February 11, 2013

A Billion Dollar Proposal To Rebuild SF’s Two Busiest BART Stations

A third of BART’s daily riders exit or enter the transit system at either the Embarcadero or Montgomery Street stations. With total ridership up six percent over the past year, now averaging 393,000 riders per weekday, BART directors are considering a plan to expand and boost the capacity of the Embarcadero and Montgomery Stations, a plan which would take five years and an estimated $900 million to complete.

No update on plans to connect BART with San Francisco's future Transbay Transit Center.

BART considers rebuilding 2 SF stations [SFGate]
Scoop: Transbay Interactive Map (And New Transit Center Website) [SocketSite]

First Published: February 11, 2013 10:45 AM

Comments from "Plugged In" Readers

Shocked to see them proposing any improvements whatsoever in SF, though SF contains the busiest stations on the entire line.

Posted by: Joe at February 11, 2013 11:05 AM

My understanding is they have very big peaking issues at these two stations but otherwise the system is very underutilized compared to similar systems around the world.

Essentially it is a subway technology being used primary as commuter rail.

Rather than think strategically planning to fix this they seems to be planning more extensions to low density areas

Posted by: Zig at February 11, 2013 11:08 AM

Zig is 100% correct.

BART needs to focus on additional coverage within high density areas, like SF. Instead of this band-aid approach, spend the billion dollars on tunnel branch off the transbay tube to run down mission to the new TT where it would DIRECTLY link to caltrain and HSR. This solution would offer an alternative to crowding the market st. subway at Emb and Mont stations and provide for a future extension down geary and points west and south...that is, if BART can deviate from its suburban sprawl mentality. Focus on the inner city cores where demand is the greatest. Trust me, more people would use BART to get around if it stopped acting like a rush-hour commuter rail system and instead connected more places.

Posted by: Mark at February 11, 2013 11:18 AM

Honestly, this is a really stupid idea and a total waste of a billion dollars. Basically, all that's happening is that BART is creating more platform space for more people to jam into already crowded cars. There's no provision for allowing people to move from the side platforms to the center platform without going all the way to the mezz and descending all the way down again. This sucks, especially if there's an issue with the doors not opening on one side of the car or those amazing sliding glass doors getting jammed. Idiots, I tell you.

Posted by: Mark at February 11, 2013 11:28 AM

Further support for the point made by Zig and Mark. Imagine a BART spur line to Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach- Easy access to the museums, zoo, concerts and special events like Outside Lands and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, etc. That investment would instantly increase the value of the service, when you figure everyone from the east bay and the peninsula could use BART instead of driving to that part of town, and school kids could use BART for field trips. Too bad we lack the political will and vision to move forward on big ideas. Even the Central Subway is pointless as is, when it could be made into a useful link by extending it to North Beach and down Columbus to the piers. Sigh.

Posted by: Adam at February 11, 2013 11:47 AM

I think what we need is a grassroots movement to present these transit visions to get people revved up for wanting (and deserving) better mass transit in SF and the greater Bay Area. We can dream up, propose and present our transit wishlists and plans on this site and others, but until the general public catches wind of the greater potential then we are really just preaching to the choir.

If this BART plan comes to fruition we are talking nearly $3 BILLION (Central Subway included) of money that won't effectively solve any of our immediate or future transit needs.

Posted by: Mark at February 11, 2013 12:12 PM

Just fix the escalators please! They are forever in a state of disrepair. (Also, change those cloth seats...)

Posted by: Willow at February 11, 2013 12:19 PM

Yes, agree with above, terrible idea. Does BART have any kind of public meetings to attend?

Posted by: Sam at February 11, 2013 12:47 PM

Actually - I remember reading a few years ago about how the bottle-neck for Bart was filling and emptying the trains, seeing how each car has only two doors.

If that is indeed a problem, then utilizing doors on both sides would allow for more trains and less crowded cars.

To me this seems like a comparatively simple way to alleviate some of the more pressing issues with the system.

Posted by: TimeMachine at February 11, 2013 1:18 PM

Yes, BART is rethinking the number of doors per car (at least 3) and also premium pricing for people to use these two stations during rush.

Remember, when BART was conceived the agency did not want to create a NYC subway type of system, so it opted for a cushy experience instead (comfortable cloth seats, no need for standing, modern and sleak trains).

BTW-the tube's max capacity is 30 trains an hour. If BART is predicting ridership over the half million mark then it really needs to push for another tube, as outrageous of an expense that it would be. The agency can't sit around and wait until 2030 to start tossing around the idea.

Posted by: Mark at February 11, 2013 1:49 PM

If it will cost $900 million to add two platforms to two stations it does not seem at all reasonable to think that there could be any kind of expansion of service within San Francisco for the same money.

Posted by: SFMichael at February 11, 2013 1:50 PM

@SFMichael: a study was conducted a few years ago about adding an infill station at 30th/Mission and I believe that the dollar amount came in somewhere around $900m.

Posted by: Mark at February 11, 2013 2:02 PM

Mark, you're exactly right sbout grassroots planning.... SPUR.org is dedicated to just thst.

The center platform should be made for boarding only and the outside platform for exit only. That would surely speed things up at the stations. May also be less expensive to skip any mezzanine-level connection for the new exit tunnel.

Posted by: Peter at February 11, 2013 2:08 PM

Great, first the central subway project and now this. Could we take the money from both (central subway and BART platform proposal ) and use it for one of Mark's transit ideas instead?

Posted by: anonandon at February 11, 2013 2:15 PM

Sadly, but not surprisingly, Matier and Ross' fluff-piece left out important details about how these extra platforms, an approach known as the "Spanish" or "Barcelona" Solution, actually work in practice.

My understanding is that BART can technically run 2-minute headways (thus 30 trains per hour, ea. direction*) through the TBT, but peak-load dwell times at Embarcadero and Montgomery stations prevent them from doing so. (*Matier and Ross mention, however, that a new train control system would also be needed to increase the capacity to 30 tph, and that that is also being considered along with the new platforms.)

New 3-door cars, currently in design stage—yes, sans cloth seats—will help with dwell times, but platform crowding at these two stations contributes significantly to the current bottleneck.

Agree that $900M sounds like a lot of cash. OTOH, if adding Spanish-solution side platforms costs $900M, one could only begin to imagine how much a Mission St. branch off of the BART tubes would cost. It's not not just the cost of new tunneling and station(s), vs. adding platforms to existing stations, but also the enormous technical challenge of configuring the branching point off of the TBT. I've seen an intriguing "arm-chair engineer" proposal for something like this, but am not aware of any serious proposals or cost estimates, to date.

In my ideal world, we'd get a second TBT crossing with a Mission Street station adjacent to the new Transbay Center and an alignment taking BART on out Geary to serve the Richmond. The post I linked above mentioned a $10B estimate for a new tube, although its source link is broken. Alas, the real world falls short of dreams. For now, I'm all in favor of further studying the idea of adding side platforms to the two stations.

Posted by: Mark2 at February 11, 2013 2:20 PM

Even if the side platforms are solely used for exiting purposes, this is really only a "fix" during the rush crush. Otherwise, you're looking at a billion dollar investment for only a couple hours a day on weekdays. This money could be better spent on other projects. Clearly this area is crying out for more stations. A billion could go towards a BART extension that could deal with the rush hour crowds, but also serve additional areas of the city that could benefit from transit investment, thereby increasing ridership both peak and off peak.

Posted by: Mark at February 11, 2013 2:20 PM

Agree, this is an excellent idea. Many of the new platforms on the Mexico City metro has similar station platforms. Passengers are directed to use one side of the train to unload and one side to board. The exit-side doors open about 15 sections before the entrance-side doors. Access to the correct platforms are maintained by the direction of the escalators.

BART is also looking at short term and long term improvements to increase capacity. Their "Future BART" studies include potential infill stations and express services.

BART is also not "sitting around" on planning for a second transbay tube. It has been working with the MTC on planning studies for a second transbay tube for about 5 years now.

Posted by: emanon at February 11, 2013 2:28 PM

"BTW-the tube's max capacity is 30 trains an hour. If BART is predicting ridership over the half million mark then it really needs to push for another tube, as outrageous of an expense that it would be. The agency can't sit around and wait until 2030 to start tossing around the idea."

Agreed. The Bay Area NEEDS another transbay tube going from either Emeryville or Fruitvale area to SOMA and connecting with the new Transbay Terminal. Even better if it continued on down Geary.

If only we didn't have so many whiners complaining about every freeking dollar that is proposed for capital projects. Many of these complainers fail to realize that more people will live and work here in the future, and that we'll need the additional capacity.
They assume that if we don't build it, then the people will not come. They should go to major cities in India and see how well that assumption works.

Where would America be today if evertime a big idea came along, we just said "OMG, it's too expensive!"

Posted by: anon at February 11, 2013 2:47 PM

I've always thought that it would be ideal to add a new transbay tube connection between SFO and Oakland Airport (and actually connect oakland airport directly to BART).

That would really help folks who live further south get tied in, would be AWESOME for folks who fly (and could actually take bart to switch airports between flights).

Posted by: BigV at February 11, 2013 3:38 PM

Check this out. It explains a lot.

http://www.governing.com/columns/urban-notebook/When-Will-the-US-Build-Another-Subway.html

Our traffic congestion now rivals the LA region. How many more sprawl inducing developments can the region handle before people say enough is enough.

Posted by: Mark at February 11, 2013 4:25 PM

$900M?

If this gets approved, I'm moving to NYC.

Posted by: philipthemholes at February 11, 2013 5:00 PM

@ BigV I don't think that there are many people who need to get to/from SFO and Oakland Airport to switch planes. Would that really justify a Billion dollar expense?

Posted by: jlasf at February 11, 2013 5:10 PM

The Bay Area really lacks the ability to connect regional transit systems for the most part...BART/MUNI and the TT, caltrain and the T-line at Bayshore, caltrain to SFO BART, Jack London Square Amtrak to anything, Emeryville Amtrak to anything...any others?

Posted by: Mark at February 11, 2013 5:14 PM

If we want to connect our regional transit the first and easiest thing to do is to unify the fare system (one ticket for the whole trip) and to coordinate timetables. This could be done with almost no capital investment. But it does require the transit operators to cooperate.

If you've ever exited BART to transfer to Caltrain just in time to see your train leave then you know what I mean.

Our public transport problems are not technical. And we have enough money. The problems are with political will and inter-agency cooperation.

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at February 11, 2013 5:22 PM

@MOD: you are correct.

There are no timed transfers between NB caltrain and NB BART. Last time I attempted this "seamless transfer of simply crossing the caltrain platform to the BART faregates" the BART train operator watched as people got off caltrain, entered BART and then promptly closed the doors and took off taking no passengers. Thank you for making us wait another 15 minutes.

A single fare system is exactly what we need to encourage ridership and to demystify the myriad of transit systems that are in place. Clipper can be tweaked to make this happen. As for MUNI light-rail lines outside of the tunnel...treat it like caltrain...tag when you get on and tag when you get off. If you don't tag you'll get charged the maximum.

Posted by: Mark at February 11, 2013 5:42 PM

@MOD: you are correct.

There are no timed transfers between NB caltrain and NB BART. Last time I attempted this "seamless transfer of simply crossing the caltrain platform to the BART faregates" the BART train operator watched as people got off caltrain, entered BART and then promptly closed the doors and took off taking no passengers. Thank you for making us wait another 15 minutes.

A single fare system is exactly what we need to encourage ridership and to demystify the myriad of transit systems that are in place. Clipper can be tweaked to make this happen. As for MUNI light-rail lines outside of the tunnel...treat it like caltrain...tag when you get on and tag when you get off. If you don't tag you'll get charged the maximum.

Posted by: Mark at February 11, 2013 5:51 PM

If you are going to do any major project to the Embarcadero Station, make sure to put a connector to the Transbay terminal please.

Posted by: Wai Yip Tung at February 11, 2013 6:00 PM

I believe an underground Transbay Terminal - BART pedestrian connection is in the plans for the terminal construction. I forget if it's Embarcadero or Montgomery, though. I don't imagine they'd build two connections-- it would make more sense to connect Embarcadero to Montgomery, and have a single connection to the Transbay Terminal.

Posted by: Alai at February 11, 2013 6:12 PM

Transbay tube. Running further to the north. With a stop at Treasure Island. So that it will become a real neighborhood and not a collection of isolated towers, clogging up the bridge in a third direction.

Posted by: Adam at February 11, 2013 6:21 PM

First of all, BART is not "urban transit". It's a fancy suburban rail system. SF desperately needs more subways, but they should be MUNI subways, not BART (other than whatever may become necessary for a second tube to the East Bay and/or one to the North Bay). MUNI tunnels are far cheaper, the cars are far lighter, and their smaller size allows for more frequent service.

As to the two stations, if they really expand at the platform level and miss the opportunity to widen the stations and add more rails, then we truly are the stupidest, most short-sighted people on earth. Whatever platform additions they make on the BART level should be repeated above on the MUNI level where crowding is worse and more frequent.

Posted by: BobN at February 11, 2013 6:35 PM

I don't think this is a bad idea, but there may be better (or at least cheaper) ones.

For instance, simply increasing train frequency may help, just because it gets people off the platform more quickly, so it doesn't become crowded. If possible, adding additional escalators would help.

Perhaps people should be encouraged to board the first eastbound train instead of waiting for the direct train? Then they can change trains in West Oakland, which would not delay their trips, but would relieve pressure on the station platforms downtown. This could be done by listing "All East Bay Destinations" on the signs instead of the specific routes, with a "please transfer to the next train if you're headed to X and Y" announcement made in the tunnel.

But, of course, BART to the Richmond. It was in the plan 40 years ago, and it still makes sense today. Do it already.

Posted by: Alai at February 11, 2013 7:16 PM

@BobN:

What appears like it may be a "stupidest, most short-sighted" decision may just be a matter of dealing with realities. There are right-of-way limitations at the locations of these two stations that constrain just how much width can be added to the system without condemning whole blocks of downtown buildings to add parallel lines, an untenable proposition. Possibly (as a purely hypothetical exercise), we could envision forgoing extra platform capacity at the two stations, in favor of adding express tracks for skip-stop service instead; alternate trains would then stop at either MTG or EMB, but not both. It seems unlikely that that would do enough to relieve platform crowding to justify a cost that would surely be markedly higher than just expanding platform capacity.

As for adding saddlebag platforms to the Muni level as well, I'm with you on that. Its feasibility (meaning, in this case, mainly cost, as well as tolerance for disruption during construction) may depend on whether the side platforms are constructed via cut-and-cover (which would seem to favor adding Muni level platforms as well), or, as suggested in the concept drawing, some sort of tunneling approach. (No doubt there are myriad other technical considerations, of course.)

Posted by: Mark2 at February 11, 2013 7:25 PM

Putting this proposal into a broader context, with requisite background, may help with the discussion:

BART Metro Operational Analysis (PDF)

"BART Metro: Bridging BART's Two Identities" (SPUR)

BART Metro Concept (PDF)

Posted by: Mark2 at February 11, 2013 7:51 PM

One of the major problems with BART is that it is not standard gauge rail. This poses a huge problem when combining BART and standard gauge HSR, especially in a new tube. That would require stacking or a 4-track wide tube, both of which would add billions to the total cost.

eBART is going to use diesel locomotives to connect Pittsburg/BP with points east via standard gauge rail. A standard heavy gauge rail system could also work under Geary and 19th Ave. to connect the TT to Daly City BART (new platform next to BART). Both of these corridors demand something more robust than 1 or 2 car MUNI LRVs. (I'm thinking something like Cleveland's red line that uses an overhead power source, but with 3 or 4 cars, instead of two.) Eventually, if a new tube is built (hopefully for both local transit and HSR), then this system can be expanded points east to fill in transit needs not supported by BART, especially in urban core areas. It can still be run by BART and have some kind of schedule as well.

Posted by: Mark at February 12, 2013 1:47 PM

Mark - This is the first I've heard of making HSR and BART interoperable. Allowing the two to use the same tube seems to have limited value since their operational patterns are so radically different. Though it is technically feasible it doesn't make sense to allow the two to use the same trackway.

If you know of any official proposal for BART+HSR then I'd enjoy looking at it.

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at February 12, 2013 2:08 PM

@MOD: sorry, I may not have been clear. The BART-run system sharing the tracks with HSR would be standard gauge, not Indian gauge.

Posted by: Mark at February 12, 2013 2:34 PM

Put a carpool only lane on the Bay Bridge and then let the hipsters take over (Zimride/Lyft...).

Posted by: EBGuy at February 12, 2013 2:48 PM

Though it is technically feasible it doesn't make sense to allow the two to use the same trackway.

Sorry MOD, but this kind of thinking is completely an American thing. There are cases all over the rest of the world where RER-type service (BART) shares last-mile tracks with HSR.

It wouldn't be able to work in the current tube because that's the one place on the whole network where BART runs metro-like frequencies, but if another tube was built it could work just fine - it would just require inter-agency communication, scheduling, and potentially ownership that so often is completely lacking in the US.

Posted by: anon at February 12, 2013 2:55 PM

I agree anon, you can share trackway. But as you note all of those situations are not nearly as space constrained as a tunnel would be. So the operational differences can be separated when needed. In a long tunnel the operational differences (speed, acceleration, frequency, lateness, etc.) can really tangle things up.

We're not going to build another tube to run at low frequencies, it is just too expensive. I doubt that a tube accommodating HSR could be justified with less than ten minute frequencies and once you're running that frequent it doesn't make sense to mix operational patterns. You might be able to squeeze in a couple BART trains in a tunnel shared with HSR, but is it worth the hassle and risk ?

Mark - What I had in mind was a dual gauge trackway. More expensive, but it would allow BART and HSR to use the same track. But it isn't gauge that is the problem with mixing the two.

BTW - I like EBGuy's paint-only solution to transbay congestion. Once again very easy to implement but politics will stand in the way.

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at February 12, 2013 3:34 PM

MOD - I disagree that you can't share HSR/RER service, and I'm not talking about building another tunnel for low frequency.

I'm saying that you build another tunnel (with standard gauge - we're going to have to convert BART at some point anyway, or at the very least build new lines at standard gauge), which could relieve some traffic from the existing tunnel. HSR traffic wouldn't be at different speeds through the tunnel - if you're willing to do that it's very, very, very easy to mix traffic types even if frequencies get down to sub four minutes, as long as you're using a modern signaling system (ATC).

There are tunnels in Zurich that are served by three different train types (on a single set of tracks) with combined frequencies of ~3 minutes. Very doable, just doesn't do much to inflate contractor budgets or provide crappy service, so it's frowned upon here through some sort of "safety" justification (US trains = safe, Swiss trains = what?).

Posted by: anon at February 12, 2013 4:43 PM

We are decades away from the need for a new tunnel, so it's a bit premature of a conversation. We haven't even reached the existing tunnels capacity. There is room to add at least 6 more trains per hour with just an improved signaling system, and the new train cars will handle both more passengers, as well as get them on and off faster.

Expanding the Embarcadero & Montgomery station is needed pretty much right now, and is an actual an current constraint to growing the number of riders as the current level of congestion is causing real delays in the system today.

The proposed solutions are needed and standard type of practice in these situations. Boarding and exiting on different platforms can significantly decrease the dwell time. Glass lining the platforms timed to open with the train arrival can significantly increase the number of people that can safely be on the platform. Adding elevators and speeding them up is necessary to improving the flow of people through the stations.

These are suggestions that those who follow transit issues have been making for years, so it's great to see BART finally talking about these important changes.

Right now BART's biggest issues are EMB & MTG stations during rush hours, it's perfectly reasonable to make improvements to these stations, which result in more efficient and reliable service for the vast majority of BART riders.

The project consists of major excavations in 2 stations, upgrading train control software, and a number of other smaller changes. The cost is not unreasonable for the scope of the project, and one important thing to note is that the cost is a little over $600 million in today's dollars, the bigger number is the inflation adjusted future number.

Posted by: lyqwyd at February 12, 2013 5:29 PM

Yeah a new tunnel is a pipe dream for the near future. Thanks for getting the discussion back on track lyqwyd.

If Embarcadero and Montgomery are maxxed out, why not cool development in the fidi and encourage more density mid-market? Or Oakland?

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at February 12, 2013 10:22 PM

Those are options, but not really anything that BART can plan around. Plus there are already entitled or under construction projects for years to come that will be bringing significantly more office space to the area. Plus it's doesn't really seem realistic to expect that development will be curtailed in FiDi, it's really the best place for it to go given existing transportation option.

BART pretty much has to address EMB & MTG station capacity issues, which will only get worse over the coming years.

Posted by: lyqwyd at February 13, 2013 8:49 AM

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