Getting DTX Back on Track

Connecting the 78-mile long Caltrain line via a 1.3 mile extension to the nine Muni and BART subway lines, the Market streetcars and dozens of bus lines in downtown San Francisco has been a San Francisco transportation objective for over 40 years. In 1999 the voters of San Francisco approved the idea by an overwhelming 69.3%. Since then tens of thousands of new transit-oriented housing units and 19 major highrise buildings either already exist or are under development in the immediate vicinity of the new Salesforce Transit Center.
 

Yet the Center’s vast underground train levels sit bleak and empty awaiting the arrival of passenger trains to link Silicon Valley, the San Mateo Peninsula and downtown San Francisco. Recently, thanks in large part to conflicts among various elements of San Francisco’s government, the Caltrain extension project (DTX) appears to have once again ground to a halt.

 
 
 

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URGENT PRIORITY: DTX (DOWNTOWN CALTRAIN EXTENSION)

DTX is the highest regional transportation priority—legally mandated by San Francisco voters. The Transbay District’s new upzoning and development were predicated on DTX. Without DTX, tens of thousands of new commuters/ car trips/ residents/ workers will overload streets, highways and the Municipal Railway, usurping resources and service from the rest of the city and neighborhoods. To make matters worse, real Estate interests are lobbying for projects not set as priorities in the Mayor’s Transportation Task Force Report, such as the low-benefit Central Subway extension.

1999 PROP H: DOWNTOWN CALTRAIN STATION (Downtown Caltrain Extension / Transbay Terminal)

Bay Rail Alliance: http://www.bayrailalliance.org/san_francisco_prop_h_text/

This measure is an ordinance that would make it City law to extend the Caltrain line to a new or rebuilt regional transit station in San Francisco to be located on the site of the Transbay Terminal at First and Mission Streets. The City would be directed to use an underground tunnel whenever feasible for the extension of the Caltrain line from the current station to the Transbay Terminal. The City would be prohibited from taking any actions that would conflict with extending Caltrain to downtown San Francisco, including allowing conflicting use or development of the Transbay Terminal or the proposed extension right-of-way.
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Open Forum: Save Muni from itself

People stand at a bus stop at Market and Church streets waiting for shuttle buses headed to downtown San Francisco. After a power line failure disabled Muni Metro subway trains, commuters had to take alternative routes to get to their destinations. Photo: Jana Asenbrennerova / Special to The Chronicle

Save Muni has long called for a management audit of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. To that request we now must add: Review the agency’s structure. Well-reported problems with new train cars, operator shortages and maintenance problems last month have only highlighted the agency’s shortcomings.

The SFMTA was created over a decade ago to bring all the city’s transportation under one agency. As envisioned, professionals would work together to develop integrated policies and programs that served the public better than separate taxi, streets and transit departments. It simply was assumed that keeping politics out of transportation, by insulating the SFMTA from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, would assure better decisions.
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Save Muni Calls Out Defects in the new LRVs

Date: March 26, 2019

Ed Reiskin,
Director of Transportation
San Francisco MTA

Save Muni recognizes that Muni needs new Light Rail Vehicles (LRV’s) to replace the aging fleet of Breda cars. However, the first cohort of the new Siemens cars, which are now in service, are a huge disappointment and clearly need design changes to better serve San Francisco transit riders.

The SFMTA seems to have focused on cramming as many riders as possible into the cars with uncomfortable seating and poorly designed multipurpose areas. More importantly it appears that no attention was paid to the ability to quickly safely, and smoothly couple cars to achieve the 3-and-4 car trains that the Market Street Subway was designed for.

Save Muni members have identified some other problems with the new cars. 1) jerky acceleration which leads to the danger of rider injuries:.2) inability to provide a level step onto subway platforms 3) flawed interior design that leads to sliding on the bench seats: 4) inadequate numbe kr of stanchions and straps 5) poor door configuration which hinders boarding, especially for disabled riders: 6) narrower pantograph width which will lead to both vehicle and overhead wire damage.

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Extend Caltrain to downtown San Francisco

Chronicle op-ed by Bob Feinbaum

San Francisco has been waiting for more than 100 years for trains from the Peninsula to arrive downtown. Left up to compliant planners and complacent politicians, decades more will pass before Caltrain comes to the newly built Salesforce Transit Center.

San Francisco politicians fall all over themselves giving verbal support to the downtown extension. But when it comes to leadership necessary to build the project, they are nowhere to be found.

Instead the city’s supervisors have been strangely quiet about the efforts to undermine the current, environmentally cleared route from Caltrain’s Fourth and King streets terminus to downtown.

In 2015, Mayor Ed Lee directed the San Francisco Planning Department to conduct a study to bolster his intention to move the Caltrain downtown right-of-way to Third Street to serve the Warriors’ new arena and allow his developer backers access to the lucrative 20-acre rail yards site.

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Getting DTX underway

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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Coping with BART’s Oncoming Transbay Capacity Crunch

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.

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.

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

RAB-Phase-1-Caltrain-Alignment

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.

Modernizing Caltrain

caltrainmod1

In March, SaveMuni invited Caltrain’s Casey Fronson to tell us about the Caltrain Modernization Program. We were excited about what we heard.

Caltrain operates the 51 miles of track between San Francisco and San Jose once known as the San Francisco and San Jose Railroad, which has been in use for the last 150 years. The line has experienced big growth since 2004, when the “Baby Bullet” trains were introduced, speeding up service. Currently the cars are getting very full around rush hour, especially on the morning northbound trains. It will be hard to get much more growth out of the current diesel locomotives, which start and stop slowly and need a lot of space between them, and 2/3 of which are already due for retirement.

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