Rescue Muni Transit Expansion & Upgrade Plan

Discussion Draft 1.0 for 5/31/01 SPUR Lunchtime Forum

By Dan Krause, Andrew Sullivan and Eric Carlson. Graphics by David Vasquez

Updated 5/31/01

Table of Contents

I. Introduction

II. Principles

III. Transit Expansion Network

a. Rail

b. Bus Rapid Transit

c. Streetcars / Cable Cars

IV. Project Recommendations (in four phases)

a. Phase 1 (2001-2005)

b. Phase 2 (2006-2010)

c. Phase 3 (2011-2015)

d. Phase 4 (2016-2030)

V. Transit-Oriented Land Use Recommendations

VI. Cost Estimates and Funding Strategies

VII. Conclusion

Note about this document: This is a summary of our transit expansion plan, developed for the SPUR lunchtime forum of 5/31/01. It is presented as a "Request for Comments" on the important issue of transit expansion and is not at this point formal Rescue Muni policy, though it has been approved by our Service Expansion Committee. A more detailed version of the plan will be published within the next month or so.


    Rescue Muni has created this transit expansion plan to address the growing transportation crisis that San Francisco is presently experiencing. Growing demand for public transit, along with increased auto traffic, has stretched many San Francisco transit facilities beyond their useful capacity and significantly reduced their reliability.

    We believe that this crisis will continue to get worse unless San Francisco chooses to make significant investments in transit improvements and service expansion. San Francisco is a city with very high density and limited street space, with many areas not originally designed for automobiles. As San Francisco’s population continues to grow and becomes more affluent, more and more people will choose to drive their cars in increasingly maddening traffic - unless there is a practical, convenient and fast alternative.

    The Rescue Muni transit expansion plan is that alternative. We have created this 30-year plan to significantly expand all modes of rapid transit service in San Francisco, with the goal of providing citywide service that is much faster, more comfortable, and more reliable than the Muni of today. This is a choice that makes sense for San Francisco, a dense, urban, pedestrian-oriented city with a long record of heavy transit use. It also conforms to the mandate of the voters in 1999’s Proposition E, to make service faster, more convenient, and more reliable.

    Our plan uses a combination of rail, rapid bus, historic streetcar, and cable car projects to provide rapid transit coverage throughout San Francisco, even in areas where rail investment does not make sense. It takes advantage of San Francisco’s transit-first policy, overwhelmingly approved by the voters in 1999, to finally allocate sufficient street space to move transit riders more quickly than auto traffic - a much more efficient use of the streets. Passengers will see results very quickly. While this plan includes rail projects that will take many years to build, it also includes 8 lines of rapid bus service that can be in operation by 2005.

    Our plan is intentionally a bold one. We feel now is the time to lay out San Francisco’s ideal transit system: a system that most people will find so attractive that they will prefer to take transit instead of driving. Our recommendations are also mindful of constraints to funding, but they do not accept today’s levels of transit investment. The plan is structured in a realistic way that allows for relatively inexpensive short-term projects to be completed under today’s funding environment, while it acknowledges that the larger and more expensive proposals will require additional funding sources.

    To truly achieve all the goals of this plan, and to improve transit around the City to "world class," there will need to be a continued paradigm shift in regards to our local, state, and national transportation priorities. To be clear, we feel strongly that much of the funding currently spent on highways could be used instead to move more people more quickly on urban and interurban transit services. Plans like ours will help this process of change, in our opinion; we will be asking San Franciscans and their elected officials to do their part in securing large increases in funding for transit.


In designing this program, Rescue Muni has considered several important design principles for better public transit service. We did not just draw lines on a map; instead, we considered carefully existing and projected transit demand, and we looked at the areas where upgrades would have the most positive impact on service. Our objective is to recommend service expansion where it is most viable, and also to develop a rapid-service network that is useful for travel to key destinations and citywide. We are looking to build a network that is:

Many current elements of Muni’s transit network meet some or all of these criteria. However, we would like to upgrade the entire network so that customers citywide can depend on Muni for a high level of service, saving valuable time and reducing their need to sit in traffic.


Our plan creates a new rapid transit network for San Francisco, using three modes of service. When combined with Muni’s current light rail service, this network will provide fast service to most major neighborhoods of the city. We anticipate that regular buses will serve as feeder connections or main lines in areas where these options are not practical.

We are recommending service expansion using the following three modes:

      Rail (including light-rail & heavy rail) Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Historic Streetcars (Including Cable Cars)

      In addition, we are recommending incremental improvements to existing service, to be implemented in the initial phase:

      Improve Existing Buses & Light-Rail Service

We will first discuss the modes that we are recommending, and then we will describe the corridors where we are planning service and the phases of service expansion in some detail. (A more detailed report will be forthcoming shortly.)


An expansion of light rail and heavy rail lines is crucial to meeting transportation needs for San Francisco and its regional connections. We are proposing a significant expansion of the Muni Metro light rail system (both surface and subway), extension of Caltrain to downtown, and possible additional access to BART. New subway lines will be designed learning from design flaws in the present Market Street Metro.

We understand that rail expansion is much more expensive than other transit modes. However, we are recommending it on some corridors because it provides a faster experience, and higher passenger capacity, than even the most efficient rapid bus service. We are recommending a combination of new lines and modified versions of existing Muni Metro and Caltrain expansion plans.

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)

For major corridors that do not warrant rail investment, or for corridors where rail investment will take many years to implement, we are recommending Bus Rapid Transit(BRT) service as a quick and low-cost improvement. BRT is an innovative system of high-speed bus services that provide fast, frequent, reliable service at low cost relative to rail projects. BRT uses a variety of techniques to give buses absolute priority over auto traffic, making it faster than local bus service and often faster than traveling by car.

Techniques used to convert slow, delay-prone bus service to rapid transit include:

Bus Rapid Transit can be implemented much more quickly, and at significantly lower cost, than rail projects. The cheapest bus improvements just need white paint — and the political will to use it to mark exclusive lanes — but more substantial projects can also be completed at fairly low cost. In addition, rapid bus service can be implemented on a block-by-block basis, progressively speeding up service as a corridor is upgraded. This is unlike rail service, which can’t run until the entire network is completed. In addition, BRT also allows Muni to acquire right-of-way for future light rail service.

Due to the relatively low-cost and fast construction times BRT offers, we are proposing eight BRT lines with an accelerated construction schedule of five years. Our plan recommends utilization of all techniques described above for speeding up bus along exclusive BRT lanes. Where there will be no exclusive BRT lanes we encourage the utilization of as many techniques as possible.

Historic Streetcars / Cable Cars

Building on the smashing success of the existing F-Line in San Francisco, we propose to greatly expand the system of historic streetcars that will link many cultural, civic and recreational destinations. Historic streetcar service is relatively inexpensive to offer compared to modern light and heavy rail systems, and its popularity makes it a logical choice for several tourist-intensive areas of town (notably the Marina). Also, we are proposing two small extensions of the cable car system that will significantly improve its utility.

Improve/Extend Existing Bus and Light Rail Service

We are also recommending some improvements to existing bus and light rail service which will close key gaps and speed up service which is currently much too slow. Existing surface light rail lines should be sped up and some bus lines extended to make key connections.




Our project recommendations are extensive and ambitious. Therefore we have split these recommendations into four phases. Phase I will include the lowest cost projects that can be completed quickly under today’s current funding environment. Phase II will be quite ambitious and we feel that some projects can be completed with current funding levels, but others will require further funding (i.e. renewal of existing sales tax, etc.) Phases 3 & 4 include our extremely bold "dream" projects and will require significant new funding sources.

Please note we are advocating for completion of recommended projects during the time frame of the phase they are listed under. Consequently, many of the projects listed will have to begin the environmental and engineering studies in the previous phases. For example, Geary Rail is to be completed in Phase 2 or by 2010. The required studies would need to be underway in Phase 1.

The project recommendations are split into the four phases as follows:

a. Phase 1 (2001-2005)

b. Phase 2 (2006-2010)

c. Phase 3 (2011-2015)

d. Phase 4 (2016-2030)


Phase 1 (2001-2005) - Short-Term Project Recommendations

This initial phase is mainly focused on low-cost projects that will help speed heavily used portions of the bus system and close gaps in the existing transit system. Therefore there is a great emphasis on Bus Rapid Transit & streetcar development.


      Caltrain Electrification

      Electrification of Caltrain is required to upgrade this commuter rail line to a high-speed urban and interurban transit system. Plans for massive upgrades are currently being considered, but these hinge on electrification which is not fully funded yet because San Francisco has not committed its portion. Electrification is also required for the extension of Caltrain to the Transbay Terminal.

      3rd Street Light Rail (Already approved & scheduled for completion in 2004)
      We are including this project because it is scheduled for completion in phase 1.

Bus Rapid Transit Projects

      Van Ness BRT

      Muni is currently planning San Francisco’s first exclusive Bus Rapid Transit lanes, on Van Ness between 12th Street and Lombard. We wholeheartedly endorse this project, and we recommend that it be extended to accommodate Mission Street service as follows: a one-way lane (southbound on Mission Street to 16th St, one-way lane eastbound on 16th, and a one-way lane northbound up South Van Ness. We see a rail upgrade of this project as something fairly far in the future.

      Geary BRT

      Geary Boulevard is our highest-priority route for new rail service in San Francisco. However, it will take some years for Geary light rail to be built, and it is critical that we implement rapid bus improvements in the interim so that this corridor’s customers can get rapid service more quickly. Our Geary Rapid Bus plan includes two exclusive transit lanes along Geary with provision for future light rail service by laying tracks for future LRV vehicles simultaneously with BRT construction outside Masonic. This line would connect via Post and O’Farrell (to accommodate subway construction on Geary) and Market to the Transbay Terminal.

      Market Street BRT

      This is Muni’s closest thing to Rapid Bus service today. We advise upgrading Market Street a truly rapid route from Van Ness to Embarcadero by making the following improvements:

        Extend the center transit-exclusive lane along Market between Van Ness to the Ferry Terminal. This may require removal of all private cars on Market (except service vehicles) between 6th Street & Embarcadero because heavy auto traffic in the right lanes would block other Muni lines. This lane must be enforced strictly. Add ticket machines at key locations for faster boarding. Proof of Payment may not be realistic between Van Ness and Powell due to risk of crime and fare evasion, but where appropriate it should be implemented. Restore signal timing. The present situation where buses are not even able to arrive at the boarding island must be stopped. Muni’s timed light system was overridden after the Loma Prieta Quake and needs reinstatement.
      Potrero/Bayshore BRT

      This BRT corridor would run along Bayshore Blvd. & Potrero Ave. with two lanes of exclusive right-of-way. This corridor would support the current #9 bus as well as a new Van Ness-Potrero-Bayshore route, which would start at the Bayshore Transit Center & ride in exclusive lanes for the entire jouney along Bayshore Blvd., Potrero Ave, 16th Street, South Van Ness (northbound), Mission Street (southbound), & Van Ness. The design would be similar to the Van Ness corridor described above.

      16th Street BRT

      This would run from Mission (BART) to Third Street via 16th Street. Rail should be laid for future historic streetcar and later Metro service. Line connects BART, inner Mission, possible Caltrain station at 16th (where Caltrain would have to be grade separated from 16th Street anyway), and Mission Bay.

      Doyle Drive/Lombard BRT

      The Van Ness BRT corridor presents an opportunity to upgrade service to the Marina, Presidio, Golden Gate Bridge, and Marin County as well via Lombard and Doyle Drive. We recommend adding combined BRT/HOV lanes to Doyle Drive, and exclusive transit lanes to Lombard Street. Such a project would benefit Muni and Golden Gate Transit and would enable new, rapid service to the Presidio from the center of town and points south and east.

      19th Avenue/Park Presidio BRT

      We are proposing Rapid Bus service for 19th Avenue and Park Presidio, running from Geary to Daly City BART. This would share HOV lanes with cars but would include signal pre-empts at every intersection, proof of payment and low-floor buses for faster boarding.

      Mission BRT

We are advocating for BRT along the entire length Mission south of 16th Street to Daly City BART. Due to the dense and crowded nature of Mission, we are NOT advocating exclusive BRT lanes. For this corridor we advocate the use of bus bulb outs at every stop, signal pre-empts at every intersection, proof of payment and low-floor buses.

Historic Streetcar / Cable Car Projects

      G-Line to Golden Gate Park

      This proposed project already has wide community support. Service would run from downtown via the current F and N lines to Golden Gate Park, using new tracks from 9th and Irving to Music Concourse.

      E/F-Line (Embarcadero) to Fort Mason
      Powell-Mason Cable Car Extension to Beach Street

Improvements to existing LRV and Bus lines :


Phase 2 (2006-2010) - Mid-Term Project Recommendations

With an extensive Bus Rapid Transit system put in place in Phase 1, Phase 2 focuses on Muni LRV, Caltrain and the E/F-Line Streetcar. Geary BRT is upgraded to rail. Projects would have been studied in Phase I for cost effectiveness.

Rail Projects

      Geary Rail
      surface from Richmond to Laguna on existing tracks, subway to connection with Central subway at Union Square. Then:
      South via Third Street Central subway North to Chinatown and North Beach North, then east via Pine Street spur to Financial District/ Embarcadero Station, with easy connection to Transbay. We prefer Pine spur to Muni alternative of Folsom Street.
      Caltrain Extension to new Transbay Terminal New Caltrain Stations at Oakdale/Palou and 16th Street (eliminate Paul Ave). Upgraded station at 22nd Street. Central Subway - build to Washington Square, not just to Clay Street

Historic Streetcar / Cable Car Projects

1. E-Line Extension #1 — Fort Mason to Golden Gate Bridge (via Marina, Letterman & Crissy Field)

2. E-Line Extension #2 - 4th/King to Castro via 4th St, 3rd St., 16th St. (sharing BRT lanes), Church, and 17th St. (existing non-revenue tracks).

3. California Cable car extension to Japantown



Phase 3 (2011-2015) — Long-Term Project Recommendations

This phase focuses rail only with all BRT & streetcar expansions complete.

Rail Projects

1. Central Subway Extension - From Washington Sq. to Aquatic Park via Columbus and North Point to Aquatic Park/Van Ness.

2. Geneva - From Bayshore Transfer Center to Balboa Park via Geneva. Connects BART, Caltrain, Third street Rail, buses and both Muni rail yards.

3. Possible 30th Street BART Station (Requires further study)


Phase 4 (2016-2030) — Very Long-Term Project Recommendations

Again, rail is the focus of this phase. The projects in this phase are only possible with massive funding increases over current projections.

Rail Projects

1. Extend Central Subway into Circle Line (From Aquatic Park via Van Ness and South Van Ness (BART link) in subway; 16th St. and 3rd St (on surface via existing tracks) to Central subway. (Possible new Central Subway portal south of Mission Creek)

2. Extend Caltrain to East Bay via new Conventional Rail Transbay Tube

We also would like to see high-level studies done of the following alternatives for Phase 4:


Rescue Muni supports development patterns that will make the transit investments cost effective by promoting higher ridership. The following transit-oriented development we are proposing are directly linked to specific projects recommended in this report. Also, Rescue Muni believes development around transit can be a tool in alleviating the current housing crisis. Therefore, we are proposing a significant amount of housing in the proposed development areas discussed below, with a large percentage being for low-to-moderate income households.

The following is a list of potential "transit village" developments that could fund Muni expansion while providing housing and commercial space that is convenient to our new transit corridors. In each of these we would expect Muni to work with the community to develop plans to increase the density and general utility of the corridor or location in question, with the twin goals of increased Muni funding and improved quality of life. (A more detailed list of land-use recommendations will be included in our final report.)

    Geary/Masonic Transit Village (Project Links: Geary Bus Rapid Transit & Geary Rail) Geary Corridor (Van Ness to 33rd Ave - Project Links: Geary Bus Rapid Transit & Geary Rail) Van Ness Corridor (Project Links: Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit & Subway Rail Service) South Van Ness Corridor (Market To 16th St. - Project Links: Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit & Subway Rail Service) 16th Street Corridor (Mission To 3rd Street - Project Links: 16th Street Bus Rapid Transit & E-Line Streetcar Service) Bayshore Corridor (Marin To Industrial - Project Links: Bayshore/Potrero Bus Rapid Transit & Rail) Bayshore Station Transit Village (Project Links: 3rd Street Light Rail, Geneva Rail, Bayshore/Potrero BRT, Caltrain Station) 3rd Street Corridor (Project Link: 3rd Street Light-Rail ) Geneva Corridor (Project Link: Geneva Extension of 3rd Street Light-Rail)
    Cost Estimates and FUNDING STRATEGIES

As noted repeatedly in this document, this is a very ambitiousplan that will require a multi-decade funding and construction commitment, in addition to Muni’s ongoing service improvement work, to succeed. The following are our very high-level cost estimates for the four phases of this program, based on our reading of various official documents about capital projects already in the pipeline. We invite your comments on this section in particular over the next several months.

We are estimating a total cost of $8.5 billion for this 30-year service expansion program. This is broken down into phases and modes as follows:








$ 630.95

$ 290.70

$ 62.25

$ 135.00

$ 1,118.90


$ 1,988.80

$ 196.00

$ 700.00

$ 2,884.80


$ 709.60

$ 300.00

$ 1,009.60


$ 1,400.00

$ 2,000.00

$ 3,400.00


$ 630.95

$ 4,389.10

$ 258.25

$ 3,135.00

$ 8,413.30

Note that we are more sure of the costs associated with projects in the earlier phases (the Rapid Bus projects in particular) and less sure of the costs of Caltrain and BART expansion, in particular the proposed new transbay tube.

Some of this program is already funded in Muni’s capital improvement program (e.g. the Third Street light rail project and part of the Central Subway as far as Sacramento Street); however, the vast majority of the program will require additional funding from local as well as state and federal sources. We expect that a significant portion of this money will need to be raised locally; to build phases one and two, for example, the total cost is almost $4 billion; we would expect that at least $1-2 billion would need to be raised from San Francisco and regional sources.

(Note that this is figure, while large, is similar in scale to Muni’s current 20 year capital improvement program, $6.5 billion, and also Santa Clara County’s recently adopted BART and other transit expansion program,approximately $6 billion.)

For phases three and four (particularly the new transbay tube, but also several of the subway projects), we would need a significant new source of funding that would probably only be available via re-allocation of regional highway dollars, which we understand is a fairly difficult task politically. We would argue that our best chance of success here will come from the increased demand for transit and rail expansion region-wide as well as the successful completion of the first phases.

We propose several strategies to raise local funding for transit expansion. A successful transit expansion initiative would by necessity include several of these:

    Sales Tax: This offers the biggest bang for the buck. Renewal of the current 1/2 cent sales tax, currently scheduled to expire in 2009, is absolutely critical. Another half-cent sales tax for transit would double the amount currently dedicated to Muni; we feel that this would have a strong chance of passage if tied to a strong Muni expansion program. Parking Tax: This tax already funds Muni operations, but it could be increased to pay for service expansion - and this would also have the effect of reducing traffic. Joint Development: Muni has the potential to develop lands it owns near new transit service, as discussed above, and use the proceeds to fund service expansion. Tax Increment Financing: This not only encourages transit-oriented development, but the tax increment from transit-oriented development zones may be reserved for transit. This can work well with a program of up-zoning in transit corridors. Regional gasoline tax: This could be introduced throughout the nine-county Bay Area for transit improvements. Congestion road pricing: San Francisco and Caltrans could raise bridge tolls much higher at rush hour or (at greater political cost) create a downtown street pricing zone. MTC Funds: San Francisco should demand more equitable distribution to San Francisco of transportation dollars by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. Funding should consider daytime populations not just ‘census’ populations. BART Contribution: San Francisco should demand its overdue share of BART expansion money used to fund Muni rail.

It is our understanding that the frequently proposed downtown transit assessment district (similar to the one defeated in 1994’s Proposition O) would not be legal under Proposition 218. A citywide assessment is an option, but this too may not be possible under Proposition 218. We would be interested in comments from knowledgeable parties on this issue.


San Francisco needs better public transit. This is quite clear. The increased demand for transit service, along with increased auto traffic, tell us that there is a need for improvements to our transit system. While it is essential to make the current system more reliable, as the people of San Francisco voted in 1999’s Proposition E, we also feel that it is important to expand San Francisco’s rapid transit capacity to meet this increased demand.

Our plan of rapid bus, light rail, streetcar, Caltrain, and BART expansions is an aggressive one, and we understand that San Franciscans would need to make public transit a major priority in order to fund it. But we believe strongly that this is the right choice. San Francisco is such a pleasant city in part because it is a walking city — and for this to continue in the face of population and income growth, it needs a world-class public transit system. We believe that our new transit network, the first phase of which would be running in five years, would be a major step in this direction. We hope to receive your feedback — and ultimately your support.