Van Ness busway opens after 6-year construction. Here’s how it went.

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Talk about a strugglebus: After decades of planning, nearly $350 million, and endless construction, city officials and transit enthusiasts today inaugurated the anticipated new bus transit (BRT) lane Van Ness Avenue.

No, it’s not an April Fools’ joke.

At least 200 excited residents and spectators gathered in front of the War Memorial Opera House this morning for a ribbon-cutting ceremony, then crammed themselves onto the first buses to operate on the new red bus-only lanes in the center of the roadway.

“It will be better for me, it will take less time to get where you are going, faster,” said regular 49-Mission/Van Ness rider Vinicio Cajina in Spanish. Cajina took the bus this morning to run an errand in the Mission. It was his day off, and he said the new lane seemed like an improvement. “The traffic will be less complicated.”

“It does feel like it’s faster,” said Emily Schlotterbeck, a Mission District resident who, on her Friday morning commute, inadvertently found herself on the first 49 bus to christen the new lane. She noted that the road felt smoother, and the cars — off in their designated lanes — weren’t honking as much.

The 49 runs through the Mission District from City College to Fisherman’s Wharf. The SFMTA estimates that the line currently shuttles about 20,000 passengers a day. Free from car traffic and timed to avoid red lights, the 49 and other buses on the new so-called BRT lanes are expected to see transit times cut by 32 percent, according to the SFMTA.

On the way to further celebrations at Galileo High School, this reporter tested the estimate. The inaugural 49 bus departed from the McAllister Street stop, near City Hall, at 10:02 am, and pulled up at North Point Street, by Fort Mason, 11 minutes later. Google Maps estimated 17 minutes, meaning we saw a 35 percent decrease in travel time.

This improved travel time will have system-wide effects, said San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency offers Stephen Chun. A trip from 24th and Mission streets to Fisherman’s Wharf should now take about 35 minutes, compared to the previous 42 minutes, about a 16 percent overall improvement.

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