The case for extending San Francisco’s Central Subway project to North Beach and Fisherman’s Wharf got a boost in late November with the release of a costs-and-benefits study by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, the Municipal Transportation Agency and the San Francisco Planning Department. Supporters hailed the report’s findings as the proposed extension’s SATs, the data that will allow it to be ranked relative to other transit projects — a necessary step if the extension is to be approved as an addition to the city’s transit system.
The report found many benefits resulting from the extension:
- A subway trip from Caltrain to Fisherman’s Wharf would take half the time or less compared to existing bus and streetcar service.
- The addition of the North Beach and Wharf stops would boost T Line ridership by 50 percent, from 74,000 trips a day to 115,000.
- A quarter of the added riders —10,000 a day — would likely be new passengers who do not currently ride mass transit.
- The extension would reduce overcrowding on the 30 Stockton, the F Line and other swamped northeast routes.
- Using current Federal Transportation Administration New Starts guidelines, an extension is likely to receive the highest cost-effectiveness rating, making it competitive for federal funding.
The study presumes a station at or near Washington Square and then considers 14 different ways to connect from there to Fisherman’s Wharf and back, with stations at Conrad Square (at the foot of Columbus Avenue) and/or at Kirkland bus yard (at Powell and Beach streets). The alternatives under consideration include both subway and surface options down Columbus to Conrad Square, or down Powell to the Kirkland Yard.
Subway options, though more expensive, were deemed preferable for their speed and reliability of travel, ease of operation and reduced negative impacts on the residential areas along the routes. One intruiging plan is a one-way loop: down Powell to a Kirkland station, across Beach Street to a Conrad station, then south on Columbus to the Pagoda Palace, providing stations at both the east and west sides of the northeast waterfront. This option would improve train flow, facilitating train frequencies that might actually allow the T Line to accommodate its number of anticipated riders.
The appraisal of the extension will be incorporated into at least two transit evaluations: the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Rail Capacity Strategy (begun this year and scheduled for completion in 2015) and the San Francisco Bay Area Core Capacity Transit Study (to be done in 2015). In the meantime, a study released by the Fisherman’s Wharf Community Benefits District underscored the damaging effects of inadequate and unreliable transit to the city’s No. 1 tourist destination. The survey of Wharf businesses showed 168 unfilled jobs and troublesome turnover rates blamed squarely on the difficulties employees face in getting to work each day.
As for the fate of the Pagoda Palace site leased by the city for the extraction of the Phase 2 boring machines — and often mentioned as a potential North Beach station location — the city’s report comes out squarely for its acquisition. Especially in light of the limited available right of way in the Washington Square area, the report says, the Pagoda could be instrumental during construction and in housing permanent station facilities such as ventilation shafts and emergency egress.
Currently the Pagoda site is scheduled to be returned to its owner in May 2015 for the construction of 19 luxury condos, precluding future staging on the site. The planned condo project calls for underground parking that would conflict with the connections between an incorporated station entrance and a station below Columbus Avenue. So far, the city has not initiated the extraordinary steps that would be needed to acquire the site. Advocates continue to work toward its acquisition, trying to ensure a clear path to build the extension once it is approved and financed.
About the Author: Julienne Christensen is a leader of SF NexTStop.