And the Twin Peaks Tunnel Closure Begins

Replacement buses collect passengers at Castro Station. All photos Streetsblog/Rudick unless noted
Replacement buses collect passengers at Castro Station. All photos Streetsblog/Rudick unless noted

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Today was the first day of the two-month planned closure of the Twin Peaks tunnel, temporarily shutting down all rail service between Castro, Forest Hill, and West Portal.

From the SFMTA post explaining the project:

With 100 years of service under its belt, Twin Peaks Tunnel needs extensive work to its interior to continue to operate safety and reliably for years to come. This vital part of our transit rail system connects Castro Station to West Portal Station and serves over 80,000 K Ingleside, L Taraval and M Ocean View customers every day.

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SFMTA guides and volunteers were handing out this map and explaining where to go. Image: SFMTA

The scale of the work is most apparent outside West Portal station, where the agency has already staged pipes, gravel and other heavy equipment and parts. One of the contractors, Universal Forest Products (UFPI), was busy putting up wooden pedestrian shields along the sidewalk, as seen below:

These shields are to protect pedestrians from dust and debris
These shields are to protect pedestrians from dust and debris

The shields are to protect pedestrians from dust and debris and, to some extent, noise. “Some people don’t know what’s going on and are irritated,” said UFPI’s Natasha Salas. “Others are aware and are just happy it’s only for two months.”

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Pedestrian shields moving into position (left) and a train full of pipes waiting to get loaded into the tunnel (right)

She also said some of the shop owners seemed concerned about getting deliveries.

“For over a year they’ve [SFMTA] come to every merchant meeting,” said Maureen Staus, owner of the Eezy Freezy market on West Portal Avenue. She explained that all the businesses were well informed of what was coming and that they narrowly avoided serious complications with deliveries, since the pedestrian shields, as originally positioned, would have prevented beer and other heavy deliveries from reaching her shop. The agency agreed to re-position the shields so delivery trucks could get to her shop and still get back out of the area without backing up several blocks. “It was a little snafu, but they got it figured out.” She also said the SFMTA was short a crossing guard this morning, but that also got fixed.

It’s only day one of course, but the Squat & Gobble restaurant right across from the West Portal Station seemed to have a healthy crowd. Although Julieta Cervantes, the manager at the restaurant, said they’re concerned about the loss of parking and fewer Muni customers walking past the shop. It also probably isn’t helpful that the restaurant was shaking every few minutes from the work.

WestPortal OutFront
A Muni customer gets directions to replacement bus service before a flurry of construction activity at West Portal Station.

Meanwhile, SFMTA had guides at Castro, Church, West Portal and St. Francis Circle, and other places along the lines. They also had signs on the trains and in the stations. And Google maps included the closures in its directions. There were a few confused riders here and there, but instructions seemed much clearer than in previous shutdowns. Advocates such as the San Francisco Transit Rider’s Rachel Hyden would like to see SFMTA do even better, by reserving lanes and giving signal priority to the replacement buses. Still, even she was impressed. “The onboard digital signage was displaying transfer points, I couldn’t believe my eyes! This is something we’d love to see on every line, but it’s especially important during a shutdown of this nature,” wrote Hyden, who rides the L Taraval. “There were ambassadors every step of the way; large, visible signage in all the stations; and most impressively, lots of multi-lingual materials inside the trains and buses.”

There were big signs, little signs, digital signs, and paper signs--such as this one--throughout the system
There were big signs, little signs, digital signs, and paper signs–such as this one in Castro station–throughout the system

Perhaps the best test of how well the agency is disseminating information comes down to how tourists, who aren’t familiar with the system and would have no reason to know about the closure, were getting on. Judi Gould was visiting from Ventura and was taking her grandson Rye to the zoo from Castro Station. “I saw the signs. I saw it on my app,” she said while waiting for the replacement L Taraval bus at Castro. Her grandson Rye, meanwhile, seemed to enjoy the view from the bus as it chugged over Twin Peaks,

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Judi Gould and grandson Rye, waiting for the L Taraval replacement bus to the zoo

Regular rider Kate Rabbit found the extra stop on the replacement bus confounding (the bus stopped twice on Portola, at O’Shaughnessy and Laguna Honda, whereas normally it only stops at Forest Hill station between Castro and West Portal). “There should just be one–it’s confusing,” she said, adding that it’s just the first day and things will become more clear as the closure continues. And Theolia Valentine was thrown by a lack of clear stop announcements from the driver of the L Taraval replacement bus (there was an automated message that cycled every minute or so, explaining the closure and the replacement bus service, but nothing about upcoming stops). The driver, meanwhile, was a bit confused himself, and neglected to stop at Wawona Street, a stop on his route and the nearest one to West Portal station.

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The L Taraval replacement bus climbing over Twin Peaks

Meanwhile, a Muni guide working at Castro station said he found about half the people he encountered knew about the tunnel closure. “There’s a little bit of confusion,” explained one of SFMTA’s information volunteers, who was directing people from the exit of the Castro Street Muni subway to the replacement bus service. “There’s always going to be some.”

Most people, however, calmly went with the flow. They were also looking forward to the end of summer when things should return to normal–and, hopefully, more reliable service. “People don’t realize how important these trains are until they don’t come anymore,” said Valentine.

“Bus substitutions are an inconvenience for everyone, but it’s really important we maintain our tunnels to provide safe and reliable service for the 80,000 people who depend on it,” wrote Hyden. “San Francisco Transit Riders will be keeping a close eye on how it’s going, and will continue to push SFMTA to deliver the service frequencies they’ve promised.”

For full details on replacement bus services and reroutes, check out SFMTA’s web page. Or watch the embedded video below. And if you ride the impacted routes, let us know how it goes by posting your comments.

  • gb52

    Generally things are going smoothly, but people again will realize that buses do not have the capacity that trains have and even with the higher frequency, vehicles are packed and dwell times are especially high even when using the 60′ buses. To be more efficient, MUNI should implement the equivalent of the Nx express bus to move passengers faster and more efficiently. There would essentially be increased service with the shorter run times and people could get to their destinations faster. Just like how MUNI Forward was designed to move people faster, the only problem coming out of this would be that people would want to keep the express service forever. There’s no reason why MUNI couldn’t run an express shuttle during this closure.

  • Taktown4949

    I actually like that the bus shuttles stop on Protola Drive and Laguna Honda Blvd as well as on Oshaughnessy Blvd because many people who live near those intersections live within walking distance to the Forest Hill Station. In the past when metro service was shutdown occasionally people who live in Forest Hill Extension and Miraloma Park that had to take these shuttles, the buses would pass by where they live to get to Forest Hill Station and therefore when they have to ride the shuttles they’re someone going out of their way to get back home(go past their homes just to get back home) which is not convenient nor efficient, so I’m glad that this time those two stops in addition to other new stops were added to accommodate for that.

  • On day two, this Castro resident can report that things are going fairly well for me. Crowds were backed up to the fare gates this morning, but unlike yesterday, all trains were two-car and the crowds cleared quickly. I was able to get on the second train to pull in. The S-Shuttles which stay in the tunnels with long platforms should all be three car. Castro riders might actually see improved service over pre-closure since trains arrive frequently and empty – vividly demonstrating the value of increased S service in the future, and of dedicated routes where trains don’t get delayed and bunched in traffic. Unlike yesterday, the next train signs were not remotely accurate. Many riders saw next train in 12 min and left station in anger, presumably adding to traffic by calling a cab or Lyft, while a train pulled in right behind them. If the signs cannot be made to work, one of the guides should announce train timings with a megaphone. I won’t be going out to West Portal until Wednesday night, but at Castro, so far so good.

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