Central Subway, Muni / SFMTA, San Francisco

Board of Supervisors Certifies Central Subway EIR

Let’s not fool ourselves — there was really no chance that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors would not certify the Final Supplemental EIR (FEIR/FEIS) for the Central Subway project. Yesterday, the Board did exactly that; the vote was 10-0, with Sandoval absent. The Central Subway, which will extend the T-Third light rail line north from Caltrain to Chinatown, would add one surface station at Brannan, and three subway stations at Moscone, Union Square/Market Street, and Chinatown along the 4th/Stockton alignment. In recent months, this long-planned project has come under increased criticism from North Beach residents, who have protested the plan to have the tunnel boring machines resurface at Washington Square. The legendary neighborhood opposition in North Beach to, well, just about anything, could prove to be an obstacle to eventually extend the T-Third into North Beach and Fisherman’s Wharf. However, given that the subway only serves a portion of this corridor (terminating as it does at an unnatural point in Chinatown), the long-term viability of the project demands that just such a northward extension be constructed. Meanwhile, BART has expressed much more serious concern that boring the deep subway crossing under Market Street could damage the existing Powell Street Station.

The Board’s vote to certify the EIR overrided an appeal that pointed out some key flaws we have previously discussed, including the EIR’s misleadingly stated travel time improvements and inflated ridership estimates. It is abundantly clear that Chinatown would benefit immensely from a commitment to embrace robust transit solutions for the Stockton Street corridor, and a better planned subway tunnel could well be worth the investment. But, as proposed, there is a large proportionality disconnect between the project’s extreme cost — $1.4 billion now, but almost certain to go over budget — and its actual benefits. Just as frustrating is the EIR’s willingness to either dismiss or ignore compelling project alternatives, such as building a tunnel that could accommodate joint bus and light rail service, similar to that in downtown Seattle. Such an alternative would divert more transit operations to the tunnel, thereby reducing operating costs and allowing thousands of daily bus riders to benefit from the tunnel by avoiding surface street congestion. But in the end, attempts to displace the flawed analysis in the EIR were overshadowed by the iron strong political motivations underpinning the Central Subway.



8 thoughts on “Board of Supervisors Certifies Central Subway EIR

  1. While I am a daily rider of the cursed 30/45 from North Beach through Chinatown to Caltrain, I do not believe that a $1.4B subway is anywhere close the answer we need.

    I suggest that Stockton be shut down to traffic. It should be a transit only corridor with an above ground light rail. This would also allow for the buses to continue service at a fraction of the cost of the subway.

    I know this would never fly due to the heavy handedness of the Chinatown Merchants, but if we want to truly move this city in a transit first direction we need to take a firm stand against traffic and related congestion. Stockton is horrible from 8am-8pm and a subway is in no way going to provide the relief needed.

    Posted by Mike | 17 September 2008, 8:58 am
  2. I wanted Eric to know that my testimony at the appeal hearing included the following: “I’ve seen more good ideas on the Transbay Blog than in the entire EIR process.” I wanted to publicly honor his excellent work.

    I reviewed the blog yesterday before the hearing, and was extremely impressed by the thoroughness of the descriptions, by the creativity of the proposed alternative solutions, and by the clarity of the conclusion that the subway is a horribly botched project.

    Posted by TRANSDEF | 17 September 2008, 9:08 am
  3. Transdef, thanks for your very nice words.

    Posted by Eric | 17 September 2008, 9:14 am
  4. @Eric

    Wow, you certainly don’t hide your opinions about this project. I love your site but I don’t share your view.

    When we spend 2B a day in Iraq, which is akin to a US-subsidized welfare state, I am more than content to give Chinatown a 1.4 B subway to benefit the community which has been and continues to be an anchor of San Francisco tourism, culture, and community.

    I was pleased that both sides had strong and organized support. While I disagree with Gerald Cauthen’s opinion, I admire that he went up there and put his 2 cents in.

    I was glad to testify for the project and I’m glad the Board of Supes did the right thing (in my opinion of course).

    The MTA did not consider the knit-picking of the CS opponents to be worth putting the project on hold indefinetly, and I agree with that.

    We had this level of screaming and yelling when Market street BART was built and I for one am glad our Board of Supes did not cave into people’s baseless fears and stall this project.

    I for one am tired of analysis paralysis; derail the project and the money is gone (I am sorry to say.) I am happy that there is some consideration for the future and not just for short-term needs. Good luck trying to get that money again.

    Posted by thamsenman | 17 September 2008, 3:58 pm
  5. Oh and another thing:

    Perhaps the North Beach residents should be more concerned about the decay of their neighborhood, boarded up storefronts, and that hideous and disgusting Pagoda which is an eyesore and an embarassment in the “jewel that is Washington Square” rather than fight a boring machine coming into the park.

    I for one advocate seizing the Pagoda with eminent domain and building the North Beach station there; clearly the community is not mature enough to do something proactive with that building and it might as well serve for some sort of neighborhood transit anchor.

    Posted by thamsenman | 17 September 2008, 4:00 pm
  6. It definitely makes sense that if you’re going to go to the trouble of making a tunnel, the line should extend farther!

    The idea of making Stockton transit-only sounds pretty great, too!

    Posted by Alexandra V. | 19 September 2008, 10:41 pm
  7. I guess this thing will get built eventually, to the dismay of an amount of people… I found Joe Alioto’s early suggestion of having the boring machines being removed at North Beach playground very humorous. It already costs more than $600 million per mile to bore the tunnels, another two or three blocks to the playground would surely be a great expense. Plus the time and money to do a supplemental EIR would mean a longer wait for the Geary LRT (unless we can coax Bart to build it).

    Posted by JR | 22 September 2008, 3:47 am
  8. Thanks for your remarks, and apologies for posting the above comments late. There was a backlog of comments from a number of older posts caught in the spam filter. Anyway, this was a somewhat briefer post, and the comments lead me to think perhaps I didn’t express myself quite clearly enough in the short space. But just a general response:

    The MTA is correct that the northeast quadrant is one of the most densely populated areas in the country outside of Manhattan. It could use a subway, or even two or three. That said: having kept tabs on the Central Subway since at least high school (gee, time sure does fly), it has been disheartening to watch it decline steadily from an initially exciting idea to the form it has now assumed. What’s more is that many very intelligent people have followed this project for longer than that. The appeal at the Board was not offered by North Beach NIMBYs; it was initiated by transit and density advocates who are, quite justifiably I believe, troubled by the MTA’s apparent apathy towards legitimate concerns that have been raised. Those concerns are neither nitpicky nor esoteric; they strike at the heart of the utility and effectiveness of the adopted alternative.

    I should add that I do not endorse those views offered by North Beach residents with respect to daylighting the TBMs. Quite the opposite. (I hoped that the words “oppose just about anything” in the post would convey that sentiment.) Washington Square is the most natural place to extract the TBMs, it’s the most natural place for a North Beach station, and, as indicated in the post, an extension north of Chinatown is necessary to maximize the utility of rail on this corridor, although that does mean throwing still more money on this line, at the expense of other corridors. The federal funds apply to this project with its current scope, as far north as Chinatown, so that further extensions would require separate plans and funding. The best we can really hope for at this point is to try to improve upon the poor planning of recent years and make the most of the project we have now.

    Posted by Eric | 23 September 2008, 12:00 am

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