| A Tale of Two Cities
By Wheelman Apr 14, 2007
There have recently been several public announcements of a proposed MUNI subway line connecting ‘Chinatown’ with the current Amtrak Station at 4th Street and Townsend. I have put ‘Chinatown’ in quotes because it is not clear that there is any exact description of its boundaries. For present purposes I will assume it probably runs from Kearney to Larkin and Union to Bush even though that encompasses a great deal more area that the few blocks of tourist attractions adjacent to Grant Avenue.
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Last month’s column dealt with an equally silly idea, that of building a Cal-Train tunnel from the same 4th Street and Townsend location over to a new “Grand Central Station” complex to be constructed at First Street and Mission. If one tunnel is stupid, how dumb is the idea of building two parallel tunnels in the same direction?
There are plenty of people in this city who are familiar with transit in New York City and no doubt know that there is a short subway line called the “Crosstown Shuttle" which runs east west between Grand Central Station on Park Avenue to Pennsylvania Station on 8th Avenue, a distance a bit over a mile.
When that line was built there were hundreds of mainline trains leaving from those two stations every day; long distance train travel has diminished quite a bit under the ministrations of Amtrak but both stations still receive hundreds of thousands of commuters every day. In addition to the service of enabling train commuters to move from the east to the west side, the "Crosstown" also enables hundreds of thousands of subway riders to transfer easily from the east side lines to those which run on the west side. In short it is a vital transit link that provides an invaluable service to millions of people on a daily basis and, as such, has repaid the costs and inconvenience of its constructions hundreds of times over.
Let us now examine the purposes the supporters of our proposed “Central Subway Line” tell us it will accomplish.
1. “It will link ‘Chinatown’ to the rest of the city.”
But isn't ‘Chinatown’ located precisely in the center of the Central Business District, which is not only the heart of The City but the area already best served by transit? Indeed Kearney, Montgomery and California streets, which intersect at the so-called “Financial District,” pass right through ‘Chinatown’ just a few blocks away. Moreover every major retail company is in or around the Union Square area, which is just blocks from ‘Chinatown.’ In fact, it would be difficult to encounter any similar residential neighborhood in the entire country that is located so close to the Central Business District.
2. “The Central Subway will link the Cal-Train Station at 4th and Townsend to the downtown/’Chinatown’ area."
Isn't that the same thing that the supporters of the proposed “Transbay Terminal” at First and Mission have just told us the train tunnel they want to dig for Cal-Train will also do? Is it even remotely possible that we need to spend untold billions to build two parallel tunnels to accommodate the tiny number of Cal-Train commuters? Moreover, if the Transbay/Cal-Train tunnel is actually built there will no longer be a Cal-Train station at 4th and Townsend; it will be at First and Mission adjacent to BART, MUNI Metro, and all the bus lines on Mission and Market streets.
3. “Building the Central Subway is a matter of ‘transit equity’ because transit around ‘Chinatown’ has been ‘neglected’ in the past.”
In this argument, we can readily discern the distinct whiff of racist claims wrapped in political correctness with more than a small dose of political opportunism by some of our leaders.
‘Chinatown’ is reached by two auto tunnels — the Broadway tunnel and the Stockton tunnel — both of which were constructed many, many years ago at great public expense. They are the only two such tunnels in The City except for the state hwy 1 tunnel in the Presidio. Moreover Chinatown has been served since the 1870s by the longest running public transit system in the country, the cable car lines on Hyde and Powell.
‘Chinatown’ is also served by the following bus lines: #1 California, #2 Clement, #3 Jackson, #4 Sutter, #9X San Bruno Express, # 15 Third St., #19 Polk, #27 Bryant, #30 Stockton, #45 Union, #47 Van Ness, and the #49 Van Ness-Mission. In many cases Chinatown is also within a short walk to Market street and its plethora of transit options.
In short there is not a scintilla of evidence that suggests that Chinatown is not abundantly served by existing transit lines.
4. “Hunters Point and the Bayshore are in need of a transit connection to ‘Chinatown.’”
To state the proposition is to refute it. There is simply no reason to believe that residents of the Bayshore or Hunter’s Point have an unfulfilled wish to ride a subway into Chinatown. Moreover, the recently opened 3rd Street "T" line, which cost nearly $700 million, will not only connect those areas to BART and MUNI Metro at the Ferry Building/Embarcadero Station but will continue down Market Street all the way to Castro. In the course of that route, it will intersect with over a dozen bus lines which radiate to substantially all parts of The City. A one or two billion-dollar subway is certainly not needed to further connect those areas.
Just because our very big brother New York build a “Crosstown Shuttle” many decades ago does not mean that we need one too. The billion or two that the Central Subway will cost could better be spent making incremental improvements to the system that we already have.
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