Putting transit first

We are finally facing up to the reality that our declining transportation system hurts us all


By Stuart Cohen, Leah Shahum, Rob Boden, and Elizabeth Stampe

OPINION Every day, San Franciscans pay the price of an underfunded transportation system. We have all experienced painfully overcrowded bus rides ... or, worse yet, the bus that never shows up. Now, Muni is reducing service during Christmas week, as it is faced with a $7 million deficit this fiscal year.

Today, we are finally facing up to the reality that our declining transportation system hurts us all. It hurts our economy and it hurts people all along the economic spectrum. San Francisco is a world-class city in many ways, but we have a long way to go to have a world-class transportation system.

San Franciscans want better transit options: reliable, fast, comfortable buses, and safe and pleasant streets for walking and biking. San Franciscans support the city's official transit-first policy, but lacking political will, the city hasn't delivered on it.

By failing to make the tough decisions to fund our transit system, our leaders have put the burden on those who depend on affordable transportation options most. Transportation is one of the top expenses for people living in the Bay Area, after housing, and an exponentially greater burden for those with lower incomes.

Who will be hurt most by Muni's skeletal service this holiday week? Working families.

That is why our organizations are proud to have joined together recently to support a proposal to update the Transit-Impact Development Fee (TIDF), which would have ensured that major developments pay their fair share into the city's transit system. This would have included large nonprofits like Kaiser and the Exploratorium, when they build major new developments that generate thousands of new trips. The fee, probably about 1 percent of costs, would have paralleled the existing development fees for water, sewer, parks, and even art, that nonprofits already pay. It would not have included small nonprofits, and of course most nonprofits never build developments at all.

It would have helped visitors to large institutions have more dependable transit to get there, and helped the whole transportation system work better for everyone.

But it didn't pass, and last week's opinion piece ("The Muni vs. housing clash," 12/18/12) mischaracterized the issue, suggesting a trade-off between basic services and transportation. But good, reliable, safe transportation is a basic service. Just like housing and health care, it's something everyone should have access to, and something our city has declared a priority with its transit-first policy.

Unsafe streets are inequitable streets; low-income people and people of color are more likely to be hit by cars while walking. Underfunded transit is inequitable; low-income people have fewer options aside from walking or taking the bus, and the stakes are higher when the bus is late or doesn't arrive.

Funding transit is a core progressive value. Great public transit — and being able to get around the city under your own power, by walking and bicycling — are great equalizers in a city like ours.

We should be investing more and expecting more from our transit system. Our organizations are proud to be doing just that. It's time to help San Francisco finally live up to its transit-first policy — because that means putting people first.

Stuart Cohen works with TransForm, Leah Shahum with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, Rob Boden with the San Francisco Transit Riders Union, and Elizabeth Stampe with Walk San Francisco.


as some sort of dyed-in-the-wool Liberal; as with any other case of citing a false example in attempt to prove a false point.

Why don't prog-left commenters hold up moderate -- or better yet turncoat -- Republicans as examples of the Rightist Party's thinking?

Two reasons.

For one, there *are* no "turncoat" Republicans. Such changes are done for money and that sort of money power is never excercised to enfranchise poor folks.

As for citing the opinions of "moderate" Republicans, and claiming they represent what is -- or should be -- the mainstream of Republicanism, that is not done because prog-left commenters have too much intellectual integrity. Its a classic troll move.

Posted by lillipublicans on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 9:25 am

that he rejected the public option specifically because of the concerns of his constituents. Such independence and freedom from the party politic is what made him iconoclastic, uncorruptible and responsive.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 9:39 am

"I voted how my corporate funders directed me." And unmask the charade. Less than half of registered (not eligible) voters vote. Do you wonder why?

Posted by Eddie on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 9:51 am

Lieberman is a fucking lying piece of shit.

(...and an object lesson to all the "realists" in the Democratic Party who felt they needed to support him against someone who was far more likely to properly represent their interests.)

Posted by lillipublicans on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 10:21 am

theyw ant something for free. That has no bearing on whether it is economic to do that. Unless you also tell people how much it will cost them in extra taxes, it's not a fair question.

Why not instead ask this question - would you be willing to pay $2,000 a year in extra taxes so that those of working age who choose not to get a job can have unlimited free healthcare - and you might get a very different answer.

The problem isn't wanting or not wanting free everything - the problem is how to pay for it.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 10:50 am

health insurance any more

Posted by Guest on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 11:34 am

Leah Shahum and her merry band of “transit activists” at the Bike Coalition, Walk San Francisco, Transit Riders Union, etc. receive lucrative city contracts for doing outreach for the SFMTA. All of them with their hands out trying to raise more money to line the pockets of their own organizations. San Francisco's public transit system is the slowest moving in the nation because of poor governance, and not because of private automobiles, or a lack of funding.

It is clear transit-first has been way overused and absolutely misinterpreted. Parking meter revenues that should go toward garages and the pavement of streets are instead funneled into the city’s general fund. When no one is looking the General Fund is raided to pay for other projects like the 1.6 Billion Dollar Central Subway. Unless something changes, beleaguered Muni riders can look forward to nothing but more cuts in service, more attempts to raise fares and a system continually plagued by poor maintenance, inadequate reliability and excessive crowding. Even if the city tried to put everyone in Muni, it would be impossible.

The main beneficiaries of the livable city anti-car movement are the so called "Transit Advocates" who depend on Federal grants and private donations as their main source of income. The people who wrote this dubious guest opinion call themselves "Transit Advocates" but they are all about jumping on the San Francisco City Hall gravy train and getting the taxpayers to pay their bills.

Poorly designed bicycle lanes are causing thousands of daily traffic delays because cyclists move slower than cars. The new bicycle lanes are preventing faster moving vehicles, including MUNI busses and trains from moving at their maximum speed and adhering to their schedule. The end result is slower traffic, and increased street congestion that has been legislated, endorsed, engineered, and carried out by the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency (SFMTA) and their political cronies at the Bicycle Club.

Self-Serving Transit Activists do not have a realistic vision for the streets of San Francisco and their organizations should be defunded of all public money.  These so called "Transit Activists" are using the the public infrastructure to add to the public debt and generate revenue for their own purposes. The taxpayers are wise to your panhandling and we are not impressed.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 11:38 pm

It is almost all federal and state money.

I also think you misunderstand the "Transit first" policy. It's really not a policy or strategy at all. It's more a label that can be crafted to mean almost anything you want.

So for example it includes bikes, that aren't transit at all. And yet it omits ferries and planes, which clearly are transit.

"Transit First" is a stick to beat people with. Cars reamin the main from of transport in SF and that won't change.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 8:28 am

Central Subway capital funding is shared between levels of government, there is some local contribution. The ongoing problem is operations where LRV costs more per passenger mile and vehicle hour than other modalities and there is no funding to make up that difference. Indeed, zoning proposals seek to upzone along 4th Street to add even more load to a crimped system that won't pay for itself and will lead to cuts elsewhere in the system.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 8:44 am

it will lead to higher operational costs, especially when the extra revenues are taken into account.

Central Subway is the only good thing happening with Muni right now.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 9:13 am

The Central Subway will add perhaps 20% more service to replace the 15-Third. The 45 and 30 trolley coaches will still run on the surface. The Central Subway is value engineered to not be extensible. The platforms can only hold 2 car trains, it is all being done on the cheap. This and the higher costs of operating rail put an upper limit on how much new revenue can be generated by the system.

I am a subway guy and used to support the Central Subway back when it cost 1/3 as much and performed 3x current spec. Sadly, pork barrel projects like this doom the desperately needed functional investment like Van Ness and Geary subways.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 9:39 am

because of the superior connections and transit times. The current network simply mirrors Market St. so we need a north-south component as the center of gravity of Sf continues to move south towards the ballpark, mission bay and SOMA. All the interesting new development is south of market, and transit needs to reflect that. Plus the obvious benefits for Union Sq., North Beach and ChinaTown.

The CS will be a success. Probably not enough to save Muni from mediocrity tho.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 9:49 am

The connections have been value engineered down to crap. It doesn't even properly integrate with the Market Street infrastructure. And it will roll out at some outrageous percentage of capacity and will be overwhelmed in our lifetimes. Just because you spend a lot on a tunnel does not mean that you've increased infrastructure locally, not to mention regionally, to accommodate extra load. Having a subway run a few stations to a .25 mi walk back to BART or the mainline Metro or to the toy railway that is CalTrain is no basis for the level of increased development proposed. This is where transit meets corruption, it is all about inflating the development balloons and getting out before they pop.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 10:18 am

altho a moving walkway would be helpful - not sure if that is being considered.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 2:03 pm

Point being, adding one more segment to a commute, when a walking transfer from Union Square to Powell takes more time than a leg of a trip from SOMA to Union Square on the damn train, makes a mockery of this infrastructure being resilient enough to support TOD.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 2:18 pm

underground area is there. If you are used to taking the NYC or London subway systems, you'd realize that this interchange is nothing out of the ordinary.

One minute you're saying we should walk more, then you say this is too far to walk. Which is it?

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 2:40 pm

The light rail line down Third Street is a disaster. All the money that was spent and the service is slower and less adaptaptable to loads -- not to mention the loss of parking, etc.

Why are modern LRVs slow? Tandem cars to save the labor of drivers require longer heads and boarding times. The percieved neccessity of high-tech automatic controls builds slowness into transitions between zones -- inexplicably, since electrons are supposed to move at the speed of light.

The old buses used to *hump* down Third street, while the LRV's proceed at a leasurely crawl.

Posted by lillipublicans on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 10:30 am

is a disaster. Why? Because it was built for purely political reasons - to placate the blacks down there. It's the streetcar to nowhere, because nobody ever goes down into those badlands.

But CS serves only vibrant economic area's: SOMA, Union Sq., ChinaTown and North Beach - all of interest to tourist as well as commuters. Win-win.

That said, I'd take a streetcar any day of the week over buses. It also de-congests the streets when running underground.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 10:45 am

I believe the "congestion relief" provided by undergrounding Muni provided on Market Street is a large part of what dealt the corridor's economic vitality such a blow. Former surface-borne communiters were all potenial shoppers who were exposed to the many storefronts -- and unlike subsequent underground commuters, they did not have to commit waiting for their conveyance but might take a minute or two while there conveyance was out of view to make a purchase.

Meanwhile, though underground trains can travel a bit faster inbetween the more limited stops, the bottlenecks where multiple lines enter the same tunnel and share the limited stops slows service during rush hour.

San Francisco would have been better served by more smaller light rail vehicles (i.e. PCC-type cars) and multiple surface tracks, the way Market Street used to look.

But I think the real reason the light rail projects don't measure up is because they are engineered to fail by those whose interest is inimnical to public transit. Take for instance, the connection between the N-Judah and Cal-Train. Each morning car arrives at the station *just* in time to miss the train. Why?

Well, the immediate reason which might be discovered is that the ATC (Automatic Train control) engineered by the City Family's favorite outside contractor, Booze Allen Hamilton, makes the trains wait for about a minute before crossing 4th Street so that their less-than-the-speed-of-light system can catch up with events.

Posted by lillipublicans on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 11:32 am

There will be underground walkways that can be lined with retail. There will be concentrations of retail at the places where passengers emerge at ground level. Everyone will end up at street level so I see no reason why retail will suffer.

The key to successful transit in every major city is to put it underground, allowing streets to naturally evolve into a blend of vehicles and people.

I agreed with you on the 3rd Street LRV because there was never an economic imperative for that - only a political one. We wanted to pretend that the SE corner of the city exists and is important, so we gave them a LRV that hardly anyone uses. CS will be very, very different.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 2:02 pm

SE San Francisco as "badlands" that are apparently empty of humans.

Your comment reminds me of the time I went to a cocktail party in Pacific Heights with my long-time M.D. friend in the late 90's. When I told another guest that I lived in the Mission, her response was, "People are starting to live down there now."

Personal anecdote aside, your choice of language displays deep rooted prejudices.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 11:42 am

Clearly you don't normally invest in expensive, high-density transit in an area with no business and where nobody goes who doesn't live there.

It was an exercize in racial pandering.

The Mission is very different, and of course has BART which is greatly superior to anything SF has, because it is a BayArea-wide system. We should be thinking of transit as a BayArea shared asset and not with each fiefdom having it's own system.

The only transit that works in BART, the ferries and the airports.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 2:05 pm

Muni carries more people than BART. Third Street was put into place to underpin the rezoning of the SE side from industrial to residential, another free gift from taxpayers to developers. Race as rationale for special treatment is abhored, but taking from San Franciscans and lauding the bounty onto the already rich is outlined in Randian Scripture as The Truth, The Light and The Way.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 2:41 pm

comfort. It connects commuters with the main engine of economic growth - downtown SF. BART is better managed, better funded and has a higher farebox ration.

Muni may carry more people but almost all of them hate Muni. If BART ran along the main population density corridors like Broadway, Van Ness, Potrero and Geary, nobody would take Muni. Everyone I know who lives in the Mission, Glen Park or Balboa Park takes BART over Muni, every time.

Oh, and it goes to the airports - something Muni does not.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 2:53 pm

BART and Muni both perform various transit functions with varying degrees of success. That said, the Muni carries more passengers every day than BART for less.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 5:34 pm

especially when Muni has a monopoly in a densely populated city. But as noted, in the few cases where SF'ers have a choice of BARt or Muni, they almost always take BART. Who wouldn't.

BART is a success. Muni is a failure. That's why this 200 plus thread is about Muni, not BART.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 6:19 pm

Carrying more people is one indicator of success.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 6:32 pm

SE San Francisco as "badlands" that are apparently empty of humans.

Your comment reminds me of the time I went to a cocktail party in Pacific Heights with my long-time M.D. friend in the late 90's. When I told another guest that I lived in the Mission, her response was, "People are starting to live down there now."

Personal anecdote aside, your choice of language displays deep rooted prejudices.

I'm double posting because I accidentally posted as "Guest."

Posted by Eddie on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 11:46 am

So if you want to tax tenants for using a garage, or allow their landlords a passthru, then knock yourself out.

Anyway, a garage doesn't deprive the street of a parking place. A garage may hold 1 to many cars, but only one street parking place is lost.

But you are right that cars have to be part of the equation. The big problem with the transit lobby and the bike lobby (who frequently disagree with each other) is that they really see themselves as the anti-car lobby.

And unless muni is clean, efficient, safe, punctual and pleasant (it is none of those) then most SF'ers will continue to own and use cars.

Finally, as a footnote, bikes are not transit. so a true transit-first policy would exclude bikes and include, say, boats and planes, both rather pointedly excluded.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 26, 2012 @ 6:09 pm

Why would the enviro nonprofits expect for the poverty nonprofits to stand in solidarity with them when the enviro nonprofits don't stand in solidarity with the poverty nonprofits?

What's really pathetic here is that our politics are mediated by nonprofits that have contracts with the City and are ethically compromised and incapable of accurately representing San Franciscans.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 26, 2012 @ 7:28 pm

It's surely not the Avalos crowd, who were roundly and emphatically beaten at the polls.

If Marcos wants to relate to most SF'ers, then he needs to start by asking them what they want and not telling them what they should want.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 26, 2012 @ 8:30 pm

I think that care is taken to make sure that whomever gets into power does not represent San Franciscans, the game is one of keep away, and only those who can be bought off with a claim on the tax revenues or discretionary decision making are at the table.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 26, 2012 @ 8:50 pm

most SF'ers want if you haven't asked them?

You appear to prefer to tell people what you personally think that they should want, rather than actually listen to what they actually want and learn from that.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 27, 2012 @ 7:12 am

The process of elimination works just fine. Ed Lee takes care of big business and the wealthy first and foremost. The poverty nonprofits take care of themselves with some minor spillover to help the very poor. The enviro nonprofits take care of themselves first and struggle to make themselves relevant in a political system that has no time for them. In both cases, the Mayor's office and their money base pick off nonprofits from either camp to get what they want. The enviro nonprofits sided with "transit oriented development" and screwed the poverty nonprofits on development takes at the behest of developers. The poverty nonprofits likewise screwed all sorts of transit reform when the Mayor's office threatened to cut them off if they did not.

Please, let us know what initiatives Mayor Lee has spearheaded that shifts resources from corporations, nonprofits of either tribe, back into the pockets of San Franciscans or to make the San Franciscan-facing city departments, MTA, DPW and Rec and Park better for us without also dropping coin into the politically connected contractors' laps?

Posted by marcos on Dec. 27, 2012 @ 8:06 am

that you understand what most SF'ers wants, if you have not asked them?

Is it because you actually have polled them? If so, where are the poll results?

If not, then on what credible basis do you claim to speak for us all? Most of voted for the current mayor and board, and yet somhow you know better than us? Why?

Most SF'ers have clearly stated that they value growth, development, jobs and inward investment. They want to see new homes, new commercial buildings and ventures, increased employment and better-paid jobs. That's why they voted for Lee, who stood on that platform. And Newson before him, and Brown before him, and Jordan before him. They were all pro-development.

You have a grudge and an axe to grind. But you have no evidence that you have anything other than fringe support. You criticize SF Progressives for not listening to the people, but you evidently don't listen to them either.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 27, 2012 @ 8:26 am

Because it is clear that the current governing arrangement takes care of the 1% as well as the bottom 25% and there is no demonstrable effort on the part of City government to return the taxes paid by the other 74% of us to us in the form of city services.

Most San Franciscans have not stated that they value growth or development. You're just pulling that out of your ass. Boosters of growth and development spend wildly to win elections and, as in the case of the TIDF, to call in chits to shift costs from them to us. We don't know how San Franciscans will vote on development issues, but we'll find out with 8 Washington, won't we?

Posted by marcos on Dec. 27, 2012 @ 8:45 am

does well under any mayoral administration.

Posted by Eddie on Dec. 27, 2012 @ 9:01 am

administration either. That's why they are called the bottom 25%. That's also the incentive for them to rise above that bottom societal segment. If they could "do well" simply by living off welfare payments, as in Europe, what incentive would they have to work hard, study or improve their status?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 27, 2012 @ 9:13 am

brings to mind the results of a recent poll that indicated that 50% of Americans believe that they are part of the 1% or will be. The disinformation propagated by the mouthpieces of the ruling elites is unfortunately effective.

Posted by Eddie on Dec. 27, 2012 @ 10:04 am

the rich? Because they hope and expect that, one day, they will be successful and prosperous.

I believe it's called the American dream.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 27, 2012 @ 10:16 am
Posted by Eddie on Dec. 27, 2012 @ 10:34 am

Not everyone succeeds, of course. But the point is in the trying.

Posted by anonymous on Dec. 27, 2012 @ 10:39 am

Getting back to reality, handling the general case where folks don't succeed is foreclosed when the nonprofit advocates are played against one another, the taxpayers are left with raw deals and developers walk way enriched at our expense.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 27, 2012 @ 12:02 pm

The city benefits indirectly, else there would be no rationale for thigns like the Twitter tax break. We do such things because we get back more than it costs us.

You gotta speculate to accumulate - feel me?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 27, 2012 @ 12:16 pm

There is no rationale for the Twitter tax break other than to pay off those who purchased the elected officials.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 27, 2012 @ 12:53 pm

the tax breaks that nations, states and municipalities routinely give to business to attract inward investment and new jobs. You see this trend in manufacturing, services and trade. It's the basis of enterprise and development zones across the planet and is an acknowledgement of the fact that local governments must create attractive environments for businesses to ensure they locate here and not elsewhere.

It's simply a matter of competition.

Ironically, the payroll tax is going away now anyway, so the issue is moot.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 27, 2012 @ 1:06 pm

I think we might just see a payroll tax extension onto stock options on an upcoming ballot, probably using arguments taken from the video of Leal, Newsom and Ma.

This idea of tax welfare for corporations has been discredited in the mainstream media: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/02/us/how-local-taxpayers-bankroll-corpor...

All it is is self dealing rent seeking and political featherbedding.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 27, 2012 @ 1:19 pm

(and only when) it is recognized that a business leaving a tax jurisdiction will cause a greater loss of revenue that than incurred by the tax break itself. It's simple math.

Unless you want to legislate against freedom of movement, then businesses will always seek to reduce their cost base and that represents a challenge to jurisdctions who want to increase their tax base.

If you think we'd all be better off if every major business left SF, then you are delusional.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 27, 2012 @ 1:31 pm

Thus is written the scripture of economic sharia.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 27, 2012 @ 1:51 pm

At least half the Imams would need to be repeat-offender child molesters for the allusion to be fair.

Posted by lillipublicans on Dec. 27, 2012 @ 9:39 pm

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