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Posts from the "Central Subway" Category

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Warriors Arena Moving to Mission Bay: A Win for Transit Accessibility?

Third and 16th Street, the new proposed site for the Warriors arena. Image: CBS-KPIX

The Warriors announced this week that the site for the basketball team’s proposed arena would be moved from Piers 30-32 on the Embarcadero to Mission Bay, quelling opposition from waterfront development foes. Whether or not the new site will work out for better or worse in terms of accessibility to regional transit, however, is still up for debate.

The Mission Bay site at 16th Street and Third Street is nearly two miles from the nearest BART Station, out of normal walking distance for most visitors. Instead, fans taking BART will be expected to transfer on Muni lines such as the T-Third on the Central Subway corridor, which will stop right out front, and possibly the 22-Fillmore, if extension plans for that line are constructed in time. The distance from BART may be a loss in the eyes of some transit advocates, but it does have its upsides, argues Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City and a BART Board member.

Ultimately, Radulovich thinks the Warriors are best off staying at the existing Oakland Coliseum, which is close to BART and the Amtrak Capitol Corridor, making it a more transit-accessible location than either of the proposed San Francisco sites. But the Mission Bay site does leave open more opportunities for nearby transit access than the Embarcadero piers, given all the transportation plans in the works for Mission Bay.

At the proposed Pier 30-32 site, the 0.7-mile walk from Embarcadero BART “was far enough from BART to dissuade many folks from walking,” said Radulovich. He pointed out that once the Central Subway opens in 2019, riders reaching BART via rail would rely on the N-Judah (which Giants Ballpark visitors already cram on to) and the future E-Embarcadero historic streetcar line, as the T-Third will no longer run on the Embarcadero. “Historic streetcars are expensive to operate, low capacity, and have accessibility challenges,” said Radulovich. Additionally, he said, “It would have added to the capacity problems at Embarcadero Station, which is currently the most crowded BART station.”

Furthermore, arena parking would be especially problematic by the Embarcadero. “The auto traffic that would have been generated by the hundreds of planned arena parking spaces would crowd streets like The Embarcadero and Second,” said Radulovich, “where we’d like to see the city reduce the roadway width to improve sidewalks and create protected cycle paths.”

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Central SoMa Plan Envisions Transitways and Safer Streets for SoMa

Fourth Street. Photo: San Francisco in 15 Weeks

The Central Subway is coming, like it or not, and that means Fourth Street will get Muni Metro service starting in 2019. With that in mind, the SF Planning Department recently released the draft Central SoMa Plan (formerly known as the Central SoMa Plan), which sets the stage for upzoned transit-oriented development near new stations and street improvements to accommodate a growing population in a rapidly changing section of SoMa.

“The idea is to support development here because it’s a transit-rich area,” said Amnon Ben-Pazi of the Planning Department’s City Design Group. “Between BART, Caltrain, and the new light-rail, you have as much city and regional transit as you can get.”

The Central SoMa Plan, which encompasses one section of the broader Eastern Neighborhoods Plan, is aimed at creating a more people-friendly SoMa — a district which was primarily industrial until recent years. Streets that have served as car traffic funnels since the mid-20th century would be overhauled with improvements like protected bike lanes, new crosswalks, wider sidewalks, transit-only lanes, and two-way traffic conversions.

The Central Subway route along Fourth Street. Image: SFMTA

SoMa’s streets “were designed in a really specific way to accommodate large volumes of very fast traffic and trucks,” said Ben-Pazi. “While that may have been appropriate when this was an industrial area, it’s certainly not appropriate now with what we know about pedestrian safety and how the design of streets really affects the behavior of drivers.”

“If we’re going to go in the direction of having more people live and work here,” he added, “relying on the streets for their everyday circulation, we really need to address what these streets are designed as.”

Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich said the plan seems to be mostly on the right track, though it should include greater restrictions on new car parking that are more in line with the plan for the adjacent Transbay District adopted last year. “With as much development as is planned, and with a desire to reclaim SoMa’s mean, traffic-sewer streets for people and sustainable transportation, the plan has to be truly transit-oriented,” he said.

The plan calls for reducing traffic lanes and on-street car parking to make room for improvements to transit, biking, and walking. Ben-Pazi said the environmental review process for all of those projects would be completed as part of the plan, which is currently set to be adopted in late 2014.

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Central Subway Pagoda Deal Will Take $9 Million From Muni Operating Funds

Updated 2/23

A deal struck by the SF Municipal Transportation Agency to extract tunnel drills at the site of the abandoned Pagoda Theatre will cost the agency an estimated $9.15 million. While the lease deal with building owner Joel Campos allows the SFMTA to move forward with an extraction plan that’s less disruptive to the North Beach neighborhood than the original one, agency Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin said the money will come out of Muni’s operating budget, unless it receives an additional grant from the Federal Transit Administration to plug the gap, according to the SF Examiner.

The site of the abandoned Pagoda Theatre at Powell Street and Columbus Avenue. Image: Google Maps

The news confirms fears that the Central Subway’s ever-ballooning costs will eat away at funds needed to provide existing Muni service. Put in terms of bus service lost, $9.15 million equates to roughly 100,000 service hours, based on a back-of-the-envelope calculation using the cost savings estimated by the SFMTA when it proposed service cuts in 2010.

“MUNI bus service to North Beach and Telegraph Hill has been slashed continually for years due to operational funding shortfalls,” said Mike Sonn, chair of the Telegraph Hill Dwellers Transportation and Parking Committee, in a letter sent today to Reiskin and the Board of Supervisors [PDF]. “Today, residents and visitors to North Beach no longer have even one direct bus route to or from downtown that runs during non-rush hour times. And in MUNI’s proposed new ‘Transit Effectiveness Plan,’ service to North Beach would be reduced even further through cuts to the 8X line.”

THD is urging the SFMTA to instead “pursue the less-expensive and less-disruptive alternative to leave the drilling machine under the ground near the final Central Subway stop on Washington Street.”

Though the Pagoda plan initially had support from Central Subway skeptics because it could open the door for a future North Beach station, the site’s property manager, Martin Kirkwood, told the Examiner Campos intends to move forward with plans to develop the site, ruling out the possibility of turning it into a station.

“Diverting $9.15 million in precious funds from MUNI’s operational budget will steal that money directly from the bus service we desperately need for an unnecessary drilling machine extraction site we absolutely don’t,” said Sonn.

Update 2/23, 1:00 p.m.: Responding in the comment section on this article, SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose said that the funds would not come from the operating budget, as Reiskin stated, but from reserves in the city’s General Fund:

While we respect concerns for Muni and its budget, some of these details misrepresent the facts about Muni service to North Beach and the Pagoda Palace plan. Regarding the Pagoda deal, we will not use our current operating budget to pay for the lease or the additional construction costs. Instead, the funds will initially come from our General Fund reserve, which is larger than expected due to a stronger economy. The two-year lease includes $400k in yearly rent, but all other payments up to a maximum of $3.15 million are conditional upon our approval of ownership’s out-of-pocket costs. Going forward, we will work with the Federal Transit Administration to secure their approval to reimburse these costs. With the addition of the Central Subway, the T Third Line is projected to become Muni’s most utilized light rail line, with more than 65,000 boardings per day by 2030. That means less crowded streets and buses, and more efficient travel through downtown, Chinatown, North Beach and beyond.  Contrary to what is stated, Muni provides North Beach residents and visitors a variety of transit options, including the 8x, 30, 45 and 41 bus routes and the historic cable cars, for travel to and from the Financial District, Union Square and other downtown areas. Most of these routes operate all day, within and outside of rush hour times. Also, through programs like the Transit Effectiveness Project, we aim to add transit-only lanes, widen streets and improve transit signal priority to make bus routes throughout the city more efficient, faster and reliable.

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Calls for North Beach Central Subway Station Intensify as Plans Evolve

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Central Subway planners got the green light from the SF Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors today to pursue a new plan that could cut down on the expected construction disruption in North Beach while also keeping the path clear for an eventual extension of the line to the neighborhood.

An SFMTA plan would reduce disruptions due to extracting the Central Subway drill in North Beach, but extending the line into the neighborhood still hasn't even been studied. Image: centralsubwaysf.com

Residents and merchants in North Beach, who were fiercely opposed to the SFMTA’s original plan to extract the subway tunnel boring machine on Columbus Avenue at Union Street — which would have closed two of Columbus’s four traffic lanes for ten months — rallied behind the idea of bringing the machine out at the nearby abandoned Pagoda Palace Theater. Of the options on the table, planners say that one would most effectively minimize disruption while keeping the tunnel clear if the agency eventually decides to extend the T-Third subway line to North Beach and Fisherman’s Wharf.

The lack of solid plans to extend the Central Subway beyond Chinatown, despite taking the drill out in North Beach, has been one of the major criticisms of the project. According to SF Chronicle columnists Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross, SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin believes it’s possible to turn the Pagoda site into an eventual subway station, though the agency has yet to even study the next phase for the subway.

But Reiskin also emphasized that the SFMTA Board’s vote to endorse the Pagoda plan would have little bearing on a potential North Beach station. “I think this was a little bit misconstrued in some of the media reports,” he told the board. Discussions and planning for a North Beach extension, he said, “would be subject to a separate process.”

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CA Senate Approves Funds for High-Speed Rail, Commuter Rail Upgrades

In a pivotal vote Friday, the California Senate approved $4.5 billion in bonds to begin construction of CA High-Speed Rail (CAHSR) connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles. The funds will help fund construction of the line’s initial segment in the Central Valley and upgrades for the Caltrain and Metrolink commuter rail lines in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, respectively.

CA High-Speed Rail depicted sharing tracks with Caltrain in the Bay Area. Photo: CAHSRA via igreenspot.com

The vote, which reached a majority by just one senator, came as a major relief to high-speed rail advocates. The project, which has been increasingly scrutinized since voters approved over $9 billion in bonds for it in 2008, could have been scrapped without the approval. Had the vote failed, California could have lost another $3.2 billion in matching federal funds.

“Building high-speed rail in California could reinforce cities as the hubs of our economies, significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, get commuters off congested roads, and cost much less than highway and airport expansion,” said Stuart Cohen, executive director of TransForm, which lobbies for smart growth and sustainable transportation in California.

“It will provide Californians with an improved transportation option that has for decades been available in other nations,” added Cohen, who noted that the vote comes exactly 150 years after the Transcontinental Railroad was authorized. Although high-speed rail is popular — and expanding — in other countries in Asia and Western Europe, CAHSR would be the first such system in the United States.

The previous plan from the CAHSR Authority lacked support even from TransForm, but the group praised the revised plan released in April, which reduced the project’s cost from about $100 billion to $68 billion, reduced the impacts on communities which it would run through, and provided funding to upgrade Caltrain and Metrolink tracks, which would be shared with CAHSR. “This new plan is simply much better,” said Cohen after it was released.

In San Francisco, funds approved in the Senate bill would help electrify the Caltrain tracks by 2019 and extend them to the Transbay Transit Center currently under construction. Friday’s vote was widely praised by SF officials.

The approved Senate bill “provides not only the beginning of the nation’s first high-speed rail line that will connect its diverse and growing communities, but also the local connections that will deliver the economic growth from high-speed rail into our towns and cities in the form of travelers be they commuters, tourists or students,” said a joint statement from SF Municipal Transportation Agency Director Ed Reiskin and Chairman Tom Nolan.

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Will the SFMTA Gut Muni Improvements to Prop Up the Central Subway?

Central Subway construction on Stockon Street at the site of the planned Union Square Station. Photo: SFSU Xpress Magazine via Flickr

The Central Subway’s latest funding troubles with Congress have brought some burning questions to the surface: How far will the SFMTA go to prop up the project, and what will the price be for Muni riders?

The U.S. House of Representatives approved an amendment to an annual appropriations bill last week that would block $850 million in federal funds for the project. The amendment could be stripped in conference with the Senate, but as the Bay Citizen revealed, SFMTA management is concerned that Congress may not deliver the $942 million — the majority of the project’s funding –  in a timely manner (assuming it comes through at all). The SFMTA had expected the funds to be approved in December 2011. If the agency doesn’t get the funds by September, according to the Bay Citizen, it will waste $4 million in staffing costs every month until it does.

When asked what the SFMTA’s backup plan is, agency spokesperson Kristen Holland didn’t provide one, stating only that the funding probably won’t be blocked because the “amendment is not in the Senate version and should be eliminated in conference.”

“The bottom line is that this project will improve transit for the city, region and state and has been vetted by every level of government and given high marks every step of the way,” Holland told Streetsblog.

But the project’s cost has already risen from the original estimate of $995 million (in 2011 dollars) to $1.6 billion, according to the SFMTA’s Central Subway blog. Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City, said he’s worried the SFMTA may take funds from Muni’s existing service, its abysmally neglected maintenance department, or needed improvements like the Transit Effectiveness Project (TEP), which he says should be a higher priority than the Central Subway.

Though the SFMTA insists that the Central Subway won’t take funds away from other projects, Radulovich said the agency has already been digging into discretionary funds — the money that could be used for any project. ”That’s part of their funding plan,” he said. ”The trajectory this project is on is to take more and more and more funding from the necessary and essential improvements to Muni.”

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Stockton Bus Riders Take a Back Seat to Central Subway Construction

Photo: Howard Wong

As if squeezing onto the 30-Stockton wasn’t already undignifying enough, Muni riders on Stockton Street soon face a four-year detour to make room for the construction of the Central Subway project.

Beginning January 21, southbound buses on the 30 and 45 Muni lines will be detoured off of Stockton Street at Sutter Street — a change likely to exacerbate delays on one of the city’s most heavily-used transit corridors already notorious for its slow, overcrowded bus service.

The Central Subway, a $1.6 billion project which the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) says is necessary to serve the needs of transit demand along the Stockton/Fourth Street corridor, isn’t expected to open for at least eight more years. But while riders take a back seat during its construction, the agency has yet to indicate any interest in improving existing transit on the surface — one of the major criticisms leveled against the Central Subway over the years.

Last July, the San Francisco Civil Grand Jury blasted the project in a report calling on the SFMTA to redesign it “to better serve the San Francisco population.” The major problems cited included poor connectivity to major destinations and transit stations and a lack of ”plans to address existing problems on the Stockton corridor before project completion.”

“The problems have been noticeable, predictable, and no solutions have ever been offered,” said Howard Wong of Save Muni, a “volunteer group of transit experts, public transportation supporters” which has lobbied the SFMTA to pursue surface transit improvements as a more useful and cost-effective alternative to the Central Subway to meet transit needs on the corridor.

The 30-Stockton, which runs through San Francisco’s densest areas of Chinatown and Union Square, is widely known as one of the most overcrowded and slowest-moving buses in the city. A 2007 San Francisco Chronicle article cited its average speed at 3.6 mph between Market and Sutter Streets, and while more recent official data weren’t immediately available, service doesn’t seem to have improved. In the San Francisco Examiner’s recent ”Man vs. Muni” series, it was the first — and last — bus to be raced at a walking pace by transportation reporter Will Reisman. (Reisman won the second round.)

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SFMTA Audit Spotlights Poor Project Management, Cost Overruns

The T-Third Street Light Rail project's Central Subway extension has nearly tripled from its baseline cost. Photo: Marcin Wichary/Flickr

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) received a low score in an audit of its performance in delivering construction projects. Millions are reportedly wasted annually in delays and management inefficiencies.

“Some of these findings are very disturbing,” said Supervisor David Campos after hearing the report at today’s San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) Board meeting. ”We have heard repeatedly how there are limited resources that the MTA has available, but this audit points out… that a big part of the problem is that we’re not doing enough with the resources we do have.”

As the SFMTA seeks new revenue sources to fill budget gaps for the coming fiscal years, it is considering unpopular fee increases like a hike in Muni fares, which was quickly taken off the table by the SFMTA Board of Directors yesterday.

The SFCTA Board, which approves much of the funding for the SFMTA’s capital projects, requested the audit from CGR Management Consultants.

The numbers reported were sobering. In the third quarter of 2010, 29 projects with a total baseline budget of $800 million had gone over-budget by an estimated $90 million, excluding the Central Subway, and averaged 592 days in delay.

The consultants estimated that 5 to 10 percent, or up to $15,000,000, of the SFMTA’s capital budget could be saved with better project execution. Among the causes for waste, they listed weak oversight of capital projects, inadequate staff reports to the SFMTA Board of Directors, and the board’s own leniency towards granting extra time and money to projects.

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SF Civil Grand Jury Rips Central Subway, Calls for a Redesign

Image: SFMTA

The grand jury issued a damning report on the planned Central Subway this morning, calling on the SFMTA to redesign the project “to better serve the San Francisco population,” and hire an independent auditor to determine whether the $1.5 billion price tag is realistic, given the pattern of increasing estimates, and the fact that city will have to pick up any cost overruns.

The San Francisco Civil Grand Jury’s 38 findings and 26 recommendations follow a seven-month investigation and repeat many of the criticisms that have been leveled against the project by opponents. Among the main conclusions:

  • The addition of a new subway line will add to an existing operating deficit and could stretch the existing maintenance environment to the breaking point.
  • There are no plans to address existing problems on the Stockton corridor before project completion.
  • There is no effective transfer to the Muni Metro and BART systems.
  • It ignores service to the Financial District.
  • It ignores current transportation trends.

You can read a full copy of the report here [pdf]. It also includes a number of not-so-surprising findings about the current state of Muni. What effect that grand jury’s report might have on the project wasn’t immediately clear.

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As Central Subway Funding Deadline Looms, Chinatown Rallies Support

Chinatown Community Develompent Center and Chinatown Tenants Association members rally for the Central Subway. Photo: Matthew Roth

Chinatown Community Develompent Center and Chinatown Tenants Association members rally for the Central Subway. Photo: Matthew Roth

Much has been made over the past two days about the funding gap the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) needs to make up by spring of 2011 to complete the Central Subway, the result of an article in the Chronicle and a small dust up between the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) Executive Director José Luis Moscovich and SFMTA CFO Sonali Bose yesterday.

Moscovich criticized Bose for presenting what he said was an unconvincing plan [pdf] with scant detail on how the SFMTA plans to find $137 million by February, 2011, when it owes the Federal Transit Administration its local funding plan to secure federal New Starts grants of up to nearly $1 billion. Though the SFMTA is confident it will meet the obligations from the feds, Bose was instructed to return to the SFCTA with a more detailed plan next week.

Despite the theatrics of the meeting, SFMTA Central Subway project manager John Funghi told Streetsblog the agency has numerous options for identifying the funding and that it doesn’t need $137 million in cash, merely the commitments from regional and state partners to program the money and spend it by 2015.

“It’s a programming exercise to program the project by the first quarter of next year,” said Funghi, who noted the SFMTA still has at least $60 million set aside for it from Proposition 1A, the High-Speed Rail bond, given the inter-connectivity to the larger project. He also hoped to get more money from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission through regional funding measures like Proposition 1B. The agency could also consider bonding for the project, once it has established its credit rating to issue municipal debt.

Opponents of the project, like Save Muni’s Howard Wong, argue the capital investment in the Central Subway prevents the agency from addressing massive deferred maintenance needs to motor coaches, trolleys and other infrastructure. “The entire Central Subway program is damaging to the system,” said Wong. “They have $2 billion deferred investments. Any funds put toward any other long-term infrastructure project is damaging to the current existing operations.”

“Muni riders in the next few years are facing that poor service, crumbling service,” he added.

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