by Bob Feinbaum, co-founder, Bay Area Transportation Working Group
Early in the twentieth century Southern Pacific built its Market Street landmark as a terminal for trains from the Peninsula. In the 1970s and 80s dreams of downtown rail service (now known as Caltrain) revived,with detailed studies charting the route trains would take and the means for financing the extension from Caltrain’s current terminus at 4th and King Streets
By 1999, San Francisco voters reached a consensus. Proposition H, which passed by nearly 70% required the city to make downtown Caltrain its highest transit priority. Detailed planning, environmental assessments, sand cores of community meetings resulted in the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s designation of DTX as one of the Bay Area’s two highest transit priorities.
But for the past 15 years San Francisco city officials, while paying lip service to the Caltrain extension, have done little to see that it happened.
In 2014, the Planning Department began a multi-year study which can only undermine plans for bringing Caltrain downtown. The grandiose Railyards/I280 study just saw the light of day, eight months behind schedule, at a raucous meeting on Potrero Hill. Furious neighbors chastised the secretive planners for lack of details to support their schemes to possibly tear down ramps for I280, move the existing railyards, and force a new route for Caltrain over to Third Street to stop in front of a proposed Warriors basketball arena.
Private estimates of the new Caltrain route put additional costs at up to $6 billion over the current, approved, route. And while San Francisco dithers, federal funding of $650 million needed to complete construction of the Caltrain extension hangs in the balance.
A new administration in Washington next year will bring new priorities for transportation so the hard won place on the list for federal funds for the Caltrain extension may well be lost. Is San Francisco willing to commit funds to see this project completed? Or by standing in the way, will the city’s politicians derail a vital regional project that has been over a century in the making ?
In March, SaveMuni invited Caltrain’s Casey Fronson to tell us about the Caltrain Modernization Program. We were excited about what we heard.
Caltrain operates the 51 miles of track between San Francisco and San Jose once known as the San Francisco and San Jose Railroad, which has been in use for the last 150 years. The line has experienced big growth since 2004, when the “Baby Bullet” trains were introduced, speeding up service. Currently the cars are getting very full around rush hour, especially on the morning northbound trains. It will be hard to get much more growth out of the current diesel locomotives, which start and stop slowly and need a lot of space between them, and 2/3 of which are already due for retirement.
Friday, February 1, 2016, the Major/Minor Arterial Plan for Commuter Corp Buses will be implemented. The following provides a discussion of the changes.
Major / Minor Arterial Streets
Operation of Commuter buses 40 to 45 feet will be restricted to the following streets in the Noe Valley Area:
+ Market Street
+ 16th Street
+ Guerrero (Market to 18th)
+ San Jose (South of Guerrero – Cesar Chavez)
+ Castro to 26th
+ 24th (Castro to Potrero)
Operation of Commuter buses 35 feet or less is allowed. See below topic: Placards
— how to identify
Weight Restricted Streets
Here are photos of 5 of the great train stations of the world, followed by the current state of San Francisco’s Transbay Transit Center train level:
1.) South Station, Boston
2.) Penn Station, New York
Muni includes many heavily used bus lines. But the workhorse of the system is, or at least should be, the Muni Metro subway/surface system.
A fully grade-separated subway typically carries hundreds of thousands of riders a day. Tokyo’s 9 lines carry an average of over 1,000,000 riders per day per line. The Paris Metro’s 19 lines carry an average of 260,000 riders per line per day. New York’s 22 subway lines average over 250,000 riders per line per day. What makes this possible are long trains traveling frequently at regular intervals.
The Muni Metro is not fully grade-separated and station constraints limit the length of its trains. Therefore the five Muni Metro lines cannot generate the huge riderships that are achieved by many subways throughout the world. However, Muni Metro’s peak period carrying capacity is currently less than half of what it was designed to be and could again be. In fact the five Muni metro lines today average only a little over 30,000 thousand riders per line per day, roughly a third what they could and should be carrying. The Market Street subway is no longer doing the job it was designed and built to do.
This unacceptably low ridership is not because people don’t want to use the system. It is estimated that were it not for excessive peak period crowding, Muni Metro’s ridership would climb by at least 40,000 riders a day. In other words, tens of thousands of would-be Muni Metro riders are pushed off the Muni Metro system every day because of excessive peak period crowding. With traffic increasing and Muni surface vehicles slowing down, the lack of a fully functional Muni Metro system is becoming a bigger and bigger headache for anyone trying to get around in San Francisco.
The Mayor’s Railyard Alternatives and I-280 Boulevard Feasibility (RAB) Study has been kept under wraps for many months. In fact the study has been ongoing for over two years, proceeding in back rooms under the auspices of the SF Department of City Planning (DCP). The process has featured a series of closed door meetings participated in by a large collection of public agencies including the DCP, Mayor’s office, SF Municipal Transportation Agency, SF County Transportation Authority, Transbay Joint Powers Authority, Peninsula Joint Powers Authority, Metropolitan Transportation Commission, California High Speed Rail Authority, Federal Transportation Authority and others.
Recently the sponsors of the Study declared themselves ready for the Big Unveiling. The first public meeting of the RAB Study occurred on February 23, 2016…well over two years after the initiation of the project and 8 months behind schedule.
Advance Briefing of SaveMuni. At Save Muni’s request Ms. Susan Gygi, RAB’s Project Manager graciously agreed to update SaveMuni on the status of the Study on February 17th, emphasizing that she would not be free to talk about the information to be imparted on February 23rd. We agreed and on the 17th Ms. Gygi confined herself to explaining the background, timing and financing of the Study and to answering questions from SaveMuni members, mostly related to what Matier and Ross revealed about Study objectives in their Chronicle article on May 11, 2015. The February 17th presentation meeting was video-taped by Mr. Ken Bukowski, the former Mayor of Emeryville. The tape makes for some interesting viewing. See https://youtu.be/d8dab77JZug
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
On Tuesday, February 23, 2016, San Franciscans received their first look at City Hall’s heretofore secret RailYards Alternatives/I280 Boulevard Study (RAB). The Department of City Planning’s RAB announcement was eight months late in coming and yet contained no engineering analysis, no traffic congestion figures and no cost estimates. On the contrary it was limited to the same set of fanciful Mission Bay rearrangements that were floated by the Lee Administration early last year.
What was presented at the Potrero Hill Recreation Center last week was billed as concluding the first of a five-phase planning process that is expected to take at least 7 to 10 years.
“Completely unacceptable!” said Bob Feinbaum of the DTX Coalition (organized to get Caltrain into San Francisco’s Transbay Transit Center without further delay). “San Franciscans should not tolerate a development-driven “planning” process that blocks a badly needed rail connection into downtown San Francisco”
Amidst numerous horror stories and predictions of doom for the two-week Super Bowl celebration, SaveMuni engaged SFMTA spokespersons Kristin Smith and Ed Cobean to give us a little more insight on the planning for the event.
The first thing we learned was that the long-dreaded plan to take down Muni wires in the Financial District for the sake of putting up canopies had thankfully been discarded as infeasible. On the other hand, much of downtown will indeed be blocked off, with the F line completely shut down northeast of Beale, and replaced by buses to the southwest. This map shows the numerous Muni reroutes that will go into effect on January 23; the MTA site also has suggestions for how to get around. On the positive side, the number of trains in the tunnel will be increased, and many single-car trains will be replaced by two-car trains. Also, the nightly 9:30 and all weekend tunnel shutdowns will be discontinued during the event.
Transbay Transit Center, Destined to be San Francisco’s Big Empty?
Under the Lee Administration transportation in San Francisco is heading toward a cliff. For starters, City Hall is neglecting, if not actively impeding, the downtown extension of Caltrain (DTX), a project that would connect Caltrain to 6 Muni rail lines, 4 BART lines and over 40 bus lines at the new Transbay Transit Center in the middle of San Francisco’s 340,000 person employment center.
In November 1999 the SF voters recognized the value of DTX by approving Prop H by 69.3%. Prop H specifically calls for Caltrain to be extended to the new Transbay Transit Center (TTC) at First and Mission Streets. In November 2003 the SF voters approved Prop K by 75%, which provided $270 million for the extension. In June 2010 the SF Voters approved Prop G, calling for high-speed trains to also terminate at the TTC. This measure was approved by an overwhelming 83.8%. Yet it appears that the public policy implicit in these three Propositions was lost on City Hall.