New Urban Metro Lines for the Bay Area’s Dense Core

In my last post I discussed a new future for the San Francisco Bay Area’s BART System, using current lines and a new subway in San Francisco to turn BART into a more urban rapid transit system. These ideas were less drastic than the one I will propose here.

BART has failed the Bay Area if one were to think of it as a metro system standard in other parts of the world. Stops are widely spaced and dense areas are bypassed using freeway medians or railroad right of ways. To remedy this situation, the Bay Area could build a new set of urban subway lines unlike any currently existing BART lines. Taking as inspiration the Metro Red and Purple Lines in Los Angeles, two new BART lines in the inner East Bay, one along MacArthur Boulevard in Oakaland and another along Broadway and College Avenue to Berkeley, could dramatically improve mobility in the densest parts of the East Bay and reduce traffic and crowding on AC Transit’s busiest bus routes. Unlike previous BART lines, stops would be spaced every 3/4 of a mile or less to cater to riders who will walk, not drive, to stations. These two lines would join together onto the new Transbay Tube I proposed in my last post then diverge again after the large station at the Transbay Terminal. From there, a third trunk line in San Francisco would carry trains from these new East Bay branches. To capture the most ridership, I chose Folsom Street in the South of Market neighborhood and then a sharp turn north onto Van Ness Avenue continuing to Fisherman’s Wharf.

Together with my previous post on a second transbay tube, this Urban BART project would allow riders from the densest parts of both sides of the bay to connect to each other quickly and without transfers. A new track connection between the old tube and the new could facilitate the introduction of many new service patterns and give BART flexibility to short turn trains from all branches of the system for rush hour services. As shown on my google map, I believe a renewed BART system with a second Transbay Tube, several infill station and three new urban subway lines could approach or surpass the daily ridership of the Washington Metro to become the US’ second busiest heavy rail transit system. On the Geary and Van Ness Lines in San Francisco, over 250,000 riders use parallel bus corridors every day on San Francisco’s Muni. Along the College Avenue and MacArthur Lines, AC Transit’s buses carry over 50,000 riders per day. The demand for high capacity rail transit exists in the corridors I’ve highlighted in this Urban BART proposal, and the two corridors in the East Bay provide great opportunities for transit oriented development around the many new stations. This new Urban BART service will facilitate a transit lifestyle, not just a transit commute, because of its increased frequency and pedestrian-scaled station spacing. Indeed these new lines, along with infill stations on current BART lines, will dramatically increase the utility of a system that is already mostly built. With this investment, especially in the second Transbay Tube, the Bay Area will finally realize the full potential of its BART System.

Politically these two massive BART projects (Urban BART and the second Transbay Tube) are potential disasters at best. All previous extensions of BART, excluding BART to SFO Airport, were built to placate residents of Alameda and Contra Costa Counties who paid the BART sales tax but did not have local BART service. This political reason was why the unproductive Dublin/Pleasanton and Pittsburg/Bay Point extensions were built in the first place. In order for these multi billion dollar projects to have a chance of seeing the light of day, politics must be dropped and MTC and all Bay Area transit agencies must put down their arms and accept that a reinvention of BART is in everyone’s best interest. On that note, I will present again my idea for a consolidated Bay Area transit agency, bamta.

BART’s expansion policy has been warped by the system’s focus as essentially a beefed up commuter rail operation. Yes BART has grade separated right of ways with no frieght traffic (freight trains don’t even operate on the same track gauge), but distances between stations of over 5 miles in some locations and frequency no greater than 4 trains per hour on four out of five lines really sounds like Metra in Chicago or New York’s Metro North Railroad. Ridership for BART is similar to these two systems. BART’s suburban extension craze of the 1990’s was a result of politics, as mentioned above, and interestingly the lack of investment in San Francisco by BART is also political. San Francisco owns and operates its own rail system, Muni Metro. As indicated in the name, Muni Metro functions as a subway/metro system for much of its length and connects much of the city to BART and Caltrain regional rail services. San Francisco’s direct control over Muni provides a disincentive for any investment in heavy rail BART in the city. Indeed since BART fully opened in 1976 not a single additional mile of track has been built in San Francisco. Muni Metro has built three large extensions and is in the process of building a subway line through downtown (see this article). If BART and Muni were to be merged into the regional bamta transit agency, this disincentive would disappear. On corridors where ridership merits heavy rail subway technology, such as Geary Boulevard, San Francisco will get the transit service it deserves instead of having to endure the reality of current transit governance.

For a second Transbay Tube and Urban BART to become reality, BART will need to shift its focus from getting people to and from work to being a full time, pedestrian-friendly transit system. For this breakthrough to be feasible a large change in the Bay Area’s transit priorities and governance is likely necessary. Hopefully when the last drops of capacity on the current tube dry up such options will be taken more seriously. For now, I wait.


About Karl Tingwald

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

Posted on May 18, 2010, in BART, Metro Rail, San Francisco Bay Area and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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