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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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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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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RAB Study a Complete Bust

railyard

The Mayor’s Railyard Alternatives and I-280 Boulevard Feasibility (RAB) Study has been kept under wraps for many months. In fact the study has been ongoing for over two years, proceeding in back rooms under the auspices of the SF Department of City Planning (DCP). The process has featured a series of closed door meetings participated in by a large collection of public agencies including the DCP, Mayor’s office, SF Municipal Transportation Agency, SF County Transportation Authority, Transbay Joint Powers Authority, Peninsula Joint Powers Authority, Metropolitan Transportation Commission, California High Speed Rail Authority, Federal Transportation Authority and others.

Recently the sponsors of the Study declared themselves ready for the Big Unveiling. The first public meeting of the RAB Study occurred on February 23, 2016…well over two years after the initiation of the project and 8 months behind schedule.

Advance Briefing of SaveMuni. At Save Muni’s request Ms. Susan Gygi, RAB’s Project Manager graciously agreed to update SaveMuni on the status of the Study on February 17th, emphasizing that she would not be free to talk about the information to be imparted on February 23rd. We agreed and on the 17th Ms. Gygi confined herself to explaining the background, timing and financing of the Study and to answering questions from SaveMuni members, mostly related to what Matier and Ross revealed about Study objectives in their Chronicle article on May 11, 2015. The February 17th presentation meeting was video-taped by Mr. Ken Bukowski, the former Mayor of Emeryville. The tape makes for some interesting viewing. See https://youtu.be/d8dab77JZug

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Press Release: DTX Coalition Blasts City Hall’s Rail Yards Study

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

On Tuesday, February 23, 2016, San Franciscans received their first look at City Hall’s heretofore secret RailYards Alternatives/I280 Boulevard Study (RAB). The Department of City Planning’s RAB announcement was eight months late in coming and yet contained no engineering analysis, no traffic congestion figures and no cost estimates. On the contrary it was limited to the same set of fanciful Mission Bay rearrangements that were floated by the Lee Administration early last year.

What was presented at the Potrero Hill Recreation Center last week was billed as concluding the first of a five-phase planning process that is expected to take at least 7 to 10 years.

“Completely unacceptable!” said Bob Feinbaum of the DTX Coalition (organized to get Caltrain into San Francisco’s Transbay Transit Center without further delay). “San Franciscans should not tolerate a development-driven “planning” process that blocks a badly needed rail connection into downtown San Francisco”

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