Friday, October 31, 2008

San Francisco Fantasy Map & Investment

We're a bunch of wimps. Why is investing in infrastructure a luxury when people go out and spend so much money on their cars. A commenter (btw, please stop posting as anon. I don't care if you want to be anon, but make up a name so I can tell between commenters) in the post below called High Speed Rail a luxury we can't afford and wanted the money spent on local transit. Why the hell isn't anyone logical out there? Why are we pitting a long distance mode that will decrease airplane trips, the most dirty climate change inducing trips out there, versus a short distance mode that everyone knows is needed?

This isn't about one or the other, it's about both. Stop pitting HSR against the budget. Stop pitting HSR against schools. And stop pitting HSR versus better local transit. If we didn't pass this bond, it's not like the state will toss up $10 billion for a local transit bond. They have already stolen $3 frakin billion!!! in the last 3 years.

Then I started thinking about it. If the County of San Francisco asked me for an extra $100 a year for better transit, I would give it in a hearbeat. Heck I would give $500. Because it would make my life and everyone else's life in the city so much better. Think about it. If every citizen in the city gave $500 a year, this would be $41 per month. That's ~$383 million per year. Over 30 years, that is ~$11.5 billion. What could we do with $11.5 billion here? Well we could build 46 miles of subways at $250 million per mile. That is 4 north South Subway lines and 3 east west subway lines. We'd have a real freakin metro here! $41 per month is all it takes. That is one tank of gas per month. What could we get? Something like this:

Who would want anything like that? That's just a luxury.


Anonymous said...

San Francisco is one city in particular that should have a city-wide system of traditional subway lines. Its dense enough and is only 7 miles by 7 miles big. Imagine what just 20-25 miles (on par with what LA recently built) of subway could do in SF. Its ridiculous to have slow surface buses on 2 lane streets as really the only public transit to get around the city.

As for infrastructure I think there is a growing chorus calling for infrastructure spending as economic stimulus especially since we wont be able to personal spend our way out of this recession. Just look at all the people and groups drawing attention to the issue recently... the PBS series Blueprint America, the Transportation for America group, the Schwarzenegger/Rendell/Bloomberg group, NY Times & Nobel Prize winning economic writer Paul Krugman, and just today the NY Times more moderate conservative columnist David Brooks. The list goes on.

I agree though over the last few years and really the last 30 years, infrastructure spending has been pathetic. We dont build true subway systems anymore, if we're lucky now we build light rail. It seems if you have an ambitious transport plan (and by the scale it is assured there will be various problems) it becomes the favorite political hot potato and punching bag and "reformers" make their names attacking the projects. Even two ambitious projects unrelated to transit tell the whole story of infrastructure in america... the Concorde and the Space Shuttle... two ambitious projects completed in an unambitous age.

Anonymous said...

Wow, one anonymous post and I'm famous :)

In answer to your question, we are "pitting one mode against another" because the supply of money is limited! You have to spend it first where it will do the most good. I used to live in SF and guess what? I never had the need or desire to travel to LA. Why should I pull the lever for this project while my daily commute on Geary Ave. sucks so bad?

If California voters approve this project, what are the chances they'll approve another huge, hypothetical bond next year (your fantasy map, for example)? No, they will say, "well, we already approved 10 billion last year. Can't afford another one, sorry."

Alon Levy said...

Subway costs aren't $250 million per mile. Not even close. In Manhattan, Second Avenue Subway is projected to cost about $2 billion per mile, and the one-stop extension of the 7 is projected to cost $1.5 billion per mile.

Anon, the hypothetical you're suggesting goes both ways. If 1A fails, it'll provide just as much political cover for not building more urban rail. "The voters decided against building rail that will serve the entire state. Why should they want to build rail just for SF and LA?" And conversely, if it succeeds, it can help convince people in SF to spend more money on urban rail, since it'll help make intercity rail more attractive.

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

Again why is the supply of money limited? Because we don't make people pay for things in meaningful ways and according to how much they cost. Everyone wants a free ride.

You might not have a desire to travel to LA, but you're paying for their air traffic controllers and the airport. You get all the pollution from airplanes that do fly to LA. You get to pay for the negative externalities of jet fuel. People don't seem to get this.

As I've said before, i'm sick of the MEniverse. The attitude of "I won't use it so why should I pay for it" Why should I pay for fixing up 680 in Oakland? I never use it. Why should I pay for EBART? I never use it. Why would I want to pay for a Geary Subway? I'll never use it.

arcady said...

Subway costs in Manhattan have no bearing on anything at all anywhere else, for many, many reasons. It's much more reasonable to look at, say, LA. The Eastside extension shows that the $250 million cost is not unreasonable, and East LA seems at least superficially similar to much of SF. Also, I don't think SF is actually dense enough to warrant full-on subways all over the place. The subway-surface system it has is largely what it needs, it's just not extensive enough, with the Geary line being the biggest missing link.

Anonymous said...

If 1A fails, it'll provide just as much political cover for not building more urban rail.

Good point.

i'm sick of the MEniverse

I was only trying to express the fact that the HSR is going to cost far more per user than local rail transit, which is desperately needed particularly in SF. You should take care of present needs before investing in future needs that aren't even certain yet.

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

Thanks for posting a nom de plume as it were. I understand what you're saying Rhywun, but I just disagree. I feel like these two things are connected with usage, but unrelated in people's minds and in terms of funding as Alon says.

Nick said...

If we invested in that much subway in SF, could we get some commitment that new, transit-oriented development would be allowed near stations?

Or would just the the attitude of neighborhoods like Glen Park, and south Berkeley, that quite enjoy "their" BART stations, but are loathe to allow the kind of densification that would allow more people to share them?

Nick said...

One other point about subways... are they necessary? We should take a close look at Zurich, which has done quite well with traditional trams/streetcars, by giving them priority over other traffic, so that they move--and it's one of the most successful transit systems in the world, without any true subway at all.

Muni could get a lot better performance out of its surface LRT lines if the city cared to try!

Anonymous said...

Jeff has made the same kind of comments between urban and suburban transit for that matter.

We need HSR, suburban trains, subways and trams for that matter.

The back log for improved rail transport in North America has been around for almost 100 years!

Also think about how China is planning to spend close to $300 billion to ad 22,000 miles of track. How much track do you think you could get for say $700 billion instead?

Anonymous said...

The Chinatown subway (LRVs, 1.3 miles, about a third of that on the surface) is claiming $1.7 bil last I heard. Few corridors justify this expense level, although this one probably does.

Why not triple or quadruple Muni fares to pay for your fantasy? It would raise a similar amount (assuming not to much attrition due to high fares) without penalizing walkers, bikers, cabbers and people who don't go anywhere.

Alon Levy said...

East LA seems at least superficially similar to much of SF.

Except that SF is far more expensive than East LA, and isn't much cheaper than Manhattan.

Why not triple or quadruple Muni fares to pay for your fantasy?

Because nobody would ride the Muni then. One of the biggest selling points of transit is that it's dirt cheap. As soon as you eliminate that, it has to compete on speed and convenience.

arcady said...

Does SF have as big of a tradition of corruption, unionism, and various other factors that increase the cost of construction? Does SF have bedrock 20 feet down, so that any construction has to be either cut-and-cover or hard rock tunneling? Manhattan is a unique case in all this, and how "expensive" a place is in terms of property prices has very little bearing on the cost of subway construction, adding maybe a million or two per mile for property acquisition for the stations. But cost aside, how many subways does SF really need? I'd say right now it needs only one: Geary from Transbay to Laguna (or Fillmore). The rest of the Geary line could be built as surface rail. The Stockton line could be built as surface rail too, and in fact this would probably be more effective than a deep subway (the plan is to go under the BART line, which is why it's so expensive) for the single hop where most of the ridership is, from Market to Chinatown.

bgfa said...

Good thread here. Unlike anonymous, I travel frequently between SF & LA, but I don't agree with the idea of numerous subway lines for San Francisco. Remember, historically, subways have been built to get people into the business district. San Francisco's small size and relatively small population would result in severely underused lines.

The last thing we need is to give transit haters the ammunition they need to argue against building needed infrastructure.

Rail should be built where the current transit demand is at or near capacity. In SF, that would be Geary. In LA, it is Wilshire.

The effort to build HSR between the cities is vital, as is the development of better local transit. If HSR is to succeed, riders need to be able to remain car free on both ends.

Alon Levy said...

Does SF have as big of a tradition of corruption, unionism, and various other factors that increase the cost of construction?

Yes. I'm not sure about the corruption or the unions, but the Bay Area has higher wages than the New York area, because of the higher cost of living.

Besides, raw materials cost the same everywhere. The reason the projected cost of everything doubled between 2000 and 2007 isn't that wages or unionization rates went up (they didn't). It's that steel prices went up so much that in higher-crime cities people were stealing manhole covers.

Anonymous said...

Now, I don't want to go off on a rant here, but subways shouldn't have a place everywhere, and I'd prefer LRT more in many situations. Still, in Madrid, they've been expanding the Metro heavily since I was born in 1987 and building new lines, and many extensions have opened last year. They even have light rail in Madrid already, with tunnels in some parts (known as the "Metro Ligero").

Similarly, in Barcelona, they're building a new Metro line in the next two years. And this is when the Spanish government is aggressively promoting this in addition to a huge program of expanding high speed rail - they just completed earlier this year the new line between Madrid, Zaragoza, and Barcelona.

Other places in Spain are building new light rail systems with subways when they're known as "Metros". Seville is opening its first "Metro" line in December. It proves that China isn't the only such place where new subways are happening aggressively. Maybe if Madrid can do it, so can California, perhaps?

Of course, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.

(Just a homage to ex-comedian, and now Fox News contributor, Dennis Miller and his rants.)