Editorial: Keep the Combo J Church/K Ingleside Train

SFMTA has temporarily combined the two lines to help deal with the Twin Peaks closure, but why are the J and K separate to begin with?

From the cab view of a KJ combo train heading into Glen Park (that's a test train ahead in the station). Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
From the cab view of a KJ combo train heading into Glen Park (that's a test train ahead in the station). Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

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I lived in Ingleside, near Ocean Avenue, for a year and a half. When I lived there, I was a regular K Ingleside train rider. On occasion, I needed to get from Ocean and Fairfield to Glen Park or Noe Valley. The only way to get there by rail was to ride the K to Balboa Park and then transfer either to BART or the J Church to continue my journey. Often, my K train would pull into Balboa Park just in time to watch a J leave without me. I’ve waited as much as twenty minutes at Balboa to make the transfer.

And every time it came up I wondered: why do the J and the K turn around at Balboa and head back downtown the way they came, rather than continuing on each other’s alignments? Wouldn’t the service be more useful if, even if they had to pause for a few minutes at Balboa to maintain schedules, the two lines were combined?

SFMTA's map of the KJ during the Twin Peaks closure shows a different way of thinking about Balboa Park operations.
SFMTA’s map of the KJ during the Twin Peaks closure shows a different way of thinking about Balboa Park operations.

Enter Muni’s Twin Peaks summer tunnel closure. To help make it easier to get around while the tunnel is closed for repairs, Muni has created the KJ Ingleside/Church line. Covering the first day of the closure, I tried out the service from St. Francis Circle to Noe Valley. The train pulled into the Balboa Park loop but, rather than turning around and heading back where it came from, it simply continued down San Jose Avenue on the J Church alignment to downtown.

It was the easiest trip from Ingleside to Noe I’d ever had.

Now, there may not be a huge demand for a one-seat ride from Ocean Avenue to Glen Park, Noe Valley, and other stops on this alignment. But there’s probably some–and it’s unclear why it’s been necessary to make this trip so difficult.

According to SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose, the agency is not considering continuing the KJ service after the Twin Peaks tunnel re-opens. And, clearly, there are considerations about making lines too long–the K line already combines with the T-Third train, so further combining it with the J Church would make a very long, complex line that might be plagued by scheduling problems. But when the Central Subway opens, T trains will be rerouted into the new tunnel, rending this particular argument against continuing the KJ moot.

“The KT line was created as a stop-gap between the opening of phase 1 of the T-Third and the opening of the Central Subway. Originally kept separate from the K, one of the goals of merging the lines was to reduce the impact on the Market Street tunnel by running the line through. The KJ line actually does a better job of meeting those goals and would allow for better connections between Ingleside, Glen Park, and Noe Valley (and Stern Grove!),” wrote Reed Martin of the San Francisco Transit Riders in an email.

If the KJ were to be continued, clearly it should not originate at St. Francis Circle, where it does now because of the Twin Peaks tunnel closure. Rather, it could follow the entire K and J alignments, starting and ending at Embarcadero. There are other configurations Muni could consider. But either way, the temporary KJ train is an opportunity for Muni to take another look at how it operates its trains to–and through–Balboa Park.

Tell us what you think in the comments below.

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Key members of the team that designed, planned and executed upgrades to Balboa Park Station. All photos Streetsblog/Rudick

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