Sup. Christensen: Make the Stockton Tunnel Better for Walking and Biking

Supervisor Christensen (left) listens as Richard Ow speaks, along with SF Planning Director John  Rahaim and Department of Public Works Director Mohammend Nuru. Photo: Aaron Bialick
Supervisor Christensen (left) listens as Richard Ow speaks, along with SF Planning Director John Rahaim and Department of Public Works Director Mohammend Nuru. Photo: Aaron Bialick

D3 Supervisor Julie Christensen wants to make the Stockton Tunnel more comfortable to walk and bike through. She announced today that she procured at least $100,000 in the city budget for a study of improvements in the next fiscal year.

Photo: Aaron Bialick
Photo: Aaron Bialick

“Union Square is known all over the world. Chinatown is known all over the world,” Christensen told reporters today. “This is the wormhole that connects the two of them, and we’ve sort of left it as a transit afterthought.”

“Lots of us walk through the Stockton Tunnel, mostly out of necessity. I’d like people to do it because it’s safe and fun, if that’s possible… I know when I’m cycling, those flat shortcuts are really preferred.”

Christensen said the specifics of the study would be developed through community participation. But she suggested ideas ranging from public art and better lighting to removing a traffic lane, which could quell the roar of motor traffic and make room to physically separate cars from people walking and biking.

Richard Ow, a senior who lives in Chinatown, said he’s been walking through the tunnel since he was 10 years old. “This should’ve been done a long time ago,” he said. “We want to see some action.”

The idea of removing one of Stockton’s three traffic lanes already seems to have strong support. Pius Lee, chairman of the Chinatown Neighborhood Association, told the SF Chronicle in February that local merchants and residents already agree it’s a good idea. He noted that it would skirt the merchant controversy of parking removal.

Trolley buses on Muni's 30-Stockton and 45-Union lines run through the Stockton Tunnel, which was originally built primarily for streetcars. Photo: Aaron Bialick
Trolley buses on Muni’s 30-Stockton and 45-Union lines run through the Stockton Tunnel, which was originally built primarily for streetcars. Photo: Aaron Bialick

It seems widely agreed that there’s excess southbound motor vehicle capacity in the tunnel. That’s been especially true since the southern section of Stockton is currently closed to vehicle traffic for construction of the Central Subway.

“When’s the last time we saw a backup in the tunnel?” said Christensen. “It doesn’t happen.”

The Stockton Tunnel has narrow sidewalks protected by guard rails, and a narrow bike lane striped only in the uphill, northbound direction. For people pedaling slowly up the slope, the experience of being passed within inches by Muni buses and other vehicles can be harrowing.

“To those who say nobody bikes through the Stockton Tunnel, I say, of course not,” said SF Bicycle Coaltion Executive Director Noah Budnick. “It’s a horrible, horrifying place to ride. But if you build it, they will come — if you make it a safe and enjoyable connection.”

Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Ferrara praised Christensen for “connecting various projects that will really change the landscape of Chinatown and Union Square.” Plans shaping up under Muni Forward include transit bulb-outs along Stockton through Chinatown, and the Central Subway will boost foot traffic in the area when it opens with a station at Stockton and Washington Streets in 2019.

In 1915, the tunnel wasn’t built primarily for cars, but for Muni’s F-Stockton streetcar line (now served by trolley buses on the 30-Stockton) in preparation for the World’s Fair.

Auto traffic now dominates the tunnel, but Budnick suggested limiting private cars to help move people more efficiently, as it was originally intended to. “Such is the arc of history,” he said.

  • hp2ena

    I’d rather close down Grant to cars and make THAT street ped and bike friendly, and have Stockton transit, peds, and loading only. Stockton tunnel can (and should!) have ped and bike improvements. But unless there is bike infrastructure on Stockton, these improvements would be moot.

  • Leave Stockton tunnel alone, Julie! Walking & biking was always intended to be an afterthought and to encourage people to drive cars like normal people.

  • Dexter Wong

    Everyone wants a piece of Stockton St., but we all must share or the street will clog with gridlock.

  • Andy Chow

    In the northbound direction there’s Grant as alternatives for bikes. Grant is at least calm enough and does not have transit. In the southbound direction, it goes downhill and cyclists can take the lane.

    I think Stockton is safer overall if auto traffic is not diverted away from the tunnel. If they don’t use the tunnel, they will have to go south via Montgomery, traveling extra blocks with more intersections with bikes and peds, increasing risks for collisions.

  • Along with wider sidewalks and physical protection between people driving & people riding bikes:

  • M.

    Pay no attention to that man behind the windshield, Julie. He cruises SF looking in his rearview mirror such that all the world is one big blind spot.

  • Could not agree more, esp. about the contra-flow lane.

  • I ride some combination of this route (either Grant or Stockton, depending on my mood) nearly every day. The challenge of Grant as an 8 to 80 bikeway is that first hill at the Chinatown Gate. It’s a killer. Widening the sidewalks would make it more pleasant and accessible for pedestrians, and a raised bike lane in either direction would make cycling a breeze.

    Julie’s know for getting things done (NB Library, Joe D Playground & Pool, Pioneer Park, Central Subway) so I have no doubt if the D3 people support this it will happen.

  • If the current closure and construction hasn’t resulted in gridlock, then nothing will. Especially not removing one lane of auto traffic in the tunnel. This will also give us the opportunity to widen the sidewalks on that block on either side of the tunnel, which would be great for businesses+pedestrians in Chinatown and Union Sq.

  • The entirety of Grant Ave from the Chinatown Gates through North Beach to Filbert should be pedestrian and deliveries/drop-off only.

  • SFnative74

    Great ideas! We need to improve the tunnel for people on bikes or on foot, and it makes sense to rethink the value of that second southbound travel lane.

  • vcs

    Fourth Street = only remaining downtown freeway entrance/exit.

  • For south bay commuters, and if you don’t consider 9th & 10th downtown. Or 6th or King with 280. But – point taken. It would be better to route any protected bike/pedestrian space on the east side of 4th – so it didn’t conflict with the existing freeway ramps.

  • Althaea

    The Broadway tunnel is the death trap tunnel in the city. On the eastbound approach to the tunnel vehicles are blinded as their eyes are adjusted to the outdoor light and then suddenly encounter darkness in the tunnel as it also curves. It is extremely dangerous.

    The Stockton tunnel is not the bike-friendliest, but is much safer than the Broadway tunnel.

    Here again is another phony politician who has probably never got off their ass onto a bicycle in the city, trying to score brownie points…

  • Richard Mlynarik

    What “to do about” Stockton is blinding obvious, and has been for decades.

    * No private automobile traffic on Stockton, anywhere between Market and Columbus. (Possible exception for “Bush”—Post—Geary, for garage access.)

    * No parking. No turns onto Stockton from any cross street.

    * Stockton through Chinatown (Sacramento—Broadway) converted to three lanes, with doubled (or more than doubled) width sidewalks. The two curb lanes are Muni, taxi, and local delivery truck exclusive, the middle lane being for parking delivery trucks serving the many business along these blocks.

    All problems solved.

    Except for the “problem” that PBQD, Tutor-Saliba and associated grotesquely corrupt, rent-seeking consultants and contractors, along with their on-the-take patsies at SFMTA, SFCTA and in the “Mayor”‘s Office, needed to be gifted more than two billion public dollars for the horrific, negative-value Central Subway to Nowhere. So, no, the main problem isn’t solved by truly simple and negative cost traffic reconfiguration, and Stockton Street must remain a clusterfuck forever. It’s The American Way!

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