Did you know?
State of Muni: Neighborhood Impacts
By: Howard Wong, Co-Chair, Transportation Committee
With Muni transit problems much in the news, I wanted to recap neighborhood impacts of citywide service declines. Over the past decades, despite billions of dollars spent on public transit in San Francisco, Muni ridership has declined. Improvements in performance measures are not commensurate with funds invested. In comparison to successes in other cities, San Francisco has not made quicker/ cheaper/ strategic/citywide improvements---made even more achievable by new transportation technology.
Fewer Buses Due to Driver Shortage and Labor Negotiations
In the news, Muni drivers have declined to work on their days off, as is their right, during contract negotiations---highlighting the shortage of drivers and Muni’s reliance on overtime hours. Delays and gaps in service are evident.
New Metro LRV Trains Have Problems
After three passengers had their hands caught in closing doors, including one woman being dragged and thrown onto the tracks, rear doors have been locked. Drivers have warned that new trains lack side-view mirrors and sufficiently-sized camera monitors. After complaints, newer trains will increase seating capacity and comfort. Coupling problems led Muni to run only 1-car trains, not 2-3 car trains. SaveMuni (I’m a founding member) has questioned whether new coupling specifications allow for future 4-5 car trains, which is possible in Market Street’s station platforms. Systemic Muni Metro problems erode public confidence and ridership.
N-Judah Construction Take Buses off their Lines
At the end of April, construction work caused the closure of part of the N-Judah streetcar line, requiring a “bus bridge” that took buses away from other routes.
Metro Overhead Lines Down
On Friday, April 27, a Metro train dragged down 1,000 feet of overhead cables at the Civic Center Station, causing a day-long closure of part of the system that impacted 160,000 riders. A “bus bridge” took buses away from other routes. Routine inspection should have found the faulty wire splice. Deferred maintenance and infrastructure investments may be an underlying issue.
Stockton Street Reopen For 8 / 30 / 45 Buses
Good news! After seven years of closure due to subway construction, the 8/ 30/ 45 Buses will go straight down lower Stockton Street and 4 th Street, speeding up connections to Market Street/ BART/ Muni Metro. Wider sidewalks allow for future streetscaping and landscaping.
Questions about Muni Governance Structure
After a rough April for Muni riders, eight out of 11 members of the Board of Supervisors want to change the governance structure of SFMTA (San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency)---namely its Board of Directors. No clear concept has emerged, although a failed 2016 ballot measure called for split appointments between the Mayor and Supervisors. From a neighborhood perspective, we don’t want a continuation of net service cuts to the northeastern neighborhoods.
SFMTA Director Resigns
SFMTA Executive Director resigns, triggering a nationwide search for new leadership. Generally, Director Ed Reiskin, along with Chief Financial Officer Sonali Bose, dramatically increased Muni funding, which led to new buses / trains, transit-priority streets, streetscape redesigns and more. However, decreased ridership / reliability / customer satisfaction led to increased political pressure. Yet, past political meddling and bad projects have taken money away from citywide Muni needs. As seen in world-class transit agencies, a professional transportation director must be augmented by inspirational Mayors and Supervisors.
Downtown Caltrain Extension Delayed
Without the DTX as a central transit hub, tens of thousands of new workers, residents, visitors and cars will overload city streets and Muni, diverting resources from neighborhood transit. DTX was the pretext for downtown upzoning and development. By 2025, 300,000 cars a day will be entering San Francisco from the South---more than the combined number of cars on the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges. DTX must be the top accelerated priority to cut traffic congestion.
More Chinatown Woes: Central Subway Construction Impacts
Back in 2013, I convened a press conference for Chinatown merchants to vent their anger---about construction impacts, broken promises and business closures. Also, a meeting was arranged with the Mayor’s Office, where dozens of merchants told hardship stories. In 2008 community meetings, merchants were told that businesses would not be impacted because all subway work was underground. Early drawings showed partial/ temporary closures of Washington Street---not years of complete closure. Originally scheduled to open in December 2018, the project was delayed until December 2019. Through a sunshine request, a SFMTA letter to the FTA (Federal Transit Administration) requests a schedule delay to May 2020. Also, public records reveal a long list of Contractor’s Claims, which risk cost overruns that will take more funds away from neighborhood transit needs.
Restoring Past Service Cuts By Central Subway
By taking $610 million in state/ local matching funds, the Central Subway project led to offsetting Muni service cuts throughout the city. At a recent SFMTA community meeting, I advocated for restoring past service cuts by the Central Subway, e.g. a 15-Kearny/ 20 Columbus bus to Montgomery Station, all-day 41-Union bus to Embarcadero Station, 10 Townsend/ 12 Folsom/Pacific buses to the waterfront, more night/ weekend service....
Coit 39 Bus: Very Useful Route
Last week, I rode the Coit 39 bus to Pier 39 and Coit Tower (also goes to Safeway and neighborhood shops). It’s very important to use this little bus because every few years, SFMTA threatens to eliminate the line---claiming low ridership. In 1954, Telegraph Hill Dwellers was founded to save the Coit 39. In 2010, the THD Transportation Committee worked with Muni to extend the Coit 39 to Pier 39---to increase ridership.
Pedestrian Safety Design
At Broadway and Powell Streets, two recent pedestrian deaths and a traffic fatality show a need for street/ sidewalk redesign. Observing circulation patterns over the past weeks, it’s apparent that accidents are waiting to happen. Turning cars are bound to straddle two lanes. Turning radiuses are inadequate. Street lighting is poor. There’s too much happening at the same time, requiring traffic signals to control turns. A design proposal is in the works, which can be applicable to other dangerous intersections.
Quicker and Cheaper Transit Solutions
San Francisco has one of the smallest geographic transit footprints in the world---only 49 square miles. Meanwhile, cities covering hundreds of square miles have designed world-class transit systems. Despite billions and billions of dollars spent, San Francisco’s transportation metrics have not commensurately improved. Transit ridership, per capital ridership, transit modal share and on-time performance have declined. Traffic congestion, commute times and pollution have increased. In a recent study, San Francisco has one of the highest number of underserved areas, called “Transit Deserts”.
Rather than waiting 12-20 years for a Central Subway extension, new transit technology is already being tested and implemented throughout the world. Transportation technology is advancing at an unprecedented pace---with high tech buses, trains, streetcars, bicycles, ferries and systems. Automated vehicles are already in operation, with automated microbuses and trackless/ 4-car buses. Imagine robotic, on-demand feeder buses that link to trunk lines, transit hubs, free bus loops and computer / app coordinated transit/ traffic. And even underdeveloped countries have created great transit systems by doing simple things well.
Northeast Free Shuttle Bus Loop
The short distance of 1-1/2 miles from Downtown to Fisherman’s Wharf can be connected by frequent, day/ night shuttle buses.
Possible Connections: Ferry Building, Salesforce Transit Center, Moscone Convention Center, Market Street, BART/ Metro Stations, Financial District, Chinatown, North Beach, Russian Hill, Fisherman’s Wharf and Waterfront.
Example: Denver’s Free 16th Street Mall Ride loops from Union
Station to Civic Center. Frequent, reliable, day/ night service is funded by a transit assessment district. Heavily used, the free bus is a business mainstay, stimulating economic growth and development.
Future Evolution: In time, the Free Shuttle Bus Loop could become an automated microbus, running 24/7. Far into the future, an automated/ surface vehicle would be more adaptive to sea level rise and storm surges---not requiring tracks, underground stations and tunnels. SIMPLICITY PAYS FOR ITSELF.