San Francisco Subway Extension Map (Image Source: sfmta.com)

Earlier this year the Federal green light and initial funds were given for San Francisco to enter the final design stage for the $1.6 billion Central Subway project, but the bulk of funding to construct the subway is dependent upon the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency securing “at least $137 million, and possibly as much as $225 million” of non-federal funds for the project.

From the Chronicle:

The hunt for funds comes at a bad time. Not only has the struggling economy dried up much transportation funding and forced Muni, like other transit agencies, to cut service and raise fares, but both the city and Congress are in the midst of turbulent political transitions. All of that could combine to complicate, delay or possibly even derail the effort to build a new subway from downtown to Chinatown – if Muni has trouble finding the funds.

Adding to the uncertainty are new Muni ridership projections that show about 14 percent fewer trips on the Central Subway than initially forecast if the agency is able to fully implement an ongoing program to improve the efficiency of the transit system.

The deadline for the SFMTA to identify their source of funds is three months away.

Comments from Plugged-In Readers

  1. Posted by Fishchum

    I hope this project gets completely scuttled. I can’t imagine a bigger waste of taxpayer money. I take the 45 from the Caltrain station all the way to the Presidio and the bus can get crowded between the station and Chinatown, but I don’t think the congestion warrants spending billions on a subway line.
    Spending it on the Geary corridor would be a much better idea, IMO.

  2. Posted by lyqwyd

    I used to be mildly in favor of the project, but as time has gone, and people have pointed out much cheaper solutions, that could potentially significantly improve the existing bus routes, and as the price has steadily climbed, I don’t really think this project makes much sense.

  3. Posted by Ivan

    I’m a big proponent in investing in transportation infrustructure, but this isn’t it. Money can be used better elsewhere.

  4. Posted by Dubocian

    Let’s hope this boondoggle dies on the vine. Everything I’ve read says that transit times will actually INCREASE for those using the new subway compared to existing bus lines, and transfers between the new line and the existing underground lines will require passengers to come back above-ground, walk two blocks, then go back underground.
    If they were actually going to build it out all the way to North Beach, it might have some limited value, but it’s going to end at Chinatown. The costs of upkeep will likely bankrupt the MTA, particularly since projected ridership is very low.
    This dog needs to be put out of its misery.

  5. Posted by Louis

    I believe that this $137 MIL will turn into a double need – say $275 MIL — before this is over – based only on the history of infrastructure to cost more and more and more, and the refusal of advocates to put the cards on the table, that out of fear pols and voters would say no at the beginning.
    I dont see this project being worth it. I am a SF resident, and small business owner, and i cannot see the benefit of this investment.
    This is an old project, the patterns of the City have changed, and what it provides is not relevant enough. It will be a monster subsidy for the users it actually serves.
    Cancel and cut losses.

  6. Posted by FormerAptBroker

    With the bus station closing the new subway stations will provide much needed indoor sleeping space for the homeless…

  7. Posted by Joe

    Not a chance of this being cancelled. Pre-construction has already begun.
    The pizza slice bound by market and van ness has the highest densities in all of sf, but also some of the slowest transit. No express service, and no rail to speak of outside of the cable car and the f along the embarcadero.
    Why do we have rail out to some of the cities lowest densities in the sunset, but no rail to the areas with the highest population densities outside of chicago?

  8. Posted by ex SF-er

    there is so much wrong with this project that it’s hard to know where to start, but I’ll start with this:
    transfers between the new line and the existing underground lines will require passengers to come back above-ground, walk two blocks, then go back underground.
    how much worse could planning be on a SUB way? if they couldn’t even grasp the basic ideas behind how SUBways work, then I doubt they can grasp the more complex relationships either.
    SF could use an East/West subway at some point… but this is poorly thought out and will be poorly executed if it is done. (plus it is more N/S than E/W)

  9. Posted by oscar

    just wait till you see the costs of connecting the cal train to the transbay terminal. it will make the cost of the central subway seem a drop in the bucket.

  10. Posted by ex SF-er

    Why do we have rail out to some of the cities lowest densities in the sunset, but no rail to the areas with the highest population densities outside of chicago?
    my recollection (please correct me if I’m wrong) is partly because people in some of the affected nabes fought against rail tooth and nail.
    besides, there is a major difference between having rail service (a la outser sunset) and subway, both in terms cost and also short and long term effects.
    Subway is hugely disruptive for a medium period of time, but then traffice patterns are restored (and improved maybe). rail is less disruptive for a shorter period of time initially, but then you have long-term traffic issues.
    all that said: the real reason is because planning and executing is a joke in SF.
    there should be relatively seamless integration between muni, bart, caltrain, and future HSR. but that takes long range planning and execution skills.

  11. Posted by goblue72

    No one is going to scuttle a $1.6B public works project for want of a scant $137MM, especially in the middle of the Great Recession with record high unemployment in the construction trades. NO. ONE.

  12. Posted by Average Joe

    I just think of this as an obnoxious, though essential, prerequisite for further subway development in SF. Density in SF will continue to s-l-o-w-l-y increase, and some provisions must be made for that. Although it IS very easy to think of a bigger waste of public-transit funding: the BART extension to Oakland Airport. A dead-end destination already well-served by bus and doomed to never have significant passenger volume.

  13. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    Having observed the evolution and execution of many transportation projects up close over the last two decades I can say that politics overrides reason in almost every case. Whether it be the placement of humble pedestrian overcrossings or huge HSR systems, if those with political clout want a solution that disagrees with the planners and engineers, the politicians always win.
    Average Joe brings up the Oakland Connector as one recent example. HSR is at risk of bypassing the third largest city in the state just because some people living adjacent to a 150 year old railway oppose development.
    It must be very frustrating to a transportation professional when you’re constantly having your hands ties.
    Fortunately most of the time the professionals and politicians are in sync. Here we have a little stub of a subway that will have a hard time standing on its own and will have to lean on the Awesome Power of The Muni Network for relevance.

  14. Posted by sfrenegade

    I think people are focusing too hard on the current terminus of this subway. This short line could easily be extended. New subways are expensive, just look at the Second Ave Subway in NY, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be built.
    Yes, it sucks if you are just going from 4th between Howard and Folsom to Washington & Stockton in terms of time spent going up and down the escalators because they are building the line so deep, but if this goes up Columbus towards the Marina in 2030 (I’m being optimistic), it’s a big step forward.
    I agree, the construction plan could have been better because the deep tunnel is annoying. The connections to BART/Muni at Powell could have been better, but this is not that far off from some London Tube connections where the stations don’t align exactly. Overall, having this project is better than not having this project because it’s not like the money would be reallocated to something more useful.
    Me, I’m still holding out for the B-Geary replacement…

  15. Posted by sfrenegade

    “Although it IS very easy to think of a bigger waste of public-transit funding: the BART extension to Oakland Airport. A dead-end destination already well-served by bus and doomed to never have significant passenger volume.”
    I disagree. The only people I know who complain these days about the cost and lack of ridership of the BART line to SFO are those who never take it. Everyone else who goes to/from SFO, SFers and out-of-towners alike, thinks it’s great. Airports need better transit connection, and the current AirBART sucks. This is good infrastructure and necessary, but is expensive. Once again, building this is better than not building this, because the money would not be reallocated to something better.

  16. Posted by curmudgeon

    SFrenegade,
    As someone who was involved in planning both the BART SFO extension and the Oakland Airport Connector (in different capacities at different times) let me say that MoD is largely correct that transit projects get screwed up by politics. The SFO extension was hugely more expensive and less efficient than it should have been had it had a west of the freeway station with peoplemover connection to the gates. (Thank you Quentin Kopp and Frank Jordan). As it is, there are longer walks to the gates (and very little reason to use the very expensive people mover system). That said, I certainly use the system, and prefer it over no system.
    On the Oakland Airport Connector…it is pretty clear that it’s really all a case of rail envy on the part of Oakland boosters. AirBART does “suck”, but it could also be easily improved at a fraction of the cost of rail. The rail system that is being constructed is a relatively slow tinker-toy of a system (cable driven). Perhaps of bigger import, if you believe that we really are going to have HSR someday, the role of Oakland Airport is going to be much diminished because it relies so heavily on southern california flights (this is also true, but less so, of SFO).
    Regarding the Chinatown subway…this project has reached the point of (almost) no return. I’m not intimately familiar with the project, but it is clear that ON ITS OWN it will never make sense. Only seen as the building block to future extensions does it make sense.

  17. Posted by glenn Lym

    It is my understanding that the fundamental reason for this subway has not so much to do with connecting to Chinatown and releaving the congested buses, but rather to set up an eventual Muni Metro line down Geary into the Richmond. The current configuration of the BART/Muni Metro lines down Market, do not allow expansion of that system into the Richmond. However the first links of such an expansion are expensive and are packaged as this Chinatown link. So you should think of this expense in terms of the longer term, overall system to service the Richmond District.

  18. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    “The only people I know who complain these days about the cost and lack of ridership of the BART line to SFO are those who never take it. Everyone else who goes to/from SFO, SFers and out-of-towners alike, thinks it’s great.”
    You must not be talking to anyone who reaches SFO via CalTrain+BART. That connection is terribly inconvenient, requiring you to take two different BART trains each for just one stop and accumulating the inefficiencies of latency of transferring at San Bruno. Add to that the requirement to haul yourself and luggage up and down that structure that spans the tracks at Millbrae. And then you’re paying $4 for the privilege of that awkward and pathetically slow BART ride that drops you off 1 mile away from where you started. Plus you need to use two different fare systems and two different ticket vending machines.
    The last time I tried that connection (it will be the last and I’m even a dedicated transit rider) it took about 50 minutes from the BART gates of SFO to board CalTrain, a distance of one mile. I could have walked from SFO to Millbrae CalTrain faster.
    The core of this problem could easily be remedied just by reactivating the “dead” BART segment that directly connects SFO to Millbrae Caltrain. How many millions did we pay for that segment of track that is now rusting away ?

  19. Posted by sfrenegade

    “The core of this problem could easily be remedied just by reactivating the “dead” BART segment that directly connects SFO to Millbrae Caltrain. How many millions did we pay for that segment of track that is now rusting away ?”
    It’s actually not dead. It runs after 7PM on weekdays and all weekends. All Peninsula-bound trains during these hours are SFO/Millbrae trains.
    What’s annoying is that SFO is considered a terminal station under the union contract, so you have to switch drivers to go from SFO to Millbrae because drivers are given a 15 min break at terminal stations. The Millbrae shuttle that used to run was pretty empty most of the time, even as a 3-car train, and still required 15 min breaks for drivers even on this short segment.

  20. Posted by sfrenegade

    “As someone who was involved in planning both the BART SFO extension and the Oakland Airport Connector (in different capacities at different times) let me say that MoD is largely correct that transit projects get screwed up by politics.”
    I don’t disagree that transit projects almost always get screwed up by politics because politicians are mostly figure-head idiotic short-term thinkers. But once they are screwed up by politics, usually the best course is not to cancel them, but rather to live with them unless they create active impediments to a better and more practical system that is likely to be built within one’s childrens’ lifetime. At some point you have to switch to reality.

  21. Posted by redseca2

    This project only makes sense if is is merely a trojan horse foot in the door for a system that will eventually make it all the way to Starfleet Academy in the Presidio.
    That being said, I expect the Academy to be up and running long before the subway has a Palace of Fine Arts stop.

  22. Posted by sfrenegade

    “all the way to Starfleet Academy in the Presidio.”
    Please, the NIMBYs won’t allow Starfleet to build the Academy in the Presidio.

  23. Posted by Zig

    “It is my understanding that the fundamental reason for this subway has not so much to do with connecting to Chinatown and releaving the congested buses, but rather to set up an eventual Muni Metro line down Geary into the Richmond.”
    Could be wrong but I think this is way out of date now. The value engineering, the deep tunneling, postioning of the market/union sq station (some combo of these) now preclude this connection
    It’s not being built with this expectation. Geary will be lucky if it ever gets the BRT

  24. Posted by curmudgeon

    I think Zig is right. The best justification for the Chinatown extension was to allow for an eventual rail connection on Geary, but I believe that has been engineered out of the equation. I am not sure that it can ever be engineered back in. If it is simply the depth of the Chinatown extension, it would certainly be possible to also deep bore Geary down to that elevation, with some obvious impacts on station locations around Union Square.
    I have always thought that Geary subway past the Cathedral, and then surface out the Avenues, would make a great deal of sense. BRT is never going to really solve the congested urban core (inside Van Ness) issue that Geary service confronts.

  25. Posted by jon

    just to clarify: the transfer between the new line and existing underground lines does NOT involve going up to the street and walking 2 blocks.
    http://www.centralsubwayblog.com/blog/2009/11/connection-and-transfer/
    It’s still far from seamless though.

  26. Posted by frenchjr25

    Where the project is needed, it does not go nearly far enough to address our future transit needs. It ultimately would have been cheaper for them to build the subway from Caltran and take it all the way to at least the Marina, if not the Presidio.
    Right now the project does not have much impact because it is so small. Our government needs to start thinking big to help address rising costs and rising debt.

  27. Posted by John

    With all due respect to the poster, jon, the fact that he found a description of the transfer on an official blog cannot be given more credence than the TWO posters here who indicate that the transfer does involve exiting the system.
    I’m sorry, but I’m sure that no one would post here before doing a thorough amount of research. Please retract your minority opinion.

  28. Posted by lyqwyd

    The blog posted by Jon is the official CS blog, maintained by the project team members

  29. Posted by Potrero Hill Man

    I think this Central Subway project will be the biggest cluster eff in the history of San Francisco and that’s saying a lot (can you say Housing Projects?).
    The Phase 1 part of this project, which was completed in 2007 increased my 2.5 mile commute from Potrero Hill to Downtown SF from ~25 minutes to over 60 minutes, on a good day. There are days when I have to call a cab from the bus station because nextbus is telling me the wait is over an hour!!!
    The moral of the story is that a light rail system works only if 1) you have competent individuals working the system (NOT MUNI) and 2) you have a master build plan and not these one-off projects that connect to nowhere. MUNI, please take advice from BART and Caltrains the next time around.
    Speaking of Caltrains, I find it rather comical that should I ever decide to commute to the Southbay using Caltrains, my total commute time would actually DECREASE!!! And just to reiterate, my commute to Downtwn SF from Potrero Hill is 2.5 miles…a bit less than the over 30 mile commute to the Southbay. If you don’t believe me, check 511.org for yourself.

  30. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    I believe you Potrero Hill Man, CalTrain hit one out of the park with the baby bullet project. That and bikes-on-board are amazingly successful programs. We’re still half a century behind what other regions have done with rail transit.
    But the real factor in the huge difference in commutes are bus vs. heavy rail. Buses travel through uncongested urban areas at about the same speed as a bicyclist. Add congestion and the speeds are even lower.

  31. Posted by VancouverJones

    It makes sense to bulid it now:
    1) We must connect Caltrain and BART (otherwise,what’s the point…)
    2) Chinatown is densly populated and is lacking modern transporatation infrastructure.
    3) The money will disappear when the next Congress is in session.
    4) This is just one more piece of a subway network that’s already planned out (please, please, please tell me that that’s true).
    As side note: Could someone please ask the alpha seekers to sit on the sidelines for 20 years or so. It’s hard to build badly needed infrastructure (physical, educational, medical etc.) if they keep amplifying the economic swings until the economy crashes. Please, give us ordinary, value adding folks a chance. I’m just sayin’…
    A second side note: Too bad we couldn’t convince Meg not run in the last election. She could have wrote a check for the oustanding amount and we could have named the subway after her.

  32. Posted by sfrenegade

    “With all due respect to the poster, jon, the fact that he found a description of the transfer on an official blog cannot be given more credence than the TWO posters here who indicate that the transfer does involve exiting the system. ”
    You should note, as lyqwyd did, that that’s an official blog about the Central Subway.
    Second, I had already mentioned that the transfer was not that much different from some London Underground transfers. I could also add that it’s not that much different from transferring at NY’s Times Square station.

  33. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    “I had already mentioned that the transfer was not that much different from some London Underground transfers.”
    If you mean those quarter mile long up, down, left down, up, right … touring past a half dozen buskers transfers like at Baker St. or Bank then that’s not a model to emulate if it can be avoided. I assume that CT would have avoided such an elaborate path if possible. The only convenience is that you avoid exposure to London weather, not so much of a problem here.

  34. Posted by sfrenegade

    “If you mean those quarter mile long up, down, left down, up, right … touring past a half dozen buskers transfers like at Baker St. or Bank then that’s not a model to emulate if it can be avoided. I assume that CT would have avoided such an elaborate path if possible. The only convenience is that you avoid exposure to London weather, not so much of a problem here.”
    It’s better than something like Bank, for sure. As I mentioned, a better example might be NY’s Times Square/42nd St where you have to go down a hallway from the S shuttle to the main part of the station.
    I am actually unclear on why the deep tunneling is happening here. I know there was a shallow tunnel plan earlier that got nixed for some unknown reason. I believe the shallow tunnel would have made more sense for both an easier connection to Powell and the potential connection to the B-Geary that will never happen.
    There are certainly other things I would quibble about in the exact route — e.g. what street it’s going down and the exact portions of above-ground/below-ground, but we’re way past those discussions now. Now it’s either: A) do the project now, take the federal funds, and have something that could be extended into something that is more useful some day; or B) don’t do the project, lose the funds, and have it die. A is far better.

  35. Posted by anon

    Comparison to London transfers is not valid, because London has a vast network. Having a 10 minute walk for a connection that can get you anywhere in the city is one thing – having a 10 minute walk for a line that only connects to one more station is ridiculous and something that people will avoid if at all possible.
    The absurd connection time can ONLY make sense if you think that a majority of the users of the line will be going south from Market OR going a long ways west from Stockton.

  36. Posted by Potrero Hill Man

    “There are certainly other things I would quibble about in the exact route — e.g. what street it’s going down and the exact portions of above-ground/below-ground, but we’re way past those discussions now. Now it’s either: A) do the project now, take the federal funds, and have something that could be extended into something that is more useful some day; or B) don’t do the project, lose the funds, and have it die. A is far better.”
    This is coming from someone who regularly uses the T Third Phase 1 project and also used the bus system that was previously in place. This is my opinion but I feel very strongly that this project will make the average commute much worse.
    Unfortunately you can’t just halfway do a major underground project like this. They should just spend their time and energy on something that will add value to the MUNI system.

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