The intersection of Van Ness and Market is so well served by public transit that it is known as the “Hub”, short for “Transit Hub”. What City Hall is now planning for the Hub would transform it into a congested mess.
The City Planning Department estimates that almost 1,700 additional parking spaces could be constructed in the immediate vicinity of Van Ness and Market. If so, developers would derive profits both from their prime transit-oriented locations and the parking.
Add to this the so-far uncontrolled impact of Uber and Lyft. At least 45,000 Uber and Lyft vehicles now operate in San Francisco, which account for over 200,000 auto trips a day. It does not take much imagination to recognize what 1,700 additional off-street parking spaces and hundreds of daily Uber and Lyft pickups and drop-offs would do Van Ness and Market.
If there’s to be no projection against excessive traffic at the Hub, then where?
The Core Capacity Transit Study was conducted under MTC auspices. The main purpose of the Study was to identify potential travel improvements on the Bay Bridge and in the San Francisco transit corridors leading to the Bridge.
A Good Beginning: The study team developed a concise and effective set of Evaluation Criteria with the emphasis on travel efficiency and cost effectiveness. The study team also did a good job of outlining the severe transportation constraints that are already beginning to plague transbay travelers and that, if ignored, that would eventually constrain the economies of the central Bay Area.
Current Status – Final Report Released: Many months have passed since the early scoping meetings. On September 1, 2017 the Final Core Capacity Report was issued. Unfortunately it does not appear to provide the well-justified list of improvements needed to achieve Study objectives.
General: The Report is well organized but unduly repetitious. Too much attention is paid to already ongoing projects in a way that made it hard to tell which projects are old and which are new. The Consultants did a good job of showing how the relentless growth of regional population and jobs, particularly in San Francisco, requires an aggressive near term transbay improvement program. However the Report is weak on citing the pros and cons of its dozens of proposed solutions, many of which appear to have been adopted from the internal wish lists of the participating transportation agencies.
At SaveMuni’s August 21, 2017 meeting, members were updated on three key transportation issues. The meeting was well attended and the discussions lively. A few of the highlights:
1.) ConnectSF: ConnectSF is a City Hall program run by the SFMTA, SFCTA and Planning Department. The Study is intended to help San Francisco’s government with its long range planning, a challenging assignment under the best of circumstances. The SFMTA’s Grahm Satterwhite briefed us about ConnectSF. Here is what we took from the question and answer period that followed:
- “How big is the Task Force charged with advancing the program?” Answer: 110 participants, including “future thinkers”; representatives of the transportation agencies, SF Planning Department and Mayor’s Office, as well as selected individuals from certain advocacy groups, neighborhood groups, environmental groups and the general public.
- “Who picked the Task Force members?” Answer: The Task Force was organized by the three above-listed city agencies with input from Mayor’s office and Board of Supervisors.
- Since the consultant hired by ConnectSF assists only with “strategy, who provides the technical support needed to successfully complete the project?” Answer: The transportation agencies.
- “What about the damaging things currently being done to San Francisco? Won’t present City Hall policies and practices undermine efforts to bring about a viable transportation/land use future for the city?” Answer: ConnectSF was formed to help establish a better transportation/land use condition for San Francisco 50 years from now. It is hoped that in the meantime others will exercise good transportation and land use judgment.
- A collection of large developments is slated to rise at Van Ness and Market, one of the best-served public transit intersections in San Francisco. (In fact so well served that it is commonly called “The Hub”, short for Transit Hub). Yet current Planning Department rules reportedly permit at least 1,680 parking places to be built in the immediate vicinity of this key intersection. “What will ConnectSF have to say about this and other violations of the City’s Transit First Policy and good planning principles?” Answer: In order to focus on long range planning it is necessary to leave today’s actions and problems to others.
- “Why weren’t SaveMuni, the CSFN, the Sierra Club and other groups given an opportunity to designate representatives to sit on the Task Force?” Answer: We selected a group of people whom we thought would appropriately represent the public.
- “How were the ‘Advocacy Groups’ selected?” Answer: We selected them pursuant to advice from the Mayor’s office.
- “Can someone provide a list of Task Force members?” David Pilpel, who along with Howard Wong is a member of the Task Force, offered to provide a list on or before the September 18th SaveMuni meeting.
At the meeting it was clear that SaveMuni supports long range transportation planning. However, a number of those present expressed dismay at what appeared to be a major disconnect between ConnectSF and today’s ongoing and near-term transportation problems.
2.) F-Line Extension: Rick Laubscher gave a spirited overview of plans to extend the F-Line from its existing terminal at Fisherman’s Wharf through the existing Fort Mason Tunnel to the popular Fort Mason Center. Mr. Laubscher pointed out that because of the availability of unused rail right-of-way, tunnel and trackage, the cost of the extension was estimated to be a relatively modest $80 – $90 million. He added that the proposed changes could significantly enhance service on both the E-Line and F-Line and eventually make it possible to get all the way from Caltrain’s 4th and King station to the Fort Mason Center without a transfer. Howard Wong reminded us that the extension would also facilitate transfers from the waterfront lines to the important Van Ness Avenue cross town bus lines.
SaveMuni’s response to the proposed extension of the F-Line was very positive.
3.) Geary BRT: David Dippel brought SaveMuni up to date on this major project of long standing, noting that the first Court date for “San Franciscans for Sensible Transit” lawsuit against the Department of City Planning for CEQA violations will occur on September 18, 2017. Response to Questions:
- “What is the purpose of the lawsuit?” Answer: To require the City to correct its CEQA procedural violations.
- “Would you prefer to see the project modified or stopped entirely”: Answer: modified, but in significant ways.
SaveMuni expressed its appreciation to the presenters for taking the time to brief us on three important transportation issues and for their willingness to take on and try to answer our not always easy questions.
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 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.
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.
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.
On 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.
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