BART Will Study Second Transbay Tube, West Side Extension

BART plans to study a new Transbay tube, leading into SoMa and SF’s western neighborhoods. Image: BART [PDF]
Updated 11:06 p.m. with comments from BART Board-elect Nick Josefowitz.

BART says it will formally study the decades-old ideas of building a second Transbay tube and extending service to SF’s western neighborhoods.

Ellen Smith, BART’s acting manager for strategic and policy planning, recently told a SF County Transportation Authority Board committee (comprised of SF supervisors) that regional transportation agencies plan to fund a study of a subway connecting the South of Market area to Alameda, with a possible extension west underneath the Market Street subway, towards the Richmond and Sunset Districts.

BART has only sketched out the ideas as conceptual routes, and has yet to provide even a ballpark estimate of a timeline or costs.

Don’t expect to take a ride anytime soon, though: “We could be talking decades,” Smith said. Building a new underwater tube is “clearly a massive investment and undertaking, technically, operationally, financially, and politically.”

The tube would be a key piece of the infrastructure needed to accommodate the growing number of riders squeezing into the existing Transbay tube, BART’s busiest section of track.

A second tube would “greatly increase our capacity, but probably not double it,” said Smith. It would make the system more resilient, keeping service running even if minor mechanical problems occur within the existing two-track tube. It would also make 24-hour service possible, since BART maintenance crews currently need to clear the tube for nightly work.

The current single tube “was planned in the 1960s, when there were only 3.6 million people in the Bay Area,” a small fraction of the 9 million expected by 2040, said Smith.

The ideas for BART expansions in SF are hardly new, but it’s the first time BART said it will study them.

SPUR has long pushed the idea of a second Transbay tube, and explained its vision in a video in 2011. In the meantime, the organization says bus service should be given higher priority on the Bay Bridge with the creation of a contra-flow transit lane. Smith said BART is considering launching a new Transbay bus service, but the Metropolitan Transportation Commission has only just begun preliminary consideration of a transit lane on the bridge.

A possible alignment for the second Transbay tube. Image: BART

Under BART’s preliminary vision, the Alameda-SoMa tube would extend underneath the existing BART and Muni tunnels that run under Market, crossing somewhere between Powell and Montgomery Stations, Smith said. The route would also cross beneath the Central Subway tunnel, which has been dug underneath Powell Station and Union Square.

From there, BART could run along the Geary corridor towards SF’s western neighborhoods, finally bringing rail service to the Richmond. Smith said BART will look at alternatives like a spur to the Outer Richmond, with a branch turning south near Masonic Avenue, towards the east end of Golden Gate Park and the University of California at San Francisco’s Parnassus Campus. From there, the route would run south near 19th Avenue, connecting to BART’s Daly City and Colma stations.

“We would like to consider this, because there’s a very high ridership with a strong transit habit in San Francisco,” said Smith. “It’s an underserved portion of our district, it would add service without degrading Market Street [BART service], and it advances our BART network.”

The idea of a “BART to the beach” route to the Outer Richmond was long pushed by BART Board member James Fang, who lost his seat in the November 4 election after 24 years representing a district which included SF’s western neighborhoods. Fang has seen little support for his idea from BART executives and other policymakers, who often said there were more pressing needs since the Outer Richmond lacks the population density for a dedicated rail spur. Another BART Board member, Zakhary Mallett, did pen an SF Chronicle op-ed in September pushing a new Transbay BART route to the west side via Fulton Street and 19th Avenue.

When asked about the Transbay tube and BART in the western neighborhoods, Fang’s successor, Nick Josefowitz, only pointed to Geary Bus Rapid Transit as “a great step forward” for “faster and more reliable transit access to the Richmond.” He also said bus lanes on the Bay Bridge would be needed while commuters await “critical” planning for a second Transbay tube.

“The existing tube and the Bay Bridge are very close to capacity,” said Josefowitz. “Just look at the jammed trains and the standstill bridge traffic. But this scale of infrastructure project doesn’t get built overnight. So while we’re planning, we need to be more proactive about helping folks on their commutes today.”

Initial plans for BART in the 1960s included a route running west along Geary before turning north toward Marin County. But Marin opted out of BART, canceling plans for that route and leaving Richmond transit riders with only Muni’s overcrowded and unreliable 38-Geary line. Decades later, Geary is expected to get partial Bus Rapid Transit improvements in 2018, and planners say its design will set the stage for eventual Muni light-rail on the surface. Smith said any BART extensions in the Avenues would come well after Geary BRT.

At the SFCTA committee hearing, D1 Supervisor Eric Mar said he’s still skeptical of bringing BART all the way through the Richmond, which is his district.

“‘BART to the beach’…  is a catchy title, but for me it’s BART to connect up to unconnected spots, like the Inner Richmond — perhaps to Masonic or Arguello — and connecting to Golden Gate Park [which] seems like a feasible project,” said Mar. “I’m gonna do my best not to use the term ‘BART to the Beach,’ because it might raise too many unrealistic expectations of people.”

“I know that for my district in the Richmond, it’s not just about connecting up — but it’s also all the other areas, from District 5 to 2, that also don’t have that same kind of connection to the core of the city.”

Other projects being studied in BART’s Vision Plan include turnbacks at locations like Glen Park Station, which would allow BART to run more trains on more crowded segments of its system. BART is also still considering building an infill station at Mission and 30th streets in SF, which was studied in 2002 but would slow down trains, Smith said.

SFCTA Executive Director Tilly Chang said the agency has included the proposed BART extensions in the SF Transportation Plan. She also said the proposed turnbacks would be important, since they’d make BART service more reliable and flexible. “While they’re not cheap, they’re certainly something that are cost-effective in the long run,” she said.

The ideas are expected to be presented to the BART Board for discussion on Thursday.

  • just a thought

    If Alameda still doesn’t want to be dense, why not route the second transbay tube north to serve the proposed Treasure Island development. There’ll probably be plenty of residents on the island by the time a second tube is built.

    Admittedly, this would complicate the East Bay connection, but I imagine it’d be possible to connect to the main system prior to West Oakland station. Or provide service to Emeryville and start on the potential BART corridor along the UP tracks.

  • jonobate

    BART’s opinion is that tying a Geary line into the existing Market St subway will overload the existing line, due to the number of extra trains and passengers going through the Transbay tube, and through Montgomery and Embarcadero, in order to provide sufficient service to Geary. I think they are correct. You can disagree if you like, but I’ll take their assessment over yours.

  • murphstahoe

    Not *everyone* is eschewing the transfer, many are.

    This is more acute for the AM commute into SF, where the destination is Embarcadero or Montgomery, less if you are a SB commuter from the Mission.

    The switch involves a layover of up to 15 minutes plus a 33 minute BART ride. Caltrain to 4th is 17 minutes, dropping you at the N, express MUNIs, Jitney

    And Caltrain is much less expensive if you have a pass.

  • jonobate

    I recently started working in an office near Montgomery. A couple of people there take Caltrain in from the peninsula, and both walk the ~25 mins to the office, because it’s more reliable than Muni and faster than switching to BART at Millbrae. And, it’s good exercise.

  • Steven Rappolee

    perhaps BART could use the east bay bridge instead of a tunnel?
    Bart and light rail on Geary could share costs if built at the same time

    I propose cost sharing here for VTA/BART joint tunneling with HSR and using arbitrage where one agency owes the other to pay for the tunnel

    The same idea could work for Geary

  • Steven Rappolee

    and this is a SMART idea! I wonder if SMART could make it over the Richmond san rafael bridge? are these trains to heavy? The golden gate bridge was study years ago for BART/MUNI to cross with a positive engineering report

  • Eric Fischer

    There was a study for BART over the Richmond-San Rafael bridge that concluded that it couldn’t handle the loads and recommending building a second transit bridge if required. I don’t know how different SMART’s loads are though.

  • Eric Fischer

    The new East Span, unlike the old, was built without being designed to be able to handle rail loads, so this seems unlikely.

    The 1956 BART alternative plan was to run across the Bay Bridge, but it was considered a contingency plan only for if they couldn’t get the tube built, because the steepness and exposure of the bridge limits train speeds, and its access points are far from where they wanted the lines to go.

  • Bruce

    BART trains are VERY heavy. 2-car SMART trains are much lighter, although they do have to carry several tons of diesel fuel aboard.

  • Justin

    “BART to the Beach” the first time I heard it sounded like a pipe dream. But realizing it, it’s actually a great idea and a very necessary one. I think it will eventually become inevitable and eventually will and must happen. If it does happen it it should be placed under Geary and not Fulton yet. The Geary corridor has the density and congestion and the quantities of people to justify such an extension, so let’s do it.

    San Francisco seriously needs a BART System within the city. Any future rail extensions should be done with BART and not light rail. I say a BART System cris-crossing within SF will be necessary in the future so I hope it will happen eventually.

    Not only do we need BART on Geary, but there should be on Van Ness, one on Lombard though the Presidio eventually traveling under Park Presidio and 19th Ave, and maybe one on Divisadero connecting the northern neighborhoods to the southern neighborhoods. Those are just some ideas. I say the one on Geary should connect to the existing Market St subway while the second Transbay Tube should go along Van Ness to Lombard through the Presidio, Park Presidio and eventually 19th Ave. Another set of ideas.

  • Andy Chow

    At least at 4th & King you have a choice of multiple Muni routes, using bike share, walk (Union Square is within 20 min walk), shuttles, taxis, or getting picked up by a car. At Millbrae it is way too far from SF to use anything else other than BART. For those who are going to take shuttle, taxis, bike, or getting picked up anyway, the extra BART transfer doesn’t really add much value especially considering the extra time and cost.

  • Andy Chow

    And the planners will gladly take up salary, write some reports, and have it sit on the shelf. Not the first time, not the last time.

  • LVLHeaded

    cool article! i just hope the final product doesn’t differ too much from the original vision. the tower is already shortened (thanks to shadow-phobic citizens), the glass panels have been changed to perforated metal, and now the park and HSR connections are in jeopardy. come on SF, let’s get this right!

  • Sprague

    don’t forget the 28 and 33 lines (which serve BART stations at Daly City and 16th St)

  • DragonflyBeach

    No, it shouldn’t. The proposal has it connecting to the Fremont line and then moving over to Alameda, then reconnecting to Daly City through Lake Merced. How to you plan on merging different gauges? The gauge issue is not a big deal, but if we change it, it will have to be the whole system, period. And while we’re at it, we might as well go from 3rd rail to overhead wiring to allow for increased speed.

    Gauge isn’t an issue, it’s obnoxious but it’s not a big deal, there’s no feasible way to have a set of trains running back and forth on its own line with a different gauge and a different set a trains. Can’t be done.

  • neroden

    Sure, Geary subway, great, but does it have to be Indian broad gauge with nonstandard clearances? BART is orphan technology and as a result everything costs 10 times what it would with standard train subway technology.

  • neroden

    Call it BART if you must, but please don’t use the orphan technology of BART (Indian broad gauge, nonstandard everything). There are standards for subways, and BART doesn’t follow them, instead having opted to reinvent the wheel. This multiplies the expenses massively.

  • Scott Mace

    Developers must be salivating over the land speculation that will accompany ramming BART through Alameda.

  • Richard Rothman

    WE want BART to the Beach

  • Izsak


  • Peter Middleton

    BART to SFSU

  • sojourner_7

    Every 2-3-4 years, SPUR drags this out. If it was compelling and feasible, something would have happened. Now MTC gets involved… they showed their capabilities to manage large projects like the Bay Bridge replacement. Dysfunction in spades. If this involves increased taxes it is a non-starter, due rampant prior abuse of funds, and the unfunded pension liabilities that consume the current Bart budgets. They cannot maintain what they currently have, so put more on their plate? Perhaps all these “people” who are supposed to arrive in future decades can fund these monster projects, rather than the people who have been paying and paying forever for unrealized level of services.

  • That’s already basically possible.

  • Peter Middleton

    no it is not

  • Take BART to the Daly City station. Then take the SFSU shuttle or the 28 Muni bus to 19th and Holloway Avenue. BART to SFSU.

    What, do you want a full-on BART station right in front of the campus? You’re crazy.

  • Peter Middleton

    yes I do, just like how all other major cities have proper public transportation. Did you not notice that this article is about a train that would pass directly infront of SFSU?..

  • sugarntasty

    …apparently Caltran,Calsta,CATC and federal Dept of Transportation could solve inadequate transit grid lock. Never fails “Bay area always trying to avoid
    not expansion of REITS whom,persist [never miss getting approved] projects for
    urban growth regarding. Logistics yeah inept governor Brown wearing frown around town traffic is horrible ideal. Politicians eager to hear your inquires of
    resolutions since “geographical area of titans” deficient transit systems. Whom?
    CATC Eric Thronson,Susan Bransen,Mitchelle Weiss,David Van Dyhe,Rick Guevel and Kristina Assouri. CALSTA Chad Edison,Melissa Figueroa and Brian
    C.Annis,CalTran staff Malcolm Dougherty and (district 4) what tax payers endure,horrible long traffic ask Bijan Sartipi equivalent to Persia and London!
    Bay area 2nd tunnel inaccurate 6 is anticiapted, with usuage going nightmare!


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