Monday, July 27, 2009

Begin the Begin

I think Tom Radulovich hits the nail on the head with the basic tenants of this post. Infill stations are a no brainer, especially where suggested and core capacity and operating should be addressed. Don't forget to check all the rosy ridership assumptions at the door. However I don't think we can just sit and rest on our laurels. We need to find ways to build in greater capacity within Oakland, San Francisco and to a certain degree San Jose so people don't rely on thier cars as much. And while there are several BRT lines on the books, that is not going to be enough to deal with the rising tide of need. The longer term needs to be considered right now including that second tube and more urban extensions. Currently the plan calls for that tube, but more and more outward extensions are planned, meaning more and more funding will go to places that shouldn't get it. It's an export of our tax dollars to elsewhere and a practice that should be rectified.

San Francisco should have built a true Metro long ago and I still believe that is one of the major things this city can do to enhance existing service and get people out of thier cars (There are also a million little things that should be happening as we speak) As other cities have shown, 10,000 passengers per mile is possible with greater network connectivity. If we have core rapid transit within San Francisco and Oakland with quality bus and trams as redundancies and networks, there's no reason why we can't get a million more trips a day. Sure that might sound like a daunting number, but we need to look into the future of what is needed.

When my grandmother was born, there were still streetcars in every major city and very little automobile traffic. In her lifetime, there has been a huge change. Systems such as BART and WMATA have been constructed and the region has invested billions in its highway systems. We CAN invest in our future again. There's no reason why another Great Society Subway can't be constructed. And for those who say we don't have the money or that we're asking for the impossible, take a look at yourself and ask why that is.

You can call me a dreamer or an ivory tower thinker. Worse things have happened. But I'd hate to look back and see some kid like me drawing fantasy lines on a map and wishing that we would have invested in his generation, instead of just thinking of ourselves and our own defecits of imagination. If we listened to the same types of people that said no then, we wouldn't have a BART or Muni system to worry about now. Imagine San Francisco without rapid transit at all.

While we might not be able to plan and construct Metros right now, we can start to think about how a better region can emerge from our planning. Just because we don't have money now doesn't mean we should toss out these ideas or shouldn't plan for them. It just means we need to incubate them, for that point in the future when they should bloom.


Matt Fisher said...


"Excellent." - Mr. Burns

And on Google Maps, this is my map showing what the O-Train should be like. This short term mentality, I will say, justified the Transitway here, as well as the busways in Pittsburgh and Los Angeles, to name a few examples.

This is, indeed, at the same time they promise that BRT will eventually be converted to rail, but give almost no regard as to the objectives, and only appear to be vaguely hinting at the idea.

Matt Fisher said...

There is no reason why we should continue to reject rail primarily on the basis of costs. Note that I don't say rail should go everywhere, and am not seeking to wage "mode wars". Oh, by the way, what I said above was just my opinion. :)

Anonymous said...

You're not seeking to wage "mode wars", Matt, just suggesting that people who propose BRT for anything are insufficiently deferential to rail?


arcady said...

I think a subway-surface system is actually a pretty good idea for San Francisco. Outside of the central core, it doesn't quite have the density to justify a full metro, and it's not exactly a big city so speed is not as much of an issue, and at-grade systems can be plenty fast. San Jose's light rail covers the 7 miles from Civic Center to Old Ironsides in 23 minutes. And San Francisco is just 7 miles across. I think it might make sense to have a pair of subway-surface light rail networks, one in SF, one in Oakland, linked by a new Transbay Tube.

Matthew said...

It does seem like SF currently either gets one or the other: overpriced heavy rail that takes forever to build, and is built on lower-priority corridors, or BRT that gets built where rail transit should. As in BART to SFO, and eventually BART to Warm Springs (where it seems an improvement of CalTrain would be more effective), and the proposed BRT for Van Ness and Geary.

I agree more with arcady, SF seems more suited for a stadt-bahn-esque network, with light rail in the extremities, and a metro in the center; most especially since BART has sort've confused the whole situation by not being a true metro, but more of metro/commuter-rail.

But here again I do agree with you, something similar to the Great Society subways needs to be started, if nothing else, then a better system of Federally funding entire light rail systems (since light rail seems to be the thriving form of rail transit these days, not heavy rail). But we as a country need to do something to enable the dreamers, who think of what could be, not what "probably" will be.

P.S. What were the subway systems that are considered "Great Society"? DC, Atlanta, SF, Miami?

arcady said...

The Great Society Subway is a book about the Washington Metro, which I assume is what is being referred to here. People love to compare BART to it, because the two systems have roughly the same total extent, with WMATA having about twice as many stations and 2.5 times more ridership.

Unknown said...

Matt Fisher,

Any reason you don't extend the O-Train to the airport? Seems like that would be a mighty fine idea...

Anonymous said...

Matt, turning the transitway into a light rail line is a no brainer, though Ottawa also need regional and intercity train service restored to Union Station beside the Rideau Centre.

Matt Fisher said...

Thanks for your input regarding my map, guys! A more acceptable place for commenting, however, would be on a blog, if I had one. ;(

About the suggestions, yes, I am currently working out all things. I would sure like to send the O-Train to the airport, but I don't yet have everything worked out. See this in the note I just added as an update. I still wish they hadn't closed down Union Station downtown. That would make my city look not as good as it should be.

Thanks for commenting!

Matt J. Fisher

Pedestrianist said...

@Arcady regarding surface/subway lines.

I agree that there are a number of corridors in SF that would seem suited to a surface/subway line, and of course every Muni Metro line we have acts like that.

What are your thoughts on the delays that spread from the surface segment to the subway and vice-versa?

How do you reconcile the more frequent service needed in the subway core without wasting resources on the surface segments?

Also, I think portals in the middle of the street can be ugly :-) Not every major transit corridor is lucky enough to have the topography of West Portal at right about the same point you'd naturally want to switch from subway to surface.

And how can we best prepare these lines for the point in the future where it becomes necessary to move the portal farther out down the line - after growth has expanded the boundaries of the core?

arcady said...

Pedestrianist: Geary at least is lucky with the topography between Laguna and Fillmore (or the existing ramp west of Fillmore can be reused). And even with normal topography portals aren't so obtrusive (at least not in Boston). From the point of view of tradeoffs of the metro and streetcar segments on a line, I think there's some unavoidable compromises there, but you can do pretty well before you run into those. Frequent core service vs. sparser service on surface segments has two easy solutions: either funnel a number of surface lines into a single subway, or run a dedicated shuttle for just the subway (like the Muni Metro's S train). The dedicated shuttle plus careful dispatching can help mitigate propagation of delays, as can building the line with excess capacity and using streetcar tricks like double-berthing at stations or coupling trains for the run through the subway to get extra capacity.

As for preparing for the future, Boston actually built at least one of their Green Line portals with an elevated ramp in a trench, so that an extension could be constructed with minimal disruption. Another option is if you have a subway with island platforms and thus a pair of tubes, the ramp to the surface would be between where the extensions of the tubes would go, allowing for a pretty seamless connection when the time comes to extend.