Guest Editorial: An Open Letter to Mayor Ed Lee About Transbay


Dear Mr. Mayor:

Thanks for the world’s most expensive bus stop.

Last week your administration announced a plan to connect Caltrain and California High Speed Rail to the Transbay Transit Center and remove I-280.

It’s exactly the sort of bold thinking that people want from their mayor. It would “open up land for housing, connect neighborhoods, and bring the bullet train and Caltrain downtown,” as Streetsblog pointed out in a past article.

But my dear mayor, I want to know: Why haven’t you said a word about it?

Visionary ideas have an impact. They’re expensive. And many people who drive today can’t imagine a world where people will get around by bikes, buses, trains, and their own two feet.

To gain support for a project of this scale, its benefits must be sold. People need to understand the potential of such a bold plan. And the person to sell that big idea is, without a doubt, our mayor.

When the Transbay Transit Center opens next year, it will be a marvel–and it ought to be for $4.5 billion. And it will also be incredibly embarrassing for you and the supervisors if there’s not even a plan in place to connect it to rail.

Streetsblog trumpeted The Case for Removing the 280 Freeway. And Gerald Cauthen said in an OpEd, SF Needs to Get Serious About Connecting Caltrain.

But Mayor Lee, what have you said?

There was no press conference. No fanfare. Despite this project’s potential to reshape our city’s transportation options and make a dent in our housing crisis, the plan seemed to emerge from City Hall like a hot potato; quick, throw it out there, let the sharks tear it apart, and then slowly back away. Your silence has allowed one of your most vocal critics to drive the conversation. Former Mayor Art Agnos told the San Francisco Examiner “he will personally combat any effort to tear down I-280.”

It’s incredibly frustrating that you have been invisible when it comes to using your influence to advocate for better public transit. I can’t think of a single instance when you’ve publicly used your influence even for a modest purpose like calling for an acceleration of projects that have languished for years such as Bus Rapid Transit, the extension of the Central Subway, or Better Market Street.

In fact, you recently put forward your Transportation 2030 ballot measure that was accurately summed up as “Meaningless, Hypocritical, and Divisive at the Same Time.

And of course, you’re almost never seen riding our city’s troubled transit system.

Mayor Lee, where are you?

It’s time that you stop hiding in that Chevy Volt of yours and take a train to the site of the new Transbay Center (it’s only three stops on Muni, you’ll survive). Once there, you should do what mayors do: get behind a podium, stand up to this project’s critics—and promote this plan of yours.

Andy Bosselman is an entrepreneur and transit activist.

  • murphstahoe

    You do a great job here of pinning the destruction of 280 against a project that is in some peril, to the opposition of a project that has great merit but isn’t really on the drawing board because of the project that’s in some peril.

    I predict the majority of trips through that corridor will be on “Caltrain” – whatever that means 20 years from now. I use “Caltrain” as a generic term for “train that originates on the peninsula”. There is *already* demand for higher train capacity in that corridor without HSR – Caltrain could easily double boardings by improving service just between SF and SJ. Tearing down 280 makes that problem substantially simpler – and because of the additional housing that we can put in that footprint some car trips simply disappear – by moving people who currently commute (or future denizens who would) closer to where they need to commute to.

  • jonobate

    No, we don’t agree. That’s not what I said at all.

    If the city wanted the I-280 replaced by a boulevard, it’s extremely unlikely that Caltrans would stand in their way. Caltrans does technically get the final say, but for political reasons they would not want to go against the wishes of the city.

    A recent example would be BRT on Van Ness, which is controlled by Caltrans. Caltrans didn’t exactly want to lose two lanes of auto capacity on one of their highways, but they agreed to it because that’s what the city wanted. No begging and pleading involved, just some coordination between the city and the state.

  • sojourner_7

    Hopefully this 280 proposal will be redundant. Judge Kenny will be ruling soon, fingers crossed that HSR will have to go back to the voters due to the deviation from what was legally approved.

  • Filamino

    “dire predictions of gridlock never materialized”
    Ugh. Here we go again with this lie. All the Embarcadero Freeway traffic went onto the surface streets as mentioned many times before. You still see the effects today on the approaches to the Bay Bridge. I never understood why after all these years and arguments that this can’t get through to these people’s heads.

  • Filamino

    Underutilized? You must have conveniently looked out your window only on Sunday mornings when traffic is light in general.

  • Filamino

    The Central Subway was always in the master transit plans to connect up with Fisherman’s Wharf, not just to Chinatown.

  • timbad

    right, because we tore down a freeway and created the space and opportunity for that to happen.

    and now that center of gravity is settling in nicely around the TTC, as planned.

  • RichLL

    Sorry but I see them as related. We should not be removing any transportation infrastructure unless we are providing new, replacement and additional infrastructure.

    It’s like the argument that if only we got rid of cars, Muni would be better. Well, sorry, but I am not giving up my car until Muni is already better. I do not pre-pay for performance and I do not make sacrifices based on hopes and dreams. Show me first.

    Likewise here, whether it is HSR or a go-faster CalTrain – I don’t care. Build it and then I give up my car. The issue is trust.

  • jonobate

    Wrong again:

    Even if HSR is halted, the need to connect Caltrain to downtown and eliminate the Mission Bay grade crossings is not going to go away.

  • Jimbo

    Can you show some dara stating its underutulized

  • semsk

    I don’t think 87 will be an obstacle for growth around Diridon:

  • goodmaab

    Why all the downtown projects? With all the outer AHBP, there needs to be a solid focus on the oustidelands areas of SF. 19th Ave planning is only 1/2 a solution as they do not relay the overall costs of getting the M-Line to a new intermodal hub and station at Daly City (750 million – 2-3 billion?) Tier Level 5 funding is mentioned, but no discussion of simple short-term fixes, taking the L-Taraval up Sloat to St. Francis Circle, or down and out along Lakeshore Blvd. to Daly City? What about the F-line out along the old Pan-American Exhibition line to the golden gate bridge? Why not spend some money doing the Bayshore Caltrains station correctly by linking the Light-Rail Vehicles back up to Balboa Park station and the J-Line creating a loop and link in the system. Finishing the DTX as planned than play “city-maker” and tear-down or suggest other shifts out to or under the bay… Finish what we can and should, and develop a short-range project list that makes the system improved for the perimeter of the city where development is being pressurized into. Than we can discuss other solutions.

  • goodmaab

    Promote public transit on 19th Ave, do an air-tram shot up and down, on the west side, take the line underground along sloat, turning southbound at 20th (not 19th) to avoid construction on 19th, bring it up along the back edge on that raised roadway, to an elevated route on the west-side of 19th (no complaints about views being blocked) as its on the west-side of 19th, out and would create new urban plazas at Stonestown, and green-ways on 19th, by burying the roadway, and taking the train using topography back to the flat area at the rise south of Holloway, and than back to an elevated level out near the 1952 interchange and than back to an intermodal station at Daly City I-280 plinthed over freeway interchange and new entry development areas align and along the whole route…? There are some very interesting solutions that can come from not burying transit, and the public should have a better view and ride, than a tunnel route the whole way.. Bury the cars with a through-way out from the golden gate and 19th, till they get to I-280…and we can alleviate some of the city traffic due to cross-county commuters blocking it all up….


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