The Transbay Transit Center project, along with Caltrain’s planned modernization, promises to be one of the most transformative infrastructure projects for San Francisco and the region in both the near term and for years to come.
Phase One of the Transbay Transit Center project is scheduled to open in 2017. It includes an elevated regional bus terminal, connected to via dedicated bus ramps to the Bay Bridge. The new bus terminal will allow AC Transit to greatly expand its Transbay bus service. This couldn’t come soon enough, as BART’s Embarcadero and Montgomery stations are nearing their designed capacity during rush hour, and more Transbay transit capacity is urgently needed. Projects like dedicated bus lanes on the Bay Bridge and on the East Bay’s freeways and streets can make expanded Transbay bus service faster and more reliable. The first phase of Transbay will also complete an underground train station box, designed to accommodate six tracks and their platforms.
Phase Two of the Transbay project will extend the Caltrain line from its current terminus at 4th and King to the new Transbay rail station. Together with Caltrain Electrification and Caltrain’s purchase of new train sets, both currently in the beginning stages, Phase Two will allow electrified Caltrain and future High Speed Rail service to extend Downtown, connecting to Downtown jobs and regional transit on and under Market and Mission streets. This project will finally close the biggest gap in the regional transit network, connecting the region’s two largest Downtowns directly to one another, and to two regional airports and numerous smaller downtowns in between.
California High Speed Rail and Caltrain adopted a blended system strategy on the Peninsula, where Caltrain and High Speed Rail would share tracks and stations, with passing tracks added in key locations to allow express and high-speed trains to pass local trains. Blended service means transforming Caltrain from a mid-20th-Century diesel commuter service to a 21st-century regional metro service. A project to upgrade Caltrain’s signaling system is currently underway. Electrification of the line is scheduled for completion in 2020. Caltrain will replace its current diesel-locomotive-hauled trainsets with electric multiple unit trainsets by 2020. Other integration projects include level boarding platforms for greater accessibility, and full grade separation of the lines to increase speed and safety and eliminate traffic conflicts.
A New Downtown neighborhood at Transbay
The removal of the Embarcadero Freeway and its tangle of ramps just south of the Transbay Transit Center freed several acres of land to create a new neighborhood. The Transit Center District Plan, completed in 2012, is the blueprint for a high-rise transit-oriented neighborhood surrounding the Transbay Terminal, with thousands of new jobs and new residents. Salesforce Tower, under construction next to the transit center, will, at over 1000 feet, be San Francisco’s tallest building. A condition of the land transfer from the State to the City is that 35% of the new housing built on former freeway land must be permanently affordable to low and moderate-income households.
Regional Metro service for San Francisco and the Peninsula
Electrification of Caltrain, together with passing tracks and grade separation, will enable a robust regional metro service for eastern San Francisco, in addition to high-speed and Peninsula commute service. It would be San Francisco’s first new metro line since BART service opened in 1973 and later extended to SFO and Millbrae. Much development is planned or under construction in the neighborhoods along the Caltrain line, and a high-capacity, fast, and frequent rail service connecting these neighborhoods to both Downtown and Silicon Valley can help San Francisco develop in a much more transit-oriented manner.
Adding or relocating Caltrain stations can better connect Caltrain to adjacent communities and to Muni’s local transit network. The decision decades ago to build BART’s Glen Park, Balboa Park, and Daly City stations alongside freeways demonstrates how entangling stations in freeway ramps and locating them next to uses like maintenance shops can limit safe walking, cycling, and transit access to stations, and compromise the development of livable neighborhoods centered around them. Four decades after BART opened, San Francisco is taking tentative steps to better connect these stations to the surrounding communities, and foster the development of neighborhood centers around them. Fortunately it looks as though San Francisco may learn from the BART experience as it looks to stations along the Caltrain line, with three Caltrain station studies underway.
In the vicinity of Mission Bay, The Railyard-Boulevard Study will examine options for putting the Caltrain line underground, either on its existing alignment or on a new alignment through Mission Bay. It will also look at removing the northern portion of I-280, and replacing it with a system of surface roadways to knit the Mission Bay development into adjacent SoMa and Showplace Square-Potrero neighborhoods. Removal of I-280 also allows for the creation of a vibrant new neighborhood, as freeway removal did at Transbay and in Hayes Valley.
The Bayshore Multi-Modal Facility Study is examining how to connect Caltrain to San Francisco’s transit network in Visitacion Valley. One option is to move the Bayshore Caltrain station a few blocks north to create a closer connection to the T-3rd line and future bus service to Candlestick Point. The project had an open house in early October, and will present plans to the community in 2016. Extending the T-3rd out Geneva Avenue to the multimodal transit hub at Balboa Park Station is a promising idea, one that creates operational flexibility for Muni (linking Muni’s two rail maintenance facilities directly to one another) and providing a needed transit upgrade in a corridor with some large development projects, including Sunnydale and Cow Palace, that could be more transit-oriented.
The Caltrain Oakdale Station Study found that a new Caltrain station at Oakdale Street, close to the Bayview’s commercial and cultural heart near 3rd and Oakdale, is feasible, and also makes connections between Caltrain and Muni’s crosstown 24 and 44 routes.
A Second Bay Crossing
Transbay’s rail station is being built so it can be extended under Beale Street, and could continue east under the bay to provide a second rail crossing under San Francisco Bay. Such a crossing could serve Alameda Point, a former naval base now being redeveloped as a mixed-use neighborhood, and continue into Oakland. A connection to the Capitol Corridor line would connect inner-East Bay neighborhoods like Emeryville and West Berkeley, and Richmond, Martinez, Solano County, and the Sacramento region, to Downtown San Francisco. A through-running terminal at Transbay would increase its rail throughput, as would facilities like yards and rail storage tracks in the East Bay. Upgrades to the Capitol Corridor could open the possibility of high-speed service between San Francisco, Oakland, and Sacramento.
The Future of Downtown Forum
You can learn more about the future of Transbay and downtown this Thursday, October 15 at the San Francisco Public Library’s Koret Auditorium from 6:00-7:30 p.m. 2015 is the 30th anniversary of the Downtown Plan. Our City is vastly different than it was in 1985, but our plan for the downtown community remains a generation behind. Join us and panelists Maria Ayerdi-Kaplan, Executive Director of the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, Kevin Conger, founding partner of CMG Landscape Architecture, and Joshua Switzky, Manager of Community Planning in the Citywide Planning Division of the San Francisco Planning Department to discuss the future of this urban landscape, how we move people from point A to point B, and its increasing role as a central social district. This is a rare opportunity to take a critical look at San Francisco’s downtown and how it can be shaped into a cohesive and thriving economic, social, and residential neighborhood.