MUNI’s proposed route realignment
may sink SoMa’s housing boom

Written by Jim Meko. Posted in Opinion, Politics

Tagged: , ,

Published on March 02, 2008 with 3 Comments

Jim Meko

By Jim Meko

March 3, 2008

Last week, the Metropolitan Transportation Agency (MTA) announced the first major realignment of MUNI routes in 25 years. The multimillion dollar Transportation Effectiveness Program (TEP) has proposed the elimination of a half dozens lines, service cuts on more than a dozen others and increasing the frequency of the MUNI Metro and other more popular lines.

“The TEP is generating an unprecedented level of performance and financial data to understand MUNI’s service and operations challenges,” city controller Ed Harrington wrote, “and [it will] help us determine what can be done in both the short and long term to enhance service and allocate resources where they are most needed.”

However, the TEP’s reliance on current transit ridership statistics and its lack of analysis of future growth trends suggests we’ve bought ourselves a short term solution and set ourselves up for a long term disappointment.

One quarter of the city is undergoing a radical reassessment of fundamental zoning priorities, profoundly affecting the very essence of what San Francisco is to be, and we haven’t factored transportation into the equation. There is no transit component to the Market/Octavia Plan, which is up for final approval at tomorrow’s Board of Supervisors meeting, and the Eastern Neighborhoods rezoning effort speaks only in vague generalities about transportation improvements.

The Western SoMa community planning process is the first planning effort to seriously address transportation considerations.

For almost three years, the Western SoMa Citizens Planning Task Force has been writing a community plan that’s built around the idea of a transit-rich Folsom Street commercial corridor. Responding to pressure from pro-development forces to provide more housing opportunities, the draft plan envisions increasing heights, encouraging a healthy mix of retail and commercial uses and allowing a significant increase in residential density.

Since the greatest upzoning in the Western SoMa Plan would be along the Folsom Street corridor, the proposal includes a strong transportation element. The Western SoMa street network scenario in the draft plan envisions Folsom Street as the ceremonial center of the neighborhood.

Representatives from the Transportation Authority, bicycle advocates and a member of the BART Board are all part of the voting membership of this community-based process. Both the Planning Department and MTA staff have been participating in the Transportation Focus Group of the Task Force since its inception. It’s difficult to imagine making a more sincere effort to link good transit, good planning and smart growth.

But when the TEP’s recommendations for South of Market were released, SoMa transit advocates were stunned. Major cuts have been proposed.

The 12 Folsom bus, which links Manilatown with the the Filipino enclaves of South of Market, has been eliminated. Despite the gentrification of the ’70s, the Filipino community has maintained its ties to the Portsmouth Square area as the new International Hotel, with 104 units of low-income senior housing and a cultural center for the city’s ethnic Filipinos, finally opened in 2004. The 12 Folsom connects SoMa’s youth with the Embarcadero YMCA and the soccer fields of Jackson Square.

The 47 Van Ness line, which currently serves the 11th Street corridor, provides a connection to Trader Joe’s, Showplace Square, the Hall of Justice and Caltrain. The TEP plan turns the 47 bus away at Mission Street and bypasses Western SoMa completely. The community loses a direct link to City Hall and the Van Ness corridor and the 11th Street nightclubs lose a major transit option at the very same time the SFPD is discouraging automobile traffic in the area.

The only transit service remaining on Folsom Street will be provided by a new Polk Street bus that traverses a short stretch between 2nd and 8th Streets. Service to eastern SoMa and the Mission will be lost but SoMa gains an unnecessary direct connection to Fisherman’s Wharf.

East/west service is relegated to the Harrison/Bryant couplet of streets. Harrison Street has been designated a truck route in the Western SoMa plan and Bryant Street runs through an area where the plan recommends that no housing of any kind be allowed.

The Western SoMa Task Force even recommended a new route, running from MUNI’s Church Street station down Duboce and Division to 4th and Townsend Streets, which would provide commuters from the western side of the city with a shortcut to Caltrain and relieve the overcrowding on the Metro as it approaches Van Ness Avenue. The TEP rejected this wildly popular proposal as well.

This is absurd. The 47 should be serving Folsom Street, not an already overcrowded Mission Street. A 47 Folsom bus would reconnect Western SoMa to Caltrain and link up with the 27 Bryant line to retain SoMa’s connection to the Mission. It would reestablish service to city hall and, combined with the 19 Polk loop and the reconfigured 12 Bayview/Pacific line, create relatively seamless east/west service throughout South of Market and reconnect the Filipino community to Manilatown.

If current conditions were the only criteria that mattered, ridership on the 12 Folsom bus would certainly justify its elimination. But the MTA knows that a dramatic increase in the population of Western SoMa is only a few years away.

SoMa should not make the same mistake the city has made in the Market/Octavia area and is about to make in the Eastern Neighborhoods. If SoMa doesn’t get better transit, the city should not expect any more housing to be built here.

The infrastructure must be in place before that kind of growth can be allowed. No one understands better what can happen when housing is permitted in an area without providing adequate services than South of Market’s residents. We’re still waiting to see what happens when everyone in those new Rincon towers flush their toilets all at the same time.

Jim Meko is a South of Market activist, currently serving as chair of both the SoMa Leadership Council and the Western SoMa Citizens Planning Task Force and as a member of San Francisco’s Entertainment Commission.

Jim Meko

Good Morning Soma Bio Jim Meko is a South of Market activist, currently serving as chair of both the SoMa Leadership Council and the Western SoMa Citizens Planning Task Force and as a member of San Francisco's Entertainment Commission.

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Comments for MUNI’s proposed route realignment
may sink SoMa’s housing boom
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  1. Here’s a write up I did on the Duboce/Townsend line that Jim Meko speaks of. It would really fill a gap in MUNI service, connecting too many people to too many useful locations.

    This line could probably be served with 3 coaches.

    When I moved here 20 years ago that corridor was purely heavy industrial. Now that there is no more industrial, all car dependent commercial and residential, the transit service is the same and our once-in-a-generation’s transit network study has proposed to keep about the same.

    No transit, no housing.


  2. Jim Meko makes some excellent points regarding MUNI service (past, present & future) in SoMa.

    1. For some MUNI routes, I never understand why they run down a main street and then go through this weird, twisty, time-consuming journey (through some part of town way off the main run), just to turn around come on down the main route the other way. For example, just have the 12-Folsom bus run down Folsom and, at the waterfront, turn right around and come down Folsom again the other way (well, okay, it’s one-way East to West, so it’d have to come down Harrison or Howard.) And then do the same at Division Street. And that’s it, with North-bound, South- bound buses crossing through it.

    2. Robert B. Livingston makes some good points, too, regarding ridership. Are some buses empty due to lack of demand or lack of reliability? Before the Safeway at 4th and King was built, my wife and I would shop at the 16th and Bryant Safeway. One Sunday, sitting across from the Double Play, we waited just a few minutes short of an hour for the East-bound 27-Bryant bus to arrive.

  3. Forgive the rant; still hope it might make some think:

    Elimination of the 15 was a mistake.

    It was based on the need to hype the T-Line– which continues to bamboozle and frustrate many of us.

    The 15 made it easy to go South/North particularly along the Columbus Street corridor. It was pleasant to find the easy stop in front of Ferlinghetti’s City Lights.

    Now one has to trudge up the hill to Stockton to squeeze on board one of the convoyed 30s or 45s. No big deal– but what if you are elderly or infirm?

    The 12 is sorely missed.

    It was once a workhorse to go East/West.

    People liked it because it helped them shop in the Mission or at FoodsCo on 14th Street. FoodsCo is not as swanky as Whole Foods and Safeway–while you bag your own groceries, you spent significantly less there on staples.

    Families that do not make the big bucks or who aren’t brainwashed into a PC organic-only box depend on it.

    The 12 was starved with an unrealistic schedule: few used it because it had aleady become undependable– not because they didn’t need it.

    But they, like most of their overcrowded and underserved friends that take the 30 and 45 through Chinatown couldn’t spare the time to complain about the lack of service could they?

    They were too busy trying to survive in a city that seems to want it’s poor hobbled while a charioted überclass dangerously speeds through pedestrian crossings mindless, and unticketed.

    The 14 looks like it is going the way of the 12.

    Why should people shop for cheap trinkets and food in the Mission when they can be funneled to Westfield or the Ferry Building to watch others with expense accounts load up on branded sweatshop items, gourmet cheese and fancy (but usually stale) bread?

    Now, mind you, California 1 (which runs between the banks in the Financial District and homes in the Pacific Heights): there is service! I wish more lines could run like it! TEP soup to nuts!

    One last dig:

    About the Big Dig that is bandied about running an underground line to Chinatown….

    When its finished, might we expect the Disneyfication of San Francisco to be complete?

    (But Disney has the happiest place on earth, or the happiest places if you count all its franchises– expect more of them because they always do well in economic downturns. People need to escape once in awhile– and face it: the dollar isn’t what it used to be.)

    Why for God’s sake don’t we scrap that whole underground idea and run people movers or moving sidewalks (like they have in airports) through either side of the Stockton Street Tunnel between Union Square and Chinatown? (Or cheaper yet: simply sweep and light that thing?)

    What? I thought so.

    (Try to table that idea this late in the game when so many are already drooling for their cuts.)

    Just some thoughts.