How Can Muni Stop Car Drivers From Jamming Its Tunnels?

N-Judah riders walk the tracks of the Sunset Tunnel past a jammed car. Does this have to keep happening? Video screen capture via Sean Rea/Youtube

Another brilliant driver got his car stuck in the Sunset Tunnel Saturday night at about 8 p.m., bringing Muni’s busiest line to a dead stop. A train full of N-Judah riders had to walk along the tracks out of the eastern portal. One of them was Streetsblog reader Sean Rea, who captured the walk in a video posted on YouTube (see below).

The last time this was reported, last February, I happened to be on the train. My fellow riders were able to lift the car out of the way and get trains moving again. Muni riders on Saturday weren’t so lucky — the car was wedged on the tracks deep in the tunnel, forcing them to walk the rest of the way or wait for substitute Muni buses to take them around the tunnel.

It’s incredible how one errant driver can disrupt the trips of thousands of Muni riders, whether due to simple arrogance or failure to comprehend the situation. There must be more effective measures available to fully prevent autos from entering rail tunnels.

Muni has already added signage, including a blindingly bright sign at the Duboce and Church portal, and raised bumps. But drivers — especially drunk drivers — still enter them surprisingly often. It might only happen once or twice each year, but it’s remarkable that it happens at all.

It’s unclear if drivers ever face any legal penalties for doing this. In Rea’s video, he can be heard asking an officer, “Can we take this guy to court?,” only to be directed to stay away from the car. The officers appear to be posted around the car to protect it, standing next to an elderly man who may have been the driver.

Streetsblog commenter murphstahoe suggested taking a page from the parking garage industry:

How is it that we put tire destroying spikes to stop people from exiting parking garages via the entrance, but not at the entrance to the N-Judah tunnel? Would stop the car dead so much faster, making the car easier to remove — yet more expensive for the scofflaw to fix.

Good question, though this might bring some drivers to a halt who might otherwise be able to recognize their mistake extricate their vehicles from the tunnel before causing a massive problem. Mechanical retractable bollards are another possibility, but they could break down and block trains more often if they have to retract every time a train approaches.

We’ll be looking into best practices from around the world. If you’re already aware of any, feel free to share in the comments.

  • thielges

    “It’s incredible how one errant driver can disrupt the trips of thousands of Muni riders…”

    To be fair a single errant driver can also shutdown a freeway as well so this isn’t just cars vs. transit. It is cars vs. everyone.

    To put a positive spin on this asymmetric situation, transit rarely ever delays mass-automotive (i.e. freeway) traffic. And even when it does it isn’t a single person vs. the masses, it is a whole busload.

  • What about a standard automatic crossing guard?

  • tungwaiyip

    Can we simply add a swing gate that opens for Muni only? Shouldn’t be anything high tech.

    The article does not say which way the car enter the tunnel. Does this problem happens on one side only or both sides?

    As for punishment, I think police should provide the mugshot and the name of the perpetrator to the media.

  • The Boston bus tunnel has standard parking gates, but theres also large concrete gates that swing into place if the system detects a non transit vehicle going down the ramp

    You can see the gates here

    And a video showing an SUV being stopped from entering by the emergency system

  • Sean Rea

    The car entered the tunnel from the Duboce Park entrance, heading west towards Cole Valley.

  • murphstahoe

    Doesn’t stop anyone from driving around them on the Caltrain line….

  • crazyvag

    BART is suing protesters for holding up trains. Why can’t passengers sue the driver for delays?

  • I suggest mechanical bollards on a system like a bascule bridge, where a counterweight would retract them by default unless kept up by a switch. That way, should the switch fail, the bollards would go down instead of getting stuck in place and hold up the train.

  • I’m surprised @Bob_Gunderson hasn’t weighed in, *demanding* that cars have the right to use the Muni tunnels. Hi-rail vehicles for all! 🙂

  • Retractable bollards is the answer. They use them in Europe to only allow buses to enter certain streets, but keeps the other unauthorized vehicles out:

  • Joel

    It’s a little bit excessive, but here’s an interesting solution from Australia:

  • yugioh_mishima

    Please tell me the police at least arrested him and revoked his license for drunk driving…

  • davistrain

    Police officers can arrest a suspect, but revoking his or her license is the responsibility of the DMV and the court system.

  • You called?

  • Let’s not over-think this people. Simple Solution.

  • Sean Hughes

    I’ve always thought they should extend the tunnel a couple blocks and under Duboce park, that would shave 5 minutes off travel time, and avoid collisions and cars entering the tunnel, as well as creating some nice park space behind Safeway.

  • avantard

    Flashing lights and/or draw-gates (like you see at the entrances to parking garages? trains usually paus before entering and exiting tunnels anyway, so what’s an extra few seconds while a gate lifts?

  • Lol “fortunately he managed to see that one”. We had a dump truck with the bucket raised run into a major bridge in Ontario. It was a traffic disaster. Some people just shouldn’t be allowed to drive motor vehicles.

  • phoca2004

    For that matter, have the gate go down when a non-train is detected and stay up otherwise.

  • Sprague

    In our post 9-11 world, it’s hard to believe that such tunnels have not been protected from errant or ill-intentioned motorists. That being said, as far as I know the Market Street Muni Metro tunnel entrance on the Embarcadero is not any better protected but I’m not aware of any motorist trying to drive into it there. Maybe there’s a simple fix for the Sunset Tunnel.

  • neroden

    Start with paint on the pavement, obviously (DO NOT ENTER). If that isn’t enough, tire spikes seem appropriate.

  • There are a bunch of plastic rumble barriers and prominent signs. The tunnel at the other end of Duboce has flashing lights as well, but motorists drive into there, too.

    A draw-gate might help, but what about the good ol’ “severe tire damage” road spikes? And cow-catchers on the fronts of trains to clear the way?

  • jamesobostonN

    Oh god. The Silver Line.

  • ⦿ Twice in the last week I’ve been at this stop when drivers headed into it. One was an Uber vehicle that sharply veered away at the last second, because everyone working for Uber is so highly-skilled. The other driver sped into stop but managed to slam on the brakes before the roadway ended. He did delay the train on the eastbound track while backing out.

    There is a white thermoplast line and an arrow directing motorists away from the stop and the tunnel, but they are worn down from cars driving atop them!


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