Make Muni a priority in sweeping transportation plan

While praising the transportation plan released last month by his hand-picked Transportation Task Force, Mayor Ed Lee, in an opinion article in The San Francisco Examiner, correctly noted that San Francisco “needs and deserves a world-class transportation system.”

Yes it does. So does every city.

But that begs the question, “How do we get there from here?”

The inconvenient truth is that unless the recently released task force plan, as well as San Francisco’s disorganized and wasteful transportation-priority process and dysfunctional San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, all change significantly, we won’t get there.

The task force’s plan would raise $2.955 billion, a portion of which would come pursuant to voter approval in November of a general-obligation bond issue and local vehicle license fee increase. Forty-nine percent of the amount raised would go to Muni, 23 percent to street maintenance and repair, 23 percent to bicycle facilities and street enhancement, and the rest to an assortment of projects of varying degrees of usefulness.

But Muni’s capital needs, as revealed by the SFMTA director of transportation two years ago, total $25.4 billion, including $5 billion for fleet replacement and upgrade. Yet the task force’s program would allocate only one-half of 1 percent of $25.4 billion to Muni and only one-tenth of $5 billion to Muni fleet replacement and upgrading. A sizable chunk of Muni’s share would be eaten up by the Transit Effectiveness Project, whose SFMTA project manager acknowledges fails to take into account the projected 34 percent increase in San Francisco’s population expected to occur by 2040.

Only a token 0.7 percent would go to the Caltrain extension, the only project on the horizon capable of reducing the flood of automobiles from the Peninsula and South Bay that crowd San Francisco streets every day.

Could San Francisco actually develop a world-class transportation system? Yes it could, but it would take changes to the current way of doing things. The task force’s approach was to spread the money around in a manner designed to please groups demanding a piece of the pie. Because of this, the plan fails to respond coherently to anticipated population and employment increases, fails to ease traffic congestion and fails to improve Muni.

The following changes would help bring about the transportation system San Francisco needs and deserves:

The task force plan should be overhauled. If a more acceptable plan were subsequently put together, at least 75 percent of the funding should go to well-conceived, well-defined and cost-effective Muni improvements geared toward moving Muni riders through The City quickly and efficiently. An additional 10 percent should go to the long-delayed Caltrain extension. Up to 10 percent (assuming the absence of other available funding sources) should go to street repair and maintenance.

Unrepresentative and mostly inexperienced individuals should not be permitted to define San Francisco’s transportation future.

Proposed infrastructure improvements should be thoroughly vetted and scrutinized before being included in large funding programs.

To provide for more effective oversight of SFMTA policies and actions, the SFMTA board of directors should be directly elected by the voters of San Francisco. To allow the SFMTA and its transportation director to focus more effectively on San Francisco’s public-transit systems, the administration of bicycle facilities, pedestrian enhancements and street beautification should be returned to the Planning Department. For similar reasons, taxi management should be placed under a separate taxi director reporting directly to the SFMTA board.

Judy Berkowitz and Denise D’Anne are members of the group Save Muni. This message was also endorsed by the following Save Muni members: Barry Eisenberg, Joan Wood, Gerald Cauthen, Bernie Meyerson, Rick Hauptman and Bob Feinbaum.

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