Category Archives: San Francisco Bay Area

Infrastructure Solutions for the Eastshore Freeway Corridor

This is the first post in a two post series about maximizing mobility along the Eastshore Freeway Corridor in the Eastern San Francisco Bay Area. In this first post, I will concentrate on the infrastructure improvements that could alleviate congestion and lack of mobility in the area. In the second post I will focus on service improvements that will help achieve these goals. 

The Eastshore Freeway Corridor in the Eastern San Francisco Bay Area is plagued by chronic congestion. Unlike most freeways, the I-80/580 Eastshore Freeway is congested for elongated periods – generally 11am to 8pm on weekdays and 9am to 8pm on weekends. Southbound is generally more congested than northbound, although northbound during the PM peak is the most severe congestion on the roadway. At 10 lanes wide, the Eastshore Freeway cannot feasibly be widened and the current approach to managing transportation in the corridor is not effective as evidenced by 9+ hours of congestion every day. The current drive to improve freeway congestion in the corridor is well-intentioned and will substantially reduce congestion for a very low cost using ITS (intelligent transportation systems). While this approach to improving mobility has its merits, the sheer density and demand in this corridor requires a big-picture, large investment focus in addition to intermediate steps such as the the current Integrated Corridor Mobility Project.

Based on the environmental documents for the I-80 Integrated Corridor Mobility Project, almost 30% of traffic along I-80 West in the AM peak is traveling to and from Emeryville and Berkeley.  Most transit service currently serves the Downtown San Francisco and Downtown Oakland destinations along this corridor. Here I would like to present a radical re-imagining of mobility in the corridor to address this 30% (almost 80,000 AADT) of travelers whose origins and destinations lie within West Berkeley and Emeryville. This new look will address both local travelers and those entering the area from outside North Alameda County. First, local solutions.

Bounded by San Pablo Avenue and the Eastshore Freeway, this study area has existing, frequent, AC Transit bus transit service on San Pablo Avenue from north to south, and University Avenue fron east to west. In Emeryville, a municipally-operated shuttle, Emery-Go-Round, connects major employment destinations with MacArthur BART approximately 2 miles away. In addition, AC Transit operates routes 26 and 49, both of which pass through the area but run infrequently and do not directly serve high travel demand destinations. Amtrak operates the Capitol Corridor intercity train service that stops in West Berkeley and Emeryville, but peak frequency is one train per hour. Railroad right of way in the area is plentiful – existing condition is generally 3-4 tracks with between 10 and 30 lateral feet of additional right of way available.

To best provide local mobility along this corridor three solutions seem the most cost effective and realistic. First is constructing a true bus rapid transit line along San Pablo Avenue so AC Transit can provide more effective north-south service in the corridor. Current plans for a BRT corridor along International Boulevard in Oakland provide a great model for San Pablo – dedicated inner lanes over the corridor, signal prioritization and distinct, rail-like stations. Another shorter BRT corridor east-west along University Avenue would complement the San Pablo and Telegraph BRT services well, tying them together and connecting Downtown Berkeley and the dense University corridor to West Berkeley and Emeryville. Again, dedicated median lanes with rail-like stations would maximize ridership and transit effectiveness. The third and most significant proposed infrastructure investment in this study area is the implementation of a Bus Rapid Transit “Super-Loop” in the style of San Diego MTD’s SuperLoop service in La Jolla. Fully dedicated lanes and stations would begin at MacArthur BART and continue on a loop Emeryville, including a stop at the Watergate office tower complex. The short length of this corridor could allow for very frequent service, and prioritization would ensure speedy travel times. This type of transit service is exactly what sustains a transit oriented community, and it could help re-orient Emeryville towards transit instead of the current automobile-dependent model of its development.

Longer trips that begin outside the study area could also be greatly aided with the strategic addition of cost-effective infrastructure. Current express bus service generally caters to “traditional” commuters traveling to San Francisco in the AM peak and returning to the East Bay in the PM peak. AC Transit has, however, attempted to address the reverse commute to Emeryville and West Berkeley with the Z Transbay Line. This line is slow, runs infrequently and does not effectively serve many of the high travel demand destinations in the area. The BRT Super-Loop mentioned earlier would be key in a re-orientation of express bus service in the area. With HOV lane connections to the super loop from I-80 near Ashby Avenue and I-580 near MacArthur Boulevard, express bus service could rapidly and effectively serve travelers from as far away as Vallejo and Castro Valley. Current express bus services simply bypasses the area on the freeway – missing out on nearly 30% of the travel market that originates or is destined to West Berkeley and Emeryville. Some bus service that currently serves Downtown San Francisco from various East Bay destinations could be rerouted around the Super-Loop with a surprisingly small amount of delay (likely around 10 minutes), massively increasing viability of Transbay services that have seen a decline in ridership in recent years due to job fragmentation across the area.

A longer-term solution to mobility along the corridor lies in the vastly underused railway right-of-way currently used by Amtrak. The under construction eBART line in Eastern Contra Costa County and SPRINTER line in Northern San Diego County have set precedents for diesel multiple unit light rail service in California. As a first stage towards eventual electrification, DMU service could easily and cheaply be provided along the Amtrak right of way. Stations spaced between 0.75 and 1 mile apart along the corridor could support transit oriented development yet still allow for quick regional service. In fact, this DMU would be best utilized if it were extended outside the project area along the Amtrak right-of-way to Jack London Square or the Colosseum in Oakland, and to Richmond or further north in the other direction. Such a project would fulfill the requirements of the currently proposed wBART extension north of Richmond and also improve utilization of the existing corridor without requiring any new right-of-way. Even better, this line could connect to a future Transbay Tube, as suggested by Yonah Freemark over the the Transport Politic.

Many exciting options exist for serving this largely neglected portion of the Bay Area with transit. Improving mobility in the Eastshore Freeway Corridor is already underway with the ICM project, and it can only get better from here.

CAHSR’s Preliminary Alignment on the Peninsula

Narrow Right-of-Way in San Mateo

For the past six months, I’ve been working with AutoCad, Google Earth, and the California High Speed Rail Authority’s website with the goal of creating an up-to-date .kml file of the current proposed route for the CHSR, with specific attention to the alternative analysis. Starting with today’s post, and continuing for the next couple months, I will be presenting the 2010 proposed alignments and analyzing the alternatives that the CHSRA will carry forward. The purpose of these kml files is not to show the exact route but rather to help gain a general overview of the alignment alternatives and the types of structures necessary for each alternative.

As a native San Franciscan, I thought it would be best to start with San Francisco and head south during this review of the California High Speed Rail alignments. This section has been a major talking point as a part of the entire California High Speed Rail debate. Due to prohibitive costs,the High Speed Rail Authority has been reluctant to bury a significant portion of the alignment,much to the dismay of local communities who fear not only lowered property values, but also the prospect of their communities being “divided in two” by the high speed rail right of way.

Along with the Los Angeles to Anaheim section, this section of the alignment is unique in that,at this point in the design process, there is only one horizontal alignment under consideration;that is, there is only one right-of-way path. In this section, alignment alternatives along I-280 and US-101 were ruled out due to design challenges. An I-280 alignment would have been too curvaceous to allow for the Prop 1A guaranteed 2 hours and 40 minutes between LA and SF and the US-101 path would be too expensive due to the multiple overpasses already in place on the freeway. Instead, the CHSRA chose to pursue the current Caltrain right-of-way as the preferred horizontal alignment.

That is to say, the Caltrain alignment is not without its design challenges. The right-of-way in some parts of the peninsula is only 50’ wide, much narrower than the 91’ expected to be necessary for even the narrowest of high speed rail structures. Downtown San Mateo and Redwood City, in particular, present difficult engineering challenges due to their narrow right-of-ways. As of September 2010, the HSR Authority settled on three designs. Design A includes more aerial structures and is likely to meet the most opposition from Peninsula cities. Design B places many of the aerial structures below grade in trenches or tunnels. Design B1, labeled B1 because it is a variation on Design B, places even more track below grade.

On the corridor, HSR will be sharing the right-of-way and the four tracks with an electrified Caltrain, meaning that the HSR will be restricted to 90mph on the Peninsula. The Authority is also choosing between a possible “Mid-Peninsula Station” in Redwood City, Palo Alto, or Mountain View. Either one or none of these stations will be selected.

You are free to view this map but please know that it is not affiliated in any way with the California High Speed Rail Authority, and Sam only used publicly available information to compile it. If you’d like to share it, please attribute it to Sam Levy or Wilshire/Vermont. He spent a lot of time getting this thing together. -Karl


Sorry about the ads. WordPress won’t host a .kmz file.

How to Build a Bike Path

A major recent development in the political landscape for trails and bicycle paths has come with the Obama Administration’s focus on liveabiliy, an initiative that spans the Department of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development. This new focus has brought direct federal funding to path projects across the nation. Indeed, the Ballona Creek Path through Los Angeles and Culver City (one that I frequent quite a bit) is currently being repaved with funding from ARRA (the stimulus).

Sadly, like many bicycle lanes (look for a post later this week), bicycle paths are largely built in ineffective ways. A prominent issue is the failure to properly segregate pedestrian and cycling traffic, leading to considerable slowdowns in cycling speeds and greatly increasing the potential for collisions. The normal width for paths, 8 feet, can not possibly fulfill the needs of all users in a safe and effective manner.

The most obvious solution is widening the path, or, as seen in El Cerrito and Albany, California, build a separate path for pedestrians, and, just as importantly, enforce this separation. A wider path can have aesthetically pleasing design to separate pedestrians and cyclists, including brick overlays of different colors or clear signage.

Far more important is the safety of path users at grade crossings. The general walkability of an area largely dictates the safety of any trail grade crossings. For example, the Ohlone Greenway in Albany, California has a grade crossing on every block through the city, but slow car speeds, wide lines of sight and well marked crossings make these intersections exceedingly safe. On the other hand, the Iron Horse Trail in more suburban Contra Costa County has less frequent grade crossings, but they are far less safe. In Pleasant Hill and Walnut Creek, two major intersections (Treat Blvd and Ygnacio Valley Road) have bridges over them, greatly improving travel time and safety. Further south, pedestrian and cycling conditions quickly deteriorate. At Broadway in Downtown Walnut Creek, trail users are required to brave an intersection of two 6-lane streets, and use the crosswalk signal to cross the street twice to resume travel on the trail. In this scenerio, a grade separation may be expensive, but it would be the ideal solution. If a costly bridge isn’t an option, diagonal crossing across the street or tight signal timing could markedly improve the delay at this intersection for trail users.

The most glaring safety issue occurs further down the train in the Alamo-Danville area. Grade crossings in this area are with smaller residential streets, but the speed of cars and lines of sight along these intersections are terrible. The only crossing protection afforded to trail users are button-activated flashing lights, impossible to operate while cycling. These intersections beg for full traffic lights, with a default green for trail users and an activated green for motorists.

The best trails are those that are entirely grade separated, like the Ballona Creek Path, LA River Trail and San Gabriel River Trail in Los Angeles. These trails follow massive drainage canals in the LA basin, thus use an already existing grade-separated right of way.

Moral of this story is – build trails, but build them right!

BART’s Future Washington Metro-Style

This is a map I composed my Senior Year in high school, cleaned up and updated for posting on here. It details the potential future configuration of rapid transit in the Bay Area, including running Caltrain as a rapid transit service with an integrated fare structure. The graphic style invokes the classic Washington Metro map, where uniformity takes precedence over geographical accuracy and scale. A metro map, after all, is intended to help you get around the metro system, not drive around the area. I hope you will find this map as enjoyable to view as it was for me to create.

Air Travel: Compatible with Sustainable Transportation?

For anyone who has been following Wilshire/Vermont for a while, it’s fairly clear that I am an advocate of sustainable transportation and smart growth patterns which promote the most efficient, and pleasant uses for land. From local bus service (AC Transit) to intercity transportation (California High Speed Rail), I’ve covered many of the plans in California to improve transportation. What isn’t so clear in debates of sustainable transportation and land use is the role of air travel.

While nearly everyone discussing sustainable transportation, myself included, advocates for high speed rail services to replace flights less than 500 miles in length, what role do long-haul flights have going forward? It’s an interesting question, especially considering the massive and quick rise of long-haul air travel in the last 40-50 years. No longer is it surprising to fly from Los Angeles to London for a meeting, or from Shanghai to Sydney. Trips that used to take days or weeks take hours. While this change is profound, it has much less of a difference on the important concepts of sustainable transportation than short-haul flights or intracity transportation. Consider this:

Long-haul flights are incredibly expensive (for good reason) and very time consuming. These characteristics differentiate them from other forms of transportation. Most importantly, long-haul flights do not change land use patterns in anywhere as near profound of a manner as shorter flights or intracity transport. Although they require airport infrastructure (more on that later), long-haul flights have no feasible replacement at the moment. Their carbon footprint may be high (very, VERY, high), but we lack alternative means to travel across oceans in mere hours. So, although not admitting a loss, I must concede that long-haul air travel will be a critical part of long-distance intercity travel for the foreseeable future. Even at 240 MPH, a high speed train ride from San Francisco to New York would take at minimum 12 hours. Proposals for high speed rail from China to London are even less feasible.

Where does that leave airport infrastructure? Good question. By virtue of its scale, no matter what you do, airports are not pedestrian friendly environments in the least (ever tried walking to an airport?). They take up tons of land, produce pollution and noise, and depress local land values. Yet, air travel cannot yet be feasibly replaced by a more sustainable form of transportation. At the moment the best hope of reducing the environmental impact of air travel lies in new fuel technology, especially biofuels. But, the way that airports are constructed in the United States could take a cue from airports in Europe.

Coordinating ground transportation so air passengers have better transportation choices to their destinations. In France, Lyon’s Airport is connected to the high speed rail system, a tram-train line and extensive bus service. This type of transportation infrastructure is far more sustainable, affordable and appropriate for airport service than most US airports (see the Oakland Airport Connector, BART to SFO, LAX Connection on the Crenshaw Line etc.) Intercity rail connections, especially direct lines to center cities should be emphasized, while expensive, elaborate, proprietary transit lines. Higher speed rail services allow airports to be located far from the city center, yet be readily accessible.

Air travel must emphasize alternative fuels, effective placement of airports, and an appropriate blend of ground transportation, especially quick, intercity rail, in order to be considered an appropriate part of a sustainable transportation strategy.

The Structural Deficiencies of Caltrain

Caltrain is one of the few commuter rail-type services in the United States that attains significant ridership over a short length. For comparison’s sake, look at Caltrain and Metrolink in Southern California. Metrolink has over 500 track miles, yet only has a few thousand more daily riders than Caltrain, with its 70 track miles. Caltrain’s remarkable effectiveness is due to its alignment along the San Francisco Peninsula, a dense urban-suburban area with high volume transfer points on either end of the line, San Francisco and San Jose. The Peninsula Corridor (as Caltrain’s alignment is known) was scheduled for a BART line from San Francisco to Palo Alto until San Mateo County defected from the BART district in the 1960’s. Despite the lack of a BART line, and perhaps because of it (and the express service the commuter rail mode allows), the Peninsula Corridor’s demand and land use around stations justify a fully grade separated, electrified, rapid transit line. This vision is nearer to reality than ever before with the California High Speed Rail Program potentially providing funding to electrify and quadruple track the Peninsula Corridor between Tamien in San Jose and a new terminus at the Transbay Transit Center in San Francisco.

Still, Caltrain is cutting service and raising fares faster than any other transit agency in the Bay Area. This is due to the structural deficiency that is built into the agency’s operations as a joint powers authority. Instead of a special district, like BART or AC Transit, Caltrain is a joint powers agency, a government corporation that is controlled directly through other government agencies. The joint powers in Caltrain’s case are the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, San Mateo County Transit District and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority. These agencies fund Caltrain’s operation through grants of there operational funds. Instead of sustenance through a levy like BART and AC Transit, Caltrain is inherently dependent on the contributions of SFMTA, SamTrans and VTA. All three of these agencies have no set amount and give as much to Caltrain as they please. For this reason, the recent budget cuts at SFMTA, SamTrans and VTA have hit Caltrain harder than the transit agencies’ operations themselves. This deficiency is structural: Caltrain’s level of service is inherently dictated by the whims of other government agencies, rather than through taxes and public discussion.

A solution? Consolidation of the governance of BART and Caltrain into a single agency. A single operating agency for all regional rail in the 9 county Bay Area would allow operational synergies (collective purchases, consolidation of departments) and more importantly, give Caltrain a dedicated source of revenue like BART. Without that revenue, Caltrain’s level of service will continue to depend on inconsistent funding from other public agencies that are nearly bankrupt themselves. The Bay Area cannot allow this critical regional rail link between San Francisco and San Jose fall into budget hell. Consolidation is the key.

A True Rapid Transit Plan for San Francisco

Considering the huge amount of time it took me to create this map, I only have a few words to go with it:

The main ideas on this map are:

1. Geary/19th Avenue BART Line including a Second Transbay Tube

2. Folsom/Van Ness BART Line also connecting to the Second Transbay Tube

3. Replacing the N-Judah Muni Metro line between 19th Avenue and the Market Street Subway with tunneled LRT

4. Los Angeles-style busways on San Francisco freeways, including mid-freeway stops as noted

5. A north-south LRT line in the Sunset

6. A bus terminal and transit hub for the Golden Gate Bridge at Van Ness and Geary

7. Extension of the F-Market and E-Embarcadero lines to the Palace of Fine Arts

8. Extension of the T-Third Street line to North Beach and Fisherman’s Wharf

9. Infill stations at 30th/Mission and Oakdale

Rail Transit to Airports: Fair or Not?

Rail transit connections to airports are exceedingly popular in American Metropolitan Areas. Right now, a massive extension of the Washington Metro System is scheduled to reach the far-off Dulles Airport, and BART in the San Francisco Bay Area is preparing to build its controversial Oakland Airport Connector.

Billions and billions of dollars have gone to building extensions to airports, or designing new rail transit lines to connect to airports, like the BART to SFO Extension and Minneapolis’ Hiawatha Line, respectively.

The reason airport connections for rail transit are so popular is, yet again, purely political. Social fairness, or even cost-effectiveness, are generally not high priorities on airport extensions. Yes, it is nice to take the train to and from the airport instead of needing to park a car, but looking at the demographics and ridership numbers for airport stations tells an entirely different story. The cost of flying makes the average transit rider to airports much more affluent and white, and the vast majority of airport stations do not attract large numbers of riders, especially compared to stations in proximity to intercity rail stations.

The BART SFO Airport Extension is an especially ridiculous project due to the fare policies of the district. A large surcharge is added to all trips to the airport, effectively preventing airport employees from taking transit to work. The situation is so skewed that the airport began running a shuttle between Millbrae Station, the closest BART station with no surcharge, and the airport, so employees could avoid the surcharge.

With low ridership and disproportionately rich riders, airport extensions should not be a priority for rail transit in the United States. Instead, like I say in nearly every post,  rail investment in high-density urban area should be the focus of intercity rail transit going forward. Well-planned urban subway lines, like Los Angeles’ Red Line and the urban portions of the Washington Metro System, are effective at attracting a huge number of riders, and vastly changing land use patterns. The Westside Subway Extension in Los Angeles and many BART extensions I’ve previously suggested are far better uses of taxpayer money than, for example, the complicated and expensive extension of the Green Line (or Crenshaw Corridor) to LAX, the Oakland Airport Connector, or the BART connection to San Jose International Airport at the Santa Clara Station. Miami Metrorail’s airport extension also falls under this umbrella of ineffective transit investment, especially considering how underused the rest of that city’s metro system is.

Urban rail transit is the best use of limited transit capital funds, not suburban extensions and especially not airport extensions. End of story.

HOV Lanes: A Politically Popular Disaster

Carpool lanes, like many other forms of transportation investment, appear to make highways and driving more green, making expansion of automobile facilities politically acceptable. This “diet Coke” concept, that slightly improving the environmental impact of driving is “green” transport policy, has been taken to new extremes in California, where gigantic, elaborate systems of Carpool (or HOV) lanes now dot the landscape. In Los Angeles, the El Monte Busway, a parallel 2-lane freeway to the I-10 Freeway between Union Station and El Monte, was the first fixed-guideway transit investment in Los Angeles history, installed by the Southern California Rapid Transit District in 1974. This facility was originally for buses only, a scheme that allowed the two lanes to carry more passengers more quickly than the parallel 10-lane freeway. Disastrously, a few years after its opening, the El Monte Busway was opened to HOV traffic, here meaning any motor vehicle with 3 or more passengers in it during peak hours and 2 or more passengers otherwise. This change cut the busway’s capacity and reduced speeds, making transit less desirable.

So what is the deal with Carpool lanes anyway? Do they work? What is even their intended purpose?

All of these are legitimate questions. Carpool lanes are intended, generally, to alleviate congestion on the “normal” lanes of a freeway and provide an incentive for solo drivers to ride with more people in the car, theoretically increasing person throughput on a corridor. This purpose is often lost in practice, and carpool lane construction is simply a way of “greenwashing” highway capacity increases. Just as with any other expansion of capacity, carpool lane installation eventually increases traffic congestion due to induced demand, the research-proven principle that if you build it, they will come.

Now do they work? Can a carpool lane facility, especially one as elaborate as the Harbor Transitway in the photograph above, increase the average occupancy of automobiles in a corridor? In one word, no. The installation of carpool lanes along a freeway has been shown to increase carpooling by four percent. Such a tiny number of carpoolers would suggest that any money spent on highway expansion should be spent on general capacity improvements, rather than dedicated carpool infrastructure (offramps, grade separations, interchange ramps) that exist, especially in Los Angeles and Orange Counties in California. Like many issues in transportation the continued construction of HOV/Carpool lanes is purely political.

Many special interest groups love highway expansion. These include truck drivers, construction workers’ unions, construction firms and engineering firms. Politicians have a precedent of spending most transportation money on highways, and the lobbying from these groups encourages them to continue. The decision to install carpool infrastructure instead of general highway expansion is often made because it makes projects look more environmentally conscious. It also helps Environmental Impact Statements receive public approval. In everyone’s mind a carpool lane must help the environment, right? The four percent number conclusively proves that this is not the case. Carpool lanes are a waste.

So what to do with current carpool lane infrastructure? Use it in a more efficient manner: convert most or all of California’s High Occupancy Vehicle lanes into Bus-Only Lanes, all day, every day. In this post, I vocally complained about moving at five miles per hour in the HOV lane on Interstate 80 coming back from work one day last summer. This HOV lane, from Hercules to the San Francisco Bay Bridge is actually HOV-3, meaning your vehicle must have 3 occupants to use it. Because of lax enforcement and the sheer volume of cars, this lane moves just as slowly as the “regular” freeway lanes.

Converting this, and all other, HOV lanes to bus-only operation could dramatically increase bus capacity across California. AC Transit’s Transbay Bus Lines would operate more quickly, allowing for an increase in service, and travel times would dramatically decrease, especially during the evening peak. All across California, express bus service could flourish, taking advantage of the near-rediculous carpool infrastructure already in place along many freeways.

Sadly, for this idea to become reality, I would have to wake up on another planet, one where there is NOT a God-ordained right to drive an automobile, as it often seems is the case here in the United States of America. The crisis in operating funds for transit agencies would also prevent this fantasy from becoming reality. Like most of my reflections at the end of these articles, the solution to transportation investment is a large change in priorities, with the government moving as many people as it can, not cars.

Wilshire & Geary: Two Streets and Two Subway Projects

Like many other things, California was the birthplace of modern rail transit in the United States. BART in the San Francisco Bay Area was the first complete, publicly built, rapid transit system in the United States and represented a paradigm shift in the mentality of transit planners. BART ran from the Outer East Bay (Fremont and Concord) to San Francisco and Oakland’s Downtowns. The line to San Francisco is a branch, and the system is rooted in Oakland. This stands in stark contrast to the New York City Subway or Chicago L, which serve the center city extensively and end in the inner suburbs. These cities have heavy rail, diesel commuter systems which use existing freight tracks without grade separation.

The Bay Area got BART instead of a traditional commuter rail system because of politics. President Lyndon B. Johnson was supporting his Great Society idea, injecting a large amount of public spending for grand, shiny projects like heavy rail systems. Diesel locomotives, or even traditional electric locomotives used on the Northeast Corridor, simply were not as cool. Now, the problem when the “cool” factor gets into transit planning is cost. BART continues to expand at the insane cost of 200+ million dollars per mile. More significantly, BART is the only heavy rail (subway) technology that is feasible to build in Northern California due potential to connect to the current network. BART’s trains are over 700 feet long, with far too many seats and too few doors for urban service.

Los Angeles has a heavy rail service also, but it is entirely different than BART. Los Angeles’ Subway, the Red and Purple Lines, only serve the City of Los Angeles and they travel the most dense areas in all of Los Angeles County. This distinction is easy to see in ridership per mile, where Los Angeles has about 9,000 riders per mile, while BART has 4,000. Train lengths in the LA Subway are 450 feet, and cars have three doors and far fewer seats than a BART train. This is the type of true subway both Los Angeles and San Francisco Need.

The purpose of this article is to compare and contrast two streets in two big, dense cities, that both need heavy rail subway lines under them. Also, I will go into the reasons why one of these subways will be built in the next ten years, and the other won’t.

These two streets are Geary and Wilshire Boulevards in San Francisco and Los Angeles, respectively. Both streets carry the two busiest bus lines in the United States, the 38-38L in San Francisco and the 20-720-920 in Los Angeles. These lines carry over 60,000 passengers a day, a huge amount for a bus line. Metro cannot physically run more buses on Wilshire during peak hour because of intense bunching. Both of these transportation corridors are East-West with parallel bus service also carrying over 100,000 passengers a day on the 1-2-5-31 in San Francisco and the 2-4-14-16-316-704-714 in Los Angeles. Obviously transit demand in these corridors is huge.

The legacy of BART and the Red Line have dictated the progress on high capacity transit alternatives on Wilshire and Geary. Both Metro and SFMTA are implementing exclusive bus lanes on these streets. In neither situation are exclusive lanes sufficient. Underground, high frequency, heavy rail transit is sorely needed in both situations. Since Los Angeles began with a legitimate urban subway system, instead of a suburb-centric heavy rail system, extension along Wilshire Boulevard is (relatively) cheap and feasible. Under Measure R’s schedule, the Westside Subway Extension will reach Westwood by 2036, although with the 30/10 plan, the entire project may be complete 15 years earlier.

This situation leaves us with Geary Boulevard in desperate need of heavy rail transit. The organization of the BART District, with equal power shared across Alameda, Contra Costa and San Francisco Counties, essentially requires equal geographic distribution of BART dollars and extensions. When Contra Costa County got the extension from Concord to Pittsburg/Bay Point, Alameda County got the extension from Bay Fair to Dublin/Pleasanton. San Francisco essentially gained nothing during this time, but that is due to Proposition K, San Francisco’s transportation sales tax, not including any funding for BART extensions. In a new round of extending BART, Alameda County is getting the Warm Springs Extension, and potentially BART to Livermore, while Contra Costa County is getting eBART. Again, San Francisco County is doing its own thing with the Central Subway, Van Ness and Geary BRT and the Transbay Transit Center Program receiving the bulk of the funding.

The essence of the issue with a Geary Boulevard subway is it requires a New Transbay Tube, a mega project on the scale of East Side Access and Access to the Region’s Core Projects in New York City, with a cost that could exceed 6 billion dollars. The issue for BART and the Bay Area is finding a sustainable funding model for this huge project, in my opinion a three way split between San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa, so that San Francisco has a platform on which to build its new heavy rail service to the Richmond District.

Maybe, after enough pushing, BART will become more of an urban network, with higher stop frequency in Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco, and large transit villages outside the urban core.