Getting DTX underway

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The Bay Area Transportation Working Group (BATWG) and many San Francisco transit advocacy groups have long supported the Caltrain Downtown Extension project (DTX). DTX will create a high quality north-south alternative to driving into San Francisco. It was defined in November 1999 by 69.9 percent of the voters of San Francisco as the No. 1 transportation capital improvement priority.

Yet for the last 40 months the multi-agency Rail Alignment and Benefits study has unnecessarily delayed and obstructed DTX. And the disruption is continuing. The May 29 RAB release continues to place extra costs and other obstacles in front of DTX. Here are some ways of accelerating the process:

1) Instead of adding costs, the focus should be on cutting costs.

o The ill-considered move to add $300 million to $400 million to the cost to “protect” Second Street from cut-and-cover construction should be relegated to the Transportation Stupidities Hall of Fame. The subway connection between Fourth and King streets and the new Transbay Transit Center (TTC) should be tunneled where appropriate and excavated from the surface where appropriate. With good engineering, this can be done without undue interference to either Second or Howard streets.

o The $100 million “tunnel plug” added to facilitate possible future construction of a Pennsylvania Street tunnel was not part of the original DTX plan and therefore should be cut from the DTX budget. If and when additional funding becomes available, additional portions of the rail system can be depressed. Spending $100 million now to facilitate a future connection that might or might not ever be needed makes no sense.

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Critique of MTC’s Core Capacity Study

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The Core Capacity Transit Study was conducted under MTC auspices and released on September 1, 2017.  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.

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SaveMuni supports the Red Lanes

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redlanesUpdated from a July post:  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.  (In some cases all day lanes are certainly necessary.  On other streets bus-only lanes between the hours of 6:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. might suffice.  If so it would have two distinct advantages over the all day approach.  First, it would in most cases eliminate the conflicts between the SFMTA and the affected small businesses.  Second, it would greatly reduce enforcement costs.

As the transit 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 Muni 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.

Model for San Francisco?

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Following are excerpts from a timely StreetsblogSF article describing how Toronto cleaned up its previously gridlocked main street.

It’s been just a few short months since most of the car traffic was cleared off King Street, giving the city’s busiest streetcar route an unimpeded path. The impact of the project has been transformative. Local transit officials report that faster and more reliable rail service has resulted in a dramatic boost in ridership. Before Toronto banned through traffic, the King Street streetcar carried 65,000 riders a day. According to the Toronto Transit Commission, peak hour ridership is now up by 25%.

The redesigned street allows drivers to access King Street but compels them to make right turns after a short distance. The Globe and Mail reports that car traffic has declined more than expected and the City of Toronto reports that without car traffic getting in the way, transit is moving much faster. Rush hour trips take about four minutes less from end to end, an improvement of about 16%. Reliability has also improved, with the number of delayed trips down by 33%.

Overall public opinion “seems to be firmly on the side of keeping the car restrictions in place. A recent poll showed strong public support for the pilot project.”

Famous SF Transit Hub Headed toward Gridlock

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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.Image result for urban traffic jam

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?

Transportation Hot Topics

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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.

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.