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:


1.)  Good decisions are not made by the seat-of-the-pants. One has to ask:  What works; what doesn’t?  What has been shown to work elsewhere?  What is cost-effective?  What are the alternatives?  These essential elements of good planning tend to get lost in a seemingly endless series of politically-inspired “bright ideas”.

2.)  Thanks to an extremely ill-advised decision in the mid 1990’s, the Muni Metro Market Street subway’s peak period carrying potential is now only 40% of what it used to be.  The resulting overcrowding deters tens of thousands of would-be subway riders. Can this be fixed?  Yes.  Is it being fixed?  No.

3.)  SF has 425,000 registered vehicles.  Many of these cars remain parked at home during weekdays and an even greater percentage are seldom if ever used on crowded downtown streets.  But 280,000 cars from the south crowd onto San Francisco streets every day (a figure that is projected to rise to 310,000 cars a day by 2030).  This means that the heavy congestion on many San Francisco streets comes more from Peninsula cars than San Francisco cars.  City Hall has ignored this problem for years.  Is there a solution?  Yes.  Is it being addressed?  No.

4.)  The Bay Bridge operates at peak capacity during commute hours.  Unfortunately those hours are steadily increasing, which means that the East Bay’s impact on traffic congestion in San Francisco is also steadily increasing.   Another solvable but largely ignored problem.

5.)  To introduce competition and up the ante, some functions currently left to public agencies could be turned over to private companies, operating under short-term, performance-based contracts.

Gerald Cauthen PE

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