O’Rourke Punctures SFMTA’s Subway Balloon

BATWG Newsletter Issue No. 30​

Here is “Citizen/Taxpayer” Michel O’Rourke’s refreshing and painfully accurate response to SFMTA Director Maguire’s uninformed opinion about the Central Subway, as quoted in the SF Chronicle on November 15, 2020:

In an apology for yet another delay of the benighted Central Subway, Mr. Tom Maguire, MUNI director of ‘Sustainable Streets’ gave us the following bromide:

“It is frustrating…” “We made the decision to build the Central Subway long before COVID, and it was the right project, bringing subway service to Chinatown and the most congested part of the city. And it’s still the right project.”

We felt compelled to inform Mr. Maguire that not all of the citizenry share his point of view. As follows:

Greetings Mr. Maguire

Right project? No, Mr. Maguire. I am sorry to disabuse you of fantasy, but is not the right project, it’s the wrong project. Always has been.

Read more here:

It appears to us that the project was never adequately researched nor well thought out before the first shovel was turned. The extension serves a small sector of the population, and doesn’t go anywhere anyone might want to go, except Chinatown, and anyone wishing to visit Chinatown can easily walk to it in about 10-minutes from downtown. Its giga bucks over budget, and four years behind schedule, (Tudor-Perini’s blunders notwithstanding) largely due to the myriad change orders and self-inflicted wounds from the previous MUNI administration. It lacks connectivity with BART and MUNI mainlines on Market Street, and we believe you will agree, or should agree, that connectivity is the linchpin of an efficient and comprehensive transit system. Then there is the fact that the whole meshuggeneh is/was a pay-off from Willie Brown to the late Chinatown political gadfly Rose Pack for bringing in the Chinatown vote. You should have been made aware of this, Mr. Maguire before you anointed it ‘the right project’.

Unfortunately, the hole [sic] unholey [sic] mess has been and is a black hole for taxpayer dollars, and a glaring example of the addled thinking, incompetence, and poor planning that has characterized the brain trust at SFMTA for the last 25+-years.

But if it were the ‘right’ project, Mr. Maguire, it might have looked like this:

  • It would have crossed over from Fourth to Third underground, and tunneled up Third with a station at Market, linked to the Powell station by an underground pedestrian concourse
  • It would have proceeded north under Kearny with a station at Clay-Portsmouth Square, thus serving BOTH the Financial District and Chinatown, connecting with the 1-California on Sacramento to shuttle patrons up to Stockton Street and Nob Hill
  • It would have taken a dog-leg left at Columbus, and proceeded up to Broadway, where Chinatown, North Beach and the Financial would come together at the Grant/Broadway/Columbus hub station. As it stands, Washington is the last northbound stop. (Amazingly it tunnels on, for almost a mile, serving no one nowhere until it stops in the hole somewhere near Pat La Rocca’s. Brilliant!)
  • It would have continued under Columbus to a Washington Square station, thence taking a dogleg left again at a Fisherman’s Wharf station at Bay, tunneling under Russian Hill and on out to the Marina, either underground or surface, to the Presidio.

That is, by my lights, what it would have looked like if it had been the ‘right’ project.

But it’s not the ‘right project’, is it, Mr. Maguire? ‘Right’ projects take keen analysis, intelligent planning and vision, qualities sadly in very short supply at MUNI and SFMTA. MUNI employs 40-planner’s I am told. Yet they don’t seem to be able to plan for the long term, nor are they able to identify contingencies and SNAFUs before they become delays and change orders. Unfortunately, there is an equal lack of clear thinking and accountability on the SFMTA board, populated as it is by political appointees who have little to no transit/transportation experience; and yes, we include Mr. Hemminger in that mix.

Why are we not surprised that this ‘right project’ is stalled again?

We trust, therefore, that you can get the project completed and running before too many more taxpayer dollars are sent ‘down the tube’. Unhappily, we don’t anticipate that the trains will rumble before the Van Ness Busway is complete. But who knows? It’s too pushing two and a half years behind schedule. We are not holding our breath.

Stay healthy, be well, good luck, and all the best.

Michael O’Rourke
District 4

From BATWG:  Mr. O’Rourke is expressing some of the same frustrations that many of us have felt ever since 2009 when the SFMTA elected to subordinate its job of optimizing transportation conditions in northeast San Francisco to the whims of neophyte political promoters. As Mr. O’Rourke (a very productive member of BATWG) indicates, several viable Central Subway alternatives were shelved by the SFMTA without consideration.

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