Senator Feinstein, the 1950s Called: They want their Transportation Policy Back

California Senator seriously wants another Oakland Bay car crossing to 'alleviate traffic?'

A butterfly bridge was discussed for a second Bay 1953. Photo: SF Public Library
A butterfly bridge was discussed for a second Bay 1953. Photo: SF Public Library

Streetsblog readers have likely read about Senator Diane Feinstein and Congressman Mark DeSaulnier’s call for a new cross-Bay road bridge between San Francisco and Oakland, to improve traffic on the Bay Bridge and its approaches.

From Feinstein and DeSaulnier’s letter to Steve Heminger, Executive Director of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission:

A second crossing would alleviate this traffic through San Francisco and the East Bay, would better connect the entire Bay Area, and would provide significant benefits for toll payers.

We have communicated in the past about the need for another Bay crossing, but this has not led to any concrete action. We need to move this issue forward expeditiously, and we would very much like your assistance in doing so. Please let us know what steps the MTC can take to move forward a new Bay crossing for both transit and vehicles, and more importantly, what we can do to assist you in this endeavor.

Streetsblog has a few questions for Feinstein and DeSaulnier–once all those additional cars cross from Oakland to San Francisco, where are they supposed to go? San Francisco’s streets are already chock-a-block. Are we going to put back the Embarcadero Freeway and extend 101 down Octavia again, in addition to expanding and widening more freeways, so those cars can get around San Francisco once they’ve crossed? And what about all the high rise parking garages we’re going to need to store them?

State Senator Scott Wiener wasted no time putting out a release in response to Feinstein and DeSaulnier. From Wiener’s statement:

We have limited resources for transportation improvements, and we need to prioritize moving people via public transit, not one car at a time across a toll bridge. Whatever the merits are of another bridge across the Bay, it is simply not as important as building a second transbay rail crossing. A second tube can mean more BART trains running, including 24 hour service, a connection between Caltrain and the Capitol Corridor, and high speed rail to the East Bay. That is how we are going to reduce gridlock, not by building another bridge that pours more cars onto our highways on both sides of the Bay. To create a more sustainable transportation future for the Bay Area, we must prioritize a public transit future, not continue living in a car-centric past.

We already have the Bay Bridge, the San Mateo Bridge, and the Dumbarton Bridge joining the East Bay and the San Francisco Peninsula by car. We have only one rail crossing–the BART Transbay Tube. Wiener is absolutely right–we need a second set of tubes connecting San Francisco and Oakland. In addition, what about reviving the Dumbarton rail bridge, which could be used to extend Caltrain to the East Bay? Wouldn’t even that, for pennies on the dollar, be a better use of scarce transportation funds than another highway bridge? (For a look at some of the options, and some history on past crossing proposals, check out UC Berekeley’s “Third Crossing” website).

There’s little doubt that Feinstein’s political muscle helped save Caltrain electrification and that her support for a second crossing for Caltrain, high speed rail, and/or BART would be welcome. It’s somewhat encouraging that at least Feinstein and DeSaulnier are asking that transit be included in the new crossing. But it’s difficult to imagine what the Honorable Senior Senator and a Concord Congressman are thinking when they suggest building a new road bridge that would dramatically increase the number of automobiles in San Francisco.

  • david vartanoff

    Any doubts I had about retiring DiFi are now gone And DeSaulnier, too. A several track second tube, yes, more lanes for cars, no way! And, more importantly, massive new housing so that I 80 ceases to be an all day parking lot. Commuting to SF from beyond the Carquinez is crazy. If they add this to RM3 I will vote against it.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Did you actually have doubts about that?

  • KJ

    Dumbarton rail needs to come first; much of the traffic through SF is really between East Bay and Peninsula. Second, runs frequent trains across the Bay Bridge, like it was designed to do….much more efficient use of bridge space.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    A functioning bus-only lane including bus-only approaches on 80, 880, and 580 would cost nothing and achieve largely the same thing as running rail.

    Dynamiting 580 east of Livermore is of course the cheapest and most effective solution.

  • jonobate

    I’m all in favor of building a second Transbay tube, but how will it help achieve 24hr service, as Weiner claims? The new tube will require just as much maintenance time as the old one.

    I worry this argument will skew the alignment of a new tube towards duplicating existing service rather than serving new markets. Meanwhile, London is already offering 24hr service on Friday and Saturday nights on five tube lines, all of which are two-track through the central core, just like BART. How about we ask them how they manage it?

  • sebra leaves

    First let’s not assume that a new crossing would accommodate more cars. Any new crossing would serve more people and add another option for spanning the bay. There will always be a crisis and any additional crossing is better than none. Whether we build a bridge of a tunnel it will take decades and cost billions of dollars and there are faster, cheaper solutions to relieve the traffic if that ever becomes the goal.

    I agree with KJ that the first step is to re-activate that unused bridge. That has to be cheaper than building a new bridge from scratch and it is a relatively short span.

  • Sean

    Have you ever taken NYC subway night service? Check the paper posted all over the stations with tons of reroutes and service disruptions. They have to maintain the track by cascading through each segment with alternating schedules. This creates a lot of confusion to say the least. As for two tunnels, you can shut down one and maintain the other, like the old PATH tunnels under the Hudson.

  • Sean

    AC Transit M line is a joke over the San Mateo bridge. They need this level of service, that happens to be a bridge route:

  • Sean
  • Pietro Gambadilegno

    I can’t believe that Feinstein is backing this discredited proposal and ignoring the evidence that building more freeway capacity induces more automobile use, making congestion worse overall.

  • StrixNoctis .

    I don’t doubt that building more freeways and bridges for motor traffic increases ownership of motor vehicles, but the horrible case of traffic congestion is due to a high population of snobs who think they’re too good for BART and other public transit systems. Ask drivers why they don’t take public transportation and beside many stating their “need” to drive for convenience, they give a bunch of complaints about the crowding and dislike of people who take public transportation.

    I don’t have faith that improving BART and the other public transportation systems to/from SF will cause the snobs to take those systems.

  • Vooch

    Her husband is likely to make a few billion off the graft

  • Vooch

    If a second bridge is such a critical need – offer a 99 year concession to design, build own , and operate to private enterprise

    see if there is anyone willing to risk their own capital

  • p_chazz

    I wouldn’t call them “snobs who think they’re too good for BART”, just people who don’t want to get beaten, robbed or raped on a BART train, or to get mugged or have their cars stolen in the BART parking lot.

    And how would you implement your regulations limiting car ownership? Would you file an application with a huge bureaucracy–call it the Bureau of Car Ownership? You can keep it! I don’t think most people would want to live with your Soviet-style limitations on personal freedoms.

  • p_chazz

    Why not a tunnel or bridge/tunnel like the Oresund Bridge/Tunnel that connects Denmark and Sweden? It could carry both vehicular traffic and BART tracks from I-238 near the Bayfair Station to US 101 near the I-380 junction and South San Francisco Station.

  • david vartanoff

    The “Soviet style” refusal to provide adequate public transit is equally indefensible. I don’t want to regulate SOV behavior away, but I do want to economically make it more difficult by having the money spent to have vastly better transit–both how often it runs, and where it goes. so that the choice becomes more rational. Fares should be lower, tolls for single drivers should be veryhigh, the three free deal on the bridge needs to return, but 24/7.

  • david vartanoff

    Political will. Chicago has 2 of its 5 trunk lines 24/7 even though most of that mileage is 2 tracks. BART could if BART wanted to. Yes, it would mean occasional bus bridges as happened recently to fix sections where workers need both tracks shut down for safety, but most of the mileage can be safely single tracked overnight.

  • david vartanoff

    Yes, I lived there for 4 years. The current issue is that they deferred too much maintenance over the last couple of decades because Albany kept mooching funding. The subway in NYC facilitates a vibrant 24 hour city. I will probably not go to a particular music show on New Years Eve, because the slog across SF and then home to Oakland will be too slow.

  • jonobate

    Right, that’s exactly my point. If London and Chicago can do it right now, so can BART. Just pick one section to single track through every evening and maintain that; at 20 min headways, it shouldn’t be a problem. Instead, BART keep saying “oh we can’t run 24hr service right now because reasons, so let’s build a new shiny tube so we can have 24hr service!” – conveniently ignoring the fact that adding a second tube doesn’t change the practicalities of running 24hr service if we assume that *both* tubes should be available 24hrs.

    The second tube would make things easier for BART if it had the same start and end points as the current tube, essentially being a four-tracking of the existing tube rather than a brand new route. That way, they could shut down one tube entirely and route all traffic through the other. However, I think such an approach would be a terrible waste of money. If we’re going to spend $15bn+ on a new bart alignment, let’s open up new areas to BART service, such as Geary, Soma, Alameda, and Jack London Square.

    You can already see these tensions playing out in the MTC Core Capacity Transit Study, where they propose a Mission St alignment (which provides redundancy for the existing tube) vs. Geary/3rd St alignment (which opens up new markets for BART service). I really hope they go for the the latter approach, even though it doesn’t really change the picture for 24hr service.

  • City Resident

    Although New Year’s Eve is typically the one night of the year when BART runs well past midnight – usually until about 3 am, I believe. (This may not be late enough for the show you wish to see, and I agree all-night service on at least a couple of nights/week would be great. I used to routinely catch the last train of the day from Millbrae, a Pittsburg/Bay Point train, and I was often surprised how crowded it was – which seems to support the idea that BART ridership could well support later night service or possibly all-night service. For what it’s worth, I’d also routinely catch the first Sunday morning Pittsburg/Bay Point train from Millbrae and was also surprised by how full it was. If you ask me, BART should also start service earlier on weekends – or provide all-night service.)

  • sfmike

    Feinstein has always a Republican at heart. As mayor she only represented big business and in Washington it was the same thing, Time for her to go.

  • It’s not an assumption, it’s a well-documented track record. Hard to see when your dashboard perspective remains so boxed-in, though.

  • 🚘 Notice that she proposes this at a time when her pals in the Republican leadership are hellbent on greenlighting infrastructure for cars, and only for cars.

  • jonobate

    Congestion pricing in cities such as London creates a disencentive to driving in congested areas, with no more bureaucracy than that required to toll the Golden Gate Bridge without accepting cash, which we already do.

    After congestion pricing was implemented, tube ridership in London actually decreased slightly as people switched to buses, because the buses were now so much faster than they were before. This would be a game changer for SF given how much we rely on buses to move people around.

  • jonobate

    The MTC studied a similar concept just 7 a few years ago, and found it would make barely a dent in traffic volumes:

    A southern BART crossing was found to have a negative impact due to the added time from rerouted trips:

    Any new crossing should land in downtown SF, and should be rail, not road.

  • p_chazz

    I wonder about the MTC’s study. If it was organizationally disinclined toward building a bridge, then its study would hardly be unbiased.

  • jonobate

    Unless you can point to where biases affected the studies, your speculation about whatever biases you think the MTC might have is just that.

  • p_chazz

    I didn’t say that MTC’s studies suffered from confirmation bias, only that I suspected that might be the case. Organizations that are supposed to be impartial rarely are.

  • “I wonder about studies I’m inclined to disagree with.”

  • Richard Gadsden

    It would help achieve 24/7 service by alternating which tunnel is open each night.

    London only has 24hr tubes two nights a week because it needs the other five for maintenance – and could only do that on some lines because others still need seven nights maintenance a week. They are adding lines to the overnight operation as time goes on, but they still can’t operate most lines even two nights a week because they need to reduce the required maintenance.

    Also, they close at least one of the night tubes most weekends for maintenance or engineering work.

  • jonobate

    Yes, BART could shut down alternate tubes for maintenance, but if they do that they would have to either a) build the new tube parallel to the old one (essentially four-tracking the existing route) and thus serving no new markets; or b) build a completely separate new tube new markets but be forced to alternate which route is used overnight and therefore which stations get to remain.

    I think most people would be satisfied with BART night service on Friday and Saturday nights only, leaving the other nights for maintenance, but this is never discussed as an option. This should be done both for the existing route and any future route; and any future route should be planned with the objective of serving new markets rather than duplicating existing service.

  • Richard Gadsden

    Agreed. Especially if it’s “Friday and Saturday nights and major holidays” (eg 31 December, etc)

    And major engineering works (like replacing the signalling or something) will likely result in “and we’re shutting down night service for six months every five to ten years” – but only for one line at a time.

    Friday and Saturday nights has the big advantage that they get a chance to clean the trains before any commuter morning – as late night trains are likely to carry people who have overindulged in alcohol and the trains tend to accumulate some bodily fluids.

  • God forbid we go back to policies that actually, you know, *worked*. It is asinine to have to get to SFO from the East Bay by going through San Francisco.


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