Monday, August 20, 2007

San Francisco's Billion-Dollar Bus Station

Entries are in for the contest to design the new Transbay Transit Center, a replacement for the somewhat dingy terminal once used by Key System, IER, and Sacramento Northern bridge trains, and for the last half century by AC Transit transbay busses.

The designs all feature spectacular towers, like this:


All this design lacks is the flaming eye of Sauron floating between its spires.

and Grand Entranceways:


Imagine this on a typical (cold and windy) San Francisco morning--and don't forget the sleeping winos!

Whatever you think of this as architecture, it doesn't do much to improve transit service. Although the terminal is the intended endpoint for an extension of CalTrain to downtown, that's really a separate, so-far unfunded project. Transbay bus riders may have a classier place to wait, but it's not at all clear to me why, with BART and ferries, transbay busses are even necessary--perhaps all this money might be better spent improving transit connections in the East Bay to make BART more convenient to get to.

Only in San Francisco could this project, which promises no improvements to speed, capacity, or ridership, be hailed as a great improvement to public transit. But however you look at it--as a billion dollar bus station, or as a train station without trains, or as (most honestly, in my opinion) as a real estate deal masquerading as a transit project--it's another example of the type of "investment into transit" that our region's leaders prefer--ones that boost civic and personal pride, and enrich developers, but address the needs of the transit-riding public only as an afterthought.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

The Transbay Tower is proposed as a way to fund the Transbay Terminal project. That area needs to be redeveloped anyhow, and the funding obtained through this development would be reinvested to the project, something that is not very common for transit projects. Although the train portion is underfunded, construction of the new terminal is needed to faciliate rail extension.

Transbay buses are necessary because BART has limited capacity and some areas are better served by buses. Buses are also cost effective for all day operations.

295bus said...

I've heard a bit about the redevelopment angle, but I haven't been able to find any specific financial information. What I'd like to know is--

How much $$ is the public putting into building the tower.

How much is it going to get back?

How much will the revamped bus terminal cost--hopefully it's a lot less than the profit gained from the redevelopment effort. Does it get us anywhere near close to enough money to pay for the CalTrain extension.

I actually think the idea of using publicly sponsored development to pay for transit is pretty cool--I'd just like to know more details before I assume the people running this project are actually pulling that off!

As to transbay busses--certainly they seem to be filling a need, and your points help me understand what some of those needs are. But I'm still wondering if this terminal project is really the most useful thing that could be done for those riders. Alternatives might be.

Dedicated bus lanes in east-bay streets and/or on approaches to the bridge (I know there are some already) to get busses to the bridge faster.

Ramps from the transbay terminal to SF streets so busses can loop through downtown, gettin passengers a few blocks closer to where they actually want to go.

Improvements to east bay BART stations to make transfer between bus and train more convenient.

New infill BART stations so more people can walk to BART.

Capacity improvements to BART.

Of course, if the terminal project is profitable, maybe it's the best thing to do. But I'd really like to see those figures...

Anonymous said...

No public money will be spent on the tower other than the in-kind contribution of the land by the state.

Depending on the decision whether to sell or to offer the land for lease, TJPA will receive that money for the terminal project, as well as the tax increment from the redevelopment.

Although the project is expensive, the rail extension cannot take place until the old terminal is removed and rebuilt.

It is not advisible to put these buses in downtown streets as they will increase surface congestion. It also increases operating cost by having to pay bus drivers to drive slowly through downtown streets.