San Francisco Muni passengers and public transit aficionados, some of whom have waited years and even decades, were among the first to ride Muni inside the Central Subway Saturday morning as part of a weekend-only shuttle service that will last through Jan. 1, 2023.
Shuttle train service is available at each of the new four stations from 8 a.m. to midnight on Saturdays and Sundays at the Chinatown-Rose Pak, Union Square/Market Street, Yerba Buena/Moscone and Fourth and Brannan stations. Trains will run every 12 minutes.
The public was also able to check out artwork at each station, including Chinatown-based artist Yumei Hou’s laser cut metal red pieces called Yangge: Dance of the Bride and Yangge: Dance of the New Year. Both pieces are inspired by a popular folk dance from the northern provinces of China, according to the San Francisco Arts Commission, who was in charge of selecting the art pieces at each station.
Both of Hou’s pieces are prominently displayed inside the Chinatown-Rose Pak station.
Another piece lights up the concourse level of the Union Square/Market Street station.
The illuminated installation is made up of 500 translucent light panels that change colors and span across nearly 670 feet across the concourse ceiling. The concourse level of the Union Square/Market Street station also serves as a connection point for Muni riders who need to take BART or other Muni rail lines at Powell station.
Before trains began rolling into the stations, a blessing ceremony took place early Saturday morning in front of the Chinatown-Rose Pak station as well as inside the station’s street-level plaza, concourse level and station platform.
After the ceremony, elected city leaders and community members gathered at the station’s plaza for a brief news conference. Many praised the late Chinatown activist and power broker Rose Pak for her efforts to get funding and to push elected city officials to build the subway following the demolition of the Embarcadero Freeway after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.
When then-Mayor Art Agnos proposed demolishing the freeway, Chinatown merchants feared that the demolition of the freeway would impact businesses.
Former Mayor Willie Brown said:
“… the confrontation with Art Agnos and Rose over the disappearance of the Embarcadero freeway was actually the trigger that started this whole process.”
The project has been a long time coming as many elected leaders pointed out. It took the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency over a decade of construction to get to Saturday’s soft opening. Despite its late opening — about four years behind the original schedule — the SFMTA is promising changes for the Chinatown neighborhood that endured the years of construction.
SFMTA Director of Transportation Jeff Tumlin said:
“It will change Chinatown, anchoring Chinatown forever as the economic and cultural heart of Chinese San Francisco.”
Still, the project has its critics who have long said the 1.7-mile project was expensive. That price tag continues to grow with the latest figure forecasted to be $1.95 billion. The baseline budget was set at $1.58 billion.
About the cost of the project, former executive director of the Chinatown Community Development Center Rev. Norman Fong said:
“I know in the news, they’re gonna talk about the costs and all that, but this is priceless.”
The SFMTA anticipates full revenue service of the Central Subway to begin on Jan. 7, 2023. It will connect T-Third rail line Muni passengers from the Visitacion Valley, Bayview, Dogpatch, Mission Bay neighborhoods to Chinatown.
Jerold serves as a reporter and San Francisco Bureau Chief for SFBay covering transportation, City Hall, and the Mayor's Office in San Francisco. His work on transportation has been recognized by the San Francisco Press Club. Born and raised in San Francisco, he graduated from San Francisco State University with a degree in journalism. Jerold previously wrote for the San Francisco Public Press, a nonprofit, noncommercial news organization. When not reporting, you can find Jerold taking Muni to check out new places to eat in the city.