Transportation Crisis in San Francisco

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:


EIR’s and the Damage They Cause

(Updated September 8 2017)

In the mid-20th Century, brutally insensitive highway-building and other big projects were ripping California to shreds. If you’re too young to remember this, take a trip across the Bay and observe what Highways  24, I-880, I-580, I-80 and I-980 did  to Oakland.

In 1970, to protect California cities and countrysides from the wanton destruction being caused by highway-builders, destructive public and private developments and the pollution industry, the California Legislature passed the California Environmental Quality Act.  In principle this made good sense.  The idea was that all elements of a highway or other major project would 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) writers, 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 locating all aspects of a conceptual design.  In the ensuing years this led to many major design errors and distortions of fact.  EIRs were and still often are 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 the all important capital and operating cost estimates are often buried among thousands of pages devoted to profusely describing virtually everything imaginable about the candidate projects.

Time has shown that an important technical specialty buried in a two-thousand page EIR does not carry the same weight as a well-publicized, stand-alone document.  To make matters worse, key technical assignments are often doled out to sub-consultants who lack the qualifications and experience needed to successfully complete their assignments.  The inevitable result of this careless approach to the technical aspects of major projects often leads to major design mistakes, unrealistic schedules and unsupported “low-ball” cost estimates.

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 and were 100% responsible for 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.

This highly 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, critically-important engineering design, cost and scheduling elements of large projects often do not receive the attention, scrutiny and evaluation they deserve.

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


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

Vote NO on Props J, K

Prop J/K:  BAIT and SWITCH… 

Those behind san Francisco Props J & K have used the understandable desire on the part of many to aid the homeless to divert more than $100 million from cash-strapped city services to the SFMTA, a huge agency to which we have already given billions of dollars in sales taxes, bonds, fares, parking fees and fines.  For the following reasons, SaveMuni strongly opposes this deceptive set of local ballot measures.  Vote No on Props J and K:

  • Despite the State law requiring that tax raising measures pass with at least a 2/3rd vote, Prop K, because of its unique pairing with Prop J, would pass with only a simple majority vote.
  • Despite the fact that under State law it is illegal for a State proposition to cover more than one subject, the sponsors of Prop J have chosen to incorporate no less than four distinctly different subjects involving four different City departments.
  • Instead of more sales tax revenues to be wasted or otherwise misspent on vaguely-defined pet projects, there should be better management of the City’s bloated $9.6 billion annual budget, which already exceeds that of many states and small countries.
  • Despite San Francisco’s already-in-place $241 million a year homeless budget, its homelessness problem continues to expand and get worse. 
  • Despite the billions of dollars already spent on Muni “improvements” Muni’s average vehicle speed has dropped by 13%, it’s schedule adherence over the last year has hovered around a dismally low 60%, its per capita ridership has declined and San Francisco’s traffic congestion problems have gotten worse.  Yet only 12.6% of the Prop. J/K sales tax increase would go toward fixing Muni.

What San Francisco needs is smarter priority-setting and better decision-making, not more taxes.  Vote No on Props J and K. 

Transit First at Last


SaveMuni has often been critical of the SFMTA. However this time it has earned our thanks and commendation. But first a little history.

On March 19, 1973, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors adopted one of the country’s first “transit-first” policies. In those days idea of “transit-first” was virtually unheard of. However to harried Muni riders whose jammed buses continually crept along in congestion, it sounded like manna from heaven. Henceforth Muni’s bus loads of people were to be given a higher priority on crowded city streets, and the riders cheered.

But nothing happened. Decades went by with little change on the clogged roadways where it was most needed. (more…)

RAB Discussion at CSFN

On Tuesday June 19th, at a meeting of the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods (CSFN), San Francisco Planning Director John Rahaim and SaveMuni’s Gerald Cauthen presented the arguments for and against Mayor Edmund Lee’s “RAB Study” (which is geared to facilitating the full build-out of Mission Bay).   Mr. Rahaim believes that now is the time to look at Mission Bay in a comprehensive and long-term way.    He noted that he personally would not support any plan that delayed the downtown extension of Caltrain (DTX) for more than two years.

Mr. Cauthen stressed the importance of the DTX project and pointed out that 30 months of RAB planning have produced no definitive proposals, no cost estimates, no traffic counts and no hint of how many years or decades RAB would delay DTX.  Cauthen also questioned RAB’s desire to remove the north end of the I-280 freeway and asked that the streets destined to bear the brunt of 8 lanes of freeway traffic be identified.

A resolution currently before the CSFN would give RAB planners until September 15th to conform their plans to the DTX project as currently configured and aligned.

Driverless Cars Could Wreck Livable Cities

Guest Editorial: Driverless Cars Could Wreck Livable Cities

By Jason Henderson


A tweet by Jon Orcutt illustrates why driverless cars offer little towards sustainable cities.

Over the past year driverless cars have been promoted as a panacea for livable cities. The storyline is that driverless cars will help reduce car ownership, free-up urban space for walking and biking, and help reduce death and injury. The USDOT has joined the parade with its “smart city challenge,” awarding Columbus, Ohio a $40 million prize to implement a demonstration project that includes incorporating driverless cars.


SaveMuni joins Warriors arena lawsuit

From Business Wire:

Opponents of Warriors Proposed S.F. Arena Win Another Court Victory
Judge Rules Transit Advocacy Group Can Join Litigation Opposing Mission Bay Arena

Major Hearing on Mission Bay Alliance Lawsuits this Friday in S.F. Superior Court Against Warriors, City of San Francisco

June 15, 2016 02:11 PM Eastern Daylight Time
SAN FRANCISCO–(BUSINESS WIRE)–One of the leading San Francisco transit advocacy groups can join opponents of proposed Golden State Warriors Arena as a Plaintiff in the litigation to keep the arena out of Mission Bay, according to a ruling by San Francisco Superior Court Judge Garrett Wong.

“The ill-considered RAB proposals would dump tens of thousands of additional cars a day into vulnerable parts of San Francisco and add billions of tax-payer dollars to the cost of getting Caltrain into downtown San Francisco”

Judge Wong ruled Thursday that SaveMuni, a dedicated association of transit activists, environmentalists and neighborhood leaders, will be allowed to legally join the fight against the Golden State Warriors.


Paratransit Roundup


At SaveMuni’s May 16th meeting, SFMTA Paratransit Coordinator Jonathan Cheng briefed the group on San Francisco’s paratransit program and the services it provides.  The program operates for 365 days a year and is designed for people who do not have the ability to ride ordinary Muni buses.  It has 13,500 registered riders.  The SFMTA’s Paratransit program is comprised of “SF Access”, a “Shop Around” program and a taxi service.

1.)  “SF Access” takes ADA eligible riders to any destination within the Muni service area, but sometimes requires one or more transfers between vehicles. Riders must schedule their “SF Access” trips at least 24 hours in advance but can if they desire schedule their trip up to seven days in advance.  Approximately 87% of all “SF Access” trips are on-time. A trip is considered on time when the rider is picked up within the 20 minute window, which extends from 5 minute before and 15 minutes after the scheduled pick up time.

2.)  Group Shuttles:  There are also regularly scheduled group shuttles to certain designated facilities, which saves riders time and is often paid for by the facilities themselves. For instance a “Shop-A-Round” service takes elderly and disabled people to stores and helps them do their shopping.  The Shop-a-Round program is not federally mandated but is available to all (65+) seniors as well as to ADA eligible individuals with RTC cards

3.)  Taxi Service.  ADA eligible paratransit users are also provided with a limited amount of door-to-door taxi service every month.  Cab companies are not required to have handicapped-accessible vehicles, but do receive a $10 bonus per trip, and other incentives, for providing the service.  As with the other services, taxi drivers must be able to assist users in getting back and forth between the doors of their origins and destinations and the taxi.


Mayor Lee’s “Study” seeks to derail Caltrain Extension


Southern Pacific completed its new headquarters building at Market and Spear Streets in 1916.  The new structure included provision for a future passenger rail terminal that was never built.  However people continued to talk about the need to extend the Peninsula trains  (now known as Caltrain).   By 1970, with the north-south freeway traffic between San Mateo and San Francisco counties steadily increasing, it was obvious that something needed to be done.  A series of studies of the proposed extension ensued, with the intent of identifying the best extension route and the financing needed to add the last 1.3 mile link to the 78-mile existing Caltrain system.

By 1999, San Francisco voters had reached a consensus. Proposition H, which passed by a vote of 69.3% required that San Francisco’s elected politicians and transportation officials make the Downtown Caltrain Extension (DTX) their highest transportation priority. Detailed planning, environmental assessments, and scores of community meetings resulted in the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s designation of DTX in 2013 as one of the Bay Area’s two transit priorities in line for federal New Starts funding.

Unfortunately, for the past 15 years San Francisco city officials, while paying lip service to the Caltrain extension, have done virtually nothing to advance the project.  In fact, in 2014, the Planning Department began a multi-year study which is actually undermining the prospects of bringing Caltrain downtown. The Department’s Railyards/I-280 (RAB) study conducted its first public meeting on February 23, 2016, eight months behind schedule, at a raucous session on Potrero Hill. Furious neighbors chastised the secretive planners, particularly for failing to provide any cost or other details of their plans and for their proposal to tear down the north end of I-280.  Also controversial were proposals to relocate the existing railyards to some as yet undefined remote location, and to spend billions of dollars relocating the Caltrain tracks to accommodate Mission Bay developers, particular the developers of a proposed basketball arena.

Private estimates of the RAB proposals put the resulting extra public cost at over $6 billion.  And while San Francisco dithers, the anticipated federal New Starts funding of $650 million needed to help complete the Caltrain extension hangs in the balance.

A new administration in Washington next year will bring new priorities for transportation so the hard won place on the list for federal funds for the Caltrain extension may well be lost. By waiting passively in the wings, the city’s elected politicians threaten to derail a vital regional project that has been over a century in the making. Or they could step up and be counted as genuine backers of the vital DTX project.