27 March 2015

Oh Tube, Oh Second Tube

...take me north on a numbered street to GearyLand.

Folks heavily preferred the 2nd Street and 3rd Street in this year's poll on Transbay Tube alignments. At least that's what the poll results of the Second 2nd Transbay Tube Alignment through SoMa Poll find. Nine months ago, I polled several 2nd Tube alignments when Townsend and Folsom alignments virtually tied for first place. For this year's poll, "East-West" alignments (Folsom and Townsend) duked it out with the new upstart "North-South" alignments (3rd St and 2nd St). A bonus choice for Pier 70 and Potrero Hill was given modest attention.

Possible Mission Bay/Third St station location for a 2nd St/Post alignment. Image: Google StreetView
On the face of it, the 3rd St - Union Square alignment won the poll with 30% (14 votes) of the 47 responses. However, with 27% (13 votes), the 2nd St - Post Mission Rock alignment was virtually tied with 3rd St - Union Square. Potrero Pier 70 - Van Ness came in third place with 17% (8 votes), while Folsom - Powell, and Townsend - Division tied for last with13% each (6 votes each).

With 47 total votes, the poll was a success. However, this year's 2015 poll only received about half as many votes as the 2014 poll, which received 93 votes. Does that mean anything significant? Probably only that I promoted the 2014 poll much more than the 2015 poll. The bigger the outreach, the more feedback. Lesson learned.

Analyzing the 2015 poll data more, we find some interesting elements. If we combine the votes for the north-south alignments (2nd St & 3rd St), and we separately combine the east-west alignments (Folsom and Townsend), we find that 2nd & 3rd St overwhelmingly won the votes by earning a combined 57% of the votes, while Folsom and Townsend only combine for 26% of the voting.


12 March 2015

A 2035 Rail Plan for Oakland

The Bay Bridge and the Transbay Tube connect two places: San Francisco and Oakland. Too often the Oakland side is either ignored or made as a footnote in the Bay Area. With the booming local economy and corresponding traffic congestion (highway and rail), there has been recent talk of building a Second Transbay Tube (#2ndTransbay). Much of the talk, (Urban Life Signs included) has centered on where a 2nd Tube’s rail lines would go in San Francisco (SoMa? Mission Bay? Market St?). Now it’s high time to talk about where and what kind of rail should go to Oakland and the East Bay.

Why a new Tube?
A new tube, whether for BART, or commuter rail and high-speed rail, is needed for multiple reasons:

  1. More capacity
  2. Redundancy to ensure a resilient city after a major quake
  3. Reduce dependency on automobile – more transit options
  4. Upgrade the First Transbay Tube
  5. Create more housing and jobs in existing city centers, and other neighborhoods


We are at a critical moment when BART is beginning studies for a new 2nd Transbay Tube, mayors of San Francisco and Oakland have publicly supported a new tube, and city staff in Alameda have voiced support. We cannot plan and fiddle around to build a 2nd Tube for 30 years. We need to develop a host of funding sources, plan the project and start building within seven years so a tube can be operational by 2026. I'll discuss funding, which is critical, later.

Most folks will want to see the rail options and maps now. I have outlined the reasons for a new Transbay Tube and rail lines after the maps.

Factors in deciding where a new Transbay Tube should go

Four-Bore or Two Bore
Many have suggested that a 4-bore tunnel (2 BART tracks + 2 conventional tracks) be built to allow a BART gauge rail line + a standard rail line for Caltrain, CapCorridor and future High Speed Rail. Building a 4-bore tunnel would be more expensive that one 2-bore tunnel, but presumably cheaper than building two separate 2-bore tunnels.

The challenge is that a 4-bore tunnel only makes sense if the two rail lines (BART & HSR) are near each other at each end of the new 2nd Transbay Tube. If it’s deemed that BART really needs to arrive in Mission Bay in San Francisco, but HSR arrives at Howard St, these are not near each other. Likewise, if an Oakland BART tunnel arrives via Alameda but an HSR train arrives in Oakland near Emeryville, a 4-bore tunnel doesn’t make sense.

BART gauge vs. Conventional gauge

BART trains run on a unique gauge (track width) of 5 feet 6 inches. All other trains, including Caltrain, Amtrak, CapCorridor, future HSR, and ACE all run on conventional gauge, which is 4 feet 8 ½ inches. Due to the uniqueness of BART’s gauge, its capital and operational costs are higher than a standard gauge subway/metro system. A new BART rail line could have standard gauge, however, it could not interoperate with the original BART lines. A cost-benefit analysis should be made to determine whether a new BART line in a new Tube should be made to BART gauge or Conventional gauge.

Rail Service
Whatever gets built, transit rail service between San Francisco and Oakland should be planned for all modes. A comprehensive look at Transbay crossings is necessary (and is happening). Any new Transbay Tube should be part of a plan that includes not just BART, but also Caltrain, CapCorridor, future High-Speed Rail and a future Eastshore Rail service. All of these services could use a new Second Transbay Tube.

The Proposals
I've put together four rail alignment proposals. One is based on alignments presented by BART. Others incorporate ideas that I have heard from other folks or I have considered myself. All of the proposals have the following:
  1. A High Speed Rail station in Oakland (in or near downtown)
  2. Rail lines that could interlink with BART's existing rail lines.
  3. Lines that pass through Downtown Oakland, Alameda, and sometimes Emeryville
Finally, note that many of the ideas and alignment pieces presented below can be mixed and matched. Rail on I-980 could be BART or conventional rail or both. Likewise the MacArthur Eastmont line could be conventional rail or BART rail. If it were conventional rail, in most instances it would be served by commuter rail/metro rail with an overhead catenary wire. But the technology is less important. For this reason, the rail lines are not distiguished between BART gauge and conventional gauge. 

The Basic: Oakland Alameda - Jack London Plan
This plan is based on vague alignments being considered by BART in its BART Metro Vision. The proposal has two transbay tubes: a BART tube connecting at Jack London Square and near Fruitvale, and a High Speed Rail tube entering Oakland just south of Emeryville. The existing Broadway Tunnel would be upgraded from a 3-bore tunnel to a 4-bore tunnel, adding capacity. An intermodal station in West Oakland is unnecessary as the same functions are served by the new Jack London Oakland HSR station.

The idea for a Third Transbay Tube comes from Roland Lebrun, who suggests that conventional rail should arrive in the former Oakland Army Base because rail from the San Francisco Transbay Center should leave via Howard Street in SF. To keep things simple, let's call this the Key Route alignment since this is where Key Route rail passed before the Bay Bridge was built.

28 February 2015

A Quest for a Cord

This is a story about the search for a flip-phone recharging cord. It is also a story about the Mission, its unique offering of shops and services, and also it's people.

One day, while my parents were visiting San Francisco, my dad said he needed to get a recharge cord for his 20th century flip phone. He had forgotten his cord (most likely since he only uses the phone two dozen times a year). Flip phones were once common but finding a cord now sounded as challenging as finding an 8-track tape player.

So after visiting Walgreen's on Mission and 23rd St we stopped by the most obvious place I knew of - at least the most obvious place I knew of while I grew up. That place? Radio Shack of course! But Radio Shack didn't carry that specific recharge cord. The staff were helpful and indicated that the shop next store might have it. That's when we walked into Cyber Iman, Your IPhone, Computer Repair, Cell Phone Accessories store. This place had to have a recharge cord for my Dad's Samsung flip phone - it has the banner "Cell Phone Accessories" added on under the store sign!

24 February 2015

The Ways to the Presidio - Part 1: Walk in the Park

In the coming weeks I will be "commuting" to the Presidio from the Mission District to determine the best way to get there. Ways of getting there run the gambit: driving, transit, biking, walking and many iterations between each of these modes. I'll be doing some of them. As mentioned in my earlier summary of the commute options, the criteria for the "best" commuting options include:

  1. Journey Time - the door-to-door time by each mode and route choice
  2. Comfort  Level - how comfortable is the ride and overall journey experience
  3. Cost - how much does a daily commute cost? what are hidden costs?
  4. Safety and Environmental - how safe is the route and is it limited or flexible to seasonal variations (length of daylight, weather conditions, etc.) 
Note, you have only one more day to vote in the poll, "What's the best way to work at the Presidio from the Mission?" for what YOU think is the best way to get to the Presidio. Chime in and vote your response for the poll in the right column (only visible on HTML full web version of the web site). Results will be posted and discussed soon - so vote now!
Ecology Trail. Image: Presidio.gov

The Walk in the Park
I took the Muni 33-Stanyan bus from Guerrero and 18th Street. The ride was pleasant and scenic - especially at Market and Clayton streets where it takes a great V turn and you can see Downtown San Francisco and the bay. The ride was inconsequential, and I arrived at Sacramento and Cherry streets within 35 minutes - the last person on the bus. Amidst the mansions of Presidio Heights and CPMC California Campus, I headed north on Cherry Street, passing the Temple Emanu-El, and soon passed through the Arguello Gate into the Presidio.
Mural along Market St at 18th St. Image: Urban Life Signs

The "V-Turn" location where buses turn from Market (right) to Clayton (left) and vice versa. Image: Urban Life Signs

Downtown SF seen from Clayton and Market. Corona Heights is to the left. Image: Urban Life Signs

Temple Emanu-El in Presidio Heights. Image: Urban Life Signs

Arguello Gate. I walked through on the sidewalk (far right). Image: A Year on the Bay Area Ridge Trail
Without a Presidio hiking map on me, I took the most intuitive direction - east on the Mountain Lake Trail (not knowing the name at the time.) Soon I came to the Ecology Trail and headed north into the deep forest of this southeastern Presidio trail that links to the Main Post. 

Ecology Trail begins. Image: Urban Life Signs

Ecology Trail - Presidio. Image: Urban Life Signs

It becomes immediately apparent you are in a great forest and ecosystem with periodic sloped meadows. As I descended, I could see Andy Goldsworthy's "Spire" up above the slope I was decending. 

Andy Goldsworthy's "Spire". Image: California-Travels.com

Thick forested section of the Ecology Trail. Image: Urban Life Signs
Early on, just below Inspiration Point, we could make out Alcatraz and the Palace of Fine Arts dome. My daughter enjoyed the California golden poppies, but was less excited about the near half-dozen dog walkers we passed (nearly 2 dozen dogs in total). She's 2 years old - so you can't blame her. The dog walkers were all friendly and courteous.

Most of the trail is a moderate slope with some sections of near flat slope. I arrived at a breezy Main Post near the chapel. That's where the pedestrian world starts to deteriorate. But hey it's the beautiful Main Post of the Presidio you have arrived at with the Golden Gate Bridge in the near distance. 

Upon meeting my friend, we had a picnic lunch on a nice patch of grass that overlooks the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge beside the former Presidio Burger King. 

Trip Analysis

Journey Time: ~70 minutes
Comfort Level: high comfort with a welcome pleasant physical environment, plus a one-seat bus ride from the Mission to Presidio Heights. 
One-way cost: one Muni bus fare: $2.25 - walk segment was free.
Safety and environmental: The route seemed safe, although I was walking along it in the daytime. The route would be a bit less safe feeling in the evening or late afternoon darkness in the winter. While you take the 20 minute hiking portion - you are affected by the weather. Today was sunny and windy, but not windy in the Monterey Pine forests. 

11 February 2015

Do you know the way to the Presidio?

Getting to work. We all have to get there from home unless we work from home. We have our routine commute or possibly two ways to get there (driving some days and bus others, or biking some days and walking others).

But what do you do if your office is relocated or you start a new job in a new location? How do you get to your new office - especially if it's a place you have rarely been to before.  Namely, do you know the way to the Presidio?

Signpost to transit in the Presidio. Note that restrooms could be transit, just not the kind I'm talking about.
Image: Raquel Lonas
Answer: You are ripe for trying out all the options:

  • driving
  • transit
  • biking
  • carpooling
  • walking
You should try a mix of modes depending on the day of the week, the time of day, and of course how long and how comfortable each mode. You're also up for trying different routes for any of these modes. Weather even plays into which modes to use, especially for walking and biking.

My friend Anne Franklin, who lives in the Mission, previously commuted to Potrero Hill. Recently her packaging design firm, DDW, relocated to the Presidio. The Presidio is a beautiful place - really a park, but it's far away from the Mission, and has limited transit access.

Before the office move, she walked to work, and occasionally take transit. Anne does not own a car. So how should she get to work from 18th St and Valencia? So far she's tried three options: Muni via the 33 & 43, the PresidiGo shuttle, and taking the 33 and walking through the Presidio.
A PresidiGo shuttle and a Muni bus in the Presidio. Image: Presidio Trust
I've made a new poll for folks to vote for the best way to commute between the Mission. Please vote for what you think would be the best: a combination of fastest, most comfortable and not too expensive or frustrating. You can find the poll on the web site version of Urban Life Signs in the right column.

Below is a list of the three ways Anne has tried out for getting to work, then several other ways to consider.

A: Muni-Muni - Take Muni the whole way. 33-Stanyan then transfer to the 43-Masonic and into the Presidio
This route requires a transfer at the intersection of Haight and Clayton. Cross Haight then Clayton. Then wait for the 43-Masonic
View from 43-Masonic bus passing through the Presdio. Image Pawel D via Yelp.com

B: PresidiGo - Take BART to Embarcadero Station. Transfer to the PresidiGO shuttle and on to the Presidio.
Requires a short walk to the 16th St Mission station. Going down to the platform and a short wait for a train. Then get off at busy Embarcadero Station and go to the surface to the nearby PresidiGo shuttle stop on Drumm at California at the Hyatt Regency.

01 February 2015

Third Street 2nd Transbay Tube is the Charm?

Having a Second Transbay Tube is a great and welcome prospect. The tube would bring better access, reliability, and resiliency to Downtown San Francisco's transportation network. In November we learned that BART is actively studying the idea of a second Transbay Tube (see PDF presentation). Several articles and opinion pieces have covered the critical issues of station locations, alignments, cost, funding, environmental issues, etc.

Image: Urban Life Signs
I have to note that the map used to show the basic idea bears an uncanny resemblance to one of the alignments I studied and proposed in my June 2013 piece, "Poll: Where Should BART Go in SoMa?" True, no specific alignment has been selected - and many will be considered an analyzed. However, as you can see in the map, especially the closeup map, the alignment shown follows the Third St/Geary alignment that I considered back in 2013 for my "Poll: Where should BART go in SoMa?" piece.
Image: BART via SF Examiner
Even Mayor Ed Lee has come out supporting a Second Transbay Tube, in his "Shared Prosperity: Affordability Directives" document, which is very encouraging. The Mayor said, "We will begin a regional conversation with my fellow Mayors in the East Bay, Supervisor Scott Wiener, and the BART Board about a second BART tube from Mission Bay to the East Bay." (emphasis added).

Likewise, according to Streetsblog, the new Oakland mayor, Libby Schaaf is on board for a second tube saying, "It will not be cheap… I think it will really reduce congestion. I hella love Oakland, but we do need to think regionally, and it would make a lot of sense for the region.” Even Alameda is on board for a new tube the Public Works Director, Bob Haun, saying he is ready to work with BART on placing a station on the island.

I have my own thoughts on whether a Second Transbay Tube should go through Mission Bay, but let's set that aside for a later discussion. What's interesting is that the 3rd St/Geary alignment (or 3rd St/Union Square alignment as I originally called it) is the rough alignment shown on the map - and it passes through Mission Bay, with a probable stop at Third St and King. Mayor Lee calling out Mission Bay seems to show that he thinks it's important that whatever alignment is chosen should go through there. I wonder if he's considered the capacity constraints of Embarcadero and Montgomery, and that a second tube would do well to help alleviate some of that constraint and also connect to the Transbay Center.

Image: BART

27 January 2015

Muni's New 55-16th Street Route, Where have you been all this time?

Next Monday, January 31, Muni officially starts a brand new bus route to service Mission Bay from the Mission District. The temporary 55-16th Street route will run from  the 16th Street Mission BART Station to Mission Bay at Third St and Mission Bay Blvd. With the growth of Mission Bay with the UCSF campus, new office space, residents and the opening of the UCSF Medical Center, transit access to the area desperately needed.
New 55-Sixteenth St bus heading to "Mission St/BART".  Image: Urban Life Signs
However, Mission Bay with the university campus, biotech firms and other companies, has been quite developed for over five years now. Why hasn’t a Muni bus route from the Mission been started earlier to meet transit needs?

The short answer: Muni has lacked funding, but more importantly, a quasi transit service was getting folks to Mission Bay anyway.

New 55-16th St Muni Bus Line and the unchanged 22-Stanyan bus to Dogpatch. Image: SFMTA
The Original Plans
Transit service from the Mission and points west has long been planned for Mission Bay. The original Mission Bay Project EIR (1998) called for rerouting the 22-Fillmore to follow 16th Street to Third Street, and terminating at Mission Bay Boulevard and Third Street. This was reiterated in UCSF Mission Bay CampusMaster Plan and Design Guidelines (1999) planning documents. However it appears that Muni ran into logistical and funding challenges to have the overhead electric wires added along 16th Street between Kansas St and Third St. I haven’t been able to find the exact history of Muni’s funding requests, but it appears that it has yet to receive funding to for electrification of 16th St that a rerouted 22-Fillmore would require. In addition, installing wires at the Caltrain railroad crossing  has proven technically challenging, due to the high vertical clearance required so trains do not hit the wires, but the buses trolley poles can still reach much higher wires at the crossing.

Year 2015 Assumed changes to Muni's Existing Service in the vicinity of Mission Bay.  Note that the routes marked "1" and "2" are two alternatives of extending the 30-Stockton and 45-Union buses into Mission Bay and to replace the 22-Fillmore's service into Potrero Hill. Source: Mission Bay Subsequent Environmental Impact Report
The Red Line
The UCSF Red Line shuttle has ensured service for UCSF’s employees and students to and from BART at the 16th St Mission Station. Although the shuttle only allows employees, students and patients on board, this policy hasn’t been enforced on any UCSF Shuttle line (until recently). We’ll get into this more later. 

23 December 2014

Mega Sea Level Rise: New England Island and Nicaragua Passage

While investigating what would happen to the world with 200 foot sea level rise, I found the most excellent Global Sea Level Rise Map - an interactive map on Geology.com. Unlike most sites with interactive maps that only go as high as 55 inches or 5 meters, the Geology.com map goes up to a whopping 60 meters! That's 196.85 feet. Close enough to 200 feet for me.

I asked myself one question. Which land-locked countries of the world would become "unlocked" and consider starting a navy or a merchant fleet. Of course this assumes that at the high ambient temperatures necessary for all ice to melt, we'd still have anything resembling a 21st Century country or even the human race.

But let's find out anyway. First we'll look at North and South America.

North America
All country's at 2014 sea level have a coastline. No change.
However, a few dramatic things do happen.

Panama: The canal is no longer necessary. It's there naturally. Actually it's there thanks to the Culebra Cut, created in the creation of the Panama Canal.

Panama's "Natural" Canal. Image: Geology.com
Nicaragua: Finally gets the "canal" that France's Napoleon III and others said it would build back in the 1800s. Actually a Hong Kong company is building the Nicaragua Canal now, so this may be less than exciting in the year 3500 when sea level rise finally reaches 200'.

Hudson River Valley: The sea inundates the great Hudson River Valley and Lake Champlain to become the great Hudson Champlain Passage, separating New England from the rest of North America. It's a narrow passage, but it's at sea level! Sure it's really New England plus Canada's New Brunswick and parts of Quebec. Maybe it would have another tea party and break away.

Most interestingly, the new Hudson Champlain Passage would be so narrow in most places it would be similar to Turkey's Bosporus and Dardanelles.

The narrowest segment is near Lake George, north of Glens Falls.
Hundson River Valley meet Lake Champlain and salt water. Image: Geology.com
Cuba: Breaks into three major islands.
Cuba X 3. Image: Geology.com

Lost Countries: The Bahamas, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, and the Turks and Caicos Islands.