Big waterfront projects prompt study of new transportation ideas

Warriors President Rick Welts on improving access to the central waterfront: "We have to get that right."
Steven T. Jones

The massive development projects being proposed along San Francisco's central waterfront – from the proposed Warriors Arena at Pier 30 through the Giants' housing/retail project at Pier 48 down to Forest City's sprawling proposal around Pier 70 – will create huge challenges for the city's already overtaxed transportation system.

Nobody is more aware of that issue than Warriors President Rick Welts as he seeks approval to build a 17,500-seat arena with just a smattering of parking spaces. “We're investing a billion dollars in this property, and if people aren't comfortable getting to it and leaving it, we have a problem,” Welts told a gathering of the California Music and Culture Association on Tuesday night, responding to a local resident who raised the concern. “We have to get that right, it's at the top of our list.”

With Muni and BART already at capacity during peak hours, and thousands of new housing units being built in the coming years both along the waterfront and from nearby SoMa down through the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan area, city transportation planners are trying to get ahead of potential problems created by the development boom.

“We're now taking a step back and looking at the long-term needs from the Exploratorium down to Pier 70,” says San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency planner Peter Albert, who is leading a comprehensive waterfront transportation study that will inform the environmental studies done for each of these projects. “What we get is an environmental review that is much smarter because we have all this advanced planning....EIRs are important, but they aren't really planning.”

Albert is looking at everything from working with various transportation agencies to beef up bus, train, and ferry services to the area; using these projects to complete the ambitious but underfunded and long-stalled Blue-Greenway bicycle path along the waterfront; accelerating capital projects that are already in the SFMTA's queue; and exploring a dozen or so new ideas.

“What's also coming out of this are new ideas we're coming up with, things we weren't even thinking of that may make sense,” Albert told us, noting that he'll be doing his first presentation of some of these ideas to the SFMTA Board of Directors on March 5.

They include extending new streetcar service along the Embarcadero to the Caltrain station at 4th and King or possibly all the way out to the Anchor Steam Brewing-anchored project at Pier 48 (which would probably involve construction of new streetcar turn-arounds); better integrating the Central Subway project into Mission Bay and the Embarcadero with new bus and rail connections around 20th and 3rd streets; and expansion of the Embarcadero BART station to increase its peak capacity.

Welts said BART will be an important connector to the new Warriors Arena, noting that the walking distance from Pier 30 to the Embarcadero station is actually about the same distance as the Coliseum BART station is from the entrance to the Warriors' current arena. He said that he's excited about Albert's work and wants to cooperate with helping the city meet its transportation needs: “We have a lot of process to go through and we're embracing that process.”

Funding the needed improvements will be a challenge, particularly because new development projects generally don't pay for their full impacts to the transportation system, as SFMTA head Ed Reiskin and Sup. Scott Wiener have told the Guardian. On Monday, Wiener amended the Western SoMa Community Plan to increase how much developers would pay in transportation impact fees.

Albert said funding for the needed improvements to the area's transportation system would come from a combination of mitigation fees from the developers, reprioritizing the SFMTA's existing capital budget, and securing state and federal transportation grants by developing impactful projects that are shovel-ready, thanks to this advanced planning effort.

These three waterfront development projects alone could have huge impacts. The Warriors Arena would host more than 200 concerts and sporting events per year, drawing anywhere from a few thousand to more than 17,500 people. The Giants' Pier 48 proposal involves 27 acres of new development, including retail, office, Anchor Brewing, and about 1,500 homes. And Forest City's proposal for Pier 70 involves about 1,000 homes, 2.2 million square feet of office space, and 275,000 square feet of retail and light manufacturing.

Addressing the waterfront's transportation challenges, Board of Supervisors President David Chiu told the Guardian, “It is possibly the most difficult and important question surrounding the Warriors project, and I've encouraged all parties to make sure they get it right.”


And it must be possible to add capacity to the streetcar service along the waterfront, which should not be reduced when the Central Subway starts operating.

More use could be made of ferries for those heading across from the East Bay.

And the new TransBay terminal and, eventually, HSR, will again help.

I'm not too concerned at this point.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 01, 2013 @ 1:26 pm

Sure these developments pose challenges to our underfunded transit infrastructure, but there's probably not another city in the country that wouldn't kill to face "problems" such as these.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 02, 2013 @ 8:58 am

You all will not be satisfied until San Franciscans are compelled to march in solemn procession bearing gold bricks on red velvet pillows with golden tassels in honor of our economic overlords.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 02, 2013 @ 9:22 am

I completely agree.

If there is one opportunity this city has been presented throughout its history, its being faced with massive infrastructural challenges and giant waves of immigration — all of which have only lead to building a stronger, more innovative and ultimately nicer place to live.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 04, 2013 @ 10:43 am

alleged problems like "peak oil", "food shortage", global "warming" and housing issues.

It's people that make up these pseudo-problems and it's people who solve them

Posted by Guest on Mar. 04, 2013 @ 11:03 am

It's hard to tell whether you're being sarcastic or just crazy, but the problems you identified are all real, and it's a fantasy to believe technology will save us from issues raised by over-consumption, over-population, fininte natural resources, and the unsustainable expansion of humans' footprint on this planet. You, Guest, apparently have a God-complex rather than an understanding that humans need to find a way to live in harmony with the natural world.

Posted by steven on Mar. 04, 2013 @ 11:51 am

Projections for the future have a tendency to be wrong, or at best right for the wrong reasons.

What's interesting about the predictions when JFK was president was that they predicted things that now still seem ridiculous, like three-day weeks due to technology, or vacations to Mars. But there were no predictions about cell phones or the internet, which have happened and which revolutionized life.

Predictions more than a decade or two out tend to predict wild changes but the reality is that what really happens is slow, steady progress in what we already do.

So land phones become cell phones.

Paper tape and punch cards become the internet

Gas guzzlers become hybrids and electric cars.

It's incremental change, not revolution.

It's 40 years since I first heard of "peak oil" and in 2013 the amount of reserves of energy is twice what it was in 1973, even tho we have been consuming it for 40 years. Shale, fracking, offshore, LPG, clean coal etc. have all disproven the gainsayers who said we were all doomed.

I have faith in human ingenuity. You?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 04, 2013 @ 12:20 pm

All of the "solutions" you mentioned create new sets of problems, all while exacerbating the more fundamental problems that underlie them. Coal ("clean coal" is still a speculative fantasy by politicians expecting easy answers), shale, offshore oil, and fracking all add to global warming, and they do nothing to replace what is still a finite natural resource that we're rapidly burning through. Do you think fossil fuel is a renewable resource? Is climate change just a hoax? For that matter, do hybrids help with traffic congestion? No, nothing you've said makes any sense except in self Republican fantasy land. 

Now, it's true that change happens incrementally, but you seem to believe that all change is beneficial. Rising seas will happen slowly, and there's nothing we can do to reverse it once it hits a tipping point. All ecosystems are in balance and have tipping points, and the latest research shows humans are actually sparking a Global Tipping Point through attitudes like yours. see:

The best thing we could do at this point is return to the idea you dismissed as ridiculous -- three-day works weeks due to technology -- and slow down this wasteful, voracious economic system and ditch the God-complex beliefs that we can endlessly consumer the planet's human and natural resources without ever paying a price for that folly. 

Posted by steven on Mar. 04, 2013 @ 3:57 pm

Lower the retirement age to 60, double social security benefits, reduce the work week to 24 hours and we'll see wages rise so high that current tax rates would suffice to finance it all.

As an added plus, we'd get back another significant chunk of our waking lives so that we could be human beings instead of just working.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 04, 2013 @ 4:20 pm
Posted by Guest on Mar. 04, 2013 @ 5:46 pm

You make my point, the same neoliberals took over the Socialist Party of France as they've taken over the Democrats AND they forfeited monetary sovereignty in the process.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 04, 2013 @ 6:05 pm

reducing the working week has hurt French business, and is now being reversed even under the ludicrously left-wing government of Hallande. Meanwhile welthy French are fleeing to belgium, Switzerland and London, taking their wealth with them, to escape punitive levels of income tax, as high as 75%.

Such policies have failed in every nation that has tried them.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 05, 2013 @ 7:09 am

Hollande is as "left-wing" as Obama.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 05, 2013 @ 7:33 am

agree with you, but not until then. In fact, Obama hasn't really raised income tax rates above the level that W cut them to, except for the very welathy, and they can arrange for all their income to be in the form of capital gains, which Obama has again decided not to hike the tax rate on.

Hollande is leading France towards a massive crisis and, while the US has some debt issues, we are in far better shape than France, let alone some of the other European quasi-socialist basketcases.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 05, 2013 @ 7:53 am

Used to be that way, but times have changed. Challenges in an era of artificial scarcity mean that the costs of a project will be outsourced to those who do not benefit from that project and the benefits will be insourced to those who have purchased politics such that others subsidize their gains.

That's your innovative thinking.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 04, 2013 @ 11:03 am

Evolution and the power of technology explains why the doomsters and gloomsters are forever wrong.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 04, 2013 @ 11:38 am

The NY Times has an excellent piece yesterday addressing your flawed faith in the power of technology to solve every problem.

Posted by steven on Mar. 04, 2013 @ 11:56 am

It'd be great to go beyond development fees. These are great one time funds for infrastructure projects, but we need money for extra service and continued maintenance. For things like Giants games, a ticket fee or surcharge could really help fans get where they want to go by having extra trains waiting for them. Adding a dollar to every ticket would be easy, or even just a dollar for every car... But of course the issue that comes up is where do you draw the line... If we can pay million dollar contracts, how much would it take to help the thousands of fans who come and go?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 04, 2013 @ 10:44 pm

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