SPUR: How Will 1.7 Million More People Cross the Bay?

Crossing the Bay from SPUR on Vimeo.

SPUR has produced a new video that asks: How will 1.7 million more people cross the Bay? From the SPUR blog:

In the last century, visionary planners made major investments linking San Francisco and the East Bay. When the 20th century dawned, the only way to get from San Francisco to Oakland was by ferry. We built the Bay Bridge during the Great Depression and the BART tunnel in the early 1970s. It’s been nearly 40 years since then, and the Bay Area has grown by 2.7 million people. Yet we’ve added no new capacity. Even the new Bay Bridge, currently under construction, won’t help: It will be much more resilient to earthquakes, yet no bigger than the bridge it replaces.

SPUR’s first recommendation is to get more people on buses by building what would be a relatively cheap short-term solution: a contra-flow westbound bus lane on the Bay Bridge that would accommodate up to 10,000 new passengers an hour. Its second recommendation calls for incremental improvements to BART, including a better train control system along with trains that have more doors. The third is a long-term recommendation that would require big capital dollars: constructing a second transbay tube to boost BART’s capacity, and potentially accommodate high-speed rail.

The video is SPUR’s first entry into animation and video making. It’s a product of the organization’s 2009 project and report, “The Future of Downtown,” which focused on reducing job sprawl and strategies to expand job growth in San Francisco’s transit-rich downtown. It argued that downtown SF, namely SoMa, has “by far the greatest near-term potential to accommodate regional employment growth with a low carbon footprint.”

That means creating the right infrastructure for a mode shift that would get more Bay Area residents out of their cars, and commuting to work on transit. Of course, the big question is, how to you pay for this kind of new transportation infrastructure? SPUR says a future downtown with more jobs, especially “knowledge jobs,” would bring in more revenue streams for transit.

“We’re talking about facilitating the continued development of one of the most important economic nodes in the world, where future businesses are being created and where a lot of really important economic innovation is happening,” said SPUR Executive Director Gabriel Metcalf. “If you put it in that perspective, this is about wealth enabling infrastructure and there should be any number of ways into tapping into that wealth to pay for the infrastructure.”

  • Anonymous

    Good ideas, also indicative of how much we lost when we dismantled the old Key System. I suspect there might be an additional opportunity in a Berkeley-Embarcadero ferry, assuming a renewed Treasure Island is a stop along the way.

  • Not only would a second transbay tube help the commute, but it would allow individual BART lines to run with shorter headways.  IIRC, the current minimum headway for any individual line crossing the Bay is 13 minutes, and decreasing that would do wonders for BART’s attractiveness.

  • Dan

    Has anyone considered running Caltrain under the Bay instead of/in addition to BART?  I enjoy Caltrain much more than BART since they’re able to skip stops, are friendlier to cyclists and go farther down the Peninsula.

  • mikesonn

    I think that would be more in line with HSR since they use the same track gauge. Another real, and very major drawback, of BART.

    However, to play devil’s advocate, isn’t part of the reason BART isn’t so nice to cyclists is because of the stations? What happens when Caltrain starts going underground with cramped loading areas? Does Caltrain then become less friendly to bikes (at least from Transbay on)?

  • Nice video with some strong ideas, but I’m disappointed that pedestrian and bicycle options for the Bay Bridge were not mentioned.

  • Video has a nice design/style. Is it from the same firm that did the SFPark one (http://sfpark.org/about-the-project/)? Generally, I think there’s a lot of potential for planners to use this kind of short video education- really drives home key points quicker than reading a dry PDF report.

    Content-wise, agree with ladyfleur that ped/bike options should also have been included.

  • dhodun

    There has been the talk of a Caltrain Metro East to serve Union City from San Jose and reopening Dumbarton. I would like to see a commuter rail service from San Jose to Anitoch, then utilizing a new tube to go into San Francisco. However, with the current transbay terminal trainbox, there simply isn’t enough capacity for that with current Caltrain and future HSR loads and turn around times.

  • dhodun

    If the headways in the tube could be reduced to every 2 minutes, that would help utilize the current infrastructure available. Although 3 doors per train would be required to do this.

  • MCR

    continuous bike lanes across the bay bridge?

  • RichardC

    Given that the video was about accommodating over a million more people, they probably decided that the number of people who would take a 7+ mile bike ride to work is pretty insignificant.

    Not that I wouldn’t like a bike crossing myself, but it’s a very small part of the big picture.

  • David

    The new bay bridge will be LESS useful.  rail could have been restored to the old bridge–the new one deliberately not.  OTOH maybe telecommuting will finally mature.

  • Kevin C

    I agree, unless there is a special moving escalator that bikers can zoom by on that spans in entire Bay Bridge, most people would not bike across the Bay Bridge for a commute. It’s just not practical.

  • RichardC

    I’d say the ultimate dream would be a BART + standard gauge rail tunnel- the BART line could go through downtown SF and out Geary while the rail portion connects Caltrain and HSR to the Capitol Corridor. This all might be a tad expensive, though…

  • EL

    Regarding solution #1 (contra-flow on the lower span) – How are you supposed to get to Treasure Island when traveling east on the lower span?  Cross the contra-flow lane?  U-turn after reaching Oakland?  New Treasure Island ramps?  When a bus is in the contra-flow lane, how does the bus reach the Transbay Terminal?
    Also, wouldn’t a physical barrier be needed for a contra-flow?  I don’t think the “yellow peg” method on the Golden Gate Bridge would fly very well for the Bay Bridge, since the Bay Bridge has wider lanes that could accommodate a barrier.
    This “short-term solution” requires “long-term infrastructure” for it to actually happen.

  • Kevin C

    It’s pretty telling that ONE dedicated bus lane could equal the capacity of the entire upper deck of the bay bridge with private autos. *Sigh*

  • Plenty of people commute by bike across the Dumbarton Bridge, which spans just as much of the bay if you include the mud flats.  And there aren’t downtowns of major cities on either end of that bridge–just the thriving metropolises of East Palo Alto and Newark.  At 7 miles with no stop signs, the Bay Bridge is only about 30 minutes or so for most cyclists.

  • While I am not necessarily against any of these options, the cheapest, simplest, most environmentally-friendly way to increase capacity on the Bay Bridge that could be implemented nearly immediately is to get people out of space-hogging private cars and into buses during peak commute times. (Three-person carpools are also substantially better than single occupancy vehicles, but a full bus beats them capacity-wise hands down.)  Of course, this would be unpopular, but $10 billion for a new Transbay tunnel may or may not be money we are likely to come up with in the near future. (And this is not an argument against high speed rail. With peak oil, air traffic is going to drop off dramatically, and rail will be the backbone of getting around at all in California.)

    There are two basic ways to increase current capacity on the Bay Bridge for very little money–either ration space or increase price.

    1) Ration space:  Have a bus lane that stretches the entire span of the Bay Bridge both directions 24/7. Make it so that buses can predictably cross the Bridge in a set number of minutes. (Ten?)  If this lane doesn’t provide enough capacity for buses to move freely, dedicate two lanes. People need to absolutely know that during peak hours, the bus is by far the fastest way to cross the Bay Bridge.  A contra-flow lane in the non-peak direction would also achieve this but would cost more, has its own difficulties, and couldn’t be implemented as quickly.


    2) Increase price for non-carpool vehicles during peak hours to $7, $8, $9 or whatever it takes until numbers drop and traffic moves smoothly.

    It would also be a good idea to create more carpool/bus only on-ramps to east-bound I-80 in San Francisco and increase parking rates in general in San Francisco to discourage private car use. 

    I am certainly a proponent of mass-transit.  But in terms of a low energy future, we need to encourage the bulk of people to live within ten miles of where they work rather than transport enormous numbers of people 100 miles round trip every day. It would be better to subsidize housing near jobs than to subsidize these energy-intensive commutes. And if the main reason people “need” to live in the far-flung suburbia is schools, then for environmental and economic reasons we need to do what it takes to fix this.

  • Jarrett M

    The bridge planners told me that the new bridge can support light rail but not heavy rail/BART. 

  • Jarrett M

    There’s definitely issues with this contraflow idea, but they’ll probably be much easer, quicker, and cheaper to solve relative to a new 4 track transbay tube. 

  • Henry

    To Kevin C’s comment:  “It’s pretty telling that ONE dedicated bus lane could equal the capacity of the entire upper deck of the bay bridge with private autos. *Sigh”….  SPUR was being conservative.  The new Transbay Terminal can handle 300 buses per hour, so at 60 passengers per bus, that’s 18,000 passengers per hour….which is TWICE what the Bridge handles in the peak hour.

  • Another thing: building a second Transbay Tube could be done to intersect with Treasure Island, giving the massive development there something other than ferries to cross the Bay, and giving them better options than clogging the Bay Bridge.

  • @bc7e5583cff1290ca2c6791469a98985:disqus  – Promoting a “slugging” culture (see slug-lines.com) through 3-passenger HOV lanes would help improve personal vehicle efficiency dramatically.  The upper deck’s capacity is probably being measured as one car-one occupant, leaving a lot of room for efficiency improvements.

    I’m still a fan of a second Transbay Tube, however.

  • Anonymous

    Congestion pricing might help get folks out of their cars and onto the buses. Any of the Mayoral candidates in San Francisco possessing the courage to endorse testing out weekday evening, outbound only congestion pricing to make $60-$80 millin every year for transit, pedestrian, and bike infrastructure improvements… Or are they all full of hot air like tea baggers?

  • Andy Chow

    I think the biggest barrier to more bus usage is that currently all the East Bay buses only start and end at Transbay. Yes, the new Transbay Terminal will be nice, but won’t work for many folks who work outside of downtown. Downtown is already well served by BART and by ferries, so I think buses should extend to large employment centers outside downtown (and where BART isn’t already served) so that riders don’t have to take Muni and have the travel time more competitive to driving. 

  • icarus12

    John King had an interesting article recently in the Chronicle.  He looked at the past 25 years of planning, architecture, and development in the City.  Although office capacity has increased dramatically, the number of jobs in the downtown is down by 40,000.

    Why is it that with increased office capacity and good transit connections, SF’s downtown has lost jobs?  It may be that there are factors, possibly a high tax and strict regulatory environment within the City that have discouraged job growth.  Or it may be other factors I’m not thinking of.

    In any case, it does give me pause.  Because while I’d like to see evermore transit capacity brought into the downtown/South of Market business core, the jobs seem to be going elsewhere.  Is that trend going to be reversed?  Is there something the tech companies, for example, like about sprawling campuses on the Peninsula/South Bay?

    Thoughts, anyone?

  • Why does every job in the world need to be in soma?  Can’t we just have jobs in Oakland, and go to SF less?  That might have the accidental side-effect of letting Oakland have a decent economy.

  • mikesonn

    I wonder how feasible building an underground station on TI would be considering it is all land fill.

  • Anonymous

    The tech companies like the South Bay because that is where the majority of their employee base lives. Google and apple may have those buses everyone likes to talk about, but most of their employees live down their.

    Some people at my company asked about a corporate shuttle bus. We have ~3000 employees in our Santa Clara office. Less than 50 have a San Francisco address.

    For all the commuting done around here – all things being equal people prefer to live near work. It would be very hard for a big tech company to recruit en masse if 90% of their employee base was given a 1 hour commute.

    Not to mention – where in SF can you co-locate 5000 employees, have on-site cafeterias, health facilities, labs (which may involve toxics).

    The SF folk dreaming of a tech company the scope of Google/EBay/Apple being in SF are doing just that – dreaming. And it has zero to do with tax structure.

  • SPUR’s perspective and the Bay Area environment’s do not necessarily coincide here. How can we prevent 20-40 mile commutes in the future? One key answer is putting dense development where people live, and make sure that development is not car-centered. No reason that there can’t be 30,000 more jobs in and around central Oakland and thousands each in El Cerrito, Berkeley, Hayward, San Leandro, even Dublin/Pleasanton.

    Environmentalists should have a serious conversation about whether it takes 3-7 million people to support each downtown.

  • Anonymous

    Counter flow lanes are a dumb idea.  Better, cheaper, more effective would be to make one of the existing lanes in each direction Bus/HOV lanes.  This would encourage caarpooling and discourage SOVs, as their capacity would be greatly decreased.  Along with this could be better organized casual carpool pick-up locations on both sides of the bridge.

    If there is to be a second BART tube, it should connect the airports and alleviate the need for BARTS air-BART boondoggle that they want to build between Coliseum and OAK.  The same OAK (as well as SFO) which will see severe problems with sea level rise.  BART between the Fremont BART line and the BART & CHSR stations at the airport seems like a link that needs to happen. 

  • Fred-Rick

    Though not intending to undermine Fran’s position in the Bay Area at all, it would make more sense to use our current infrastructure more smartly by focusing on the lesser used central areas than to improve the bridge capacity in a dangerous manner. 2.5 million people live in Alameda and Contra Costa, and it would be far smarter to improve the business attraction of, for instance, Oakland than to build up SF more. This East Bay location can expand at least to the level of South of Market, and result in larger carbon emission reductions. The Bay Areas most-used infrastructures are found in Alameda County, freeways, BART. Let’s keep more people at work in the East Bay, so they do not need to cross the bridge, and even attract people from SF so BART and the bridge can be used also where capacity is left today.

  • Kathy

    Fred, that was my first same thought too. No one likes to commute – whether it be by car or buss or train or plane. We all rather be spending time with our families, enjoying hobbies, or contributing to society in a more meaningful way. We need to be doing a better job of telecommuting and building communities that don’t require people to travel far away for work.

  • Kathy

    Congestion pricing is a ridiculous scam to put more money back in the hands of the government. It’s only disguised as having the effect of making people more aware of their impact on the environment. Rich people will still use their cars – no matter what time of the day it is and they won’t care. The middle class will be caught somewhere in the middle – too poor to afford moving costs associated with a house closer to work, and too poor to afford the commuting rates during the “peak hours.” $2 a day, $3? $4? That’s lunch money for a school-aged kid. We need to push telecommuting. We need to push satellite offices.   

  • peternatural

    I actually love my commute, which is almost too short (it’s a 15-20 minute bike ride within SF). It keeps me in shape, and I arrive at my destinations refreshed and invigorated. I’m also fortunate in that there’s an excellent MUNI connection between my work and home, for days when I choose not to bike for whatever reason (rain or flat tire 😉

  • hugo

    If you build two trains tubes how do you keep all the folks from piling onto the new train? I could imagine people thinking “the new train is nice. I want to ride that one,” particularly if the new train is faster. Then you have all these people cramming onto the new train with a few folks taking the old train. You’ve spent billions and its still not efficient. I see this on the BART stairs all the time… people cram onto the escalator and next to it you have empty stairs. If some people took the stairs and some people took the escalator there wouldn’t be any lines to get out of bart. There would be increased capacity. But, people don’t think that way. They think, I want to take the escalator because I am too tired or too “something” to walk. 


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