SFMTA Plans Marina Subway Extension

But with Central Subway far behind schedule, some question timing

A shot of the Central subway tunnels. The agency wants to keep going. Photo: SFMTA
A shot of the Central subway tunnels. The agency wants to keep going. Photo: SFMTA

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The $1.6 billion Central Subway to Chinatown is over a year behind schedule, but SFMTA is moving forward with plans to extend it into the Marina district–and perhaps as far as the Presidio.

Last night the SFMTA held the second of two “kickoff” meetings, this one at the Marina Middle School, to discuss plans for extending the subway north of Chinatown. About fifty people showed up to discuss possible alignments with transit planners. Eric Kingsbury, a transit advocate who attended the meeting, lives in the Marina and currently takes the 30X Marina Express bus every day to his job downtown. “The 30 is one of the slowest lines in the entire city,” he told Streetsblog. “It takes at least forty minutes every day… to go three miles.”

Options under consideration for extending to Fisherman's Wharf. Image: SFMTA
Options under consideration for extending to Fisherman’s Wharf. Image: SFMTA

Kingsbury and others are desperate for a faster alternative, which is why there is so much political pressure to extend the subway, despite problems with the current Central Subway project. From the SFMTA’s release:

Although the Chinatown Station will be the northern terminal of the Central Subway when it opens in 2019, the subway tunnels presently extend approximately one additional mile north of the Chinatown Station, to Columbus and Powell Streets in North Beach. These additional tunnels were constructed so that the tunnel boring machines (TBMs) used during project construction could be removed from the ground in an area where off-street space was available, so as to minimize surface disruption. Though no passenger service will be operated in the tunnels north of Chinatown Station when the Central Subway opens, the tunnels are designed to allow the line to be extended further to the north and/or west in the future.

Since the subway tunnels already extend all the way to Columbus and Powell, the SFMTA is looking at options to add a station in North Beach–and then potentially extend the subway further to the north and/or west.

Local residents met SFMTA planners at Marina Middle School cafeteria to hear about the extension plans and give input. Photo: Adrienne Heim
Local residents met SFMTA planners at Marina Middle School’s cafeteria to hear about the extension plans and give input. Photo: SFMTA/Adrienne Heim

“San Francisco Transit Riders would love to see the Central Subway extended to North Beach, Fisherman’s Wharf, and on through the Marina to the Presidio. This would be a huge improvement for riders to be able to connect through all those neighborhoods, to downtown and Caltrain, as well as connecting San Francisco to the Golden Gate and Marin,” wrote Cat Carter, spokesperson for San Francisco’s transit advocacy group, in an email to Streetsblog. “We would like to see this happen in five years instead of ten, but we’ll have to find funding, which of course will take political will.”

Possible options for extending further west. Image: SFMTA
Possible options for extending further west. Image: SFMTA

Meanwhile, the project is big enough that the meeting was covered by ABC7 TV. In the station’s report, some residents who attended the meeting questioned the wisdom of planning a subway extension before the problems that resulted in delays and overruns to the current subway extension–now some two years behind schedule, depending on how one measures it–are addressed.

“I think everyone in the city is outraged that we are what, nineteen months behind schedule and we’ve spent a lot more money than was promised,” said Kingsbury. “But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be looking at the future of transit in San Francisco and proactively planning for the future.”

That future could take a while. The extension is currently unfunded and even the Transit Riders estimation of it being ten years off is probably optimistic. Kingsbury said he was told by an SFMTA official at the meeting that even twenty years would be “ambitious.”

In the end, it will depend on political pressures, the economy, and the vagaries of local, state and national politics to make funding available. After that, “Environmental review, Engineering, and Construction combined typically take a total of ten to fifteen years based on comparable projects around the country,” said Adrienne Heim, a spokesperson for SFMTA.

Stephen Taber, an advocate with the Transit Riders and SF Nextstop, looks at it this way: “The current phase of the Central Subway will have taken about twenty years,” he told Streetsblog in an email. “Given that we already have a tunnel to North Beach and that some preliminary studies have already been completed, getting it to Fisherman’s Wharf may not take that long. If we include an extension to the Marina and the Presidio, that could extend the time period.”

What do you think? What option would be your preference for an extension of the Central Subway? Post your comments below.

  • shamelessly

    That’s exciting! Instead of terminating at the eastern edge of the Presidio, though, the line should extend all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge visitors center — a super popular destination, especially for tourists staying in Union Square or Fisherman’s Wharf.

  • theqin

    What happened to opening the train tunnel under the hill at fort mason? They need to increase the service frequency of the e line, and run new modern cars for the e and f lines, and the modernized f should go underground down market street since currently the service is rediculously slow going on the surface.

    “Historic” blah blah mumbo jumbo should be abandoned. People just want to get where they are going fast. I bet if you asked the tourist if they would prefer to ride a historic street car or wait 20 minutes for the next train they would rather not wait.

  • Not sure if the ridership to tunnel from the Presidio to the Visitors Center warrants the billions it would cost considering there is nothing around the GGB visitors center to attract riders nearby. The priority is about moving residents and commuters. A bus connecting the Presidio to the visitors center would suffice or an extension of the E/F (see below).

    In all honesty, we’re looking at 20-30 years before a train would roll into the Presidio. It’s not like the Marina is a hot bed of development so is it really worth an extension that would run well over $5B (double the length of the CS which is coming in over $2B) for a handful of stations? I know access to the Presidio can be a challenge, but let’s focus on what should have been included in the current CS…North Beach and Fisherman’s Wharf stations. The tunnel is already at North Beach. Just build a station there and continue the tunnel to Conrad Square which is about half a mile from a Lombard/Columbus location and easily connects the area between Pier 39 and Fort Mason. Extend the E/F lines through Fort Mason, along the Marina/Crissy Field and into the Presidio.

  • Historic or modern, with Muni you’re going to wait, regardless.

    Modern LRVs will never run along the north waterfront. Also, the only place an F line train can enter the Market St. tunnel downtown is at Folsom on the Embarcadero, and that would require the train to stop at the Folsom station and change direction. Hardly convenient or effective.

    The Fort Mason train tunnel is single track. It would probably work fine for the historic cars, but not LRVs, especially considering the single track around Aquatic Park is basically in the sidewalk where people walk. Safety measures would definitely have to be considered.

  • JD

    What ever happened to the Richmond District?

  • Richmond gets BRT. (Insert laughter.) Richmond should have BART considering nearly 100,000 people use the 38 and nearby buses on Fulton, Balboa, California, etc.

    Keep in mind that any Central Subway extension will only be able to handle 2-car train sets because the platforms currently being built at Moscone, Union Square and Chinatown are only 2 cars long. This was done to “cut costs,” but by doing so removed any chance of running longer train sets thereby carrying more passengers. This is another reason why BART to the Richmond makes more sense because even if the stations can handle 6-car BART train sets that will still move a lot more people than any Muni operation.

  • > “The 30 is one of the slowest lines in the entire city,” he told Streetsblog. “It takes at least forty minutes every day… to go three miles.”

    Kingsbury and others are desperate for a faster alternative, which is why there is so much political pressure to extend the subway, despite problems with the current Central Subway project.

    What are bikes and bus-only lanes? There, I just saved them $1.5bn.

  • JD
  • mx

    If we’re talking about linking up with development, hanging the turn to the west and continuing out to Van Ness strikes me as more useful in the long run: Van Ness BRT can connect to the subway at both Market+Van Ness and Van Ness and somewhere around Union or Lombard. And there’s a lot more potential for development along the Van Ness corridor (just replacing car dealerships/mechanics with 10+ story apartment buildings next to frequent transit service to start) than the Marina.

  • There’s a project called ConnectSF which is starting to look at the next steps for Geary. That might be Muni Metro, but the second Transbay BART/Caltrain/Capitol Corridor/HSR crossing study has already started and running that new BART line under Geary to (at least) 6th Ave is part of the study.

  • The Fort Mason Streetcar Extension is still making slow progress and it’s easy to forget now, but opening the E-Embarcadero as full time second historic streetcar line was one of the biggest steps along the way.

    The last time I talked to someone at the SFMTA a few years about it a few years ago, their priority was getting more streetcars restored and totally onboard with the extension, but most of it is on National Park Service land so the SFMTA is pretty on their schedule. The upside of that is the NPS will provide a good chunk of funding from grants specific to improving transit to national parks, meaning the Fort Mason Extension won’t have to come at the expense of other projects.

  • thielges

    Please tell me that there was a good reason for the City to remove the tunnel boring machines from North Beach at great expense, only to reverse that operation to continue the tunnel northward versus simply leaving the TBMs underground. And I hope the reason is not “job creation”.

  • David

    The North Beach station should be built and opened as soon as possible. Then the Central Subway should be extended to Fisherman’s Wharf (Conrad Square is fine) and Van Ness Avenue (to connect with Van Ness BRT). (Or, alternatively, Van Ness BRT should be extended to Fisherman’s Wharf to connect with the Central Subway.) The Marina is not dense enough to justify subway service when the Geary corridor isn’t getting it, plus the risk of liquefaction would presumably make construction prohibitively expensive.

  • Hunter

    Option 2 – connecting to Fisherman’s Wharf and then through the Marina on Lombard makes the most sense to focus on ridership (though it will be a nightmare during construction when Lombard is choked off).

  • crazyvag

    I agree. The demand for transit is already so high that parking lots have to be closed to shrink the demand. I mean, if that’s not enough demand, than what would be?

  • crazyvag

    Now that 38 Geary is getting BRT, 14/47/49 getting BRT, doesn’t that leave 30/45 lines as the next highest ridership lines making them candidate for rail upgrades?

    If you need further evidence, consider that demand is so high, that original Chariot lines connected Marina with FiDi/SOMA.

    Also, why don’t SF residents deserve FAST transit that’s not always beaten down by cost cutting and endless pursuit of justification of every dollar.

  • Well. It’s lengthy and involves the Feds…

    Voters approved a subway only as far as Chinatown, which set in motion a decade+ process where pretty early on they decided it would not be a good idea to excavate the machines in the middle of Stockton Street (around Washington) which would require a six-month shutdown.

    It added to the cost, and it technically went against the letter of the law with regards to voters approved (the Federal Government has been burned in the past by committing to matching funds and then having local authorities start adding on as well), but the SFMTA (the Transit Authority is very much involved here as well) received an exception to continue digging all the way to North Beach.

    At Washington Square Park soil conditions start changing and those TBMs might not even have been feasible for continued digging. None of this was in scope for the Central Subway, so the SFMTA put a pin in it. It too long after subway construction stated that the SFMTA came back to it conducted the feasibility study this public meeting and the work around it was based on.

    On the plus side:

    There is a completed pair of lined tunnels already running from Chinatown to exactly where the feasibility study suggests placing North Beach Station.

    One of the construction scenarios that’s least disruptive is to bore the tunnels south to North Beach, dig them out and built the station there. Still years of highly disruptive work, but it consolidates things a little bit.

  • Sean Hussey

    1) Drop the new machine in at Washington Square Park.
    2) Tunnel back to the existing tunnel.
    3) Tunnel forward to future stations.
    4) Immediately start building Washington Square Park Station, using the fastest method.
    5) Finish the tunnel and other stations.
    6) Conduct community outreach on another extension.

  • crazyvag

    Thanks for the great explanation. I guess everyone is curious who should be fired for bringing up a voter measure that forced subway only to Chinatown. Do you happen to recall the year of that measure?

  • David

    Realistically, the Marina is only dense enough for surface rail. In that case, I wouldn’t get my hopes up about a T-Third extension beyond Van Ness. I used to take the 15-Third when I first lived in SF in 2004, and it was much faster than every trip I have ever taken on the T. If there is a way for the T to be as slow as or slower than the 30, I’m sure SFMTA will figure it out.

  • theqin

    Well the reason I mention the historic streetcars is that they are over capacity, and their lack of timeliness only makes it worse since sometimes there is no room to even get on. And these are tourists who are spending hundreds of dollars to stay here.

  • Patrick Jackson

    Instead of heading to Fisherman’s Wharf, I think the line should, after a North Beach Station, head under Lombard Street to Lombard/Van Ness. Both North Beach and Lombard/Van Ness are more central for more people and are a <10 min walk for tourists going to Fisherman's Wharf. Then, the line can speedily be extended along Lombard someday with double the cachement as running it along the bay.

  • Modern streetcars have a set capacity as well and prone to delays as well. (Just look at Muni Metro)

    The reason the hostoric streetcars are so crowded is because they are popular, especially with tourists, and especially along the waterfront. Many get a happy surprise when they see a streetcar from their home town.

    SFMTA is continually restoring additional streetcars to keep up with ridership, even opening a second line, but they fill up quick.

    One of the things the Fort Mason Extension will do is create separate terminals for the E and F. That will fix the issue of everyone boarding at Jones before the streetcar has left the first stop by spreading the load.

    For those tourists looking for a fast, modern train, the Central Subway to Fisherman’s Wharf might serve that role better (depending on the destination)

    I think low-floor modern streetcars probably have a place, but “in addition to” not “in place of”.

  • I’m all for keeping historic streetcars and running real light rail. There is room for both. It’s time the city focuses on the latter.

  • Van Ness BRT…now that you brought it up, the Van Ness corridor, one of the few major N-S arteries in the city with plenty of opportunity to build up, should have underground rail, either light rail or BART.

  • I’d like to know outside of commute hours how many people ride the 30 in the Marina, between Van Ness and Divis.

    Getting back to development, the new construction going up on Lombard is 4 stories at best. Too much opposition to building “up” in this area.

    Let’s look at it this way…if we’re going to spend billions for an underground rail system we have to reach areas that can provide the ridership, both today and in the future. Even if it attracts riders who currently don’t use transit, I don’t think an extension of the subway to the Marina/Cow Hollow will create enough demand outside of commute hours.

  • theqin

    The reason I say in place of is because they can’t run two car consists. The cost per boarding on the f line is higher than the fare they charge. — the cost per boarding on the f line is $3.36. Compare that to the j church at $2.38 or one of the cable car lines at $2.66. It’s crazy that the cable car costs less to operate than the historic street cars.

    This is according to http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=

  • Ziggy Tomcich

    Are you fucking kidding me? This 1.6 billion dollar central subway system can only handle as many passengers as bus? I’m livid! Does that make sense to anybody? The 30-45 buses that run on Stockton are usually packed and they run every few mins. So you’re telling us that the $1.6 billion we’re spending and decades of disruptive construction won’t even have the capacity of the buses that are currently running there? 2-car trains? How many do they plan on running? Can anyone justify this?
    2-car train limitations kills any possibly of ever expanding it. There’s no capacity left. $1.6 billion for 2-car trains is criminally stupid!

  • Wow, so now we’re basing transit projects on “economic value of riders” (aka, income). Whatever.

    David is correct. Geary shouldn’t have to suffer with a crappy BRT system that moves nearly 100,000 riders along the corridor while the Marina gets a subway. Surface rail is pointless (as we all know too well in this town). It’s either subway or nothing. However, liquefaction isn’t that much of a concern as other cities have built successful tunnels in equally unstable soil…dig deep.

  • Right, because EVERYONE bikes. Bus only lanes? Yeah, good luck getting those. We know how well they work on Geary, don’t we.

  • Yep, I’ve seen this baby before. Interesting that there still is no N-S rail connection, but love the 4 stations along Mission and extension along the current M line to Daly City.

  • BRT is not “fine” for Geary. Like any infrastructure project it will cost a fortune, but something sensible has to be done. BRT is hardly the solution.

  • Yes, I’m aware of that. Also, a Marin line probably wasn’t the greatest idea anyway.

  • No, I’m not kidding you. Station platforms were shortened to reduce costs. This eliminated any future extension of the platforms. Also, the Union Square station was built without a station box for any future Geary light rail subway. So, basically, for nearly $2B you’re getting half a bus line because everyone from Chinatown north and west to the Marina will have to ride the 30 to Chinatown then descend 100 feet to a platform to wait to transfer to a train. Honestly, if your destination is Union Square you’re better off staying on the bus for two more stops.

  • Ziggy Tomcich

    I live just 3 blocks from the Chinatown stop, and it only takes me 23 minutes to walk from my apt to the Powell Bart platform. This is why we need all transportation funding removed from local politicians. What a fucking colossal waste. That $2billion could’ve done so much to improve mass transit in much more effective and meaningful ways. What is the capacity of the central subway with only 2 cars? What sort of frequency of service do they plan on running?

    Is it even viable to expand it past Chinatown without the capacity of longer trains? If they expanded it to the Marina district and the wharf, they will probably not be any room left for anyone to board a packed 2-car train in Chinatown. I sincerely wish some politicians would go to jail for this fiasco. Not only are the fucking over SF, they’re fucking over mass transit throughout California by giving effective ammunition for those who oppose it.

  • Everything planners do is always so wrong…

    It’s probably too late because you’re already over what some guy on the internet said in a comment about two-car trains, but think bigger:

    Two-car trains running on headways under two minutes is more capacity the rest of the Muni Metro system combined.

    With a two-car train carrying about the same as three buses, to handle the same capacity you’d need three times the operators with headways under a minute, on the surface.

    Planners did indeed consider three-car platforms, but since the surface section can’t handle more than two-car trains anyway, it was ultimately decided it wouldn’t be financially prudent to spend hundreds of millions of dollars when the subway can’t run three-car trains and would be difficult to retrofit most of the surface segment.

    I’m just a guy commenting on the internet myself though.

  • Before you go blaming anyone for anything…

    A few of your questions have already been answered in a 2015 feasibility study the illustrations in the story came from.

    Depending on the configuration of the turnback facilities after the final station and other modifications trains will be able to run as closes as 40-50 seconds apart. As designed for the Chinatown phase, the study says trains can run as close as 93 seconds.

    The feasibility study mainly focused on Fisherman’s Wharf and the answer to how your more service without longer trains is more frequency.

    Running with 24 trains-per-hour (2.5 min headways) the maximum capacity is 5,712 passengers/hour, but they plan with a lot of overhead. Overall, 150,000 passengers per day.

    For context, that’s up from the 7.5 trains-per-hour (8 min headways) on the T-line today, and 15 trains-per-hour (4 min headways) planned for peak Central Subway service.


    The feasibility did find concern extending beyond Fisherman’s Wharf because it could indeed overload the two-car downtown stations. It seemed pretty definitive Marina service would require lengthening the central core stations to three or four cars, but that’s not practical because the surface portation south of Bryant can’t accommodate more than a two-car train.


    That estimate is taken in isolation because there are so many proposed, possible, and still unimagined changes.

    I’m being completely serious that you made me think of a new one writing this comment.

    What if… the Marina is served by two Muni Metro lines. The first is the extension of the Central Subway/T-Line from Fisherman’s Wharf Then image the other line, let’s call it the “V-Van Ness” turns south into a new Van Ness Subway.



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