Monday, June 29, 2009

Toward a Robust Rapid Transit Network: The H-Potrero Van Ness

Don't expect me to get in the habit of quoting Chuck Nevius, but this excerpt from his June 6th column about 49ers stadium negotiations rang a bell in my mind:
Public transportation is one of the team's major concerns with a San Francisco site.

Niners Chief Financial Officer Larry MacNeil said the Hunters Point proposal would require that 25 percent of patrons travel on public transit.

When asked what the percentage is now at Candlestick, MacNeil said 18 percent of fans arrive on buses.

Well, that doesn't sound so insurmountable. Add a few more buses. Maybe Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who wants the team to stay in San Francisco, would help find the cash for a light-rail line. -SF Chronicle

Big freaking 'maybe,' to say the least. But stadium or no, SF Lennar is building thousands of homes on HP come hell or high water (certainly the latter) and those people will need more transit options than currently exist in that corner of town.

Enter a blast from the past: Muni's old H line

The H line was originally created in 1914 to bring fair goers to the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition. In 1950 it was replaced by the 47, which has since been modified to end at the Caltrain station rather than running down Potrero Avenue. The only bus that runs this route today is the 90-Owl. The H line shares the same tragic history as Muni's other streetcar lines, all but five of which were replaced with buses in the middle of the last century.

The H line streetcar at Jackson and Van Ness

Then and Now: Potrero Avenue with and without H line tracks

Currently, the old H line route is considered one of Muni's "Major Corridors," part of the Transit Priority Network. As such, Potrero Avenue got a dysfunctional bus lane a few years ago, and Van Ness Avenue is slated to get dysfunctional BRT at some point in your dreams (SFCTA estimate is 2012-2013).

But those milquetoast plans fall short of even the corridor's current needs. Plans for the city's growth - which put all new housing on the East side of town - will require a much more robust rapid transit route.

I propose a subway under Van Ness and Potrero Avenues, coming above ground in the India Basin industrial area and running along Evans Street to Hunters Point.

This line would connect new housing and a potential 49ers stadium at the old shipyard to a possible extension of the Central Subway at Van Ness and Bay or North Point. This crosstown route would link with the T-Third, JKLMN lines at Van Ness Station and the Central Subway, giving riders a way to get to SF's dense inner residential neighborhoods without travelling through downtown.

I've also shown it connecting with a new BART tunnel under Geary and across the bay. That project is just so worth while that for the purposes of this post I'm going to ignore any opposition or obstacles to its completion.

This will be an expensive line, but we'll get what we pay for. By going underground along almost all of the route, Muni avoids the chokepoints that befuddle all current lines. There really is no way to avoid those chokepoints and the delays they would inevitably cause without complete grade separation. Tunneling is more expensive, but every time the trains save 10 minutes they would otherwise kill trapped in the cluckerf** of Market/Mission and Van Ness it will be worth it.

But, as I've said before, Muni should resist the urge to treat the new H-Potrero Van Ness as a replacement for the lines that currently serve that route. If the population of our city is to grow, our transit ridership also needs to grow. That will only be possible if the capacity of Muni's network increases as well. Furthermore, the H line as drawn above is a rapid line, with very limited stops. As such it cannot fill the niches that current local, albeit slower, lines occupy now.

If Chuck Nevius can get Ms. Feinstein to help pay for such a line, awesome. But I believe strongly that we need to rebuild the political will to raise the revenue necessary to build this and other lines, as well as properly fund Muni's operational costs. The price tag on this kind of project is truly an investment in the city's future wellbeing. Whatever the upfront costs, they are outweighed by the benefits down the road.


Garlynn Woodsong said...

This is a great proposal! Having lived for five years in the Potrero Ave corridor, I can definitely attest to the fact that this proposal would have high ridership from day one, and it would provide much-needed crosstown transit service that would definitely draw people out of their cars in pursuit of a better way across the Market/Van Ness/Mission clusterf*ck.

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

I posted a fantasy map I created on my site with a similar line. I love the idea. Now let's get this network built as a subway and not Bus Repackaged Transit.

Jamison said...

San Francisco has changed quite a bit since the original H-Line closed. Over the last few years I've been to many meetings and presentations on the SFMTA's Transit Effectiveness Project (TEP) findings and dreamed up entirely new lines. Here are some things to consider as you refine your ideas:

About 50% of riders on the Van Ness lines transfer to something else at Market, but the rest are mainly going down Mission Street.

The major corridors SPUR and the TA focussed on predate the current plans for the south-east corner of the city where the highest density housing will be going into Candlestick Point, not Hunter's Point.

Here's what I'm thinking: If there was enough reason before to run a rail line out to Hunter's Point, then why have it dead end there when you can have it make a right, cross over the water (think about a rail/pedestrian/bike bridge with no auto traffic) to loop around the housing developments at Candlestick Point and then run through Executive Park and terminate at the Bayshore Caltrain Station. It would giver 49er fans coming up the Peninsula on Caltrain a rail connection to the new Stadium in addition to the BART connection you already provide.

ian said...

yes please. why is it that the bay area doesn't have the minds to get this stuff done, and instead we end up with warm springs, and the like?

sigh. the bloggers need to be the transit network planners.

Pedestrianist said...

I definitely agree that SF has changed a lot since the '50s. For one thing there are a lot more people living in the area that would be served by this line - and there are a lot more cars and buses getting in each other's way on Van Ness and Potrero Avenues.

The principal aim of this line in my eyes is to serve those established, dense neighborhoods along Potrero and Van Ness. The HP extension just seems like a logical extension if plans for a stadium or new housing are realized.

One key to the success of this hypothetical line is its connection to Market street. Whereas the Central Subway seems designed to avoid Market, I would hope the transfer here at Van Ness Station would be a breeze. That way, this line would give people a rapid transit option for travel to and from West Portal, Fort Mason, HP, and downtown, greatly increasing the usefulness of both main lines.

I struggled with the difficulty connecting to BART for runs down Mission. But this line should supplement, not replace the 49 and the 9. If some bus riders and car traffic can be moved from the surface of Van Ness and Potrero to this subway, those lines will also become more attractive and useful as a result of the investment.

Regarding Candlestick Point, I'm reflexively averse to building lots of anything in a state park. But since this H line would come above ground West of 3rd Street, there could be some freedom to run trains down the track on 3rd and down a new stub on the North side of Bayview Hill.

Just some thoughts :-)

Pedestrianist said...

And I really do appreciate the feedback on this post! Y'all are great.

Anonymous said...

Agree 100% on the transit line shown, we need north to south transit lines that work and think BIG.... the Parkmerced project/sfsu-csu project and north to south transit on the western side of the city and this proposal would be critical in getting people out of there cars... Take the money from doyle drive and fund these two north south routes with adequate transit looping around the city and you solve a big issue of transit...