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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Critique of MTC’s Core Capacity Study

The Core Capacity Transit Study was conducted under MTC auspices and released on September 1, 2017.  The main purpose of the Study was to identify potential travel improvements on the Bay Bridge and in the San Francisco transit corridors leading to the Bridge.
A Good Beginning:  The study team developed a concise and effective set of Evaluation Criteria with the emphasis on travel efficiency and cost effectiveness. The study team also did a good job of outlining the severe transportation constraints that are already beginning to plague transbay travelers and that, if ignored, that would  eventually constrain the economies of the central Bay Area.
Current Status – Final Report Released:  Many months have passed since the early scoping meetings.  On September 1, 2017 the Final Core Capacity Report was issued. Unfortunately it does not appear to provide the well-justified list of improvements needed to achieve Study objectives.
General: The Report is well organized but unduly repetitious. Too much attention is paid to already ongoing projects in a way that made it hard to tell which projects are old and which are new. The Consultants did a good job of showing how the relentless growth of regional population and jobs, particularly in San Francisco, requires an aggressive near term transbay improvement program. However the Report is weak on citing the pros and cons of its dozens of proposed solutions, many of which appear to have been adopted from the internal wish lists of the participating transportation agencies.
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SaveMuni supports the Red Lanes

Updated from a July post:  On July 3, 2017 the SF Examiner reported on the SFMTA’s continuing program for placing Muni surface vehicles in transit-only lanes.  This is something that has been talked about in San Francisco ever since the City enacted its “Transit First” policy over 40 years ago.   Now the SFMTA is actually implementing the policy and in this it has SaveMuni’s strongest support.

Since each section of each street is different, local conditions deserve consideration.  That notwithstanding, given the interests of San Francisco at large, the first priority must be on expeditiously getting busloads of people out of heavy traffic congestion, especially during peak driving hours.  (In some cases all day lanes are certainly necessary.  On other streets bus-only lanes between the hours of 6:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. might suffice.  If so it would have two distinct advantages over the all day approach.  First, it would in most cases eliminate the conflicts between the SFMTA and the affected small businesses.  Second, it would greatly reduce enforcement costs.
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Model for San Francisco?

 

Following are excerpts from a timely StreetsblogSF article describing how Toronto cleaned up its previously gridlocked main street.

It’s been just a few short months since most of the car traffic was cleared off King Street, giving the city’s busiest streetcar route an unimpeded path. The impact of the project has been transformative. Local transit officials report that faster and more reliable rail service has resulted in a dramatic boost in ridership. Before Toronto banned through traffic, the King Street streetcar carried 65,000 riders a day. According to the Toronto Transit Commission, peak hour ridership is now up by 25%.

The redesigned street allows drivers to access King Street but compels them to make right turns after a short distance. The Globe and Mail reports that car traffic has declined more than expected and the City of Toronto reports that without car traffic getting in the way, transit is moving much faster. Rush hour trips take about four minutes less from end to end, an improvement of about 16%. Reliability has also improved, with the number of delayed trips down by 33%.

Overall public opinion “seems to be firmly on the side of keeping the car restrictions in place. A recent poll showed strong public support for the pilot project.”

Famous SF Transit Hub Headed toward Gridlock

The intersection of Van Ness and Market is so well served by public transit that it is known as the “Hub”, short for “Transit Hub”.  What City Hall is now planning for the Hub would transform it into a congested mess.

The City Planning Department estimates that almost 1,700 additional parking spaces could be constructed in the immediate vicinity of Van Ness and Market.   If so, developers would derive profits both from their prime transit-oriented locations and the parking.

Add to this the so-far uncontrolled impact of Uber and Lyft.   At least 45,000 Uber and Lyft vehicles now operate in San Francisco, which account for over 200,000 auto trips a day.  It does not take much imagination to recognize what 1,700 additional off-street parking  spaces and hundreds of daily Uber and Lyft pickups and drop-offs would do Van Ness and Market.

If there’s to be no projection against excessive traffic at the Hub, then where?

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.