Next stop, Washington Square?

There’s a light at the end of the tunnel and it’s definitely an oncoming train. The question is, is it a good thing for North Beach or not?

Locals, at least those who are members of the District 3 Democratic Club, seemed divided on the subject of the Central Subway, which was the featured topic at Thursday night’s special meeting of the D3DC at the Telegraph Hill Neighborhood Center. A well-chosen panel — representing both Muni (or, if you must, MTA) and grassroots interests — tossed the subject around, both among themselves and with the lively audience.

If you’ve been living in a cave for the past few years, the Central Subway (known sarcastically to its detractors as the Rose Pak Memorial Tunnel) is Muni’s planned extension of the T-Third rail line across Market Street and up Stockton into the very belly of Chinatown.

Business-oriented Chinatown, which never met a development project it didn’t like, is said to overwhelmingly favor the subway, which, if it stays on schedule, would open to riders in 2016. That’s Phase II of the project, Phase I being the already-completed, above-ground T-Line that runs up Third Street from Bayview-Hunters Point to the Caltrain Station at Fourth and King streets. But Muni is looking beyond Chinatown, and the so-called end of the line at Washington and Stockton, and casting a covetous eye on North Beach.

From a purely logistical point of view, it makes sense to extend this subway line into and through North Beach, with an eventual terminus at Fisherman’s Wharf. (Or, if you want to indulge in a little transit fantasy porn as one panel member did, all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge.) But North Beachers are not as quick as their Chinese neighbors to embrace such a seismic shift in their village life.

John Funghi, the Muni’s program manager for the Central Subway project, provided the institutional rah-rah viewpoint that one would expect, and he was convincing at times. Emphasizing that the subway was not merely a means to an end but part of a comprehensive restructuring of Muni, he assured the audience that the T-Line would take pressure off the 30-Stockton and 45-Union/Stockton lines, which provide some of the most miserable bus-riding experiences this side of the 38-Geary.

He was supported enthusiastically by Dan Krause, a board member for Rescue Muni, who promised a coming paradigm shift as attitudes toward mass transit change in the face of skyrocketing gas prices and the specter of global warming.

Less enthusiastic was Richard Mlynarik of the Transbay Citizens Advisory Committee, who described the project as an “edifice complex” and a “grandiose project” that will eat up Muni capital and funding for the next 30 years while accomplishing very little.

SPUR’s Steve Taber and Jerry Cauthen, a civil engineer, generally support the subway, although both expressed concerns. Taber was mainly worried about logistics, such as platform lengths and ease of transferring, while Cauthen argued that under the existing plan, only the southern end of Chinatown was being well served. He favors an extension to Washington Square, with the possibility of an intermediate stop at Broadway, as soon as possible.

Audience attitudes were divided between opponents (North Beachers defending their turf from further developmental erosion), supporters (North Beachers who buy the “all progress is good” mantra and believe it really might help) and the fatalists (who support the subway because they see no point in resisting it, since what big money wants, big money gets.)

The takeaway? Phase II is a done deal, folks, and there will certainly be a subway running into Chinatown. Phase III is still on the table, barely, so if you’re against the idea of trains stopping beneath Washington Square the time to sit up on your hind legs and yowl is now.

As for me, I’m not necessarily opposed to a subway per se. What I fear is what’s almost certain to come along right behind it: An increase in density and a raising of building-height limits to accommodate that density. The name of the game these days for our idiotic planners is more density and taller buildings (never mind that San Franciscans have voted consistently against Manhattanization), and their favorite place to be upwardly mobile is along transit corridors.

They’re not going to shell out $1.4 billion for a subway line, even if most of that is federal money, and then not crush some little two-story green grocer in favor of a condo high rise.

One audience member opposed to the subway pointed out that tourists who ride it would be underground, and therefore denied the pleasure of seeing San Francisco. If they slap up a bunch of tacky (but expensive) condos along Columbus Avenue and destroy the character of North Beach for the sake of cramming more people into it, I might just ride the damned thing myself. — Tony

— Reposted, with permission, from North Beach Examiner

One comment

  • tara

    1) High-rise buildings aren’t necessarily bad. Density, after all, should not be a four-letter word when it comes to planning, especially given the environmental benefits when it’s done properly.

    But exclusively building high-priced, high-rise condos is problematic. Are these people going to take Muni? My bet is that unless the system gets a lot cleaner and reliable, they’re going to take their disposable income and take cabs instead.

    Speaking of –

    2) I like the idea of a central subway, but I hope (against hope) these phases actually make sense as a cohesive whole.

    San Francisco was/is planned horribly for several reasons, and the public transportation system has suffered because of it. But the problems are only going to get worse if these transit phases don’t link up properly. How is the pipedream E-line (from Mission Bay to Crissy Field) going to connect to the rest of the system? How is the Central Subway going to connect to the T-Third? Where are the major hubs going to be? Etc.

    3) Though I’ve historically been against die-hard no-growth policies, Telegraph Hill folks probably should be offended by any development proposals…

    *Fun Fact*
    Much of their beloved hill was blasted away by early contractors so they could build stuff in Seattle with the material. Ouch.

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