A 100-year transportation decision

The Salesforce Transit Center is scheduled to open for bus service this summer. Now, we must complete the next challenge: building the connection that will bring Caltrain and California High-Speed Rail into downtown San Francisco.

This is both a local and regional issue. For residents and employment centers along the Peninsula, it means solving the excruciating traffic congestion problems throughout the U.S. Highway 101 corridor. For San Franciscans, it means bringing regional rail to the heart of The City in a way that improves the surrounding neighborhoods.

To develop a comprehensive plan for moving forward, the San Francisco Planning Department initiated the Rail Alignment Benefits (RAB) Study in 2014 and convened a Citizens Working Group (CWG) in 2016. It has been my pleasure to serve as the chair of this project’s CWG, which represents a wide range of affiliated groups, including UC San Francisco, Caltrain, Mission Bay residents and transit advocates.

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This study has strengthened the resolve of both city officials and community members that the downtown extension must be built as soon as possible, and it points the way forward. The RAB study has considered various rail alignment options, including maintaining the current surface-level rail up to Townsend Street, tunneling beneath Pennsylvania Avenue back to 25th Street and tunneling under Third Street through Mission Bay.

All these options were studied through multiple perspectives, including: engineering feasibility, urban placemaking and scheduling. These perspectives allowed us to answer key questions: How can we make our neighborhoods more livable? Will changes delay other projects? How much will a downtown extension really cost?

The study also considered how many people could be served, the impacts on neighborhood connectivity and the ability to free up land for other uses such as housing, parks and open space.

The CWG worked closely with the Planning Department to identify community priorities and concerns and to provide context for recommendations during the next phase of the Study. The Planning Department has also been working closely with partner agencies of Caltrain, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the California High-Speed Rail Authority and the California State Transportation Authority.

The CWG’s unanimous conclusions from the RAB study find that tunneling the Caltrain and High-Speed Rail tracks under Pennsylvania Avenue from 25th Street to the Salesforce Transit Center is the most feasible solution and provides the most local and regional benefits. This is a solution that can work for all stakeholders and has the kind of shared benefits required to fund a project of this scale and impact.

The results will be released at a public meeting on Tuesday, May 29, from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Herbst Theatre Green Room located at 401 Van Ness Ave at McAllister. In true San Francisco tradition, I anticipate a lively debate about the elements. But one thing is clear, our city stands on the verge of a once-in-100-years decision as to how we can help our city and our region grow and evolve. Let’s be thoughtful, fully engaged and move forward together.

Ron Miguel is the current chair of the Rail Alignment Benefits Citizens Working Group and a past president of the San Francisco Planning Commission.

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