What are your feelings about the Central Subway project?

fourth-stockton-modified-lpa-alignmentMaybe you live along the existing T-Third route and would like to see the line extended farther north. Maybe you live in Chinatown, and would love an easier way than the 30 or 45 to hop over to SOMA or Mission Bay. Maybe you don’t live in either area, and are concerned about the costs and/or environmental impacts inherent in this estimated $1.57 billion, massive-construction project. Or maybe you’re just a transit geek, like us, and love all things rail.

Give Rachel Gordon’s post on the City Insider a quick read, and let us know your thoughts about the Central Subway project.


  • Honestly, I don’t see how this fits into the whole ‘scheme’ of the Metro system. Having a crosstown route that bisects the main subway seems odd no matter how you put it. Is there no way that this could be done with a level crossing in the Subway? Also, I don’t see how this will speed up travel from Caltrain to Market. Remember, when the car reaches the portal, there will be a wait (usually lengthy) for the system to ‘handshake’ and allow entry into the Subway. I’d like to see this as a non-ATC section (faster running) or at least make the handshake at Moscone Station, so that it minimize dwell at the portal.

  • Greg

    Tremendously flawed, but it really is too far along in the process to scrap it and start over with something else. They really need to figure out a better way to connect it to Powell Station, but even if you go to a hugely transit-developed city like Tokyo or New York, you’ll occasionally run into these “connections” where you have to walk down a long tunnel in order to get from Station A to Station B.

    On the bright side, assuming it works well, it will relieve the 30-Stockton corridor’s congestion far better than any surface option could. But it just goes to show you how politics matters more than actual need when Geary, the busiest route west of the Mississippi, gets some dinky, mediocre Bus Rapid Transit plan while Chinatown gets its own subway handed on a silver platter.

  • It’s been a shame to watch the planning for this project go astray and become so diluted over the years. The result is now an astronomically expensive project that will not carry nearly $1.5-$1.6 billion in benefits, which will degrade surface service (despite only partially replacing the bus corridor in question), and which will result in increased operating costs.

    Greg is correct that many well-developed transit networks in other cities include walking connections like that which will be necessary between Powell and Union Square/Market Street stations. But it’s all about context. In those cities, you might actually be riding the train long enough so that the process of connecting is, on the whole, a small percentage of the ride. That will in most cases not be true for the Central Subway. The majority of 30/45 riders travel between Market St and Chinatown. To execute that ride via subway, riders will have walk several minutes to the Market St station, go 10 stories underground and navigate to the tiny platform which will support merely 2-car trains, come back up out of Chinatown, and then walk probably walk at least a few blocks. All of that walking and elevation change takes time, and it is a stressful trip for the many seniors who ride the 30/45. Indeed, it may actually be longer to take the subway than to take the bus, when you include total trip time. Given the time and stress of taking the subway, my guess is that many people will still want to ride the bus, although bus service will probably be cut on the premise that the T provides superior service.

    This is no way to plan a subway, but we’re basically stuck with it. The fast-forwarding of the “3rd Street/Chinatown/North Beach” corridor ahead of Geary was a political shenanigan, not a decision based on transit effectiveness.

  • Phil

    I’d like to see the city replace the California cable care line with a proper train and connect it to a Geary train and a Van Ness train. Most or all of those lines can be above ground and would serve much larger swathes of the city, as well as provide a new transit route to the Financial District. Cheaper, too.

    Not that this is a bad idea, it’s just poorly prioritized. That they don’t immediately plan to run it all the way to the north shore, however, is a bad idea.

    I’m not too concerned with transferring, assuming MUNI finds a way to keep escalators, elevators (and maybe people movers?) in working order. Unfortunaltey, their track record in this area does not inspire confidence.

    @Connor – I’m not sure what you mean about the handshake. My understanding is that the Central Subway will run under BART. It does not share tracks with any other trains and would never be forced to wait before entering a station. This is one of the few benefits of having an entirely separate line, especially considering how poorly MUNI manages their current array of trains in the Market subway.

  • Erik

    I think Geary needs a subway far more than SOMA/Chinatown do. If the Chinatown merchants want a tourist shuttle then then can build it themselves.

  • @Erik: Totally agree re: Geary. But speaking of merchants — ever dealt with or read about the Geary Blvd. Merchants? Apparently, there are a lot of 1950s Robert Mosesites out there. They believe in the car at all costs, and that cars and buses are the only way people get to their stores and cafes and restaurants. They won’t have any of this gawd dang construction bidness.

    You know San Francisco — if there’s one person with an idea, there’s 12 waiting to protest it.

  • eddo

    The “yeah we could use the money in so many different ways” argument is moot at this point. Funding from the FTA is doled out project-by-project, and this one passed the FTA muster for a large amount of funding into the project. Federally-funded projects generally have a local match which is where some of the discretionary spending could be routed elsewhere, but you can’t route FTA funds to other projects if they’ve earmarked it for a specific project, and that’s where most of the money for the Central Subway is coming from.

    Anyways, it could be cheaper, it could be better, but I think in the long run it will work. I wish there was a nicer connection to Powell Station, of course. But Chinatown is enough of a local and regional destination, and the stops along the subway route are not too shabby themselves either. The measure of success of a subway is its use, and these stations will be some of the heaviest used stations in the Muni Metro station, I would imagine.

  • @Phil: The handshake I’m referring to is when a train wants to enter the ATC controlled Subway. The system needs to detect the train, “take control” and then have it proceed into the subway. If you ride the MME (N and T lines from Caltrain to EMB) there is a wait while the train switches into ‘Auto’ at the portal to the MMX and then it can go on to the EMB Station. There was at one time a ‘handshaker’ at EMB, you can see it at the far end of the station near the OOS signals covered by a trash bag. Klassy, Muni.

  • Scott

    I feel that the Central Subway is absolutely needed in SF, but I too and not happy with the decision to put a station in Union Square instead of directly on Market Street. I’m guessing the decision was greatly influenced by the merchants around Union Square. I am hoping that the Subway plan will include an underground “moving walkway” similar to the ones used in airports to get people from the Union Square station to the Market Street trains.

    With people already complaining so much about the cost of the 1.7 mile Central Subway, I do not know how people here can say that there should be instead a longer and far more expensive subway down Geary. I have ridden both the 30/45 and Geary buses many times, and I constantly find that the Geary bus lines are less crowded and move much faster along surface streets than the 30/45 buses do.

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