Part I Introduction
Transit in the Bay Area is split amongst many different agencies. Throughout the nine county region, there are over 20 different agencies, all competing for funding and projects. Compared to other US cities, the Bay Area has a denser and more heavily used transit network, however, the network lacks cohesion and a unified vision.
Compounding the issue of fragmented agencies, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) blurs the line between urban metro/subway service and commuter rail. Continued expansions further into the suburbs have stressed the urban core of the system. In attempting to serve both far flung suburbs as well as be the subway for the metropolitan area, BART manages to do neither exceptionally well.
In order to imagine a world class rail system for the Bay Area, I have envisioned the system in two parts, a “metro” system and a “regional” system. I also imagine that in an ideal system, the barriers between different agencies will need to fall apart, at the very least from a rider’s perspective.
All of the investments listed below would likely cost over 50 Billion dollars. If the Bay Area collectively decides to make such an investment it will be important to take other steps, which are not possible to represent on a map.
- Transit, when built correctly, can be a great driver of economic mobility. Cars, car loans, gas and other expenses can be a great hindrance to working class and middle class families. Recently, large investments in mass transit have brought gentrification and displacement with them. It is critical to take steps to ensure that an investment in transit this large does not push out those who could stand to benefit from it the most.
- My proposed regional rail system extends to 16 counties, far beyond the traditionally discussed nine count Bay Area. There is the potential for such a widespread investment in regional transit to further drive suburban sprawl. In order to prevent this, any new transit stations should become the centerpieces of small islands of density, with lots of jobs and housing within walking distance. Most areas in the Bay Area already have strict urban growth boundaries, but investment in transit should be contingent on enaction of such boundaries.
- Wide scale investment in large scale transit should also be accompanied by many more smaller scale improvements to bike lanes, sidewalks and local buses. A network is only as strong as its weakest link so funding headline infrastructure projects while defunding local transit and infrastructure would be a huge mistake. Furthermore, to make transit a more attractive option the Bay Area needs to take steps such as removing urban freeways, building more pedestrian only streets ,enacting congestion pricing and making transit free or low cost to incentivize transit and decentivize driving.
- It is impossible to discuss transit without discussing density. Anywhere that is served by transit should allow for dense housing or officespace. Large parking lots should be kept to a minimum.
I did my best to build on existing infrastructure and propose a realistic system that could be achievable in the next 30 years or so. Some current rail infrastructure (cable cars, historic street car and j-church) are not shown on either map. It would be difficult to classify these as rapid transit, but they are still an important part of the transit network. Some muni stops will be removed in order to speed up lines, but they will still be served with local busses. In general I only discussed projects that have not already been funded below.
- Bart Infill Stations: 30th St Mission, 98th Ave, Melrose, San Antonio, 58th St Oakland, Temescal and Albany : Bart was built as a strange hybrid between a regional rail system, and a commuter rail system. Thus, even when it goes through dense urban areas, station spacing can be quite large. Adding infill stations would be a good way to improve the system without too much building.
- New Transbay tube with subway to the sea down Geary: This is perhaps the centerpiece of the proposal. Having just one transbay tube is severely limiting for BART currently. I propose a four bore tube connecting roughly point Alameda to Rincon Hill. Two bores would be for regional rail and two would be for BART. Bart would go down Geary on the San Francisco Side, and connect to the lower half of the Oakland subway on the Alameda side. (a 4th track would need to be built from Macarthur to downtown. Regional rail would also connect to transbay and would peel off from Alameda Island to join the current capitol corridor tracks.
- T-third extension to the Presidio: The central subway ends abruptly in Chinatown and Muni is already discussing extending it. The presidio is a logical ending and would make the northern part of SF more transit accesible.
- SF State/ Park Merced Extension Muni plans to construct a subway or otherwise grade separated light rail extension through SF State and Park Merced. This, along with separating off the other light rail lines, would allow Muni to run much more reliably through its downtown tunnel and with longer trains.
- Geneva LRT (to complete the southern crosstown light rail line This project would make the network into more of a grid. It would also mostly be able to use existing track.
- Busways on 101/1 and 580/80, possibly in conjunction with some freeway removal
- Caltrain “metro” extension across the bay, through a new Oakland Grand Central and then to Albany.
- Santa Cruz-Monterey Line: Just has SMART has succesfully restored an old rail line in the North Bay, similar success could be had here.
- Tri Valley Busway: A new Bus Rapid Transit line in the medians of i680, a much cheaper alternative to another billion+ dollar bart extension to the suburbs. Stations could be in the freeway medians and there could be cross platform transfers to regional rail.
- Napa Valley line: rail already exists on this corridor but it is only used by the wine train. The Napa Vallejo commute has a fair bit of traffic, so hopefully this line could get decent ridership, and perhaps draw tourists as well.
- SMART extension via new Richmond San Rafael Bridge: The old bridge is falling apart and needs to be replaced. Hopefully the Bay Area will not make the same mistake that was made with the bay bridge and will build a bridge with good transit and a large bike path.
- BART: San Leandro and Fruitvale passing tracks: this would enable the Bart regional rail service (depicted as the East Bay division on the map) to run on the same tracks as the Metro.
- Built “Valley Link”, ebart like service, and extend it to Modesto.
- Dumbarton rail: Restoring the old dumbarton rail bridge would enable another transbay crossing for passenger rail service.
- Caltrain Salinas/Hollister extensions: extend Caltrain to serve some of the larger cities in San Benito and Monterey counties.
- 4 track caltrain from SF to SJ : this will require some small emminent domain here and there, but it will be critical to running high speed rail and the spine of the regional rail system all on one right of way.
- Extend EBART to Stockton
- Improvements to Sacramento line(10 billion), including a new route through Vallejo and a bridge over the Carquinez straight.
- Region wide electrification (especially on the express lines)
Part IV Conclusion
The total cost for this proposal would be in the neighborhood of 70-100 billion dollar range. A regional measure was set to appear on the ballot in 2020 which would have generated the funds for projects like these and more. Ideally the rest of the funding would go to more local projects like complete streets and local transportation.
If this proposal or something like it were to come to be, the Bay Area would be radically transformed. It would not only be possible, but advantageous to live without a car in most of the central bay area. Tons of space that is currently dedicated to cars, like parking, roads etc. will now be free to be used by people.
LA, Portland and Seattle have all passed massive regional measures to restore their transit systems, will the Bay Area Be next?