December 3, 2012

A Plan For San Francisco's Central Subway To Stop In North Beach

San Francisco Subway Extension Map (Image Source: sfmta.com)

The construction plan for San Francisco’s five stop Central Subway line has long called for digging to continue beyond the last northern stop on the line at Washington and Stockton down in Chinatown in order to excavate the subway drilling machines.

Seeking to quell the vocal concerns of North Beach merchants and residents who would be disrupted by the digging, Muni General Manager Ed Reiskin has told the Chronicle that he plans to recommend an abandonment of the plan to dig up Columbus, instead "he'll recommend to the Municipal Transportation Agency that the subway tunnel be extended to Columbus and Powell Street, site of the long-abandoned Pagoda Theater" which the City doesn't currently own, but upon which a North Beach station could be built if it did.

North Beach Pagoda Theater (Image Source: MapJack.com)

San Francisco's Central Subway: Make That 2018 And An Extra $278M [SocketSite]
Plans For San Francisco’s Central Subway Chinatown Station Revealed [SocketSite]
Muni subway plan to appease North Beach [SFGate]
Pagoda Theater Preview (And Signs Of Progress All Around) [SocketSite]
North Beach Pagoda Theater Set To Be Sold To New Yorkers Today? [SocketSite]

First Published: December 3, 2012 8:30 AM

Comments from "Plugged In" Readers

This should have been the plan from the start. Hope they can pull this off...

Posted by: Can't think of Cool Name at December 3, 2012 9:16 AM

I would support this if they make the station part of a multi-use building, rather than an open "plaza" that amounts to a dead zone around a large stairwell.

Posted by: James at December 3, 2012 9:24 AM

An open plaza would be appropriate, this being North Beach. Columbus already has a few parklets which are greatly improving the cafe scene.

Local Nimbys, especially THD, will never allow anything to be built there. The THD want this derelict building to linger forever there, as a symbol of their power and as a deterrent to the reckless entrepreneurs who would dare to attempt anything on their turf without their consent.

Posted by: lol at December 3, 2012 9:45 AM

Only in San Francisco does the City have to pay $8 million for a tear down. Eminent domain, maybe?

Posted by: Connor at December 3, 2012 9:51 AM

this is a great idea.

getting to north beach on public trans currently is challenging... the subway would make it so much quicker.

yes please!!

Posted by: hubby at December 3, 2012 10:06 AM

Nice map, but it seems to have misplaced Chinatown.

Posted by: SFMichael at December 3, 2012 10:20 AM

Great news! It should really go all the way to Fisherman's wharf.

The thing that bothers me what leads to such decision. The decision wasn't due to good design and good planning. It was made to accommodate complaining neighbors. In this case it push a sensible plan forward. In most other developments it led to compromised because some neighbor complain nosily.

Posted by: Wai Yip Tung at December 3, 2012 10:23 AM

As I have posted before, it will only make sense if the subway goes all the way to Starfleet Command in the Presidio.

Posted by: redseca2 at December 3, 2012 10:30 AM

No it makes plenty of sense as currently proposed by Reskin.
Connecting public transit to the Presidio should not be a priority for the city.

Posted by: OMN at December 3, 2012 10:38 AM

Nice map, but it seems to have misplaced Chinatown.

Good catch! And Kearny is off by one street.

That's not a mistake actually. Chinatown will be entirely moved brick by brick into the FiDi starting in 2015 (aging population looking to save their knees seems to be the motivator). Then in 2017 they'll move the FiDi into the old Chinatown location. Muni is looking for a storage facility for the skyscrapers in the interim. Treasure Island? [/end joke]

Posted by: lol at December 3, 2012 10:42 AM

maybe you can polish a turd a bit

Posted by: Zig at December 3, 2012 10:49 AM

They were talking about a North Beach extension at some point anyways, so just going ahead with the groundwork now makes more sense. I agree that the station should be part of a small mixed-use development, but they could include a small plaza at the street corner to serve as an entrance.

This one change could increase the viability of the Central Subway line substantially, as it would enable the city to complete a North Beach station at a much lower cost.

Posted by: Adam at December 3, 2012 11:37 AM

i can't find it, but i predicted this exactly almost two years ago, either on here or on skyscraperpage or somewhere. a backdoor way to a north beach station, the next step will be to get a proposed north beach station into the mix. ludicrous that in this town you have to connive and sneak to get a station into one of the city's densest hoods. ridiculous.

Posted by: david m at December 3, 2012 11:58 AM

great comment about the value of getting the line extended to fisherman's wharf.

how many thousands of tourists visit SF each year?

it would be WONDERFUL if we could connect SFO>Powell>Wharf all on public transport.

it's the greenest and sanest thing the city could do.

yes!!

Posted by: fresher at December 3, 2012 12:33 PM

^Daily commute trips are an order of magnitude higher than daily tourist trips. the "greenest and sanest thing the city could do" would be to invest transit resources where commute trips are, not where tourist trips are.

I'm not saying that we ignore tourist trips, but a subway-to-Fisherman's Wharf should be well below any improvements to Geary or Van Ness (where tens of thousands of trips occur every single day). Especially if we're talking greenest - as most tourists are not using a car to drive from Union Square to Fisherman's Wharf as it is.

Posted by: anon at December 3, 2012 12:42 PM

Demolish that ugly, dilapidated theater and build a great plaza and subway entrance at this location.

Posted by: futurist at December 3, 2012 12:44 PM

Correction should be noted: the current plan only has 4 stations (Brannan, Moscone, Union Square/Powell and Chinatown). I completely agree that Geary is long overdue for mass transit (combined with a line down 19th Ave. to DC BART), but the inclusion of North Beach in the CS plan is long overdue and essential. Now if SF got its act together it could extend the line with a loop from North Beach, around Aquatic Park/Wharf and down Van Ness.

Posted by: Mark at December 3, 2012 1:36 PM

^Yeah, I've got no issue with a North Beach station, just the idea that we should build to Fisherman's Wharf in order to build transit for tourist use.

Posted by: anon at December 3, 2012 5:00 PM

I disagree that it should be tourist driven. As a recent tourist in London I took the Underground everywhere. Not only didn't I get the visual experience of seeing the city pass before me, but I was somewhat disoriented upon exiting stations for the first (and often second) time. In SF, reserve the F line and cable cars for the die-hard tourist experience and give locals the advantage of a quicker commute underground. After all, I don't need to crawl along Stockton and Columbus at 2 mph. I just want to get to my destination, thank you.

Posted by: Mark at December 3, 2012 5:12 PM

Would this be the world's shortest subway when completed?

Posted by: anon2 at December 3, 2012 5:38 PM

@anon2:

Likely not. One other short subway I know of, for example, is Chicago's Blue Line. It's probably longer than this, but not by a whole lot. OTOH, like SF's T-line (of which the central subway is part), the subway portion of the blue line is just part of a much longer line. In both cases, the idea is that an above-ground line dives underground in the downtown core.

Posted by: Mark2 at December 3, 2012 5:55 PM

Re: shortest subway...think what you will of the project, but it is a canard thrown around by opponents that this is a "subway to nowhere". For some reason folks have seized on the fact that it goes from Chinatown to 4th and King, while in fact it does tie in to the much longer T extension and will function as part of the overall transit system.

By all means prepare for the North Beach station. Even if implementation doesn't come for years, it's crucial to not dead end the project in Chinatown.

Posted by: curmudgeon at December 3, 2012 6:09 PM

Actually, I believe the S-shuttle between Grand Central and Times Square holds honors to being the shortest subway line in the country.

My issue with the CS ending in Chinatown is that it would be like building a subway between Geary/Market and ending at Webster St., or Van Ness/Market ending at Van Ness and Geary St., requiring riders to transfer to the bus to complete their journeys.

Posted by: Mark at December 3, 2012 7:12 PM

Why does the city have to buy the building, can't they just close down a section of some road permanently and turn it into a transit/shopping plaza? Or build an underground transit station beneath a road, take some parking spots for expanding the sidewalk, and add entrances like the stations on Market street.

It's not like SF is rolling in dough, we just need the station to exist not look awesome from the street.

Posted by: RobBob at December 3, 2012 7:27 PM

a bit off topic - but the Chicago Blue Line the shortest subway???

One half of the Blue line runs from O'Hare Airport to downtown Chicago a distance of some 16 miles. The blue line then turns and runs back out to the western suburbs of Forest Park.

If you are talking about only the 'underground' portion of the Blue line, the line subways at several diffrent areas spending several miles underground.

although all of this is kind of moot since the 'central' subway is really part of the T-Line and clearly will eventually extend into northbeach, curve, and continue West. The only question is when will SF have the political will to do the obivious (this step to North Beach being a good start)

Posted by: badlydrawnbear at December 4, 2012 8:44 AM

@badlydrawnbear:

Yes, the analogy (rough, to be sure ;-) is that both are much longer lines with (relatively) short subway sections in the downtown core (plus a few other short underground sections in the Blue Line's case, as you point out). I took the Chicago example just 'cause I was familiar with it, having ridden it daily to/from work in the mid 80s through early 90s, before moving to SF, and was only thinking of the loop/Dearborn Street subway segment. The line was called the "Congress/Douglass/O'Hare" line back then, the "Douglass" branch now being part of the Pink Line. I usually transferred from the Howard (um, "Red") line to the Douglass line downtown, so I may be forgetting, and thus unintentionally minimizing, exactly how far it continued underground in the O'Hare direction before surfacing, so it may not be the best example of a short subway.

As long as we're "a bit off topic," there's some interesting history (possibly apocryphal) re the way the Douglass line "tunnels" through Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center (now Rush University Medical Center). The medical center wanted to build over the elevated tracks, but was told "no" by the city. The city withdrew its opposition after Mayor Richard Daley (that would be Richard J.) was hospitalized there.

Posted by: Mark2 at December 4, 2012 10:18 AM

Actually, what am I thinking? We don't need to turn to Chicago to find an example of a short subway section on a longer line. BART offers several examples, such as the downtown-Oakland subway segment on the Pittsburg/Bay Point line (just two stations: 12 St. and 19 St.). Of course, no one would call that a "subway to nowhere," as everyone understands that it is just part of a much longer line and really part of an overall system. But, as curmudgeon points out, the myth exists (or is perpetuated) that the 1.7-mile central subway is somehow an isolated line.

Posted by: Mark2 at December 4, 2012 10:35 AM

Everyone is writing comments here without appreciating the history of the project. The recent decision is not to extend the digging to Columbus/Filbert, the decision is to NOT extend the digging further (i.e., down Columbus). It's not like someone just came up with the idea for the North Beach station - that's been part of the longer-term plan all along.

Posted by: John at December 4, 2012 11:46 AM

@John:

If you mean longer-term as in 2030 then perhaps you are correct. The problem with the plan in place is that the tunnel boring machines will run all the way to the park where they will be removed. It makes absolutely no sense in this plan to build a tunnel to North Beach without building a station in North Beach. The proposed change is to build a station in North Beach at the end of the tunnel.

SF can't wait until 2030 or beyond to address transit problems that exist today. Perhaps if SF invested heavily in a mass transit system in the recent past, residents would be less inclined to own cars and developers would be less inclined to accommodate parking in each new highrise.

Posted by: Mark at December 4, 2012 12:01 PM

Completely agree that improving transit on Geary and Van Ness should be top priority, but the good news is that a Bus Rapid Transit line for Van Ness is in the works, and something similar is being explored for Geary. BRT has the advantage of being faster and cheaper to implement than boring new subway tunnels. In the meantime, I'm all for extending the Central Subway all the way to the Presidio.

Posted by: Zouaf at December 4, 2012 12:33 PM

Spend the billions and do it right.

Posted by: Mark at December 4, 2012 12:40 PM

Something just occurred to me:
If the San Francisco government spent just 5% of their annual operating budget on building new transportation infrastructure, we could afford to build about 1 mile of new subway line every three years, assuming about $1B per mile, all by ourselves without a dime of Federal or State money.
If you include Federal and State money, we might be able to afford to do it about three times as fast.

That means if we were really serious about being a 'transit first' city, then the government could afford to build a subway all the way down Van Ness, all the way down Geary, and all the way down 19th Avenue, all before 2030, just by spending less than it already does on non-profit donations.

Makes you wonder where our priorities are.

Posted by: anon at December 4, 2012 1:33 PM

@anon:

You are quite correct. Priorities are screwed up in the Bay Area. Throw in competing transit agencies and it only gets worse.

Posted by: Mark at December 4, 2012 3:13 PM

>Would this be the world's shortest subway when completed?

Do you instead propose that we make San Francisco larger?

Posted by: Gregg at December 5, 2012 2:26 PM

Posted by: SocketSite at February 4, 2013 4:39 PM

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