J Church Light Rail Route Gets $3.2M for Improvements

The funding may be used to install pedestrian bulb outs, transit bulb outs and boarding island extensions.

A J Church light rail vehicle in the subway. | Jerold Chinn/Ingleside Light
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Funds are being set aside for proposed pedestrian and transit improvements along the J Church light rail route between Duboce Avenue and Balboa Park station with construction anticipated to start in late 2025.

The San Francisco County Transportation Authority board approved last month approximately $3.2 million to design the J Church Muni Forward project, which proposes pedestrian bulb outs, transit bulb outs and boarding island extensions.

“Pedestrian safety matters a great deal to me and all of my neighbors," Mission Terrace resident Lisa Dunseth wrote to the SFCTA board. “What we need is traffic controls—as in stop signs—at Havelock, Paulding and Baden. We need to be able to safely cross the street to get to the park, the ice cream store, the deli, and to the streetcar.”

Residents on Valentine’s Day held an event called “Have-A-Heart & Drive With Care Pedestrian Safety Walk” along San Jose Avenue at Balboa Park to let transit officials know they want more crosswalks, stop signs and traffic lights.

District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safaí supported approving the funding to make improvements for the J and pedestrian improvements.

“This funding would be crucial for the redesign for pedestrian safety, more robust infrastructure, traffic lights, and quick build projects that could change the quarter for the better,” Safaí said at the SFCTA’s board Feb. 14 meeting.

Approval of the project is still needed from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Board of Directors.

Pedestrian bulb outs are proposed at up to four intersections, including at Chenery and 30th streets, San Jose Avenue and Baden Street, San Jose Avenue and Paulding Street and San Jose Avenue and San Juan Street.

Transit bulb outs are proposed along Church Street and 22nd, Clipper, 27th, 30th and Dolores streets.

Boarding island extensions are proposed at two locations on San Jose Avenue, including at Santa Rosa Avenue and Santa Ynez Avenue. There are also improvements planned for the busy intersection of Church and Market streets.

District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman also supported funding the project, but has been critical of the SFMTA’s past plans to improve the service on the J Church.

“Any discussion of the J Church at this point in my time on the Board of Supervisors gives me a little bit of PTSD and a very bad taste in my mouth,” Mandelman said.

During the pandemic, the SFMTA experimented with not having the J enter the Muni Metro subway at Church Street and Duboce Avenue, and instead forced riders to make a transfer at Church and Market streets to and from the subway.

The experiment led to an outcry from J riders and the SFMTA eventually returned the J back to its original route. Mandelman said the agency did not deliver reliable service as promised when the J ran just operated the street-level.

“All of this is very frustrating and I have asked for more than a year now for the MTA to do some thinking about the big changes that might make the J actually work that wouldn't destroy tunnel operations, but also deliver more frequent service,” Mandelman said.

Felipe Robles, the project manager for the J project, said the SFMTA is working on two different elements of the J, including capital and service improvements.

Robles said agency staff are doing a “separate parallel analysis” on J service, adding that there could be a possible service expansion in the next 12 to 18 months. Last month, transit officials said they paused adding Muni service due to the agency’s financial outlook and shortage of operators.

As for the capital improvements, SFCTA documents show that agency staff will continue to do public outreach through the spring of this year, and it is anticipated the SFMTA board will take up the proposed changes sometime this spring.

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