Transit planners to look into the past to plan subways of the future

Transit officials are exploring old transit plans, such as when BART was initially going to travel to Marin County, to see what might be feasible to do today. (Courtesy BART.org)

The 1990s is making a roaring comeback these days, from movies to music, and now soon, in transit planning.

A Jurassic Park sequel roared into theaters this year, the ’90s sitcom Boy Meets World was revived as Girl Meets World, and even the obsession of ’90s teens, the Backstreet Boys and the Spice Girls, are rumored to be contemplating a reunion tour.

In much the same vein, San Francisco transit agencies are making a comeback. Transit studies from the 1990s will be revived for the Board of Supervisors’ Land Use and Transportation committee hearing today.

The hope is to build on prior bodies of knowledge to plan the subways of tomorrow.

The San Francisco County Transportation Authority will present today the “Four Corridor Plan,” a massive study now much resembling a ’90s sensation — it once had impact, and then faded from public view.

But the SFCTA and other planners hope the Four Corridor Plan, and other bygone studies from the ’70s and ’80s, will find new life thanks to Supervisor Scott Wiener’s newly proposed Subway Master Plan.

“Part of this planning process will not just be starting from scratch,” Wiener said,

“But taking all the work that’s happened across decades and stitch it together, decide what to prioritize, and make a comprehensive plan.”

The Four Corridor plan laid out potential rail, subways and bus expansions for four routes in San Francisco: Bayshore, North Beach, Geary Boulevard and Van Ness Avenue.

The Bayshore plan eventually became the T-third line, Tilly Chang, executive director of the SFCTA told the San Francisco Examiner. The North Beach plan also is currently under construction as the Central Subway.

But both Geary Boulevard and Van Ness Avenue were studied for potential subway service. Eventually a compromise was reached on those corridors, and both are now slated for “Bus Rapid Transit” expansions, where buses have train-like stops and dedicated lanes.

Mike Healy, the former director of BART’s media and public affairs department, told the Examiner BART considered Geary Boulevard for tunnels multiple times in its history.

A Geary Boulevard route was included in BART’s initial plans in the ’50s, he said, and then again in the 1970s during BART’s birth. Historical photos of BART maps at the time show this.

Opponents to the second attempt at Geary BART expansion, Healy said, argued “buses could pick up the slack for Geary, and that BART was unneeded.” He remembered the major opponent to the second Geary expansion as the think-tank SPUR, but SPUR’s current head Gabriel Metcalf said he didn’t have the historical knowledge to confirm or deny that.

Transit historian Rick Laubscher, who runs the Market Street Railway Museum, said BART’s first attempt to go down Geary Boulevard was thwarted when plans to route the transit agency to the Marin area fell through. Tilly Chang said San Mateo County backed out of early BART plans, making expansion to Marin “unable to pencil” financially.

Laubscher said “It didn’t come close to happening.”

Through the years, former BART Director James Fang touted his own plans to route BART to Geary Boulevard, though those plans were never realized.

San Francisco has a history of fighting public transportation projects tooth and nail, Laubscher said. He remains hopeful.

“We’re probably in a higher level of public acceptance for spending public money on [transit] than I’ve seen in my lifetime,” Laubscher said, “and I’m not young”.

Chang said the practical need for more transit is great, as “we have explosive growth coming, and unmet [transit] demands in every neighborhood.”

That’s why, Wiener said, he’s looking forward to learning from the subway plans of the past to craft the subway plans of the future.

The committee hearing is today at 1:30 p.m., and Wiener’s Subway Master Plan is expected to go before the Board of Supervisors within two weeks after of the hearing.

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