I read this crazy comment over at Slog and it got me thinking that if Seattle is aiming to have transit like the San Francisco Bay Area does, it is not aiming all that high. I lived in San Francisco for years, and I can sum up the transit systems pretty simply.
BART serves primarily the East Bay, those (especially from the East Bay) who commute from the suburbs into the city, and those going to SFO airport. That’s about it. Click the left link for a map. It does serve as a single subway line within the city along Mission toward Daly City, but it is a subway line that is mostly covered by Muni trains as well. When the Link Rail line is built, it will be about like BART is now, and when the East Link line is built, it will actually cover a greater portion of the region because BART doesn’t cover the South Bay at all, and doesn’t go into Marin county either. The most southern stop is Fremont. Sure it goes all the way to Pittsburgh, but that is the middle of no where. BART = Central Link
MUNI can basically be divided into two parts, MUNI rail and MUNI buses. There is also the cable car, but that is mostly for tourists and costs $5 to ride just up Nob Hill. MUNI metro rail (see the map at the right) serves mostly the South and West parts of the city, bringing them into the downtown shopping and Financial District. Note that only Embarcadero, Montgomery, Powell, Civic Center, Van Ness, Church, Castro, West Portal and Balboa Park stations are underground. The first four are actually shared with BART, so they are not unique subway stations. The rest of the stops are all above ground, making them like the South Lake Union Street Car. These lines are all much better than buses, but they only serve to bring people from the outskirt-neighborhoods into the employment centers downtown, and they don’t even serve most of the city. There is no Muni line to North Beach or Richmond District for example. There is one line missing on the map, the Historic F line, but that is mostly for tourists and basically goes along the embarcadero to Fishermans Wharf from Market. Muni Rail = More extensive version of Capitol Hill/SLU street cars
Muni bus (map to left) is pretty great as far as bus systems go, but it still is a bus. According to ratings, Muni is average or below average. One of the reasons buses seem good in San Francisco is because they are going very short distances. San Francisco is only 47 square miles (Seattle by contrast, is 83 square miles of land plus another 59 square miles of water), so a ride on the 38 from Downtown all the way out to the Richmond is only about four miles long. And it still takes 30 minutes on the local. Buses are definitely better than those in Seattle, but they are working with an easier city: smaller, with no large lakes in the middle, and denser. Also, since it is a city-run operation, not a county-run operation (San Francisco is its own county as well as city), it has a much smaller area to deal with.
Finally, there is Caltrain. Caltrain is a commuter rail from the city down the penninsula and eventually into the South Bay. I used to takes it nearly everyday from the city to San Jose. It is wonderful as far as commuter rails go, a 50 mile trip from San Francisco to San Jose only take 55 minutes on the “baby bullet” super express trains. However, it is essentially useless for anything other than commuting, because outside of the commuting times of day, all the trains are local, and the trip to the south bay would take literally hours. Caltrain = (faster) Sounder
What I haven’t Covered
I am missing “Golden Gate Transit” which serves the Marin, sort of like Community Transit serves Snohomish, and SAMtrans, which serves San Mateo sort of like Metro serves the ‘burbs but I have never ridden those, so I can’t comment on them. Also, Santa Clara County has it’s own street car, which serves some neighborhoods in the South Bay, but there’s not much to that, since the South Bay is so vast and sparse relative to the city, its difficult to build mass transit down there that serves most neighborhoods.
In all, the Bay Area has better transit infrastructure, and MUCH better road/highway infrastructre (that’s a whole other post). But I think with a few more Street Car lines and the Central and East Link built, Seattle will have a similar level of transit service to the Bay. That’s when we need to shoot higher, maybe looking at Boston or Chicago… My dream though I guess.