Back Door Stories on Muni


Musical Chairs

As the bus heads downtown, more and more people board and fewer seats remain. In the middle of the line, however, musical chairs begins. Seniors spy a better seat across the aisle open up as someone departs now valuable real estate as the neighborhood they are sitting in is no longer attractive: teens are boisterous or playing music or games, a heavy person has squished them in, or their seat is too far from the door.  

Adding to the confusion is the fact that we have seats on the mezzanine level which require juggling to step down, particularly if bags are being carried. All this makes it imperative to keep our large interior mirror set so we can see what’s going on in back. A quick start, or rough pavement creates a fall on board situation which leads to an accident report and shutting down the coach on the line.

A card laid is a card played is the best rule to prevent a fall, and stay put while the bus is moving


Pedestrians Don't Have Armor

Vision Zero Billboard

Vision Zero

This is a great name for a commitment to reducing pedestrian collisions. Perhaps there will be no way San Francisco will see not a single pedestrian collision in a year, but this does not preclude having a collective conscious vision to move towards absolute a perfect goal in which no one makes contact.

High Injury Network, HIN for short, is the term for listing hot spots where collisions are high. As a person interested in transit planning, I absorbed the Vision Zero data with a passion as though I could make a difference with my experience on the road.

I have noticed several categories of factors leading to collision: Unfamiliarity, off ramp, mental illness, signal walk cycle, senior housing, visibility, and downhill speed.


North Point and Hyde and Francisco and Taylor are 2 HIN intersections that fall into the pedestrian and motorist unfamiliarity category. Setback triangles from the crosswalk help transit operators stop back from the stop line to give a big picture view of intending sidewalk pedestrians a space cushion to avoid pushing too close to the crosswalk, which limits reaction time to stop for a stroller or senior. LED flashers would be indicated at these locations. These intersections are located close to a high visitor population by Fisherman's Wharf.

Freeway Offramp

17th and Vermont could also use pedestrian activated crosswalk flashers for the reason of unfamiliarity, but also because of the category of downhill speed and freeway offramp. Motorists, frustrated by the Central Freeway and Bay Bridge backup, exit 101 and book to try to make up for 'lost time.' Indeed, making Bryant an alternate arterial for freeway overload might be a good release valve to help the Essex/ Folsom merge downtown. This Vermont offramp also suffers from downhill speed, as motorists regain clutter free traffic once leaving the freeway. Flashers at the exit offramp by Slovenian Hall might also help when pedestrians attempt to cross this first stop line off of the freeway. The same could be said of Folsom and Ninth by Bed Bath and Beyond in SOMA. Pedestrians crossing right by a freeway offramp need to be mindful that cars coming directly off of the freeway may not have adjusted from a suburban mindset to an urban one.

Downhill Speed

17th and Roosevelt, 14th and Noe, Jackson and Spruce, also identified as an HIN, suffer from visibility problems, either from hills or large tree canopy. Motorists can't see pedestrians, particularly after dark, because of limited sight distance as they gain speed going downhill. Street stencils and pedestrian barriers would help, as would chirpers on a button, mainly as a warning to pedestrians, they are crossing at a High Injury Location. Another idea I have is to use baby signs oriented towards the sidewalk with a red exclamation point in a yellow inverted yield sign, alerting those who cross, this is a dangerous crossing.

Signal Walk Cycle

Too few intersections have isolated pedestrian cross cycles, the most glaring example at Fourth and Townsend by the Caltrain Station. I understand the necessity to keep heavy traffic moving, and this is exactly why the walk cycle needs to be isolated. Traffic cannot make turns or proceed smoothly due to laggards and distracted walkers consuming the green for traffic to start moving. Dear Engineer, here's a concept to consider: during peak traffic hours, from 3:30 pm to 6:30 pm, only allow pedestrians their four corner crossings every other or every third green cycle for Fourth Street. Give them those precious extra five or ten seconds to cross diagonally during their cycle: the point being, darn, why didn't we get the crosswalk signal? Oh we can cross both walks at once, killing two birds with one stone, a bird in hand, and not in the bush, and not on the evening news or in an operator's Transit Safe driving record. 

When the Third Street bridge was closed, and a single lane was permitted to turn from Townsend, only one or two cars could make it through the green. This bottleneck took an extra thirty minutes to crawl on Channel Street, when an isolated pedestrian signal would give Fourth Street a solid 25 seconds to clear cars from the single lane choke point. Seeing DPT controllers standing by useless doesn't go over big after waiting 30 minutes to pull-out from Woods to start my afternoon run.

Isolated pedestrian cycles at Kearny and Post, Kearney and Bush, would help us make the green without any life histories flashing across the memories of late runners blocking the green for transit and cars trying to clear the crosswalks. Deny pedestrians a cycle for uninterrupted flow of traffic, then give them a four points crossing.

14th and Folsom also needs a pedestrian flow isolation as seniors and those with groceries from Foods Co. and Rainbow Grocery need time without fear of turning cars. This is an HIN crossing.


Chirpers, LED flashers, Syncopated signal crossings using a 2 or 3 interval cycle for pedestrians, electronic speed limit signs with MPH red flash for speeders, pedestrian barriers, SFMTA signage and baby signs in line of sight with eyeballs sitting in a car, and stencils are all good changes to reduce High Injury Network Intersections. Granted Pedestrian barriers are often ignored, but it reduces claims when a pedestrian violates the law. Most No Parking signs are ignored simply because they are too high up from line of sight from a driver's view in the car. Lowering signs to bike sign size is a great visibility change and I get why engineers are hesitant to use them: defacement and graffiti. Plus outright removal, such as the Muni Flags on Market. 

We need a vigorous sign replacement team to keep the message clear. Destructive urges, by passing angry individuals, needs to be addressed, and those damaging signs and barriers need to realize their actions are not in a consequence free environment. I saw this anger first hand, when an angry youth did not understand why my 21 bus would not open the door while stopped on the island at a red light. Most of the damage to our MUNI Flagpoles occurs during the wee hours after a pass-up. If I can’t get on the bus, then I’ll be damned if anyone can either, the hell with these useless signs!

Kudos to the extra police presence on Market during Peak PM hours: this helps save our peace of mind and can maintain a Happy Destiny to get home from work without any drama.

Read the full story below:


My Audiobook on Amazon

Islands v. Curbs


On Market Street, there are two places on a block to catch a bus. If you have your Incredibles superhero costume tights on, you should know that the newer ETI Skoda trolleys weigh about ten tons sans passengers, so be careful you don't pull your back muscles when you catch the approaching bus and lift it above your head. For most of us mortals, however, taking a bus on the curb or on an island is recommended. The curb stops are located mid-block, and the island stops are near an intersection by a corner or a cross street. 

Unbeknownst to most San Franciscans, however, is a method to the madness of these two sets of stops. Island stops outbound, take you south of Golden Gate park to the Sunset, and curb stops located mid-block, take you outbound to the Richmond, which is north of Golden Gate park. 

So, if you were heading to Cliff House, Lake Street, Land's End, or the Legion of Honor, you would move to a curb stop after exiting a BART station under Market Street. These are north of Golden Gate Park.  

The 1, 2, 3, 5, 21, 31, and 38 all go to the residential area between the Presidio and GG Park. The 6, 7, 9, 9R, stop on the outbound islands, and take you to the Inner Sunset or points south of GG Park.  

The 9, 9R services the Bayview, Visitacion Valley area by diverging off of Market just before Van Ness.  The point is that all these buses eventually leave Market Street, some sooner than others.  The 1 never actually touches Market and is a good escape from downtown from Embarcadero BART if a special event is taking place on Market such as a parade or protest.  And we have tons of them.  

The one single aspect that puts San Francisco in the number one spot in living up to the phrase, "The City That Knows How," is our flexibility in street closures and reroutes for ongoing and recurring special events. I don't believe any other major metropolitan area has as many street fairs, farmer's markets, special events and parades as we do. The list goes on for motorcade delays:  Marathons and races, the Bay to Breakers before Memorial Day weekend.  The Street Fairs, Juneteenth, The Cherry Blossom Festival, Chinese New Year, The Dragon Parade,  Freedom Parade, Folsom Street Fair, Dore Alley, Castro, Fillmore Jazz, Union Street, North Beach, Art Shows, Art Crawls, Bike races, Blue Angels, Fleet Week, and on and on:  All with alerts and reroutes and delays.

The only other thing to talk about is the islands on Second and Third on Market. The 7X is not coming. On weekends, the 7X does not run. The 9, fortunately, has been moved off of Second on weekends, but it is important to note that you can't take a 7X on the islands below Fourth Street. If you look carefully at the Muni bus stop pole, the sign says weekdays only at Second and Third for the 7X. Those looking for express service would also do well to look at this information at the bus stop.  

These flag poles have information most bus companies don't provide at a stop. Inbound versus outbound is important for express service as an X bus only works inbound in the am and outbound in the pm.  Sometimes, there is someone off of a ferry, expecting an outbound express bus in the morning, standing at the outbound stop. Main Street is a classic for an 82X intender waiting for an outbound 82X in the morning.  

The express signs add the term AM or PM and this is as important as the WEEKDAYS reminder! Keeping my Zen on, I try to collect these lost puppies, but sometimes it isn't possible to capture everyone. Woe betides the operator on the F line on the weekend! Good luck as an information specialist! This is why I love just driving the locals around on a Potrero or Presidio Barn coach! 

Crunch Zone


I picked up a man in a wheelchair near downtown at Third Street outbound, and was amazed at how smooth and fast he boarded and locked-in. I could tell he was a regular rider. Instinctively, I knew he was going to get off at 16th and Mission, and sure enough, when I asked, he stated he was going to 16th. I told him I was glad to have a regular rider who knew how to ride Muni. He talked about his learning curve on how to work the flip-up seats, and about where to get on and get off. If there was any heartfelt strength of purpose to distribute this book to the masses, it is not about the money or the power in the vanity of being an author, but to get out the wisdom in how to ride so that the bus system moves faster and creates less headache for those in getting around. Nowhere is this wisdom needed than in the crunch zone.

I at first wanted to call this chapter, "Crunch Time," such as the operation of a bus from 3:30 pm to 6:30 pm. However, the pattern of movement between two stops was as predictable as the time frame, and I realized that a more accurate description of gridlock was in certain zones between stops. And the idea for this chapter was born in the conversation with this wheelchair rider as he glided away from downtown with me in a coach that was calm and roomy.  If there was an opposite to being in the Zen zone, this chapter is it.  I found out he wanted to go up Van Ness to Geary, but was passing up the transfer point by four blocks. Now I know why. He was avoiding having to board Muni in the crunch zone.

On the 14 Mission, the crunch zone exists between 16th Street and 7th inbound, and Fourth and Eleventh, outbound. The sequence of events is so repetitive and coincidental that one could plot a graph of predictability on an actuarial table for an insurance company. Come to think of it, the City of San Francisco is an insurance company for Muni! I don't know how this would help with claims, but like this man who was on my coach, avoiding the problem areas makes for an easy ride, even if it means traveling beyond the shortest distance between two points.

Indeed, I found this out as a rider in my thirties, new to the city in the Eighties. In getting to my warehouse in Hunter's Point and Bayview from the Tenderloin, the shortest route was the 19 Polk. But the fastest was to go inbound on the Geary bus to catch a 15 Third. I made a large checkmark inbound to outbound rather than go crosstown direct. Passengers taking the Metro underground also understand this principle, and take an empty car from Civic Center or Powell down to Montgomery, and get a seat for the outbound peak period. This is true of the crunch zones between the 49 Van Ness and the 14 Mission. Especially if you are in a wheelchair, carrying a large cumbersome object, or using a grocery cart. Also, if you have difficulty in getting up the stairs, or need a seat right by the door, oddly enough, the best offense is the defense of traveling beyond the closest stop to your destination. This means backtracking to board where the bus is less crowded.  

The crunch zone for the 49 Van Ness builds as the bus moves inbound to the streets numbered in the teens, until at 14th Street where room runs out and there is nowhere to sit or stand. Cyclists, walkers, and those receiving food bank items filling a grocery cart all wait in the crunch zone. If there are two coaches bunched together, usually all is well. But if there are gaps between buses, frequently, a pass-up prevents crowding problems.

On the 49 line, the crunch zone lays between 16th Street and Eddy inbound, and from O'Farrell to Otis outbound. Load factors and working leaders influence the zone by making it longer or shorter, but in general, I know I have to make sure people boarding do the right thing by sitting or standing in such a way to prevent fights or arguments at the following stops. People listen better before their space is threatened. This is a golden key to the crunch zone. I too, am in a better vibe and tone if I ask someone to move before the crunch zone hits. And when those that have moved see that those I next pick up need the first two seats, the message has hit home in a way that is not threatening or defensive. Score one for the Zen!  


Buy book at Balboa Press

Marmon-Herrington Trolleybus

Check out the interior of a 1956 Muni Heritage Trolleybus!

Stand Clear of the Doors

Attraction not Promotion: Transit Information from a Bus Driver's Perspective

Stand Clear of the Doors

This website provides links to my books about how to ride mass transit in San Francisco. We would like you to leave your heart here, but not your wallet! Good news: I have new copyright editions that are low cost kindle versions. My hope is to entertain you with really bad bus driver humor alongside information of understanding about why we do what we do behind the wheel.

Mind the Gap

New Beta Brand Podcast with Muni Diaries: Ask Driver Doug!

Audiobooks and Podcasts are my next wave of information. Check out Beta Brand for my latest podcast.

I'll keep you posted and provide the link when Beta's first podcast is released.

Muni Diaries

"Environmental" Engineering

Loading Zone

As an operator, I am at the mercy of Sustainable Streets and the Environmental Planners that input traffic circles and lane modifications that hinder our arrival time and our running time: None of the 'improvements' have helped change Muni's on time performance below 70 percent. The answer is in the lights.

Loss of Parking

Loss of Parking with Sustainable Streets

Unneeded traffic circles add to rolling stops and increased collision risk. 

Drop the Rock

Roundabout Ruts

This ain't Seattle!

Lyon and McAllister

Please Hold On

Contact Tom.Maguire@sfmta.com to get this unsafe circle removed!


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