|Washington Square: next stop on the line?
Top image courtesy of House of Orion;
bottom image courtesy of Streetsblog.
There have been two flavors of discussion lately about the Central Subway — one, which exposes the unsurprising revelation that this exercise in burrowing underground is already going over budget; and the other, as at SPUR’s recent forum on the Central Subway, which pushes forward, dreaming for a bigger, and hopefully better line. (By the way: many thanks to Tom Prete for his Twitter coverage of the SPUR event, and be sure to also check out his excellent recent piece on Muni’s express buses.) Is bigger always best, or is it better to be short and sweet? Thanks to the subway’s somewhat awkward stub end at Chinatown, both might be partially true. That we would expand rail to Chinatown, daylight the tunnel-boring machines near Washington Square, and then not bring rail service to North Beach would indeed seem to be a missed opportunity, even for Central Subway skeptics like yours truly. But then, where to extend the tracks? To Fisherman’s Wharf, as some suggest — or to Fort Mason, the Marina District, the Presidio, and even the Golden Gate Bridge, as others have suggested? Surface light rail through North Beach might be more than Columbus Avenue streetscape planners have bargained for, but our hunch is to side with the Fisherman’s Wharf supporters on this one. Not because we feel a pressing need to add a third track connection between Union Square and the Wharf, on top of cable cars and the F-line — but because it is a natural point of extension that would add value without requiring too lengthy an extension; we might dare even to call it “damage control.” Van Ness will have dedicated bus lanes by this point in time, and terminating the rail extension there near North Point would facilitate a transfer to more robust service on that corridor. Besides, we would rather see historic streetcars go to Fort Mason, and we’re not convinced that both services are needed. As for the Presidio, an extension of the 30-Stockton trolley — and perhaps, eventually, historic streetcars as well — to the Presidio Transit Center strikes us as the more reasonable plan. The benefit gained by extending the Central Subway from Chinatown to Washington Square is considerable; but a westward extension, into the Marina and beyond, seems to carry much less benefit per dollar spent. For one, try convincing certain Marina folk that, really, more overhead wires might not reduce their property values. Okay, we jest (sort of), but setting that aside, ridership in the northwest corner of town is less than well-demonstrated: the 30 and 45 buses are not thoroughly used in the Marina and Cow Hollow. They sometimes run largely empty until they arrive at crowded Chinatown stops on Stockton Street, which suggests that building such an extension would not yield the best bang for buck. The peak hour 30X Marina Express buses to the Financial District are well-used, but — short of the SFMTA cutting popular express bus routes to increase Central Subway ridership — why would downtown-bound Marina commuters choose to ride the Central Subway and then execute a several-minute transfer at the inexpertly designed Union Square/Market Street station, when a one-seat express bus ride could take them directly downtown? We don’t know, either. And, to be frank, there are other corridors where the transit capital dollars would be a better investment.