What BART Should Look Like in 2030.

The San Francisco Bay Area is an interesting transportation case study because of its geography. Several mountain ranges and a large body of water present challenges in building new infrastructure and often create bottlenecks on bridges and tunnels. Such a situation increases the attractiveness of high capacity transit. Luckily, the Bay Area has BART, the first of the modern heavy rail systems built in the United States. In areas where BART parallels a congested bottleneck freeway, such as the  Transbay Tube and Berkeley Hills Tunnel, ridership is high. Unfortunately, because BART was the first of its kind, a modern system designed to be compatible with driving, BART does not work as well as other systems of the same age, especially the Washington Metro in DC. In this post, I’d like to address the reasons why BART does not work well as an urban transit system and how in 20 years with a large investment BART can grow into a true Metro system for the San Francisco Bay Area.

Two main issues plague BART’s ascension to a great rail transit system. The first is a lack of political backing for transit oriented development (TOD) near BART stations. The second is the actual design of the system, especially the large distances between stations and choices of right of way for several lines. For the purpose of this article, I am going to refer to the lines by color even though BART lines are commonly named by their terminus.

Transit Oriented Development is essential to the success of any rail transit project. The availability of frequent, quick service to employment centers allows dense housing and retail development within 1/4 of a mile of a rail station, while drastically reducing the amount of parking needed. BART has two TOD projects that have already opened, Fruitvale Village in Oakland and a project at the Pleasant Hill Station. Both are mostly housing, ignoring the need for grocery stores, dry cleaners and other essential services, and are not as high density as TOD in other parts of the country. BART has no excuse to not further promote TOD around its stations. BART owns surface parking around many of its stations and could easily sell the land to developers to build large, dense projects. Local government has been getting in the way of this density. A classic NIMBY (not in my backyard) argument against density increases is that density increases crime, traffic and noise. All three are mitigated by proximity to frequent rail transit. Stations like North Berkeley and Orinda being surrounded by single family detached homes and surface parking are detrimental for ridership numbers and waste the investment of rail transit. BART must encourage local governments to allow more dense development and provide land for developers on which to build.

More importantly, the design of BART’s first 104 miles is conducive to suburb to downtown commuting and largely ignores the needs of urban riders in San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley. Long distances between station, especially in Oakland, and the routing of four routes onto a single San Francisco subway line limit ridership and utility to the huge pool of potential riders in the most urban areas of the Bay Area. One immediate solution is the construction of infill stations. On the map above, I have detailed several infill stations that could attract a large number of riders. On the Red Line I suggest building an station at Solano Avenue in Albany and a station at 58th Street in North Oakland. For the Green Line I’ve added infill stations at 15th Avenue in Oakland, at 54th Avenue in Oakland, and at 98th Avenue in Oakland. All three will serve people without access to an automobile and dramatically increase ridership along this portion of BART. On the Yellow I included an infill station at Oak Grove Road in Concord and a station at 30th Street and Mission Street in San Francisco. Feasibility studies have already been conducted on this 30th/Mission Station and construction could start soon if the 700 million dollar cost was allocated. Also, studies have stated that a 30th/Mission Station would be an ideal short turn station for the Green Line, hence its termination there on my map.

Part of the issue with BART is capacity in the Transbay Tube. BART’s automatic train control (ATC) can only handle a frequency of 27 trains per hour (a train every 2 minutes and 13 seconds). BART already runs this frequency during the peak hour in the peak direction. This limitation also reduces frequency on outer branches of the system to 4 trains per hour (a train every 15 minutes), even during rush hour when demand is highest. This limitation will become a huge issue if opportunities for TOD are explored further and reverse peak and suburb to suburb commuting become more common on BART. I propose a dramatic, expensive, but necessary solution. Build a second Transbay Tube.

A second tube could include Oakland Wye (the main switch between BART lines) bypass track segments that serve important destinations in the East Bay. The Red Line could split immediately after MacArthur Station to an underground Emeryville Station then follow the Union Pacific right of way to the new tube’s portal. The Blue Line could split after the new San Antonio Station and travel along the Union Pacific right of way, dipping into subway for a Jack London Square Station, then emerging to join the Red Line and cross under the bay. Once in San Francisco, this line would stop at the new Transbay Transit center then follow Geary Boulevard all the way out to the Richmond District. This corridor’s bus ridership easily merits heavy rail transit with over 200,000 bus riders on and near Geary. This Geary route conforms with the general consensus of transportation planners regarding the routing of a second BART line through San Francisco. Around 18th Avenue, the Red Line would diverge from Geary Boulevard and travel south under 19th Avenue, serving the Sunset District and San Francisco State University. Just before the Daly City Station, the Red Line would rejoin the Yellow Line and continue along its current route through San Mateo County to Millbrae Station. A beachside terminal for the Blue Line would allow a shorter route for the line and complete the entire length of Geary Boulevard, from bay to breakers. Such a proposal is dramatic not only because of its cost (likely 8 billion dollars or more) but because I estimate that over 300,000 riders would use this new tube and urban subway, nearly doubling BART’s ridership.

Finally, I have added three suburban extensions of current lines on my map. The Green Line extension to San Jose is already under construction to Warm Springs and Santa Clara County has sales tax revenue to cover the rest of the line. An extension of the Blue Line to Livermore is under serious study right now, and I’ve included alternative 2a from the planning process, BART along I-580 then a short cut and cover subway to Downtown Livermore where a new intermodal terminal with ACE commuter rail service would be built. The Red Line extension on my map has not yet been studied nor is funded in any way, but completes a deficiency in the BART network by connecting Northwest Contra Costa County to the rest of the Bay Area. These suburban extensions would fill out BART and, with adequate policy, encourage transit oriented development around stations. The increased frequency of trains on outer branches due to the second Transbay Tube would allow for more opportunities in density growth around these new stations.

The San Francisco Bay Area is lucky to have BART, but a large injection of capital and a change in priority could change the system from a commuter rail-like operation to a true urban rapid transit system. If you want a more geographically accurate map of my 2030 BART plan look at the bottom of the article. Again, stay tuned for my post on the politics of transportation in Los Angeles.

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About Karl Tingwald

Civil engineering student at the University of Southern California with a severe transportation compulsion.

Posted on May 14, 2010, in bamta, BART, Metro Rail, San Francisco Bay Area and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Instead of a second tube, could BART possibly add timed transfer trains at the east and west ends of the tunnel? For example a Diridon green line train could intercept an outbound Yellow line. The Yellow train could then be signed “Bay Point/Diridon Transfer”

  2. But dude! We’ll be able to walk across when the bay runs out of water in 50 years!

  3. swirlycooking

    Wow, someone who has finally written ideas I’ve thought of myself. Now let’s get the momentum building so that it comes to fruition. My addition to this great piece is that west of Jack London Square the line would have a station on Alameda island before running the tube under the bay, along 4th St./Stockton (eliminating the need for the useless Central Subway project), around the wharf and down Van Ness to connect with the current line just north of the 16th/Mission station.

    I live in the sunset and I can tell you it takes freakin’ forever to get anywhere on transit (45-60 minutes to get to Caltrain alone). The buses are packed and slow, L/M/N/K-T lines are even slower, stopping every 2 blocks. Rapid (and mass) transit in this area is a must and hopefully will create more density-driven development around the future stations on 19th Ave/Geary. Currently, most of the western part of SF is suburban and heavily reliant on the car.

  4. swirlycooking

    The N. Berkeley Station was a mistake in design. First, it should have been built closer to San Pablo Ave. to help resuscitate that commercial corridor. Second, the recent development at El Cerrito Plaza was a wasted opportunity. It’s merely another strip mall designed to accomodate cars, but should have included denser development including housing. Hundreds of units could have been built there in a mixed-use development extending down Fairmount and along San Pablo Ave. What a shame.

  5. Nashvillwill@aol.com

    One big flaw in your design (as it appears by your map) is East Bay travel. You’ve eliminated the Richmond-Fremont line, therefore it is virtually impossible to travel from somewhere such as Berkeley to Coliseum. By your design I would have to transfer twice on what is now a zero transfer trip. Not everyone crosses the bay. Just pointing that out. Otherwise I love it!

  1. Pingback: San Francisco’s Transbay Transit Center: A New Approach « Wilshire/Vermont

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