Article from Moving People, Nov., 1996. Index.

Muni Rail to Chinatown Proposed

San Francisco Muni's highest priority for light rail extensions is its proposal to install a service on the Bayshore - 3rd St. Corridor. However, Muni hasn't figured out a workable alternative to make the extension tie into Downtown San Francisco, perhaps because of its obsession with subway operation.

Many San Francisco observers believe putting yet another service into the Muni Metro subway is asking for trouble, given Muni's inability to deal with chaos in the current service. Costs of a new subway up 3rd Street would be prohibitive, adding hundreds of millions to the cost of the 3rd St. rail line, and the only Muni-approved surface option, around Embarcadero, then down Market Street, is too circuitous.

This fall an interesting alternative was posed by the Train Riders Association of California (TRAC).

TRAC proposes that Muni run on surface streets in an exclusive lane, like Portland and Sacramento light rail lines. The routing would take the line past the CalTrain terminal via 4th Street and Stockton Street to Chinatown and Fisherman's Wharf, with the following details

From the standpoint of rapid action, the TRAC proposal seems much more feasible than Muni's current ideas. To begin with, the extreme high cost, in the hundreds of millions of dollars, of tunnel alternatives is an unnecessary expense and politically unrealistic. Holding out for a subway could delay this important project indefinitely.

Secondly, the circuitous routing of the Muni Metro and surface of Market routing options could discourage patronage and misses an opportunity to provide high quality service to Chinatown and Fisherman's Wharf.

The Muni Metro alternatives require either a substantial expenditure in the tens of millions for platform alterations in the subway, high level platforms on the surface, or the use of high level loading in the subway and slow loading with steps from low level platforms on the surface. An all surface alternative would allow the use of low floor cars, cutting costs.

Other north-south routes are less advantageous. 3rd Street, from King to Market, and Kearny Street are too important and effective as auto thoroughfares. Grant Avenue is too narrow and does not cross Market. The north-south streets east of Kearny are narrow, do not connect well with 3rd Street south of King, and are jammed with traffic going to and from the financial district and the Bay Bridge.

Stockton Street is clearly the best route. Although currently congested by bad signal phasing, it carries very little traffic volume and can be de-emphasized as part of the auto network. 4th Street is also underutilized due to its connection to Stockton Street and Ellis Street and can, therefore, be reduced as a traffic artery with little impact on auto circulation. Placing the 3rd Street light rail line in two transit lanes in the middle of a two-way, four-lane 4th Street would provide the fastest, relatively delay-free routing to BART, Muni-Metro, Union Square, Chinatown, and Fisherman's Wharf via a low cost surface route.

TRAC's proposed routing would have the extraordinary benefits of connecting major activity centers of Fisherman's Wharf, Broadway, Chinatown, Union Square, BART, Muni Metro, Moscone Center and 3rd Street on one, direct, fast, easy to understand light rail route. The financial district would be easily accessible by transferring to Muni Metro at 3rd & King, or 4th & Market, buses on Geary, Sutter, or Sacramento, or walking a few blocks.

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