Martin usually does the transit report cards. This time I’m posting about a place where I know transit fairly intimately.
Most Muni Metro Routes
The ‘F’ Heritage Line
BART covers the Eastbay well, parts of the San Francisco well, but only goes one station past the airport toward Silicon Valley in the Pennisula. Not only that, it doesn’t serve Marin County at all. In order to serve Marin, BART would need to be extended north and west across the city, and a bridge over, or a tunnel under, the Golden Gate would need to be built. So unless transit money gets a lot easier to come by, I don’t expect this to happen for a long time.
The Muni Metro’s six lines are something between Link and the SLU streetcar. They only cover the parts of San Francisco south and west of Downtown. The F Heritage Line does go along the Embarcadero waterfront to Fisherman’s Wharf, but that route is mostly for tourists and has relatively low capacity. The planned E Hertiage Line will continue to all the way to Fort Mason. There is a future plan to put the T Third Street into a new “Central Subway
” that would cross the Market Street Subway and extend to North Beach, but funding for that extension has only been partially secured. Even then, the entire northwest portion of the city is only served by bus, though a BRT route has been planned for some of that area, currently Geary and Van Ness
BART runs in the City and downtown Oakland with five or six minute headways, but the suburban commuter portions have much longer headways, sometimes as long as fifteen or twenty minutes. BART runs from 5am to a little after midnight. Capacity maxes at 1500 per train. Muni Metro runs on ten minute heads at peak times, and service is from 5 am to about 1am. A single-car Muni train can hold up to 250 people, and a two-car train can carry 500.
Caltrain runs 98 trains per day, most of them local trains that stop at nearly all 28 stations. Some trains, designated “baby bullets” make just four stops, and there are other levels of express trains in between. ACE runs four trains per day, and Amtrak Capitol Corridor runs 32 trains per day.
Much of BART in the Eastbay runs near or parallel to highways, partly because of cheaper right-of-way, but also partly because of how these communities developed. In the 1960s and 1970s, building next to highways was all the rage.
Muni covers the south and west parts of the city well, most on that area aren’t farther than ten blocks from a Muni line or Bart.
The Pennisula toward the south is only served by Caltrain, which stops far from job centers in the South Bay and in the City. Caltrain runs parallel to 101, but through the historic downtowns. This routing is not perfect, but surface-rail corridors are difficult to come by. Many reverse-commute San Franciscans are taken from their Caltrain station to work by company-shuttle, and into city commuters are forced onto a transfer at Fourth and King station in San Francisco
BART, like all third-rail systems, is entirely grade-separated. In San Francisco it’s entirely underground, and it’s also underground in Downtown Oakland, in Berkeley, and in a couple of the cities south of San Francisco, outside of that it’s elevated.
The Muni Metro is underground in the Market Street Subway, which makes for nine underground stations. Some of the other portions run in there own right-of-way, the new T-Third street is almost entirely in it’s own center street right-of-way, much like Link in the Rainier Valley. Ironically, the right-of-ways and subway sections of the Muni Metro are the major reason the Muni Metro still exists: in the 1940s and 1950s when streetcars were being taken out, the five lines that had their separated right-of-way couldn’t be replaced by buses.
San Francisco is the second densest city in the US, and easily the densest in the West. Many of the suburbs are also very dense: Oakland, Daly City and Berkley, among others, are in fact much more dense than Seattle is. Part of this is because of age of these areas, but there has been a lot of development around BART stations.
One of the main impetuses for the new T-Third street was the development of areas served
by the line, including China Basin, Mission Bay, and Hunter’s Point.
Caltrain is running in a 19th-century rail corridor, so it runs through the historic downtowns of most of the cities it serves.
San Francisco is one of the few cities in America where driving is not the majority. More than 35% of commuters take transit, and another 20% bike. San Francisco is also one of the few cities where nearly everyone knows where the transit lines are. East Bay commuters have been pushed away from driving by $4 tolls across the Bay Bridge, and reliable BART commutes. However, Marin County is only served by Golden Gate Transit, which runs relatively few buses, and most commuters along the Pennisula, in and out of San Francisco, still drive.
San Francisco’s rail network is far suprior to Seattle’s, but the major modes are relatively analogous. Caltrain is like Sounder, BART is what Link could be with expansion, and I think the Muni Metro is a major inspiration for Seattle’s Streetcar network. One thing Seattle can learn from Muni is that two-train stations are worth it; you never know when transit demand will out-pace supply by huge amounts.
BART can also be a lesson: make sure to get commitment early when building transit systems. Marin County to the North dropped out early in the BART planning process, making it virtually impossible to extend BART there now, and Santa Clara county, to the south, now wants BART, but is forced to build it through the East Bay because San Mateo county was so opposed to BART. Also, duplicating highway corridors by may be the best way to serve current population and residential centers, but does not create future transit-orient development to the same extent new corridors might.
Also, Caltrain has 98 runs per day compared to 18 for Sounder. But Caltrain gets just 37,000 riders per day compared to 11,000 for Sounder. How can you run more than five times as many trains, through a far more dense corridor and get fewer riders per run? It’s simple: charge a a reasonable amount to ride (fares top at $11 for Caltrain), go to downtown job centers (Caltrain stops at few), and provide adequate parking (I know, I know: more parking is heresy). ACE and Amtrak Capitol Corridor show that suburb-to-suburb rail can work, but it needs to go through job centers, and again, parking is hugely important.
Finally, density is important. San Francisco is dense, as are a number of the older suburbs. But the South Bay, where a lot of growth has been over the last twenty years, is very low density and sprawling. Same thing goes with the areas East of the hills in the East Bay. San Francisco could have absorbed more of that sprawl, but, like Seattle, made a choice to try to “perserve” the 1960s way of life. What happened? The 1960s way of life was lost, but along the way so was affordibility and scope. Now there’s a huge region that is difficult to serve easily by transit, has chronic “natural” challenges like wild fires and floods (we just get floods here), and surprising congestion. Our area still has a chance to avoid sprawl and geographic expansion on the level seen by the Bay Area, let’s hope we can get everyone on board.
I contemplated whether to write about the South Bay’s VTA system, but I decided that system was worth a post of it’s own.