Bus Lane Has Failed To Live Up To Its Economic Promises.

 

Businesses on Van Ness Avenue needed their Mayor’s help then and they still need their shepherd’s help now as they walk alone on the Boulevard of Broken Dreams.

Filed under: San Francisco News