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Central Subway

An Opportunity Gone Wrong

....This SFMTA selling campaign persisted actively for over 5 years until after construction was well under way in the Fall of 2013.  SFMTA spokespeople were particularly brazen and irresponsible in their characterizations of capital and operating costs (grossly understated), ridership projections (more than double what the EIR/EIS stated), trip times (bore no relation to the facts) and "minimal construction impact "(patently false).  

San Francisco is a special city.  What makes it special is hard to boil down to a few words but it has to do with the hills, the clear air, the Bridges, the surrounding Bay, the parks, the street patterns, the alleys, the intimate, pedestrian-oriented nature of its architecture, the variety and vibrancy of its 60,000 small businesses and its general vitality.  This also makes it vulnerable.  You can’t just stick something big in the middle of San Francisco and hope things will come out right. 


For this reason San Franciscans have often been called upon to stop the short-sighted and foolish schemes of self-serving individuals and its City government.  Fortunately, putting the brakes on City Hall has become a time-honored San Francisco practice, responsible for the timely and welcome demise of many destructive public and private ventures.  For of San Francisco's past successes in this regard READ HERE


In the case of the Central Subway, San Francisco’s government went off the deep end.    


At first the idea of extending the Muni’s Third Street light rail line northward into Chinatown sounded right.  After all, why not?  Transportation along traffic-clogged Stockton Street had always been difficult and so why not extend the Third Street light rail line northward along Fourth Street and then under Market and Stockton Street to Chinatown? 


Had the subway been planned and laid out correctly it could have worked.  But the project soon went off the rails.  First came the decision to settle on a single alternative in violation of the bona fide alternative analysis required by CEQA.  Soon afterwards it was decided to route the extension under rather than over the Market Street subways.  This required a very deep tunnel under Market Street, thereby making it impossible to place a station at Market Street as required to provide an efficient transfer between the Central Subway and the Market Street subway lines.  For this reason a hapless rider from Chinatown bound for say, UC Med. will board a Central Subway train at the Washington Street terminal station, then ride a light rail vehicle a half mile, and then be obliged to travel on foot the distance of four football fields placed end to end in order to connect to the N-Line (or any other BART or Muni Metro train).  

In part because of the unnecessarily deep subway costs have soared, from the $647 million listed in the November, 2003 Voter’s Handbook, to $700 million in 2004, to the current published cost of $1,580 million and eventually....to who's know's what.   To hold down costs the effectiveness of Chinatown transportation transit service was further undermined by:

        Eliminating one of the two stations needed in Chinatown, 
        Constricting future subway capacity by foreshortening the length of the Moscone, Union Square and Chiniatown Stations.  
        Removing 35,000 bus hours a year from the Muni's No. 30 and 45 bus lines, 
        Deleting the moving pedestrian ramps that would have facilitated connections the Union Square and Powell Stations, 
        Failing to improve the grossly inadequate bus service on the surface of Stockton Street, 
        Arbitrarily truncating the subway at Washington Street.  

Thanks to these mistakes and omissions the Central Subway will miss connections with 25 of the 30 east-west transit lines it crosses including all the trains and buses on and under Market, and all the east-west buses on Mission, Post, Sutter, Sacramento, Clay and Pacific.  

San Francisco Architect Zach Redington Stewart eloquently sums up the problem as follows:  “San Francisco Mayor Sunny Jim Rolph and his engineer MM O'Shaughnessey created one of the greatest municipal transportation systems in the world.  Today Muni carries 700,000 riders a day in this small city and serves the giant collection of small businesses that form the backbone of the San Francisco’s economy.  But now Muni is being threatened with strangulation by a gaggle of opportunists pushing a tiny, badly-engineered subway that will serve virtually no one and wreck Chinatown's Stockton Street, including one of the GREAT farmers markets on the West Coast”  

For more on the background of the Central Subway project check the box on the upper left side of this page.  

2010 Milestones

December 11, 2010 - SaveMuni White Paper
SaveMuni releases its White Paper summarizing the fatal flaws in the Central Subway Project and recommending practical, moderately-priced ways of ending the current public transit morass in northeastern San Francisco, particularly along Stockton Street. 
  • White Paper Nov 09 2010 Download
    December 10, 2010:  Expose:
    SaveMuni.com's Expose details the careless and deceptive manner in which the Central Subway has been sold to elements of Chinatown and to San Francisco's elected representatives.  
  • Expose Dec 20 2010 Download
    December 2010:  Organized opposition to the Central Subway growing: 
    There has been a significant upsurge in the number of groups throughout San Francisco opposing the Central Subway, on grounds that it does not adequately serve Chinatown or the rest of San Francisco, and that its transportation benefits do not justify its high cost and future adverse effect on the Muni deficit. 
    In fact every one from the Mayor of San Francisco on down has, at one time or another, acknowledged the inherent ineffectiveness of the Central Subway project.  But no one wants to rock the boat.  SaveMuni.com is rocking the boat and will continue to rock the boat. 
    December 2010 - SFMTA Returning to Basics?
    There are signs that prodded by SaveMuni.com and other groups, the SFMTA staff is starting to pay a little more attention to Muni's 70 neglected existing bus and rail lines.  There is even talk of pursuing some of the ideas developed at last March's Save Muni Summit. 
    November 23, 2010 - SaveMuni.com and affiliated groups blast Central Subway at Plans and Programs Committee Meeting:
    On Tuesday, November 23rd, SaveMuni.com gave Supervisors Campos, Mar, Chiu and Dufti an earful about the problems of the Central Subway.  Representatives of SaveMuni.com, Coalition of San Francisco Neighborhoods, San Francisco Tomorrow, Telegraph Hill Dwellers, Nob Hill Neighbors, Friends of Washington Square and other groups spoke up.  The presentations were forceful and unequivocal.  None of the Superviosrs left the meeting with any illusions as to where the participating groups stand on the Central Subway Project.  San Francisco's awareness of the weakness and ill-conceived nature of the Central Subway Project is growing....a development that so far does not appear to be registering with the staffs of the SFMTA and SFCTA.
    November 9, 2010 - SaveMuni.com Press Conference:
    On November 9, 2010 SaveMuni.com staged a press conference at the Saint Francisco of Assisi Catholic Church, 610 Vallejo Street, San Francisco to answer questions about the White Paper (attached at the bottom of this page).
    September and October 2010 - SaveMuni.com FOIA Requests: 
    As part of SaveMuni.com's continuing effort to obtain accurate information about the Central Subway from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, we have recently submitted s series of requests for specific documents pursuant to the San Francisco Sunshine Ordinance, California Public Records Act and federal Freedom of Information Act. 
    The MTA's response has been to refer us to the massive MTA reports written as part of the SFMTA's effort to convince the federal government that it should send an additional $870 million to help pay for the project, reports which for the most part do not answer the questions raised.
    November 2, 2010 - Passage of Proposition G:
    On November 2, 2010 the San Francisco electorate approved Proposition G, thereby removing the setting of Muni driver compensation from San Francisco's City Charter and instead subjecting it to the collective bargaining process.  It is hoped that this will lead to productive negotiations between the SFMTA and Transport Workers Union relative to wages, benefits and working rules.   
    SaveMuni.com took no position on the measure. 
    March 6, 2010 - SaveMuni.com Summit:   
    Over 60 San Francisco organizations including SaveMuni.com sponsored a Saturday meeting for the purpose of  discussing ways of bringing San Francisco's vitally important Muni system up to standard.  Dozens of excellent ideas and proposals were discussed at length during the session.  For a summary Over 60

    January 7, 2010 - The Federal Transportation Administration sends a clear message:

    What the FTA said to the SFMTA

    To obtain federal New Starts financial participation in the project, the FTA requires the SFMTA: 

               a.)  to provide evidence showing that the subway would not damage the rest of Muni's operation.  (Damage to the rest of Muni is already occurring and will continue to occur).

               b.)  to assume full financial responsibility for any and all project overruns. (Overruns are already virtually inevitable and the SFMTA currently has no viable way of addressing overruns).