Central Subway Denounced by Former Supporter, Aaron Peskin

Categories: Transportation
subway.JPG
At least it will be new, and well lit.
Aaron Peskin, chair of the local Democratic Party and former supervisor, has condemned the $1.6 billion Central Subway light rail project that once counted on him as a vociferous champion.

"It's the most expensive project with the least ridership in the country," Peskin told us Tuesday, saying he's withdrawn his support because of cost overruns and evidence that it will be slower than the buses it's supposed to replace.

Peskin joins a growing chorus calling the project a study in inefficiency. Peskin's statement comes on the heels of similar complaints from former Central Subway backer Jake McGoldrick, a scathing July report from the San Francisco Grand Jury, and a recent Wall Street Journal editorial saying "the subway is a case study in government incompetence and wasted taxpayer money."

Muni spokesman Paul Rose sent an e-mail to SF Weekly, defending the project:

The Central Subway project is the result of extensive community feedback and planning and will improve quality of life through travel time, savings, and increased mobility. It will carry an estimated 43,900 passengers everyday, relieve surface congestion along the Stockton Street corridor, and serve as a vital transit link in the Financial District and Chinatown -- two of the most dense areas in the City. The project will also reduce travel times from Chinatown to the Caltrain station from approximately 20 minutes to eight minutes.

Since 2003, I've been writing columns exploring the ways the Central Subway would squander money while actually worsening passengers ability to get where they're going on time.

During the past few months, more people have come around to my way of thinking.

In July Civil Grand Jury warned that the subway's costs "could stretch the existing maintenance environment to the breaking point," echoing my 2007 column stating "The Central Subway project will not significantly improve our ability to get from one place to another, and it will make the city's public transportation system more expensive to run and maintain. In addition, its rationale is based on bogus financing and ridership numbers."

An August 23 Wall Street Journal opinion piece cited the Grand Jury report, and quoted a transit expert saying that taking the bus would be five to 10 minutes faster than riding the Central Subway along every segment of the proposed train.

In response, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority published an online response saying the project is worthwhile because it will connect Chinatown to the Mission Bay area, which is being developed as a quasi satellite downtown. Plus, the response said:

The Union Square/Market Street Station provides a direct, underground connection to the Powell Street Muni/BART Station via a modern, well-lit concourse.
At least 60 percent of the project funding is dependent on $942 million in federal subsidies -- called a "full-funding agreement" -- which have so far seemed locked up, thanks to Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi's clout in Congress.

As more critics come forward, however, Peskin predicts that Pelosi will be unable to resist calls to cancel San Francisco's tunnel to nowhere.

"Republicans could potentially kill the full-funding agreement, as they see that people like me and Jake are coming out against it," Peskin said. "We were voting for it when its cost was comparatively tiny, and estimated ridership was much bigger."

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Payton_vege
Payton_vege

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Andy Nash
Andy Nash

What is especially sad about the Central Subway project is that it would only take a little planning creativity and political energy to improve the existing bus service 100% and this could be done in six months. Use the opportunity to create livable streets too. It would require taking a hard line with private cars, but serious transit priority programs have worked in cities throughout the world from Zurich to Portland. 

I guess getting the buses off Stockton and 3rd/4th will be a real help for reducing congestion, great, more cars can flood through south of Market.

The project will not only result is worse transit service, but represents a huge missed opportunity for creating a more livable city.

PRE
PRE

The shortsightedness by SF Weekly and the "No" crowd is stunning.  SF today would probably turn down BART if it was on the table, and now Matt Smith is quoting the WSJ Opinion Page!!  And now this vocal minority wants to throw a billion dollars back to the Feds!  New flash - that money won't be coming back if the CS is cancelled. 

Alex Z.
Alex Z.

Think of it like those charity raffles that offer the choice of a McMansion or an amount of cash much smaller than the value of the McMansion.  Most people take the cash.  Why?  Because simply winning a McMansion doesn't mean you'll have the financial ability to maintain it or pay for its associated operational costs (property taxes, utilities, etc).

Even /if/ that money would never come back, the MTA would still be better off by not throwing away more money on this abysmal project.

Of course, what would be best is if the MTA could pull its head out of Rose Pak's ass and come up with a /sane/ design to increase transit capacity in Chinatown in the first place.

dan7000
dan7000

If the Feds paid the whole cost that would be terrific.  But they're not.  And the rest of that money is coming right out of Muni's maintenance budget, which is already so poorly funded that trains basically never run on time.  I regularly experience 30 minute waits for the J-Church to get me to work, and SFMTA blames most of that on maintenance issues. After they spend another $500million of SFMTA funds on the Central subway, the J will only get worse -- and not only that, but Central Subway will undoubtedly suck as well.

I'm very much in favor of spending money on public transit.  I am just not in favor of SFMTA taking money away from much-needed maintenance and spending it on another line they won't be able to run competently.

Contrary to your post, I would be very happy to have BART manage this project.  At least their trains are reliable.  

Tofutart
Tofutart

There is huge support for this project from huge private developers, UCSF, and The Port Authority, and Mission Bay business owners/developers.  Unfortunately, I believe that with the hundreds of millions of dollars already invested in Mission Bay, Executive Park, and Hunters Point, along with the dense residential growth happening south of Williams along Third Street, will all contribute to this truly regional link being completed...whatever the cost. There's too many hands tied to this pot for it to spoil.

Tom Noyes
Tom Noyes

I agree with 'cancelling' this. If the Republicans need to cut CA money somewhere - here is a good place! Use this as a big ticket bargaining chip Nancy - do not let it go cheaply. Let's get a few less bombs made too!!!

JTR
JTR

MUNI's Paul Rose just keeps adding morehot air to this boondoggle. Union Square is not the Financialdistrict, Mr. Rose, and here in the North Beach/Fisherman's Wharfarea, we once had more than a link, but an excellent transportationsystem to the Financial District. A fully utilized #15 double sizebus that ran about every 7 minutes, ran down Columbus Ave (paralegalto Stockton Street) and let us off at Market & Sansome directlyby the Montgomery St. BART Station. MUNI's then new (and from out oftown) director, Nathaniel Ford blindly (or with intent) discontinuedthis service, forcing all of it's riders on to the alreadyover-crowded Stockton Street – maybe just to sell the need for thisridiculous subway system. We have been without a fully functionalMUNI connection to the Financial ever since.

In addition, a very important issuethat is not being talked about in all of this is that the pay off isgoing to be very big to real estate interests, because this subwaysystem is allowing the Stockton Street neighborhood to be re-zoned,which will change all the rules in regards to high rises and highrents in that neighborhood. And this, I think, is where WillieBrown, Rosa Park, and friends have their investment.

Central Subway
Central Subway

The SFMTA is fully committed to completion of the Central Subway.  This latest round of criticism is not based on any new evidence or facts but rather the awareness that the project is close to achieving the Full Funding Grant Agreement and that opposition will not be able to stop the project.  Please see the Central Subway response to this article at http://www.centralsubwayblog.c.... - Brajah Norris, Central Subway External Affairs Manager

Alex Z.
Alex Z.

Barjah, in response to your meager rebuttal:

"I think you have to look at the project in its entirety."

Cool. Let's do that. Let's look at the direct access to City College that the 15 provided and the T lacks. Let's look at the horrendously unsafe situation you've got at 4th and King now with riders running across the intersection because some bonehead put the N and T platforms at opposite ends of the intersection. Let's look at the lack of LRV signal priority meaning that hundreds of riders wait and wait and wait while a few drivers go through the intersection. The Central Subway to nowhere fixes none of these significant problems.

"The Central Subway will, in fact, be significantly faster than a bus from Chinatown to Caltrain."

The currently favored alignment will have a ninety degree turn and specifies one car trains every ten minutes. One car trains offer roughly the same capacity as the articulated buses currently being used, and a sharp turn like that will dramatically slow service down (look at BART's Oakland Wye or Muni's nightmares at 9th/Irving/Judah or 15th/Taraval/Ulloa). Simply put the Central Subway to nowhere is being designed to be as slow and inefficient as possible.

Then again, it's a bit silly to compare existing bus service to the proposed subway for two reasons: 1.) Existing bus service along the Stockton corridor will be gutted to fund the subway (there goes further access to City College), and will, once the subway is built out, be slower and less reliable than it is now 2.) Existing bus service along the Stockton corridor could be dramatically improved by bus only lanes. The Stockton tunnel was originally public-transit only. Returning it to such a configuration would /dramatically/ speed up the 30 and be significantly cheaper than the billions being spent on the proposed subway.

"To put the cost in context, New York City’s Second Avenue Subway costs $4.5 billion which is $1.8 billion per mile compared to Central Subway’s $1.6 billion which is $929 million per mile."

Let's take a moment to stop laughing.

Okay?

Okay.

Now let's think for a moment about how the MTA was able to achieve such fantastically frugal numbers.

Will the MTA save money by using low floor vehicles that won't necessitate expensive platforms at every surface stop? Nope.

Will the MTA save money by keeping the tunnel boring machines underground in case additional funding is secured to extend the subway to North Beach or Fort Mason? Nope.

Will the MTA save money by using the smallest possible platforms? Yup. Because for all of the lofty ridership projections, there's no possibility that with reduced bus service… ridership might one day exceed the existing projections.

Will the MTA save money by enabling signal priority at key points along the T's surface line? Nope. They've instead chosen to force significant delays for LRV traffic. It's not like saving 5-10 minutes off of a trip along the T would allow for increased service.

Will the MTA look at lower cost options like one way streets, bus only lanes, and/or traffic/parking enforcement? Nope. Cars in Chinatown are still being favored quite dramatically.

There's absolutely no room for growth with the Central Subway. We'll be stuck with whatever's chosen for decades, and the existing plans will make it as difficult and expensive as possible to increase capacity. Hanging your hat on the fact that you've cheaped out on any sane planning is not something to be proud of.

"If we want to provide clean alternative means of public transportation to accommodate future population and ridership growth, we must improve our transit system by completing the Central Subway Project."

Well, no. Improving public transit is a good idea, but the Central Subway to nowhere will KILL the MTA. The elephant in the room that SF Weekly addressed, and the MTA has not and will not, is maintenance. The MTA has essentially let the existing LRVs and their related infrastructure just rot (presumably due to lack of funding and not due to incompetence). Currently there's a, what, five mile per hour speed limit approaching/departing Castro station because the track is in such poor condition? How many derailments occur at the Duboce Portal? At the Geneva Yard? How many of the LRVs leak junk from the air conditioning on to the passengers when it gets warm outside? How often do trains have to run in manual mode because of problems with broken train control equipment? How often are LRVs with broken doors, headlights, headsigns, etc put into revenue service? How often are bus shuttles run along the L and N lines (hint: daily on both lines, there's enough need on the L that they use the sixty foot buses daily). Let's not forget that all of the additional LRVs purchased for the T actually propped up the other five lines until the opening of the T. Anyone remember the utter chaos when the T was initially put into service? Anyone remember what it was like to regularly see two car M and L trains? Somehow I think that the MTA's models might be a little bit off.

Most of the money to build this subway has been identified, but what of the money to run it? What happens in a few years when the train control equipment in this new subway needs to be replaced or repaired? There won't be any backup bus service, because that'll have been gutted and the buses assigned elsewhere.

"The fact remains: this project stands strongly on its merits"

Yeah. If you're high.

"…and the SFMTA remains committed to its delivery."

And the perpetual budget deficit at the MTA is a surprise… why?

Look at it this way. The Central Subway puts trains, not service, in Chinatown.

Ed Brown Lee
Ed Brown Lee

Colossal waste of money. I can only imagine the traffic NIGHTMARE as it is being worked on. I remember the cable car revamp. YUCK

Jeremy
Jeremy

"Taking the bus is 5-10 minutes faster on every train segment"?  Does that mean each stop the bus gains 5 minutes?  Or does that reference the next phase towards North Beach, which is what makes the project actually worthwhile?  I think Peskin finally realized that the tunnel is coming towards his Hill Dwellers in a few years.

baklazhan
baklazhan

What it means is, I think, that for a person making the trip, the additional time to get to the subway station (there are fewer than there are bus stops) and to get to the underground platform (quite a distance) eliminate the gains from the faster speed of the trains.

Nothing to do with a north beach extension, as far as I know.

Cary W26.
Cary W26.

"Republicans could potentially kill the full-funding agreement, as they see that people like me and Jake are coming out against it," Peskin said.This indicates to me that he's still drinking.  A lot.

Elizabeth Frantes
Elizabeth Frantes

The fact that this idiotic project even got approved shows we need to completely eliminate all elected officials in SF and bring back a real 2 party system.  The corruption in this town is nauseating. 

____
____

It's amusing to see him get mad, angry an p'od when a dictator like arrogant pesky loses total control and is ignored by reality and the greater good.  He'll throw tantrums, insults and lawsuits just to get his way but unlike a school yard bully he tries hard not to get his hands dirty.

kellog64
kellog64

the project is questionable, therefore......look for the idiot pelosi to jam it down our throats.

njudah
njudah

When he was in power, he was for it. Now he isn't so he's against it? Wow. Wish we'd had him come to his senses BEFORE leaving office, where he could have had the project canceled and Muni's efforts put to good use, in Chinatown and elsewhere, instead of this billion dollar Subway to Nowhere. The GOP will have no problem killing this off, if only for the "FU" to SF.

Penny
Penny

When Peskin was the Supervisor for Chinatown he counted on Rose Pak for support and he helped to push through the subway. Now he and Pak are enemies so suddenly he is against it. His transparency is laughable.

The subway does seem to be a terrible idea...just not sure why we should listen to the residing Supervisor who helped to create it. Credibility issue. Not even sure why his lips are still moving.

Rebecae
Rebecae

Considering the foul epithets Rose Pak used to throw at Aaron Peskin during the Chinese New Year's parade, I can believe that she ever supported him

Richard H
Richard H

I'm normally not with the Republicans, but on this topic I'm rooting for them. Please kill this project. If the Republicans were truly diabolical, they'd *not* kill it and watch SF's slow death throes as we cut service a month after opening this boondoggle.

njudah
njudah

it kills me to side with those guys, but you're right. I mean, this isn't going to help anyone, certainly not "Chinatown," and it's just a Willie Brown/Rose Pak waste of billions. Meanwhile Muni can't even support existing operations and wants to add in a station that's 8 stories underground and serves not many people. All added to a T Third line that's slower than the bus it replaced.

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