This is a photo of the famous Gare Montparnasse train disaster of 1895. It is being used here as a metaphor.
“Information gladly given, but safety requires avoiding unnecessary conversation.”

Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg was in town last week to tubthump the slow-rolling disaster that is the Central Subway project and to claim that, on the undetermined date it does commence service, it’ll be worth the wait

That’s a hell of a thing to say, considering this project has been in conception since he was in high school and was put before voters when he was just out of college. 

In that time, the price tag for this project has more than tripled; the final cost is now tabbed at upwards of $1.9 billion, and will all but certainly be significantly higher than that. Close to half a billion of those dollars figure to come from local sources. That’s something to think about the next time your bus doesn’t show up; Muni is a system with infinite needs and finite resources. And this is how it’s spending them.

The sclerotic process of the Central Subway is, by definition, an old story. We’ve had lots of time to write about how it’s taking lots of time. That doesn’t make it okay, but you’ve read this. The exploding cost is also not a revelation, and San Francisco officials have long since given up feigning concern about a couple hundred million here or couple hundred million there. Hey! Stuff costs money! So get off it! 

If the Central Subway was a good and useful project, no one would remember the inveterate delays or obscene cost overruns. The BART extension to SFO also went grotesquely over budget — and, perversely, local transit agencies serving put-upon riderships were made to fund a rail line for more affluent airport passengers. But nobody talks about that anymore, because the BART line to the airport is so useful. You can go to the airport without even meaning to! Now that’s convenience.   

It is exceedingly difficult to foresee many future San Franciscans saying this about the Central Subway. That’s because it’s exceedingly difficult to overstate how poorly designed this subway line is. Though it could’ve been worse: Earlier iterations of the project neglected to include air ducts, which would have resulted in rail patrons being asphyxiated. 

Future riders on the Central Subway figure to be able to breathe and survive. That’s for the good. But it’s a remarkably limited rail line, divorced from the rest of the Muni Metro system and accessible from Muni Metro and BART only via an onerous transfer seemingly designed by Rube Goldberg.

That’s not for the good. And it gets worse: As an ostensible cost-saving measure, the Central Subway tunnel platforms were designed to only accommodate two-car trains — a disastrous decision, among so many disastrous decisions, that singularly dooms this multi-billion dollar project to failure. 

Someday in the future, the Central Subway will finally open. And someday after that, the transit riders of San Francisco will pine for the days that it was closed. 

“As a transit nerd and subway fan, it is painful how badly they built this subway,” laments former longtime BART commissioner Tom Radulovich. 

“There is incredible awkwardness built into the Central Subway, and we’re going to be reckoning with it for a long time.” 

Map of the Central Subway route via SFMTA. Note the lengthy transfer between Union Square/Market Street and Powell.

Like the Central Subway, let’s slow down. Let’s focus on the decision to build subway platforms only large enough to handle two-car trains. There have been so many awful decisions regarding this subway project, but this one may be the worst. 

It’s O. Henry-like in its tragic irony: The ridership capacity that would have justified this multi-billion dollar project is now impossible to achieve. Even if people flock to take this rail line, two-car trains will quickly fill up and be overwhelmed. 

It will be difficult for Muni to extend this line to North Beach and the Marina (no one is lining up to give San Francisco the necessary money after this debacle, and Muni additionally ceded control of key tracts of land). And that’s a damn shame: Extending this line to Fisherman’s Wharf is the only thing that would make it a worthwhile transit project. But even if this comes to pass, saddled with puny two-car trains, the Central Subway cannot handle augmented ridership; during peak demand, trains departing the Marina would be full before they reached Chinatown. 

Simply put: The Central Subway cannot carry the ridership numbers that were used to justify its existence. And post-facto enlarging the platforms in the now-completed subterranean stations would be fantastically disruptive and costly — if it were even possible at all.

“These two-car trains — it’s like the Toonerville Trolley,” quips Gerald Cauthen, a transit engineer and former Muni employee who helped plan and build the Metro system four decades ago. 

“Subways can provide high-capacity transit for a lot of people. This subway won’t,” sums up Radulovich. “They designed it with very short platforms.”

And this, he continues, will lead to cascading problems. The dense development planned along the path of the Central Subway was meant to be served by a high-ridership line. “But it’s N-Judah capacity,” Radulovich says, “not BART capacity.” 

The plan was, “let’s basically build New York-style density. But on a streetcar line that can only run two-car trains,” he adds. “It’s a real mismatch.” 

All aboard the Toonerville Trolley …

Who will the Central Subway work for? For anyone hoping to take a straight shot from the Third Street corridor up to Chinatown and back, it could be all right, provided you don’t require additional transit to get to or from your departure point, and that your preferred destination is near one of the relatively few stops. 

For well-heeled visitors staying at Union Square hotels and hoping to attend a Dubs game at Chase Center or a convention at Moscone, it’ll be great. 

It’ll be a bit surreal for passengers coming or going elsewhere via Muni or BART and hoping to make a transfer to or from the Central Subway. This rail line is essentially an orphan, and its failure to be a step toward establishing a true subway network represents a spectacular missed opportunity for San Francisco. As it is, the transfer from the Central Subway’s Union Square/Market Street station to Powell Street Station requires a 1,018-foot walk — nearly three football fields. There’s also an 85-foot ascent and an estimated travel time of seven minutes, six seconds.

And that’s for an able-bodied adult.  

“As a transit nerd and subway fan, it is painful how badly they built this subway. There is incredible awkwardness built into the Central Subway and we’re going to be reckoning with it for a long time.” 

former BART commissioner Tom Radulovich.

Even the term “Central Subway” is a misnomer; that name described a project originally envisioned to serve both the Stockton Street corridor and the Geary corridor. That plan would’ve been truly useful. But, alas: Along with long-enough platforms, it has been relegated to the city’s transit history dustbin.

Perhaps that’s for the best. Who knows if they’d have remembered to put in the air ducts?  

In 2008, Muni made the audacious claim that the Central Subway would be a moneymaker, to the tune of $23.9 million a year. That was an unbelievable claim — as in, one couldn’t believe it. By 2012, Muni had changed its tune and admitted that the Subway would drain $15.2 million a year from the system. 

Muni didn’t respond to requests last week for the current projections of the Central Subway’s annual operating cost. But considering the passage of time, and the patterns for this project, it’s hard not to see it being greater than $15.2 million. Perhaps far greater. This money is going to come from a system that was strapped, even before Covid-19. So your commute will be affected, even if you never get near the Central Subway.

“They’re moving so much money to one small part of the city and ignoring the rest,” says Howard Wong, an architect and longtime Central Subway foe. “If just the local matching funds for large projects were invested in the overall Muni system, San Francisco would have a more robust transit system today.”

Perhaps, one day, San Francisco may design a transit project with the actual needs of transit riders in mind. Won’t that be worth the wait. 

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Managing Editor/Columnist. Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left.

“Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior editor at San Francisco Magazine from 2015 to 2017. You may also have read his work in the Guardian (U.S. and U.K.); San Francisco Public Press; San Francisco Chronicle; San Francisco Examiner; Dallas Morning News; and elsewhere.

He resides in the Excelsior with his wife and three (!) kids, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

The Northern California branch of the Society of Professional Journalists named Eskenazi the 2019 Journalist of the Year.

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  1. We have a chronic lack of competence in building physical infrastructure. London built the new Jubilee line from Canary Wharf, UNDER London, and to Heathrow, some 60 miles in 13 years! I don’t disagree about the bad planning for the Central Subway, but the time and money spent is what is profoundly sad.

  2. Has anyone ever taken the jammed 30 Stockton through Chinatown and seen pedestrians tramping through the pollution-filled Stockton Tunnel, presumably to avoid taking this bus?

  3. >it could be all right, provided you don’t require additional transit to get to or from your departure point, and that your preferred destination is near one of the relatively few stops.

    Gee, last I checked a whole lot of people want to move b/w Powell and Caltrain, Joe.

    The biggest complaint in this article is that the platforms only allow 2-car trains. Fine. Muni has been running 2-car trains for most of its existence. If they’d designed the stations for 3-car trains and incurred extra cost and delays, Joe would be griping even louder.

  4. SFMTA wonders why we can’t trust SFMTA to do a project.
    big deal a bunch of political hacks had a photo op.
    This should’ve went out to the ocean via Geary like originally proposed. This is a train to nowhere …. Even in this project they had the opportunity to easily extend it to fisherman‘s wharf but the political powers just didn’t want that … And now like every other SFMTA project it’s over budget, not on time, with major construction delays

  5. Since the T line is not completely underground, the length of the trains is determined by the at-grade portion. In order to avoid blocking intersections at traffic lights or at stations, light rail trains that have any at-grade portions are limited to two cars. So it’s not possible to run longer trains in any case, which Muni, being transit professionals, knew. Since T is the only line to use the Central Subway, it will be possible to run it far more often than the J/K/L/M/N can operate in the Market St subway. Also, the long transfer between the T and Market St Muni Metro and BART is very familiar to people who have visited New York and, for example, have had to transfer from the 7 to the A at Times Square. It is bizarre though to build a 1/2 mile tunnel and then put no station at the end of it, perhaps they can put one at Washington Square later for another $200 million. Finally, I constantly see that we in transit need to explain the difference between capital and operating funding. Funding for capital projects – like the Central Subway – generally cannot be used for operating costs. There are some exceptions, and Covid has loosened this up a bit, but it is probably wrong to think that if we didn’t have the Central Subway that the 48 Quintara could run more often.

  6. I mean you are not wrong but there are ways SFMTA will mitigate some of this disaster.

    With a new turn around track just south of Chase Center, they can run the lil baby 2 car trains with a higher frequency and turn them back around on 18th st instead of going all the way to the Bayview. This might take some service away from the southern part of the T line which is pretty lame but I’m hopeful that the portion of the line from Chinatown to Chase Center will be frequent enough to make up for the 2 car trains.

    The long walk for a transfer is par for the course, all major cities have some long transfers this is not a SF problem. Remember they had to tunnel under the 2 level Market St subway.

    SF being old, dense and having insane politics makes large infrastructure projects like this very expensive and take a long time.

    1. Please explain why they had to go under the Bart tunnel. I think they could have teed off of the Muni tunnel. Of course this would require a transfer on trips from Chinatown to the Bayview but it would have been more user friendly overall.

  7. This is why I drive everywhere. It ends up being less wasted time and more convenient. Seven minutes to transfer at Powell? I can drive to Westlake from my house in that time.

    1. There’s some history there: In the 60’s, the first plans to take BART into Marin County where put in front of Marin voters. They voted it down, and along with it, underground service through the Richmond/Geary Blvd corridor. Come election time, you hear talk about a BART extension to the Outer Richmond coming from some candidate to the BART board. Of course nothing happens. That said, given SFTMA’s performance, these days I’d give BART the leg up over anything that SFMTA tries to float.

      1. I really wish we had the BART system that was proposed. It was pretty impressive. I think a similar thing happened regarding bringing it through the Peninsula also. The little fiefdoms of public transit in the region hold it back from being a cohesive system.

    1. There’s some history there: In the 60’s, the first plans to take BART into Marin County where put in front of Marin voters. They voted it down, and along with it, underground service through the Richmond/Geary Blvd corridor. Come election time, you hear talk about a BART extension to the Outer Richmond coming from some candidate to the BART board. Of course nothing happens. That said, given SFTMA’s performance, these days I’d give BART the leg up over anything that SFMTA tries to float.

  8. Thanks for the shining a light on all this, Joe. So many issues although the big one for me is the money that’s being sucked out of Muni which has so many other problems. (For one – the 48 Quintara failing to move hundreds (thousands?) of students safely and reliably along the east/west corridor.)

    But I’m not clear on why the two-car platform size is such a death knell. Why can’t they just run more trains/higher frequency?

  9. Congrats to Joe who has documented so many unnecessary “City Family” shortcomings. Please follow up with a recap of former Mayor Brown’s involvement that initiated this political payoff without construction accountability nor funding of ongoing operating cost.

  10. The Chinatown station is named for an openly corrupt and corrupting political player. What more do you need to know? SF seems to be proud of its stupidity.

  11. The size of the consist doesn’t determine capacity, it’s size times frequency. If two car consists running underground can come twice as frequently as ones above ground, it’s the same as four car consists running above ground. Heck, without having to deal with traffic they might be able to triple the frequency, which also makes a better system because of the shorter wait times. Do you know the frequency they will be running in the subway?

    1. Totally agree that frequency plays a huge portion of how well the line runs and I’m hopeful that it’s frequent.

      Yes, it would be great to have longer platforms and a lot of things as the article mentions, but these decisions were made for certain reasons, namely funding to start with. So it’s a bit of a circular argument that you need people to support a more robust system to build it. Further we need to finish the project and build Phase III before we can really see the full benefit of the tunnel through downtown.

      Regardless, we have a two car platform now and we know it works, think Embarcadero. It’s definitely cozy and will be in the future, but MUNI only runs longer train consists in brief stints and then they get pushed back into regular two car consists. In a dream we could have a lot more like a train connection Market St subway, and BART down Geary and 19th Ave, but we need the support of the masses to actually build great projects rather than letting them get watered down.

    2. It would be different if the Central Subway was 100% underground, but it’s not. There are only 3 underground stations before it surfaces at which point you’re back to waiting at lights (because signal priority systems aren’t in place) and the inevitable delays that plague the K/T and the rest of the surface system.

      Underground stations are one of the most expensive parts of building a subway. Reducing the length of the platforms to fit only 2 cars was done to bring the cost down (can you imagine how much over budget the project would have been had this not been done?). However, by doing so any hope of expansion of service down the road was nixed.

      One of the biggest problems with the Market St. subway is the lack of sidings/crossover tracks. We groan when a disabled train halts traffic for hours in the tunnel. Does anyone know how many crossover tracks will there be in the Central Subway tunnel so we can avoid a similar screw up of service?

    3. I don’t know the frequency, but I think the existing 30 line runs every 12 minutes (720 seconds). I found an article on transit.dot.gove that suggests the service will operate every 3.75 minutes (225 seconds) during peak, which if the car capacities are similar, is a >3x increase in capacity. There’s also some engineering analysis that suggests headway requirement is < 120 seconds, although I think there's some signal optimization work that would be needed to make that a reality. So I think the "two car" problem here isn't a fatal flaw, except that it's not so good when there's a Caltrain or BART "Surge".

      1. Forgot to add that there is also the existing 45 line that covers similar route to 30 that also runs about every 12 minutes. So it’s not a 3x increase in capacity… but still I think 30 and 45 have some hyper local passengers in China town area that only ride for several blocks. I don’t know to what extent the 30/45 lines will still be run, but this project should really take the longer distance travelers out of the mix above.

        Worth the price tag? Probably not. But it is going to really help those along the route a lot.

  12. San Francisco is just a puppet for the chinese government. The subway was only built for Chinese immigrants the same ppl who refuse to culturalize. And no I’m no some Chinese hating person. But I do notice how the homeless never stay long in Inner Richmond where I live that inner Richmond has cross walk people for the kids and the mission does not, how the streets get fixed over here and never over there. How the city is more about Chinese new year than black history month. Anything American is slowly being erased in this city

  13. The line will get plenty of use, and fairly long transfers are common in many of the best subway systems worldwide. But 2 car platforms & not making it to North Beach are unforgivable failures. MUNI is bad at doing trains & has been for a long time. The service as a whole is terrible–slow, random in its layout, unreliable. Something needs to change if the city is to move away from dependence on cars. Still, I’m glad that built something.

  14. Thank you – this needed to be said. The Buttigieg/Pelosi/Breed dog and pony show the other day was beyond disingenuous.

  15. Joe, who would you say the are individuals and parties involved for such a failure in the Central Subway project for all these years?

    The incompetency of this city truly angers me. . . it could be so much more incredible than it already is but its leaders continue to be useless.

  16. I can’t wait for it to open. I don’t know the city bus system but I can take Caltrain to this to get to north beach.

      1. Well, there’s always the option of walking the half mile of completed tunnel between the Chinatown station and the emergency exit in North Beach.

        We all know the answer to this question, but why didn’t Muni consider a joint Chinatown/NB station at the intersection of Broadway/Stockton with two entrances (one at Broadway, the other between Vallejo/Columbus)?

        1. Well Mark,

          It was San Francisco voters footing a big chunk of the bill who decided the Central Subway should end in Chinatown no further than Washington (at least this phase) and entered into a binding funding agreement with the Federal government.

          SFMTA and the Federal Dept. of Transportation conspired together to defy the will of the voters and dug the tunnel itself all the way to North Beach where the tunnel boring machines could be extracted without shutting down Stockton Street in the middle of Chinatown for upwards of a year.

          Enough planning was done so the tunnel ends at the prime spot for a future North Beach Station, but any further work would have required a new ballot measure.

  17. The running rails that were laid were later upon inspection did not meet specifications. It had to be removed and new rail ordered and reinstalled.

  18. Thanks for clarifying what seemed like a good idea. That in reality is full of holes.
    This saddens me, because mass public transit done correctly is the way modern metropolitan have evolved. It sucks that SF with all the millionaires and billionaires can’t get it together.

  19. If you’ve ever tried to drive to Chinatown, you’d know what a hot mess parking is over there. The last time I went over there, the main garage was full and we ended up parking many blocks away down the hill. The current multitude of bus transfers to get there for me is completely unappealing (I hope to never ride the 30 Stockton ever again and yes this is why I drive there). So I for one am thrilled to try the Central Subway when it opens. And no, I don’t mind walking to transfer from Powell. I already have to walk a ways to the MUNI stop as is – not a big deal. Hooray for positivity!

    1. > And no, I don’t mind walking to transfer from Powell.

      okay, but a family with young kids, some in strollers, or the elderly or god forbid someone disabled?

  20. I’ll say one major use I’ve been looking forward to that has been left out is access to Caltrain from that area.

    Yes, there are buses and the existing N/KT. But the bus connections are generally awful from the 38, with the 47 not even existing anymore.

    Existing muni metro around the embarcadero takes nearly as long as the 38R ride from the Outer Richmond. So I’ve had hopes of an easy transfer at Powell St. Hearing how badly it might be overcrowded with only two car trains in disappointing.

  21. Joe,

    Love the locomotive where it don’t belong lead pic.

    How about did they leave the giant boring machine that did the tunnel buried as planned ?

    Ideally they’d fire that mo up and head for the Pacific Ocean.

    For starters.

    Then, the Chinatown stop will just be a minor part of the Project.

    lol

    Go Bears !

    h.

    1. The bore machine continued to tunnel out to Powell and Columbus to the site of an old Chevron Station. At that point, it was disassembled and hauled away. Powell and Columbus could have become a station for North Beach except that was never part of the plan. Continuing the Central Subway on to Fisherman’s Wharf then through the Ft Mason tunnel (old S&P right-of-way) until terminating at Bay St was considered but never seriously. Some would have liked to have seen the system extend to the Presidio causing an uproar with Marina Blvd residents.
      Maybe in the 22nd Century, they’ll get to North Beach, but that’s a big maybe!

    1. Paul — 

      I’ve included who the line will work for; it’s in there. But it’s not the role of a journalist to recite agency talking points and paint an overly rosy picture. This is really a bizarre comment you’ve made.

      JE

      1. Joe, your commentary was spot on. Not only are the station platforms too short, but the Union Square station was constructed without any provision for a future Geary line connection (platform shell). The Chinatown station lacks direct connection to the major bus lines. 30-Stockton riders will still have to endure the painfully slow ride from the Marina through North Beach (and one can imagine Muni cutting back service on the 30 line once the subway opens).

        Total boondoggle.

  22. those that would scorn the writer for dramatizing the extensive effort to connect to market street from the powell station disregard how debilitating this may be for older or disabled riders.

    elevators/escalators/moving walkways may alleviate the strain…when they’re working.

    another legacy of the corruption brought to us by willie and rose.

  23. Thanks for summing up the disaster. I understand that public projects are mostly redistribution of tax revenues to the kleptogarchs, but it is doubly galling that the product is such a dud. SF is clearly trying to out compete both NYC and Chicgo as corruption center of the US (other than the Defense Dept which is kind of a special case.)

  24. Like all municipal projects it is way over budget and time but all muni train lines are two car trains so expecting more is a bit ridiculous. Additionally more underground trains will help with the terrible congestion on the streets. Yes more efficient and useful work must be done to improve muni but this tunnel will help. Money making on public transit is unfortunately not a reality that has been in the cards for a long time

    1. You stumbled over one reason that makes Muni the laughingstock of the country. They could run up to four, but these are two car consists, because the bargaining agreement between SFMTA and its employees places a second operator in the cab of car three. Who has nothing to do but stare at the trailing cab of car two. One day I happened upon a three car consist inch its way out of West Portal, for trials presumably. Lo and behold, the second operator was sitting right there in car three, staring.

  25. “Lengthy”, “rube-goldberg inspired” transfer? It’s literally a 2 street walk from Powell to Union Square. Your article is a little over dramatic. I wonder if the people who write these hate articles even ride the bus? If you’ve ever been on 8 down Stockton during the weekend, I bet you could find something nice to say about this new transit station… less crowded busses, more down town transit options, more incintive for tourists to visit China Town.

    1. Sir or madam — 

      Here is the transfer in full from Union Square/Market Street to Powell:

      First, walk 114 feet, leading to a 63-foot ascent on an escalator. Then there’s a 541-foot stroll on the concourse, followed by a 21-foot descent on a stairway. Finally, you’ll amble 219 more feet to reach Powell and — 85 feet higher and 1,018 feet away from your starting point.

      As someone who took public transit between here and Los Angeles, this isn’t a “me” problem or a “I hate transit” problem.

      Yours,

      JE

    2. The station should have been directly over the Muni tracks at Market Street thus offering the quickest easiest transfers. Omitting the provisions for a Geary route connection was a middle finger to users as was the ultra short platform design.

      1. Yep. I think there was an initial plan for a station directly at Market/Stockton which, if you think about it, could have eliminated the need for a Moscone station, or at least created a surface station at 4th/Folsom. The Market St. station could have entrances on Mission, Market and between Ellis/O’F, then a Chinatown station between Clay/Sacto and a Washington Square station. Still building 3 underground stations, but serving more people/destinations and with better connections to existing transit.

        If we go back 20 years, there were plans to run the subway under 3rd. St., with a dog legged jaunt under Market and Geary to get to Stockton, including a split line in SOMA (3rd and 4th) to connect with the existing K/T. All I can say is wow. Zero direct connections with the Market St. subway, a ridiculous connection at King St., and a laughably slow crawl through the tight curves under Market/Geary/Stockton.

        And we wonder why public faith in transit planning in this country is non existent.

  26. There are quite a few complicated walks/elevator rides etc in the london system, but people that commute everyday know the drill: og course the London system us hundreds of years old….how does it compare I wonder?

  27. MUNI riders in the Bayview long ago discovered that the old 15 bus got you downtown faster than the T. And when the “Central Subway” comes online we will discover that our City politicos have spent another umpteen billion dollars to make service to downtown even worse. Is it time to organize a campaign to ELECT the MTA board, instead of letting it be appointed by conniving politicians?

    1. The snail pace of the T MUNI train is hindered by the 25mph speed limit and mis-timed traffic lights. Generally in low income/black neighborhoods these super slow speed limits are put in (it’s the same along International Blvd in East Oakland.) I can’t help but think it must be some kind of racism inbedded in traffic planning.

      1. Well, that and the frequent SFMTA approved racist pratice of switching the T back before heading to Bayview for nearly a decade CERTAINLY did not help nor instill trust.

  28. I can see East Bay travelers heading to and from the game via BART/CS invest the time and hoof the way between Powell Station to Union Square and back. Locals who buy groceries in Chinatown heading home, not so much.
    Here’s the story about the extension to North Beach. Seven/eight years ago, the Pagoda Theater at Columbus was up for sale and slated to extend the CS. Two years of wrangling, the City could not move to find the quarter billion $$$ needed to roll this extension. The doubly galling aspect here is how a few years later, the Board of Supervisors needed only two weeks to find $238mio to cover a shortfall of the Transbay Center project that the JPA needed covering. So they stay on the right side of the JPA and find some place to climb to after their BoS gig is up. Consider this when it comes to voting on your incumbent member of the Board.

  29. Does this guy even know what he is talking about? The T-line travels on street level along Third before it goes into the subway. You cannot have more 2-car trains on the street level. Otherwise it will blocks the damn street intersections from one end to the other.
    But I agree, the design was bad, especially the transfer to Powell Station, and only 2 escalators to the deep station platforms are asking for troubles.

    1. I’ve been on four car N trains through the Sunset. It’s pretty common. Not sure where you got this notion.

    2. Tarniv is correct about train length. Furthermore, even if you only run full length in what we used to call rush hour, being able to do that is what mass transit is all about. As to Third, we were of course promised transit signal priority, just the same as on the Embarcadero. AFAIK, never turned on.

  30. I’ll be interested to see how the 30/45 ridership changes after the central subway changes. I took that bus line for years and it was always PACKED from Caltrain to Chinatown.

    even so, the project is wildly delayed and over budget, and I agree that a line extension that would hit Fisherman’s Wharf or Geary would be even more valuable. My friends who live in the Richmond barely take Muni because the buses are so slow and stop so frequently—imagine if the BRT project would actually happen quickly, or if we figured out how to build rail lines faster and more economically (like all of Europe does). Sigh.

    1. Re: 30/45, I’ve asked Jeffrey Tumlin of MUNI this question many times on twitter and Ive never received any replay at all.

  31. Terrible Take
    Two-Car Trains… the standard length of SF Muni trains. Much of the system outside of the tunnels is barely designed for two cars, let alone three. Just the other day I was out and about with my nephew and we had to step out into the street while getting off the second car on the N-Judah

    As for its location… I can imagine the thousands of people who will no longer be taking the 30 or 45 in/out of Chinatown as they will now be using the train. Sounds great.

    Is it perfect, no. Is it a disaster, maybe wait until its actually open before you take a cheap shot at a public transit project. There budget woes are inexcusable, but rarely have they not been worth it or made a positive impact on the society that built them.

    1. Cable cars block intersections and intersections are already blocked half the time during a red light cycle.

      Many streets along T are already blocked by the tracks or closed:
      1) 3rd & Nelson Rising Ln
      2) 3rd & China Basin St
      3) 3rd & Long Bridge St
      4) Delancy St & Embarcadero St

  32. I loved this article. My brother-in-law is a mechanic for Muni and has been complaining about the Central subway for years.

  33. Supposedly this POS boondoggle came about Willie Brown promised Rose Pak a subway in Chinatown in exchange for the Embarcadaro Freeway coming down, and he eventually got everybody in power to go along with the deal, including then-mayor Gavin Newsom.
    The painful thing is how well-known all of these problems were from the beginning, and yet it happened anyway. Critics–and there were a lot–proved sadly powerless to change it for the better.
    The two-car “too-short” platforms are definitely ridiculous, but the original sin of the project is the routing; so many problems follow from that alone. The route never should have come up 4th St / Stockton. 3rd St. / Kearny would have been way better, and maybe even financially legitimate (if paired with sufficiently long platforms). Sure, Kearny isn’t directly under the center of Chinatown but it’s pretty close. And there are major benefits: First, high ridership seems actually possible by combining Chinatown and Financial District riders. Also, the stations wouldn’t be nearly as deep underground (thus cheaper to build and easier to access); we’d have a short, easy, and flat transfer to Montgomery station; and the North Beach extension more easily made part of the original project, with 2 or 3 stations along Columbus and a Columbus/Stockton stations serving a good chunk of Chinatown.
    The Central Subway is Exhibit A for why people don’t believe government can solve problems anymore–especially our local San Francisco government. Why give them so much money if this is how they spend it?

  34. In Singapore, there are a number of stations where transfers involve walks of that distance. They do have moving walkways to accommodate people. In one station, a transfer involves having to physically depart one part of the station and enter another part.

    The real tragedy is that the Central Subway should have been extended to North Beach and, perhaps, extended out along Potrero (since Third street had the T line). As noted, it should have also been built to handle at least three car trains.

  35. Shoulda went with monorail.
    At least the train wreck wouldn’t be hidden in a hole in the ground.
    Taking a cue from the brilliant introductory photograph.

    Prediction:
    Packed beyond capacity for Giants/Dubs.
    Empty the rest of the time.

    1. The “Central Subway” won’t stop at Oracle Park. It will stop at 4th & King. From downtown, Giants fans using the Metro will have to get on an N-Judah somewhere along the line. And workers getting off from a game heading south will need to hike to 4th and King. Thanks, Willie.

        1. It’s two blocks from the employee’s exit at Second Street. The current stop is only a few steps away. Maybe that is nothing to you, but it’s a lot at 10-11 at night after we have been on our feet for 5-6 hours. And how many times will it mean that we miss a train and have to wait for the next one?

  36. NYC has multiple long walk transfers within larger stations. We can get around this. The 2 car trains is just asinine.

  37. Great reporting. Will the stations have our nice new trash cans? That would make up for all the other problems.

  38. Do you happen to know WHY the decision was made to only allow the platforms to incorporate two-car trains? I want to believe there was some rationale/tradeoffs that were considered…

    1. Leon —

      My understanding is that this was a dollar-based decision. Shorter platforms are more economical in the very short-run — but this decision came at the overall viability of the entire project.

      Yours,

      JE

      1. Referencing one of the articles linked within this narrative:
        The ironically named Mr. Sunshine issued a truly Orwellian doublespeak utterance – it’s “value engineering”.

        A less functional Central Subway is more of a value.

      2. The same decision was made for London’s Docklands Light Railway (DLR). They went from two to three cars at great expense some years later, extending or replacing above ground stations and using “selective door opening” to center a three car train on a two car platform (which, astonishingly, works surprisingly well).

      1. Is there a good explainer-article on the trade off between Willie Brown and Rose that made this joke-of-a-transit-line a reality?

  39. Many years back, an SFMTA spokesmouth insisted that I knew nothing about public transportation. I suggested that the billion or so dollars (the then-current fake estimate for the cost of the Central Subway) might be used more effectively.

    Part of the hype for that thing was to improve service for Chinatown. He insisted I was wrong when I told him that a subway with only one station in Chinatown couldn’t possibly help with transportation needs within Chinatown, even if it might help with transportation needs to and from the neighborhood.

    I don’t ride the 30 or the 1 very often anymore, but when I did regularly use them, it was clear to me that the neighborhood needed more and more frequent small shuttle bus type transit serving more streets. Many riders in Chinatown would ride the bus a block or two, especially up Sacramento Street, because that’s what they needed in their community. A world-class subway wasn’t going to change that. I don’t know what “world-class subway” means, but SF likes to hype everything it does as world class. That’s why we’ll probably end up with world-class trash cans at $20K a pop.

    A while back, Supervisor Mar proposed a more on-demand, neighborhood-oriented bus service for (parts of) his district. I haven’t read about it since then, but a neighborhood-serving transportation system is where SFMTA should be investing its resources. If they can find the drivers, Muni could have shuttle buses up and running by the end of the week. Consultants and engineers wouldn’t even be able to potential ruin such a project by forgetting to put in airducts.

    1. Muni has always been about delivering workers to the downtown core. The same cost per rider that they faked for the CS, they would use to shoot down something that does not shovel public dollars into the pockets of the connected.