BART Running out of Transbay Carrying Capacity

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It’s been well known for at least 25 years that BART’s transbay section was a choke point, destined to run out of people carrying-capacity sooner rather than later.  In fact conditions in the existing tube are already jammed during many hours of the day.  It is currently estimated that because of the improving economy, regional population growth and assorted BART extensions, the vital transbay section will reach its carrying-capacity limit by 2025.  That’s less than 10 years away.  And yet, under the best of circumstances it would take at least 40 years to put a new subaqueous passenger rail system on line.  So what does the Region do during the intervening decades?   No one knows.

And then there’s the matter of cost.  It would reportedly cost between $20 and $25 billion to build a second rail tube under the Bay, complete with connecting subways both east and west.

Keeping the economies of the Central Bay Area viable will require that this matter be addressed with courage, wisdom and determination before any more time is lost.  Transportation officials at last seem to be taking the problem seriously.  Let them know what you think.

Transbay Capacity Crunch

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BART’s ridership is projected to rise from its current level of over 400,000 riders a day to 700,000 riders a day or more by 2040. This increase is reportedly far beyond BART’s transbay carrying capacity.

To delay the inevitable, BART plans to remove a substantial number of seats in order to make room for more standees and bicycles.   Despite these measures, which are certain to render the service less satisfactory for many riders, recent estimates are that BART will run out of transbay-carrying capacity by about 2025, at which time the lack of adequate passenger rail service between Oakland and San Francisco will begin to constrain the economies of the Central Bay area.  So far Alameda County, San Francisco County and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission have chosen to put off dealing with this oncoming crunch.

Read more here.

From Silk Purse to Sou’s Ear

Remember when we were being told that the tunneled Central Subway would be “out-of-sight, out-of-mind”?

That was in the Fall of 2013.

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Fast forward to the Fall of 2014:

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Here’s what the SF Chronicle had to say on the subject on September 29, 2014:

“It may have been the most fashionable meeting ever held at City Hall — as representatives of Neiman Marcus, Chanel, Barneys New York, Dior, Bulgari and  Arthur Beren Shoes met Wednesday with Mayor Ed Lee to tell him that the Central Subway construction was killing some of Union Square’s best-known high-end stores.

“At issue is the ongoing tearup of Stockton Street to make way for the Union Square Station and the loss of parking, deafening noise and dust from the heavy machinery that go along with it. Combine those with narrow and often unlighted walkways in front of the stores, and customers are staying away in droves.

“Lee promised a personal look at the situation, but overall the news was not encouraging….”

When asked how much longer Union Square would be torn up by the Central Subway project, the SFMTA representative ruefully acknowledged that it would affect “two winter seasons in addition to this one coming up.”  (February 15, 2015:  one down, two to go)

The Benefits of Extending Caltrain to San Francisco, the Peninsula and the Region

Four incoming traffic lanes enter San Francisco from the North, five from the East and eighteen from the South. Unsurprisingly, Metropolitan Transportation Commission shows 280,000 cars as crossing the San Mateo/San Francisco County Line every day, almost 50% more than from the two bridges combined.

In order for Muni to operate effectively, the amount of traffic clogging San Francisco’s streets must be reduced.  One effective way of doing this would be to give northbound Peninsula drivers a faster and classier way of accessing San Francisco.

This need puts the early extension of Caltrain into downtown San Francisco at the top of the priority list.  Squeezing out cars, buses and emergency vehicles by building obstructions into city streets is a heavy-handed and short-sighted way of cutting traffic. Giving people better transportation options should be the first choice.
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SFMTA Approves Muni Service Increase

(Exerpted from SF Bay January 21, 2015)

Seniors and disabled Muni riders weren’t the only ones benefiting from a better financial picture for San Francisco’s transportation agency over the next two fiscal years.The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s board of directors are moving ahead with a 7% Muni service increase, additional funding for cleaning Muni vehicles and eliminating telephone and online transaction fees charged for making a citation payment to the SFMTA.

The board last April included all of these programs in its two-year budget last year, which included free Muni for low-income seniors and people with disabilities, but was contingent on how the transit agency’s financial health looked like this month.

In a report (presented to the SFMTA Board at its regular meeting on January 20th), the transit agency said it would be able to financially support the increase in Muni service and the additional funding to hire more staff to clean Muni vehicles of graffiti and tagging.

The transit agency projects higher revenues (from) transit fares, parking fees and fines and also (from) more funds from The City because of current (improving) state of San Francisco’s economy.

The 7% increase in Muni service approved Tuesday by the SFMTA Board follows a 3% increase approved last April.

Muni riders will begin seeing some of these service increases starting January 31st, including the launch of Muni’s new 55-16th Street route and increased frequency on the 44-O’Shaughnessy line. A soft launch of the new route is set for January 26th, according to SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin.

The SFMTA said the rest of Muni ‘new service will be phased in starting this Spring and continuing during next Fall and Winter.

Transit officials also approved an additional $1.8 million for the SFMTA to hire additional staff to increase the cleaning intervals of Muni vehicles. Of the $1.8 million, the transit agency dedicated $600,000 through the current fiscal year and $1.2 million for the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

The transit agency also got rid of its $2.50 transaction fee charged to people who pay their citations from the SFMTA online or by telephone, which will take effect on May 1.

BART’s Oncoming Transbay Capacity Crunch

BART’s  ridership is projected to rise from its current level of over 400,000 riders a day to 700,000 riders a day or more by 2040.  This increase will severely overtax BART’s transbay section, which already often operates at peak carrying capacity.  As a result BART is in already the process of removng seats and otherwise preparing for substantially more crowding on its trains.  But despite these measures, BART will reportedly run out of transbay carring-capacity around 2030, at which point the lack of an adequate transbay connection between Oakland and San Francisco will begin to constrain the economy of the Central Bay Area.

Bay Area transportation officials do not appear to be concerned over this impending transbay crunch.  “Don’t concern yourselves”, they say: “things will work out”.  Some say another rail tube will solve the problem.  (Sure…in 4 or 5 decades, assuming the availability of the $25 – $35 billion needed to build another subaqueous rail tube complete with connecting subways).  Others say that AC Transit will fill the need.  (For this to happen AC Transit’s transbay ridership would have to increase by at least 700%,  from the current 14,000 transbay riders a day to 100,000 or more riders a day).
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Westbay Transportation Conflicts Fester for over a Decade

No where is the lack of regional transportation leadership more evident than in the chaotic interplay of transportation agencies as they struggle to coordinate activities along the San Francisco/Penisula/Caltrain Corridor.

The Joint Powers Board (Caltrains) places a high priority in electrifying its system, but needs substantial funds from the California High Speed Rail Authority to get the job done, funds that are currently in jeopardy.  Even though they will be using the same stations and have been talking about coordinating services for years,  Caltrain and HSR still haven’t agreed on platform height.  Or platform width.  Or car configuration.  Or the amount of time required to turn a Caltrain train. Or the conditions under which the State of California PUC and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) would permit passenger trains to operate on tracks shared with freight trains.  Or on the future nature or even location of the Caltrain storage yard, now appropriately located at Fourth and King Streets.

Nor have the long awaited funds needed to extend Caltrain into downtown San Francisco been identified.   In recent months the situation has been made even more difficult by the assorted Misson Bay development proposals emanating from the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association and one or two of the Mayor’s transportation aides.  In the mean time, another group plots to divert the funds needed to extend Caltrain to the building of a fourth rail line to Fisherman’s Wharf.

As things stand the Caltrain extension stands environmentally cleared, designed and ready for construction.  It’s time for people with pet and parochial projects to sell to stop trying to “improve” the Caltrain Extension by throwing monkey wrenches into the works and instead get behind the project.

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These critical outstanding issues, many of long standing, will not resolve themselves.  Creating a properly integrated mix of trains and buses along the Peninsula and in southeast San Franciscio will require intensive coordination and hard work on the part of the affected agencies.  There are hopeful signs that this process is now underway, however belatedly.   Since the issues involve the priorities and interests of several counties and at least five different transit providers, the logical provider of that leadership would have been MTC.  In the absence of MTC, it is necessary that the City and County of San Francisco, Peninsula Joint Powers Board , Transbay Joint Powers Authority and California High Speed Rail Authority, preferably advised by experienced passenger rail operators from outside California, sit down and hammer out the appropriate solutions themselves.