Mayor's Transportation Task Force Misses the Mark
November 24, 2013
Earlier this year Mayor Edwin Lee announced the formation of a 45-person Task Force, convened to develop a long range transportation plan for San Francisco. Through a General Obligation Bond Issue, extension of the 1/2 cent transportation sales tax and increase in San Francisco's Vehicle License Fee, the Task Force hopes to raise a total of $2.955 billion, to be spent on assorted transportation projects over the next 20 years.
Unfortunately the group is comprised mostly individuals brought in primarily to help win support for next year's funding measures. As a result, most members have little if any experience in the transportation field, particularly with respect to Muni and its huge backlog of unfulfilled capital needs. A quick review of the 27 projects proposed by the Task Force shows the extent of the problem.
Scroll down to Recommendation 1: Strategic Funding Plan.
As can seen, a deteriorating and cash-starved Muni would receive less than half the funds raised. The long-awaited Caltrain extension, needed to help reduce the northbound commuter traffic that floods into San Francisco every day, would receive only a token allocation of $20 million.
The Task Force calls for most of the rest of the funds to be spread among projects deemed politically correct, often in response to aggressive lobbying from groups demanding what they regard as their share of the pie.
As drafted, the Transportation Task Force's Plan is not ready for prime time. (More to come).
The Central Subway: San Francisco's Gravina Island Bridge
SF Weekly's Eskenazi sums it up:
Pagoda TBM Extraction - A Waste of $80 million
September 23, 2013: Everyone now knows that the Central Subway is and always has been a weak project, doggedly promoted for foolish reasons. However, the plan to remove the used-up tunnel boring machines (TBM's) through a large hole located 2,000 feet north of the end of the subway at the site of the old Pagoda Theater pushes things to new extremes.
The SFMTA (the agency running Muni) insists that it must spend an extra $80 million in this unneeded tunneling and hole-digging for the sole purpose of "saving" two TBM's worth a total of $4.5 million. Does that make sense?
If this cockamamy plan goes through, it will reportedly be the first time in history that a tunnel anywhere in the world has been extended substantially beyond the end of a subway in order to recover used-up tunnel boring equipment. Elsewhere tunnelers either disassemble the machines and back them out the way they came in, or bury them in an out-of-the-way place (in this case under Jackson Street)
Over the past year numerous individuals and groups have tried to get the SFMTA to explain why it wants to dig a huge TBM extraction hole in North Beach. To no avail. Apparently fearful that its financially shaky house of cards will collapse, the SFMTA has consistently refused to answer the question or even discuss the subject. Yet the absurd $80 + million plan, which the SFMTA insists is needed to save two TBM's worth a total of $4.5 million, plows ahead. As a result, North Beach and in particular the affected residents and businesses near the construction site have already experienced construction noise, falling debris and other effects...with the digging yet to come.
For this and other reasons the SFMTA now acknowledges the project contingency reserve, once ballyhooed as being $330 million, is now mostly gone. The latest figures show the reserve as having dropped to around $50 million or 3% the cost of the project (far below the federal government's requirement of 10%) with much difficult construction work yet to come.
According to a risk management analysis completed by the Federal Transportation Administration and SFMTA March of 2010, the project appears destined to go significantly over budget. The FTA/SFMTA report concluded that the project had only a 30% chance of staying within its $1.58 billion budget and only an 80% chance of holding the overruns to less $400 million. Under federal rules, the local sponsors of New Starts projects pay for all overruns. Which means that the San Francisco tax payer could be saddled with paying for extra Central Subway project costs of $400 million or more. This is a risk that should be - but apparently isn't - of concern to all of San Francisco's elected officials.
More about SFMTA's incursion into North Beach
Here is a chronology of the events that have led up to the current debacle.
June 2012: SFMTA announces plans to tear up the heart of North Beach by extending its tunnels 2,000 feet north of the Chinatown terminal station, allegedly because of a need for a suitable site from which to extract two tunnel boring machines (TBM's). This causes a firestorm of opposition from North Beach merchants and residents, furious over the idea of digging a 42 foot deep, 45 by 49 foot hole in the middle of Columbus Avenue.
September, 2012: SFMTA thinks better of the Columbus Avenue idea and instead proposes to pull its TBMs out of the ground at the privately-owned Pagoda Theater site on Powell Street near Filbert. Negotiations with the private property owner ensue.
February 15, 2013: The SFMTA announces that the shift to the Pagoda site would increase the overall cost of the Central Subway project by $9.15 million....money it says it would divert from Muni's already overburdened operating budget. (The cost of the shift has since climbed to $13.7 million and is destined to rise still further). In view of a project contingency reserve that the SFMTA has at various times put between $150 million and $330 million, it is not clear why the cost of the Pagoda shift should come from Muni operating funds rather than Project funds. Here are two possible explanations:
a.) The contingency reserve has already been used up.
b.) The Feds won't play ball because they now realize that extending the tunnels 2,100 feet beyond the Chinatown terminal has nothing to do with TBM extraction and everything to do with someone's dream of a future Phase 3 * extension to Fisherman's Wharf).
* Phase 3 is a fantasy. An extension to Fisherman's Wharf was not described or even mentioned in the Central Subway EIS/EIR. No local, regional, State or federal agency has approved it or provided any funding for it. Since Muni already provides ample bus and rail service to Fisherman's Wharf, there is no discernable reason for giving this pet idea precedence over Muni's many other pressing capital needs.
April 28, 2013: As indicated, despite its growing lack of credibility, the SFMTA continues to claim that digging a big hole in North Beach is the only way of recovering its TBM's. If the SFMTA were to "get real", by removing or otherwise disposing of its TBM's in the conventional manner, it could save the project at least eighty million dollars, with absolutely no loss of subway functionality.
Nevertheless the SFMTA is pushing ahead with its TBM extraction plans, undermining important environmental safeguards and running roughshod over affected businesses and nearby residents in the process. EIS's and EIR's are supposed to ensure that the environmental impacts of a proposed project are carefully and accurately described and evaluated before construction begins. By proceeding into an unknown, unapproved and unfunded Phase 3, all in the name of TBM extraction, the SFMTA is making a mockery of NEPA and CEQA regulations and guidelines.
Charts Showing SFMTA's False Central Subway Claims
Charts, developed from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency's (SFMTA's) own data, compare Central Subway ridership, costs and trip times. The charts show clearly how the SFMTA was telling the Fed one thing and San Franciscans another.
How Central Subway was Deceptively Sold to Chinatown and the rest of San Francisco
See: Deceptive Marketing
Updated April 28, 2013: The Central Subway project remains vulnerable to litigation.
At least one pending action against the California High Speed Rail Authority would deny the Central Subway project $61.3 million in State Proposition 1A high speed rail funding.
In September 2012 an action was filed by a North Beach resident. In this case the plaintiff charged that the reasons stated in the EIR for pushing the subway 2,000 feet beyond the Chinatown terminal into North Beach were bogus.
Despite its merit, the lawsuit was thrown out on technical grounds.
SaveMuni.com's Union Square Action: A separate action filed by SaveMuni in October challenged the SFMTA's right to extend a Central Subway station into a public park (Union Square), without the approval of the voters, as required under SF City Charter Section 4.113. While this action also showed legal promise, the case was blocked by a City Attorney demurrer upheld by the Superior Court Judge assigned to the case. Because of a lack of funds it was not possible to appeal the ruling.
SaveMuni's North Beach Action: On February 5, 2013, a letter from Lippe Gaffney and Wagner LLP, SaveMuni.com's attorneys, was delivered to the SFMTA. The letter raised substantive concerns and legal objections to the SFMTA's plan to extract its tunnel boring machines (TBM's) at the recently-selected Pagoda Theater site, located on Powell Street near Filbert. For a variety of reasons, including potential geotechnical and ground water problems, potential ground subsidence, threatened historic structures and threatened incursions into public parks, SaveMuni.com believes that before disrupting and otherwise affecting North Beach in order to extract its TBM's, the City should prepare and certify a subsequent or supplemental Environmental Impact Report. The funds needed to pursue this valid case also appear to be lacking.
Congressman McClintock Blasts the "Subway to Nowhere"
House Denies Funding to Central Subway
June 29, 2012: Congressman Tom McClintock's Amendment denying all federal funds to the Central Subway boondoggle passes the U.S. House of Representatives 235 to 186. (The amendment was later sidelined by the Democratically-controlled Senate).
SF Civil Grand Jury slams Central Subway: For Grand Jury Report, see
Wall Street Journal Editorial
Characterizes the Central Subway as "a case study in government incompetence and wasted taxpayer money"
Or read at the Wall Street Journal Online
Sierra Club Opposes Central Subway
May 7, 2011: Reversing its previous position of neutrality, the Sierra Club's Bay Chapter calls for all unspent Central Subway funds to be put to better use on other Muni improvement projects. Central_Subway_resolution.pdf
Quentin Kopp Skewers Central Subway
July 16, 2011 and October 23, 2012: Retired Superior Court Judge and former California High Speed Rail Authority Chair Quentin Kopp blasts the project Download and in an Examiner Op Ed piece: "True Facts on the Central Subway"
Aaron Peskin Weighs in
August 23, 2011: Former SF Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin announces his strong opposition to the Central Subway, which he notes was sold to him and other supervisors based upon understated costs and overstated ridership. See SF Weekly Article
Jake McGoldrick Blasts the Project
August 18, 2011: Jake McGoldrick, former Chair, SF County Transportation Authority, comes out swinging against the project, which he also characterizes as having been sold on false pretenses. See SF Chronicle Op Ed piece
Mayoral Candidate Dennis Herrera's Statement
September 9, 2011: In a well-researched 9-page analysis, San Francisco City Attorney and Mayoral candidate Dennis Herrera comes out strongly against the Central Subway. See: Herrera2011.pdf
Dr. Robert Feinbaum's KQED Radio Statement
Listen to on KQED Radio
SF Weekly Nails the Problem
SF Bay Guardian Describes the "Tawdry Political Process" leading to Debacles like the Central Subway
Stockton Street Surface Improvement Plan
Cal Watchdog Weighs In
July 22,2011: Cal Watchdog digs into the Central Subway mess.
SaveMuni.com White Paper on the Central Subway
Click on "2010 Milestones"
More Facts about the Central Subway:
Bypasses Market and Mission Street transit riders
Market/Mission Disconnect: From the Union Square Station, Central Subway riders attempting to reach a Market Street subway train would be obliged to travel on foot the distance of 4 football fields placed end to end to make their connections. Similar walks would be required to transfer to the Mission Street buses. Even getting to a Market Street bus would be substantially less convenient than it is today.
Reroutes today's T-Line riders away from Important Destinations
The Central Subway would disconnect Muni's existing light rail T-Line riders from the the baseball park, future basketball pavillon, Embarcadero, Market Street Muni Metro and BART subway stations, ferry boats, Transbay Transit Center and future high-speed trains. Instead T-Line riders would be taken by Central Subway to the Convention Center, upscale Union Square shopping area and southern part of Chinatown.
Fails to Serve East-West Bus Riders
Today's Stockton bus riders can easily transfer to Muni LRV lines J, K, L, N, M, F and T and to Muni east-west bus lines 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 9, 9L, 10, 12, 14, 14L, 14x, 21, 31, 71, 71L and 76. With the Central Subway, connections to every one of these 24 east-west Muni lines, as well as to four BART lines and the Mission Street SamTrans buses would be substantially less convenient from the subway than from the buses currently operating on Stockton Street. In addition, most Central Subway riders would experience longer total trip times via subway than via today's Stockton Street buses.
Note: To help pay for the subway, the SFMTA plans to cut service on the 30 and 45 trolley bus lines by 50%.
Fails to Serve Anyone Much North of Jackson Street
Because the Central Subway stops at the Washington Street terminal it does nothing to accommodate the outlying riders of the 8x, 30 and 45 bus lines. For this reason it fails to serve not only the northern two-thirds of Chinatown but also Muni riders from the Cow Hollow, Presidio, Marina, Buena Vista, Fort Mason, Polk Gulch, Russian Hill, Telegraph Hill, and North Beach neighborhoods.
Fails to Serve Much of Western San Francisco
Because of the aforementioned missed connections most riders from the Richmond, Sunset, Castro, Twin Peaks, Presidio Heights, Pacific Heights, Nob Hill, Hayes Valley, Haight-Ashbury, Western Addition, Forest Hill, OMI, and Mission neighborhoods would find the Central Subway even less convenient than today's slugglish Stockton Street buses.
Has Limited Future Carrying Capacity
To save money, the LRV platforms were reduced to two-car lengths (potentially expandable to three). Short platforms serve only short trains, ruling out a higher capacity operation in the future.
For additional information about the Central Subway, click on "Central Subway - Background".
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SaveMuni's Response to the TEP
(Updated November 29, 2013)
SaveSFMuni is an organization dedicated to raising Muni to its highest potential in order to best serve the people of San Francisco. We have completed an analysis of the Transit Effectiveness Project (TEP), which clearly represents a great deal of investigation and hard work. Following is a summary of our findings:
1.) Meeting TEP Objectives: At the beginning of the report the TEP lists some well-stated general objectives. However, when developing the detailed improvements that comprise the essence of the TEP, the planners paid little attention to these goals. There is a need to evaluate each TEP proposal in order to ascertain the degree to which it conforms to the important objectives set forth in the Policy Framework (Pages 2-19 to 2-23) and adjust it accourdingly.
2.) Longer Term Need: The TEP unfortunately has a very short time horizon. In view of the major demographic changes that are projected to signiﬁcantly alter San Francisco by 2040, a short term plan such as the TEP is simply not adequate. ABAG projects that by 2040 San Francisco’s 2012 population of 825,000 will increase by at least 20%. Moreover, if current trends continue, most of the new residents and employees will be living and working either downtown or in southeast San Francisco. The TEP fails to address these projected demographic changes and how Muni will cope with them.
Some have characterized the Central Subway as the service needed to satisfy the travel needs of 160,000 new residents and almost 200,000 new ofﬁce workers. However, SFMTA projects that only 5,000 new riders a day — equivalent to 2,500 people a day — will be riding the Central Subway by 2035. In other words there is a huge disparity between the people needing transit service and the Central Subway’s potential for meeting that need. Much more is required to serve a growing San Francisco population. In its planning the SFMTA should be taking full account of the effects of the anticipated growth on San Francisco’s public transit system.
3.) Making Transit First Work: The TEP rightfully includes a strong element devoted to transit preferential streets featuring Muni buses and light rail vehicles operating in their own exclusive lanes. The basic principle here is that permitting fully loaded buses to get mired in ordinary trafﬁc congestion is simply not acceptable. To guarantee the free and reliable ﬂow of Muni vehicles especially during commute hours, it is important that the lanes set aside for Muni-only travel be kept clear of other trafﬁc. Some say that this will occur through “self-enforcement”. We reject that contention. When the competition for street space gets tight, a certain amount of determined police action will be required to keep the LRVs and buses moving. For this reason an early-action element of the TEP should be to provide for the police enforcement needed to make Transit First work.
It should also be noted that an effective Transit First operation will attract more riders. Accommodating these new riders will require more vehicles. For this reason another early-action element of the TEP should be to provide for the needed enlargement of Muni’s ﬂeet of buses and LRV’s.
4.) Stop Spacing: We agonized over the stop spacing as we imagine TEP planners also did. Too many stops would unduly impede and slow down service thereby deterring people from riding, and that’s a problem. On the other hand, an inadequate number of stops slows down loading and fails to meet the needs of the elderly, infirm, and handicapped, and that’s also a problem.
In sum, most of us feel that on Muni line sections of light to moderate patronage in level parts of the city, it might make sense to lengthen the distances between some stops. On hills and where the ridership is heavy we doubt that longer stop spacing would be either acceptable or desirable.
5.) Lack of Ridership Data: There is no indication of how the TEP changes would affect overall Muni ridership or even the riderships of the affected lines. This is a serious defect for two reasons. First, it precludes an independent evaluation of the claimed beneﬁts of the proposed changes. Second, it denies the SFMTA the knowledge needed to accurately assess fleet enlargement needs.
6.) Lack of Capital Costs: In order to evaluate the validity of the proposed changes there should be a detailed breakdown of capital costs. It does no good to prepare an elaborate document detailing environmental impacts unless the information needed to evaluate the ﬁnancial and operating feasibility of the proposed changes is also provided.
7.) Loss of Muni Comprehensiveness: We have a real concern over the degree to which the TEP concentrates Muni service in certain selected major corridors to the detriment of other parts of the city. One of the reasons that Muni has historically been so useful to San Franciscans is its comprehensiveness. Because of the amount of service Muni provides and its well-developed grid system, most San Franciscans can move around the city without their automobiles. Compared to systems in other cities, Muni does a truly outstanding job of reaching into virtually every neighborhood in San Francisco. In seeking to make Muni better it is great importance not to lose sight of these important values of long standing.
8.) Stockton Street Overlooked: There are a number of important improvements listed in the Travel Time Reduction Program (TTRP). However, measures designed to speed up the ﬂow of buses along heavily-congested Stockton Street are not included. This oversight needs correction. In addition to the deployment of articulated vehicles there are a number of other steps that can and should be taken to make certain that the Stockton Street bus service is brought up to standard, with respect to both crowding and bus ﬂow. In its report (attached) entitled “Stockton Surface Improvements”, last updated on May 26, 2013, SaveMuni has identiﬁed and proposed a number of improvements that would materially improve service on that heavily traveled street. According to SFMTA projections, 85% of the users of the three Stockton Street bus lines will continue to be bus riders even after the Central Subway goes into operation. It is therefore imperative that steps be taken to improve the quality of the bus service through Chinatown.
9.) Overhead Wire Tangles: There are quite a few proposals in the TEP for expanding the trolley bus system. In proceeding with more electriﬁcation, great care should be taken to avoid tangling too much overhead wiring at any one location. Concentrations of overhead wire are unsightly. More importantly, they slow down service, cause operating problems and increase maintenance costs.
10.) The Importance of Muni: The backbone of San Francisco’s transportation system is Muni, not bicycling. For that reason 99% or more of the transportation money available to the SFMTA should be spent on Muni. Moreover, it is critically important that improvements designed to encourage more bicycle use be arranged and located so as NOT interfere with or make Muni rail and bus operations less safe. In this context it bears repeating that Muni is the one non-automotive system capable of serving everyone at all times in all kinds of weather in all parts of the city.
11.) Muni's Special Role in Times of Crisis: The TEP fails to address or respond to the natural and man-caused disasters that could place special demands on San Francisco’s public transit system.
It is hoped that these 11 comments will help improve the Muni for the benefit of all riders and would-be riders.
18 Ways of Improving Muni
The following 18 Muni Improvement proposals are divided into six categories: Management, Maintenance, Capital Improvements, Operations, Traffic Management and Coordination:
1.) Management 1: Every member of the SFMTA Board must be committed to optimizing Muni's existing 75-line operation.
2.) Management 2: The second and third tier SFMTA managers reporting to the Director of Transportation must be both qualified and dedicated.
3.) Maintenance 1: Create a dedicated reserve fund sufficient to replace worn out transit vehicles and other equipment on a timely basis.
4.) Maintenance 2: Each year, include in the SFMTA budget an amount sufficient to maintain all Muni vehicles in a State of Good Repair at all times.
5.) Capital Improvement 1: Before promoting a capital improvement idea, determine both its cost- effectiveness and its effect on Muni’s annual operating and maintenance budget. Publish these figures.
6.) Capital Improvement 2: Before adopting a capital improvement idea, conduct and publish a bona fide Alternative Analysis inclusive of all potentially viable alternatives. Publish this analysis.
7.) Capital Improvement 3: Return the peak-period carrying capacity of the Market Street subway to the level at which it was designed to operate. That would double today's capacity.
8.) Capital Improvement 4: Take the steps necessary to provide effective K and M line service between West Portal Avenue and the medians of Junipero Serra and 19th Avenue.
9.) Capital Improvement 5: To facilitate better Muni bus service, use bulb-out stops where possible.
10.) Operations 1: To help maintain regular service and respond to driver problems, deploy at least 50 line supervisors.
11.) Operations 2: Charge a carefully-selected and dedicated in-house task force with an 18-month assignment of identifying and where possible eliminating the obstacles that prevent optimal service along Muni’s 75 existing bus and rail lines. This program should be phased to:
o address the worst problems first,
o include appropriate outreach,
o lead directly to near-term operational changes.
12.) Operations 3: Publish and make available to all riders a one-page schedule showing Muni line frequencies throughout the day.
13.) Operations 4: Charge a carefully-selected and dedicated in-house team with making all Muni transfers as convenient for riders as possible. This program should be completed in six months and should lead directly to near-term operational changes.
14.) Operations 5: On flat ground along moderately patronized line sections, look for opportunities to increasing stop spacing. Closer spacing should be maintained where and as necessary to serve hilly areas, facilitate bus-to-bus and bus-to-rail transfers and accommodate the elderly, disabled and others with walking difficulties.
15.) Traffic Management 1: Change state and local traffic laws as required to give buses pulling away from stops the right-of-way.
16.) Traffic Management 2: Enact congestion pricing to facilitate the efficient flow of public transit vehicles along congested streets. Allocate the revenues collected from drivers living in a given county to public transit improvement in that county.
17.) Traffic Management 3: Place transit vehicles traveling through congested areas in transit-only lanes during at least the morning peak period and, to the extent necessary, during the afternoon peak period as well. To be effective, the transit-only lanes would have to be strictly enforced.
18.) Coordination 1: Establish close and continuous cooperation with BART, Caltrain, AC Transit, Golden Gate Transit, Samtrans and other Westbay public transit operators....with respect to routing, scheduling, maintenance, vehicle storage, transfer stops, transit information and marketing.
Muni Must get Better
Unlike an outlying suburban area, San Francisco is a densely built-up city requiring a highly efficient public transit system. When Muni falters, the lives of its 700,000 daily riders and 60,000 reliant small businesses are immediately impacted.
Because of its fiscal and operational problems, Muni is
currently unable to provide an adequate amount of reliable
service to the riders of its 70 existing bus and rail lines.
Until something changes, beleaguered Muni riders can
look forward to a system continually plagued
by poor maintenance, inadequate reliability and excessive crowding.
Given these factors, there is an immediate need to change the SFMTA's current way of doing things. As indicated above, fixing the system will take operations and maintenance improvements, working rule changes and capital priority adjustments. Here's a summary:
1 Operations and Maintenance Improvements: There are literally dozens of ways of improving service and therefore attracting new fare-paying riders without significantly raising costs. Many good ideas evolved from SaveMuni's March 6, 2010 Transportation Summit and its August 18, 2012 Transportation Forum. For a list of 18 critically important improvement items, see above.
2 Working Rule Changes: A Muni driver has a difficult and stressful job. In addition, as the operator of an expensive vehicle filled with human beings, he or she has an important responsibility. A qualified driver deserves to be well paid. However, certain of the working rules interfere with Muni's ability to provide excellent service to its riders in a cost-effective manner. These rules need to change. It continues to be our hope that the SFMTA and the Muni employee unions can together bring about the needed changes without undue hardship or hard feelings.
3 Capital Funding Priorities: Capital improvement priorities must be carefully determined based upon a thorough and objective analysis of "candidate" projects. Only projects of true and cost-effective benefit to Muni and its riders should make the cut.
The current situation at the SFMTA is not reassuring. $638 million in local and State funds that could have been used to improve Muni are being squandered on a short "Central Subway" of marginal usefulness. To make matters worse, the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) is pushing to divert another $1.5 billion or more of badly needed transportation funds to extend the subway unnecessarily to Fisherman's Wharf.
To anyone who has watched the Central Subway debacle unfold, the reason behind the recent push for a "Phase 3" extension to the Wharf is not hard to fathom. Central Subway promoters know that because of its high operating costs and low projected ridership, the Phase 2 Chinatown subway is going to be a turkey. The promoters apparently hope that adding a Phase 3 will divert attention from the embarassment of Phases 1 and 2. And this might be acceptible, were it not for the fact that pouring more money into the Central Subway diverts still more needed capital from other San Francisco transit improvements of much greater need and utility.
Sufficient funds to pay for needed Muni improvements are available but they have to be allocated prudently. To bring Muni up to standard, the SFMTA must stop letting its scarce capital and operating funds get siphoned off by the promoters of wasteful and ill-conceived pet projects.
For information about SaveMuni, click on: About SaveMuni.com or contact:
Howard Wong: firstname.lastname@example.org,
Joan Wood: email@example.com
Howard Strassner: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jerry Cauthen: email@example.com
Bob Feinbaum: firstname.lastname@example.org
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