Subwaylaid

Why the new mayor should spend his political honeymoon taking the doggle out of a boondoggle known as the Central Subway

Project engineer John Thomas told me the split-track design will preserve current automobile traffic patterns on Third and Fourth streets, which he described as "important arteries."

Thomas acknowledged that having a quarter-mile of busy streets separating two halves of the southern station at King Street will likely create passenger confusion. Splitting the tunnel 400 yards apart will add about 5 percent to the project's cost, or about $30 million, give or take a few million, he said. And to bring the two lines together so they can continue south toward the Bayview, this automobile-friendly compromise design calls for a horridly slow series of 90-degree "z" turns that, like the zigzag at Stockton and Market, will create transit-rage-inducing commuter bottlenecks.

Putting north- and southbound lines in a single Third and King streets station would eliminate confusion. Running the line one block down the middle of Third Street, with traffic traveling in the same direction as train cars on either side, would result in a system faster, cheaper, more efficient, and easier to understand than the current design. But it might hinder automobile traffic.

Critics describe the trade-off as absurd. Spending tens of millions of dollars to preserve automobile traffic flow as part of a project created specifically to reduce traffic flow is preposterous, they say. And the split station isn't just confusing; it's downright dangerous.

"It separates itself. It makes odd turns. Its southbound line is blocked to the east. Its portals are separated. It's just ridiculous," says Tom Radulovich, a BART director who has been involved in local funding efforts for the Central Subway.

"I told them I'd save them millions of dollars by buying them a can of paint to re-stripe Third Street. The offer's still open."


When first confronted with the Central Subway gerrymander, our new mayor should remember the tale of the hardware merchant, the tunnel, and the Oakland curve. When engineers were planning BART tracks underneath Oakland city streets, a hardware store owner feared it would harm his business. He protested, he earned a following, and BART brass avoided the store by curving the tracks at the center of the line between the 12th Street City Center Station, the Lake Merritt Station, and the West Oakland Station. The hardware store didn't last to see the BART line completed. But to this day the tight "u" curve there creates the slowest point in the BART network, causing delays systemwide.

Future San Francisco generations will not remember Willie Brown's 1998 efforts to retain his mayorship and maintain control of the Board of Supervisors by courting power brokers in Chinatown and Union Square. They won't recall the internecine war between DPT bureaucrats and Muni planners, and they won't care which way traffic flowed on the southernmost block of Third Street in 2004.

But they might trade stories about the times when Muni froze, thanks to the Market-Geary-Stockton bottleneck, or the times when passengers attempting to navigate the weirdly bifurcated Muni station on King Street were hit by cars.

But then again, they might not, if a newly minted San Francisco mayor has the courage to fulfill campaign promises, and to spend some political capital quickly, and where it will do the most good.

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