Coping with BART’s Oncoming Transbay Capacity Crunch

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crowdedBART

The Bay Bridge is at capacity and BART is running out of transbay carrying capacity.  We often hear that another passenger rail tube will solve this problem.  The inconvenient truth is that given the Bay Area’s current slow pace of passenger rail development it will take an estimated half century to put a new transbay tube and subway system on line.

So what happens in the meantime?  For the next 40 or 50 years or more, there will have to be alternative means of getting back and forth between Oakland and San Francisco.  Without it, regional growth and the continuing construction of  high density infill housing in San Francisco and the East Bay will combine to make the already oppressive traffic backups on both sides of the Bridge even worse.  What are the options:  Boats? (nice but a very slow way to travel).  Car pools and van pools? (sure but they’re not enough).  Pending the advent of a second subaqueous rail tube and subway system, what’s needed most is a fast and really good transbay bus service.

AC Transit’s current operation attracts just 14,000 transbay riders a day, a dismally low 6% of BART’s 240,000 transbay riders a day.  Since BART trains are already jammed during peak travel hours, this is unconscionable.  While forthcoming BART upgrades will temporarily ease the crowding on BART trains, it is projected that the rail system will reach its ultimate transbay carrying capacity within the next 8 to 10 years.  To cope with this looming problem the transbay bus lines will have to attract many more riders, which in turn will require that the service get faster and more convenient that it is today. Here is some of what it would take to bring the Oakland/San Francisco transbay bus system up to par:

o  Four to eight fast and reliable transbay trunk lines running on 5 – 15 minute headways all day long, established where the demand for supplemental transbay service is greatest.

o   Direct routing that emphasizes limited and express service.  No detours, no unnecessary turns.

o  Interiors that are comfortable and outfitted for long distance travel.  Exteriors that are distinctive and attractive.

o  Instead of terminating all transbay lines at the First and Mission Transbay Transit Center, some lines should extend to other important San Francisco destinations such as the Financial District, Civic Center, North Beach and the Mission District.

o  Transit-only lanes on both sides of the Bay where and as needed.  Good maps and good marketing.

Unless something is done soon, the oncoming BART crunch will do great damage to the economy of the Central Bay area and to the environment.

SaveMuni Letter on Commuter Bus Violations

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SaveMuni just sent the following letter to the MTA Board in advance of a hearing on commuter bus infractions on Tuesday:

July 17, 2017

To:    MTA Board members

SaveMuni urges the SFMTA to make enforcement of regulations regarding commuter shuttle buses a much higher priority than it has heretofore been.  We understand that citizen volunteers have been reporting numerous violations which continue on an on-going basis.  But it should not be up to citizens to do your job.

Therefore we ask the SFMTA to strictly enforce the program rules with respect to specific buses, conditions, locations and operations.
Enforcement should include but not be limited to citations, suspensions of licenses and revising operating permits for violations and other non-compliance.

We trust that companies that adhere to the rules will be regarded as better neighbors by the residents of San Francisco, and will provide better service to their riders.

Sincerely,

Bob Feinbaum
Chair, SaveMuni

A Visit from ConnectSF

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Graham Satterwhite, Howard Wong, Bob Feinbaum

Graham Satterwhite, Howard Wong, Bob Feinbaum

Graham Satterwhite of ConnectSF came to the June SaveMuni meeting to tell us all about his organization. ConnectSF is a long-range transportation planning project that aims to consolidate and coordinate all transportation in the city under a 50-year plan, or more aptly, a set of alternate plans. It tries to identify future scenarios with respect to demographic, economic, environmental, and other factors, and develop viable transportation plans for each possibility. It is a collaborative project between SFMTA, the Planning Department, CTA, Economic and Workforce Development, and the Mayor’s office.

ConnectSF comprises three interacting “streams” of activity. Input from the public is derived from neighborhood meetings and townhalls. There are task forces of key decisionmakers and specialists who often come from opposing points of view, such as the Chamber of Commerce and Greenpeace; “people who would not normally be communicating with each other.” Lastly, there is the city staff “stream,” which is generally more of a technical resource. The meetings of the last two are not open to the public.

The type of scenario planning ConnectSF will implement has been utilized successfully by the Port of Vancouver. Participating organizations ranged from ones that wanted no development of the port, to ones that wanted lots of development of varying kinds. At some point it became generally recognized that if the port were not modernized to some degree, Vancouver would evolve into a “lifestyle city” for the upper class. A “growth and sustainability” model was agreed on.

Another way ConnectSF communicates with the public is through “pop-up” events, where they talk to people on the streets about what excites them and what needs improvement. They also sponsor “co-learning” events, where people get to experience electric bikes, etc..

The organization has already been doing public outreach of various sorts for several months, and will soon be summarizing their findings. In September they will be doing a detailed study of indicators as to where the local economy and development are heading. The end goal is to inform the Transportation Element and SFMTA planning.

SaveMuni will have two people participating in the task force.

Could we get serious about traffic, please?

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SF-Traffic-4x3-468942570

According to the “TomTom Traffic Index of 2017,” released on February 21, San Francisco is the 3rd most congested city in the United States. To anyone who has witnessed recent traffic conditions in San Francisco this will come as no surprise. Let’s face it, City Government has dropped the ball on traffic congestion.  Here are a few of the more obvious problems in need of solutions:

            1.)  The daily inflow of vehicles from the Peninsula will soon hit 300,000 cars and trucks a day.  (More than from the two bridges combined). And yet no one seems to notice.   There are ways of moderating this daily inflow.

            2.)  San Francisco’s transportation capital program is mostly a disaster.  While there are some bright spots here and there (e.g. Red Lanes, DTX conceptual design, new buses), much of the City’s transportation resources seem to get spent on enterprises of small consequence.   Needed is  a better and more analytical way of establishing transportation capital priorities. 

            3.) Lyft and Uber are privately owned computer-dispatched vehicles that many have found to be convenient.  Failing to anticipate the problems that  such services would  cause  in San Francisco, City Hall initially sanctioned and even encouraged their development.  We are now seeing the results.  The estimated 45,000 Lyft and Uber vehicles currently operating in San Francisco are both further clogging city streets and cutting into Muni ridership. 

City Hall does not appear to understand is that if people in San Francisco start abandoning collective travel in favor of individual conveyances….especially Lyft and Uber….the traffic will get gradually increase until congestion itself becomes the limiting factor….and no one is going to like that very much.

A Supervisor has suggested that a $0.20 tax per trip be imposed on Lyft and Uber travel.  She’s shooting too low.  The tax should be at least $0.20 a mile.  In fact the tax or other disincentives should be sufficient to hold the number of computer-dispatched automobiles operating in San Francisco to a predetermined City-established limit, below 45,000 vehicles.  

As San Francisco develops and becomes more populated, it becomes increasingly necessary to get smarter about how we plan and develop the accompanying infrastructure.

SaveMuni supports the Red Lanes

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redlanesOn July 3, 2017 the SF Examiner reported on the SFMTA’s continuing program for placing Muni surface vehicles in transit-only lanes.  This is something that has been talked about in San Francisco ever since the City enacted its “Transit First” policy over 40 years ago.   Now the SFMTA is actually implementing the policy and in this it has SaveMuni’s strongest support.

Since each section of each street is different, local conditions deserve consideration.  That notwithstanding, given the interests of San Francisco at large, the first priority must be on expeditiously getting busloads of people out of heavy traffic congestion, especially during peak driving hours.

As the service get faster and more reliable, there is certain to be a resulting up-tick in ridership.  Are there enough buses?  If so, good.  If not, SaveMuni can be counted upon to support the augmentation of the fleet as required.

In some places (along portions of Market Street for instance), bicyclists impede the flow of buses, often putting themselves at risk in the process.  That shouldn’t happen.  Buses packed with riders should take preference over bicyclists, and bicyclists should travel only in places where it is safe to do so.

F Line Extension

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FLineCar

The F line currently runs along The Embarcadero and terminates at Fisherman’s Wharf. It is a very popular line, not only with tourists but also with San Franciscans headed for neighborhoods in the northeastern part of town.

For decades activists have proposed an extension of the F line to Fort Mason, using the abandoned rail tunnel that once served the Beltway Railway. But the MTA has never pushed the extension and neighbors living on Marina Blvd have lobbied against the idea fearing obstruction of views and other problems.

Now however thanks to the availability of federal funding from the National Park Service (NPS), the MTA has taken an interest in extending the F line. In mid May, the MTA applied for a $1.1 million Federal Lands Access Program grant to plan and engineer the extension to Fort Mason.

Save Muni supported that application with a letter to the Acting Director of the National Parks Service on June 10. The letter emphasized our willingness to work with the MTA and the NPS to extend the F line to better serve the transit needs of tourists and residents alike.

~ Bob Feinbaum

Save Muni’s Objectives for 2017

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(1) Rededicate itself to making extending Caltrain to the new Transbay Transit Center San Francisco’s Number One transportation improvement priority.

(2) Increase Muni’s speed, reliability and ridership.  Implement and enforce transit only lanes, at least during the morning peak commute period.  Raise Muni’s on-time performance to 85 % by 2020.  Restore comprehensive service to all neighborhoods and increase weekend and evening service by at least 15%.  Cap patron transfer wait times at one-half the headway of the least frequent line.

(3) Double the Market Street tunnel’s Muni Metro passenger-carrying capacity by taking the steps needed to operate 4 and 5 car trains in the subway, including modernizing the subway signaling system, developing a successful way of coupling and uncoupling rail cars at the portals and creating unimpeded LRV surface operations.

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Transportation Crisis in San Francisco

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In an article entitled “SF wants less car-friendly development ” (Examiner 11/29/16), Joshua Sabatini provides a nice summary of what the City’s transportation planners want to do to reduce traffic congestion in San Francisco.  The problem with their plans is that they won’t work.  What is being proposed is akin to trying to fly an airliner using just the ailerons.  (Not a good idea, especially if you’re in the airplane).  What’s currently in vogue in San Francisco illustrates what’s wrong with City Hall’s response to its growing transportation crisis.

Most transportation planning is left to people who are well-intentioned but inexperienced.   As a result the proposed solutions tend to be half-baked and over-simplified.

o   “San Franciscans drive too much; we must walk more”.  (Sounds good)

o  “The restraints on parking will ease traffic”.  (Given Lyft and Uber, how exactly does that work?)

o  “More people should ride Muni”.  (Unless Muni gets better, why would they?)

o  “We need more bicycle lanes”.  (Or is it more bicyclers?)

o  “Putting new development near transit and automating our cars will solve the problem”.  (Both actually add traffic)

All of the above warrant discussion and consideration.  But none comes even close to fully addressing the real problem.  If people are to leave their cars at home there will have to be non-automotive travel alternatives that work.  Here are five considerations that tend to get shoved under the rug:

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EIR’s and the Damage They Cause

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(Updated October 3, 2016)

In the middle part of the last century, brutally insensitive highway-building and other major projects were ripping California to shreds. If you’re too young to remember this, take a trip across the Bay and observe what Highways I-880, I-580, I-80, I-980 and 24 have done to Oakland.

In 1970, to protect California cities and countrysides from the wanton destruction being caused by highway-builders, destructive pubic developments and the industries of pollution, the State Legislature passed the California Environmental Quality Act.  In principle this made good sense.  The idea was that all attributes of a highway or other major project were to be described, publicized and evaluated ahead of time…..before the bulldozers arrived.

Unfortunately this spawned a whole new industry of eager Environmental Impact Report (EIR) planner/writers, too often unschooled in the complexities of major engineering enterprises. Despite being managed by technically-challenged planners, the EIR soon came to be regarded as a convenient place for finding all aspects of a conceptual design.  In the ensuing years this led to many major design errors and distortions of fact.  Reports were often poorly-organized, poorly-written, and full of irrelevancies and redundancy.  More importantly, key design elements such as surveys, geotechnical analyses, structural engineering, traffic counts, ridership projections, construction schedules and costs were and still are often buried among thousands of pages devoted to delineating and describing every conceivable environmental and other aspect of the candidate project.

Time has shown that an important specialty report buried in a two-thousand page EIR does not carry the same weight as a well-publicized, stand-alone document.  To make matters worse, such “specialty” work is often doled out to sub-consultants who lack the qualifications and experience to complete their assignments successfully.  The inevitable result of this careless approach to architectural and engineering aspects of major projects often includes major design mistakes, unrealistic schedules and unsupported “low-ball” cost estimates.  When combined with politicians anxious to sell a potentially unpopular project, the practice becomes doubly damaging.

In the past it was not this way.  Geotechnical reports, long recognized as vital to the success of projects, were prepared with care and given close attention.  Engineering firms had control over all elements of their engineering designs.  The checking of drawings and other design elements was rigorous and comprehensive.  Cost estimating was a careful and exacting process, geared to accurate results.  This disciplined approach is still used today….by competitive bid construction contractors, for whom guess work and carelessness would soon put them out of business.

When buried in EIRs, the subordinated but critically-important design, cost and scheduling elements of projects often do not receive the scrutiny, review and evaluation they deserve.

Muni K & M Line Changes – Rebutting the MTA’s Plan

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subwayNewTrains

The SFMTA has been developing its plans for the K and M Lines for many months.  The SFMTA’s plan can be found on its website. Here is SaveMuni’s alternative plan for the K and M lines:

Between the West Portal and 15th Avenue, the K and M-Line tracks would remain on the surface but be slightly separated from other West Portal Avenue traffic by being placed in a 3 inch raised median.  South of 15th Avenue, the tracks would descend into subway and pass under the St. Francis Circle Intersection.

After passing under St. Francis Circle the K-Line tracks would ascend to the surface in the median of Junipero Serra to join the existing tracks.

After passing under St. Francis Circle the M-Line tracks would remain depressed under Ocean Avenue (with a depressed station at Ocean) and the northbound lanes of 19th Avenue to the median of 19th Avenue where they would ascend to the surface and join the existing tracks.  North of Holloway the tracks would descend into a depressed station at Holloway.  The new Holloway Station would be easily and safely pedestrian-accessible from both sides of 19th Avenue by wide and well-lighted depressed walkways.  Plenty of bicycle storage would be provided at all stations, including in particular the Holloway Station.

South of Holloway the M-Line tracks would remain in subway along today’s alignment.  After passing under the 19th/Junipero Serra intersection and Sargent Street the tracks would ascend to grade and join the existing tracks.  The M-Line terminal would remain at Balboa Park and efforts would be made to reduce the M-Line trip times between Holloway and Balboa Park.

Previous SFMTA plans to:

o  build a new subway along the west side of 19th Avenue,

o  locate a M-Line subway station and underground train storage yard in the eastern part of the privately-owned Parkmerced development and,

o  truncate M-Line at Park Merced

would be dropped.

It is estimated that SaveMuni’s plan would cut at least a billion dollars from the cost of the SFMTA’s plan.  Under SaveMuni’s plan residents in all parts of Parkmerced and S.F. State University students would be taken to and from the Holloway Station by inexpensive shuttle buses.   The cost of the shuttle bus service would be shared among the riders, Parkmerced and S.F. State University.

The SFMTA’s plan to run four-car trains to the end of the M-Line would also be dropped. Running four-car trains (at roughly $5 million a car) to the ends of lines when only one or two cars are needed would be a very poor use of tax dollars.

SaveMuni believes that the above-described changes would better and more cost-effectively serve southwest San Francisco, especially if better and more regular LRV surface operations allowed K, M and L trains to be efficiently joined into longer trains at West Portal.

Gerald Cauthen,
For SaveMuni