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The Transportation Planning Rule Every City Should Reform

A longstanding convention about how to measure congestion is being challenged in transit-first San Francisco
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Completing a major transit project is never a quick and easy process, but if any place should be able to move one swiftly through to completion, it's San Francisco. In 1973 the city adopted a "transit first" policy that gave planning priority to modes of transportation other than the automobile. As the policy expressly states, decisions related to streets and sidewalks "shall encourage the use of public rights-of-way by pedestrians, bicyclists, and public transit."

That's strong support for livability on paper, but in recent years the policy has felt much more like "transit worst" in practice. A 2005 lawsuit postponed implementation of the city's master bike plan for years on the grounds that it failed to consider potential harm to the flow of automobile traffic — an injunction that wasn't lifted until August 2010. The city has considered a bus-rapid transit line along Van Ness Avenue since 2004, but an environmental review on the project wasn't completed until early last month — delayed, in part, by an intense study of the same traffic consideration — and now service isn't expected to begin until at least 2016 [PDF].