City Hall Undermines DTX, SF’s most Significant Transportation Improvement in 50 Years

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                       Transbay Transit Center, Destined to be San Francisco’s Big Empty?

Under the Lee Administration transportation in San Francisco is heading toward a cliff.  For starters, City Hall is neglecting, if not actively impeding, the downtown extension of Caltrain (DTX), a project that would connect Caltrain to 6 Muni rail lines, 4 BART lines and over 40 bus lines at the new Transbay Transit Center in the middle of San Francisco’s 340,000 person employment center.

In November 1999 the SF voters recognized the value of DTX by approving Prop H by 69.3%. Prop H specifically calls for Caltrain to be extended to the new Transbay Transit Center (TTC) at First and Mission Streets. In November 2003 the SF voters approved Prop K by 75%, which provided $270 million for the extension. In June 2010 the SF Voters approved Prop G, calling for high-speed trains to also terminate at the TTC. This measure was approved by an overwhelming 83.8%. Yet it appears that the public policy implicit in these three Propositions was lost on City Hall.

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Pro-DTX Press Conference a Success!

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To focus on the Downtown Caltrain Extension project (DTX) and the overriding need to complete it as soon as possible, the following 12 organizations held a press conference on the steps of SF’s City Hall on Wednesday June 24, 2015:

Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods
Sierra Club
Livable City
San Francisco Tomorrow
RailPAC (Rail Passengers Association of California)
TRAC (Train Riders Association of California)
SaveMuni
Bay Rail Alliance
Mission Bay Alliance
Transdef
Friends of Caltrain
Bay Area Transportation Working Group

For a synopsis of why this issue is so important click here.

To watch the press conference, or individual speakers, click here.

Are Mission Bay plans in conflict with DTX?

No….not at all….if properly phased and coordinated.  However, instead of getting behind the early extension of Caltrain into downtown San Francisco, a small continent in the San Francisco Mayor’s office seem determined to sow doubt about the future of the Downtown Caltrain Extension project (DTX).  Their position seems to be that in order to proceed with ambitious plans to fully build out and  beautify Mission Bay, it would be necessary to add billions of dollars to the cost of extending Caltrain and to delay the extension by 15 years or more.  This is not simply true.  There is no inherent conflict between extending Caltrain now and developing Mission Bay.   On November 2, 1999, the voters of San Francisco overwhelmingly approved Prop H.  Prop H called  for a high municipal priority to be placed on getting Caltrain up and running in San Francisco’s new Transbay Transit Center as soon as possible. That was sixteen years ago.   Instead of allowing individual staff members to throw up unnecessary roadblocks, the Lee Administration should get behind this vital project and provide it with the strong political support needed to get the job done without further delay.

San Francisco’s New Terminal Waits for Trains

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According to MTC, 281,000 cars travel northward into San Francisco every day from San Mateo County.  This northbound influx is 40% higher than the cars entering SF from the two  bridges combined.   Excessive auto-commuting loads up city streets, slows down Muni, uses up parking space and generates greenhouse gas emissions.  MTC projects that if nothing is done the number of cars from the South will rise to 310,000 vehicles a day by 2035. The need for a better and faster way of getting to San Francisco from the South is obvious.

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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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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.