A Muni M-Ocean View train heads down West Portal Avenue in the West Portal neighborhood on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

SF’s newest subway may emerge on the West Side

San Francisco’s sleepy West Side — from the Richmond District to Parkmerced — is often characterized as The City’s suburb, replete with one-story homes, slow-rolling fog, and many, many, many cars.

But that may change. Someday, it could be home to The City’s newest underground rail extension.

San Francisco is exploring plans to dig a new subway tunnel between West Portal and Parkmerced and also south out to the Ingleside neighborhood, after roughly $960,000 to finish a study of the project was accelerated by Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee on Tuesday morning.

That study was initially slated to take place some years from now, Yee said, but may now start within months.

The vote came at the San Francisco County Transportation Authority board’s regular Tuesday morning meeting, an affair that is usually as quiet as The City’s West Side itself.

Yee told the San Francisco Examiner that Parkmerced and other neighborhoods he represents will soon see thousands of housing units built — at Parkmerced, at San Francisco State University and perhaps by Stonestown Galleria — necessitating more transit for perhaps 20,000 new residents as well as thousands of current ones.

While most of the M-Oceanview and K-Ingleside corridors have already had preliminary subway layouts and conceptual station designs developed, conceptual engineering work did not include plans for undergrounding into the Twin Peaks tunnel.

“This concept has been growing and evolving over time,” explained Sarah Jones, planning director at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

“We haven’t fully made it there yet on what it takes to make this a real project,” she said. This new study then, she said, “is the last piece of that.”

While merchants citywide often criticize transit projects and their impact on parking, Vas Kiniris, the former executive director of the West Portal Merchants Association, who is now the executive administrator of the San Francisco Council of District Merchants, welcomed the subway proposal.

Muni trains often get gummed up in traffic in West Portal, Kiniris told the Examiner. Putting them underground would free up trucks delivering goods to merchants, and make things easier for people visiting the neighborhood by car.

It could also stop Muni officials and merchants from clashing over which street-level train changes to institute, and which to not. Even loading-zone modifications can become months-long skirmishes.

If everything was underground, Kiniris said, those debates would be mercifully moot. “Those fights, they drive me nuts,” he said.

The M-Oceanview subway is also part of an agreement that The City entered into with the developers of Parkmerced. While there are 3,221 homes in that sleepy corner of San Francisco now, that will soon balloon to 8,900.

And those people will need transit.

PJ Johnston is a spokesperson for Parkmerced, but he also grew up among its quiet roads lined by faux-colonial townhouses (and yes, the towers were there then). His earliest memories include Muni’s green and cream-colored streetcars, decades ago, when driving was the dominant form of travel in San Francisco.

Now, developing neighborhoods are increasingly demanding transit.

Johnston said of Parkmerced, “it wasn’t ever particularly designed enough to have a robust merchant life. That’s all intended to change. Improved public transit in the form of the light rail system is integral to that.”

San Francisco State University may also add more student housing in that corner of The City, Yee said. Neil Ballard, who sits on SFMTA’s Citizen Advisory Council, which is made up of everyday Muni riders, also happened to have attained both his bachelors and Masters degrees at SFSU.

“The M, I would say, needs some help,” Ballard said. “As I’ve taken it from state it’s often not reliable and crowded.”

Those trains could become even more packed. Todd David, executive director of the Housing Action Coalition, an advocacy group, said that side of San Francisco is likely to boom soon.

“Whether you love density or hate density, whatever your opinion is, we’re going to see added density on the West Side,” he said.

Despite the transformative nature of a potential new subway, few were in attendance at the Transportation Authority meeting where Yee and his colleagues gave first approval for the funding. And although the study will move forward, no final decision on new subways has yet been made.

SFMTA planners are also working on a wide-reaching study called ConnectSF, a way for planners to gauge San Franciscans desire for The City’s transit future.

Should The City focus on buses and trains, or driverless cars? Where should The City’s next subway and bus investments be concentrated? Those questions and more are the focus of ConnectSF.

Jones said the public showed interest in some other corridors for San Francisco’s next major transit investment: Geary Boulevard, 19th Avenue, and even an extension of the Central Subway to Fisherman’s Wharf or the Presidio.

But by accelerating this feasibility study for undergrounding both the K-Ingleside and M-Oceanview trains, Yee has essentially “teed up” those lines to be undergrounded, should ConnectSF deem them to be the next necessary subway investment, Jones said.

“What do we want the experience for our children and grandchildren to be in San Francisco? What does that look like in terms of what we do?” Jones said. “I hope we come out of that (ConnectSF) process with what direction we’re headed in.”

And that direction just might be out west.


Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect Vas Kiniris’ new title. This article identified him as the executive director of the West Portal Merchants, but he recently changed positions within the SF Council of District Merchants.

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An inbound Muni M-Ocean View train arrives at Forest Hill Station on Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

A passenger boards an inbound Muni M-Ocean View train at West Portal Station on Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

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