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A second BART transbay tube? Discuss.

Ethan Elkind, director, Climate Program at Berkeley Law | March 10, 2016

BART under the San Francisco Bay is crowded and a major choke point for regional transportation. Monday night I guest hosted a discussion on City Visions on KALW radio on the prospects of building a second rail tube. The audio is now available here.

Some big picture points that emerged:

  • The exact route is undefined and would hinge on further study;
  • Further study would also be required to determine what kind of rail technology (BART, high speed rail, Caltrain, or a mix?) would be accommodated in the tube; and
  • A potential bond issue this fall to expand and invest in BART would also have some funding to do this study.
Time to build another one of these?

Time to build another one of these?

From my perspective, additional rail capacity under the Bay is needed. But the region shouldn’t fall into the trap of putting all the transportation eggs in that basket.  Even if the project moves forward, it will (sadly) take decades to plan and build.

We should be putting our energy now into figuring out how to make better use of existing capacity and determining if there are more cost-effective ways to move more people across the bay.  As Rebecca Saltzman discussed on the show, one relatively simple way would be to convert a lane on the Bay Bridge to bus-only.

And the potential bike path from Treasure Island to San Francisco could also be a relatively good bargain for moving people, if it can then connect to the existing bike path on the eastern span.  Matier and Ross of the San Francisco Chronicle reported on design options for it just this morning.

Meanwhile, if the second transbay tube does move forward, I hope there is serious consideration of policy reforms that could speed up the construction and lower the price tag. Because even with other intermediate fixes, the regional transportation problem will only get worse as the population grows.

Cross-posted from Ethan Elkind’s blog.

Comments to “A second BART transbay tube? Discuss.

  1. These points and the show were so spot on. The lack of medium-term and short-term fixes in the public-transportation network, plus longer term planning and projects such as the second tube must be strategically coordinated, planned over time and funding at least planned out.

    Right now, besides the second tube, we have the electrification of CalTrain just beginning and this will take at least 5 years and then the remaining 2-mile underground tube connection to the new Transbay Terminal, which is not even funded yet. Investing in a bike lane on the bridge and a few other creative ideas that can get done in just a couple of years would be smart things to think about.

  2. One thing I wonder about in relation to this proposal is why it isn’t possible to run trains through the existing BART tunnel more frequently. If my memory serves me correctly, a train currently only goes through there about once every seven minutes or so at the busiest times.

    When I have traveled to other cities around the world, it is not unusual to see a train arriving every two or three minutes. Why can’t we do that here? I am sure there must be some good explanation: it would be interesting to know what that is.

    • A glance at the schedule shows an inbound train about every 2-3 minutes stopping at Embarcadero during rush hour, which is close to capacity. How can they add more? BART has bought new train cars so when those go into service, all rush hour trains can have the maximum length of 10 cars. They also plan to upgrade the signalling system to allow even more trains per hour. These can be done within a few years. However, a second tube will be necessary in the longer run.

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