Calls for North Beach Central Subway Station Intensify as Plans Evolve

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: ##

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.”

The Pagoda Palace. Photo: ## Iversen, SFGate##

Residents still worry that the agency might fall back on the original TBM removal plan if it can’t make the Pagoda option work, as it hinges upon the SFMTA coughing up an extra $8 million and buying it from the building owner, who already has re-development plans approved by the Planning Commission. The agency’s next-best plan is to leave the TBM underneath Columbus Avenue, which would make a North Beach extension more difficult and still add $3 million to the current project’s budget. Planners are betting that neither option will require a substantial amount of extra environmental review, and they must fully commit to a plan by February to avoid delays.

“This seems like an unrealistic timeframe,” said Mike Sonn, chair of the Telegraph Hill Dwellers Transportation and Parking Committee. “A North Beach station would appease many of the main complaints, but there has been no planning and there certainly isn’t any money, so that option must be viewed in that context. Personally, whatever option the MTA chooses, I would like to see it not preclude an expedited North Beach station (in less than 10 years) and I feel both of the Columbus Avenue options work against that outcome.”

Stephen Taber, chair of SPUR’s Central Subway Task Force, said the organization “vigorously supports” the project as a whole, but that “our major criticism against this project is that it doesn’t go far enough. Our principal aim is to make sure that whatever happens does not preclude the extension.”

With or without the extension, the many criticisms leveled against the Central Subway will no doubt continue to divide transit advocates. “Planning to extend the Central Subway could allay those critics who say the project doesn’t go far enough,” said Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City. “But it won’t allay those critical of the hundreds of millions of dollars Muni plans to spend on the Central Subway while the existing system has such compelling capital needs.”

  • mikesonn

    Thank you, Aaron.

  • DaveO

    So ironic that Radulovich is director of somthing called “Liveable City”.  All his ideas would make the city lest liveable.

  • Abe

    How so?

  • Upright Biker

    @8f6f8735a215ff95424b74be8d6d0830:disqus Tom Radulovich and Liveable City are great champions of complete streets, as well as knowledgeable skeptics when it comes to the feasibility and equitability of plans put forth by our municipality. Even though the Central Subway potentially coming into North Beach is a great boon to certain areas and particular members of our society, Tom has a point that it is a lot of money concentrated in one area when there is so much need throughout the system.

  • PerfectGood

    Sadly, Tom Radulovich and Liveable City stood on the sidelines about updating the Transit Impact Development Fee, and extending it to non-profits. As a result, the expansion of SFMOMA will get a free pass on paying its fair share of its impact on the transportation network: a million dollars.

  • SFMOMA would be on the hook for $1M alone? Funny that Elsbernd ripped Ramos for supporting both free MUNI for youth and then claiming MUNI needed more TIDF money – the TIDF money swamps the youth programs.

  • mikesonn

    I think a lot of people still believe that a North Beach station is possibly within the scope of this phase. I give Reiskin credit for reiterating that this is NOT the case, but after years of passing around the very dishonest map (seen above), the misconception is understandable.

    A North Beach station would make the line much less of a waste and there is little reason why it couldn’t have been included in this phase. Now we must wait 10-15 years (and that is if SF can get back onto the federal transit capital improvement list in a reasonable amount of time). I think the Pagoda is a decent enough idea, but we’ll just be stuck with an empty lot with debris instead of a boarded up building. Still a loss for North Beach for the foreseeable future.

  • Anonymous

    I think including North Beach is critical to make the central subway worth it, and I really wish this would get worked out. They really should talk it all the way to Fisherman’s Wharf, but I know that’s asking for too much.

  • I was at the SFMTA meeting in North Beach, and what I got out of it is that the city officials need a lot more scrutiny than they are getting. The change of direction in drilling plans came about because of loud public protests based on the realization that the SFMTA plan was based on future assumptions. In SFMTA’s rush to bend over backwards to placate the public, let us not lose sight of these facts:

    1. The SFMTA signed the contract four years before they met with the public to discus the ramifications of the contract and the negative effects their plan would have on the neighborhood, leading one resident to complain that they (SFMTA) appears to be serving the needs of the contract and instead of the neighborhood.

    2. There is no plan to build a station in North Beach, or any permits, or any funding for such a plan. The plan to drill past the Chinatown station was expressed as the most flexible option to create the means for a future North Beach station, on the assumption that some day a plan, permits, and funding may materialize.

    3. The plan to destroy the heart of North Beach would not result in any benefits to the neighborhood within the foreseeable future.

    4. When the public examined the plan, they immediately saw a lot of wholes in it, and asked a lot of questions that the “experts” could not answer to their satisfaction. One citizen asked how can you drill a tunnel when you don’t know where yo are aiming it?

    5. The point of these comments is to invite you to view the recording of the meetings, consider the results of the parking and Muni management over the last year, and decide whether San Francisco citizens and officials should continue to blindly support everything SFMTA officials are doing. (more clips to come.

    Is Muni better now than it was a year ago?

  • Nice job hijacking the central subway follies to support your last gasp effort to prevent sensible parking management.

  • mikesonn

    Speaking of SFPark, I can’t wait for it to come to North Beach and I’m actually pretty disappointed it wasn’t part of the pilot portion of the project. 

  • Anonymous

    I guess if people wish and pray really hard, federal dollars will fall magically out of the sky to support a North Beach station. I’m sure Santa and the Easter Bunny could also help out too if we’re good enough. Maybe a magic frog with a hat could also help make this wonderful fantasy a reality.


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