27 March 2015

Oh Tube, Oh Second Tube

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

Folks heavily preferred 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 the 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 with 13% each (6 votes each).

With 47 total votes, the poll was a success. However, this year's poll (2015) 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 poll by earning a combined 57% of the votes, while Folsom and Townsend only combine for 26% of the votes.


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.