SF lays blueprint for future subways


San Francisco supervisors are looking ahead so that The City does not fall behind when it comes to public transportation planning for the future such as building new underground subways.

Legislation to require the City to have a comprehensive subway master plan moved forward to the full Board of Supervisors after the legislation was heard Monday in the board’s Land Use and Transportation Committee.

If approved by the full Board of Supervisors Nov. 3, transit planners will have 12 months to come up with a plan after Mayor Ed Lee signs the legislation. Planners would also need to update the subway plan every four years.

Introduced by Supervisor Scott Wiener last month, Wiener said Monday that with The City growing by the hundreds of thousands, The City needs to have a plan to get people around and to add more capacity to BART and Muni for the future residents and workers coming into San Francisco:

“Sadly we have not always planned when it comes to public transportation. In the late 1970s we opened the BART system and the Market Street subway. Since then in the 35-plus years, we have not added one inch of additional subway capacity in San Francisco.”

Wiener cited the work being done now with the Central Subway project, which will connect the T-Third line to Chinatown in 2019. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has purchased new trains for the Central Subway and for the rest of the Muni Metro system.

He said that after the project is complete, The City should not just stop there:

“We have to make sure we don’t repeat past mistakes by opening the Central Subway and resting on our laurels and then letting another 35 years go by without subway capacity.”

Wiener said he would also want for the subway plan to look at the western and southeastern parts of San Francisco for potential underground subway service.

Muni buses and surface street-level trains do provide access to the downtown area, Wiener said those alternatives can sometimes be slow especially with Muni buses are competing traffic and traveling an average of 8 miles per hour:

“We need to move more of our transit underground and off of our streets. It makes a huge difference when you have subway service.”

The City has worked on long-term transportation plans before, said Michael Schwartz, a senior transportation planner for the San Francisco County Transportation Authority.

Schwartz provided some historical background on a plan called the Four Corridors Study from the 1990s, which looked at the Geary, Bayshore, Van Ness and North Beach corridors for future transportation planning.

Projects being worked on now in those corridors include the Van Ness and Geary bus rapid transit projects and the T-Third line.

Current studies being worked on now increase capacity on BART and Muni include the Metropolitan Transportation Commission Core Capacity study, which focuses on investing and prioritizing short-term and long-term transportation improvements in the Transbay corridor and focusing on Muni’s light-rail and bus systems, said Graham Satterwhite, a SFMTA principal planner.

Planning and building a new underground subway would take a compelling vision on how the project would meet transportation goals, new funding sources, land use transportation coordination, adding staffing such as engineers and advocates to push for the projects, said Satterwhite:

“We’re going to need champions both at the city and regional level. Also in the state level, in our citizenry, business community, across the board. It’s going to take a lot effort by a lot of folks to make this happen, but this is the first step and we think we’re starting out on the right track here with this coordinated planning effort.”

Esther Stearns, a member of the San Francisco Transit Riders Union, said the group supports the legislation and hopes the legislation takes a look at the shifting commute patterns and parts of San Francisco that do not have access to the subway:

“Every day we don’t have the right long-term planning, we get further and further behind.”

Jerold Chinn
Jerold Chinn is the San Francisco Bureau Chief of SFBay. A San Francisco native, he has spent a decade covering transportation in San Francisco. Send tips to or at Twitter @Jerold_Chinn.

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