Skip to content.

Release date: SFMTA Response to San Francisco Chronicle Open Forum Op-Ed “Going Underground in Chinatown”

*** Press Release ***

SFMTA Response to San Francisco Chronicle Open Forum Op-Ed “Going Underground in Chinatown”

In an April 7, 2008, San Francisco Chronicle op-ed, Oakland resident Gerald Cauthen criticized the proposed design of the Central Subway project and suggested a number of alternative approaches. While we always welcome input from the community, we must take issue with Mr. Cauthen’s criticism of a project that has received significant support and input from the communities to be served. The subway design also reflects many years of comprehensive planning and state-of-the-art engineering.

All of the specific alternatives proposed by Mr. Cauthen have been extensively studied and found inferior to the project as currently defined and approved by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) and favorably reviewed by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). The final environmental document on the project will be published this summer, and construction is scheduled to begin in 2010.

Please see below for point-by-point responses to the issues raised by Mr. Cauthen in the op-ed:

Issue #1: The Central Subway project “will be of little use to anyone living north” of the Chinatown Station.

Response: The project will in fact help relieve the serious passenger crowding and surface congestion of the bus lines passing through Chinatown, which will be of great benefit to those customers coming from points further north. In addition, it must be recognized that this is the second phase of the overall T-Third project, which may include a future northerly extension to North Beach and Fisherman’s Wharf.

Issue #2: Existing bus operations should be reduced to help pay for subway operations.

Response: While there will be minor reductions in the frequency of buses serving the corridor, the subway is really meant to enhance, not replace, the existing bus service. It will be especially beneficial to longer-distance customers. Surface buses with more frequent stops will continue to serve customers travelling shorter distances. The Market Street Corridor is an excellent example of the need to provide both subway and surface operations to accommodate the transit needs of the City. A detailed financial plan, including operating costs, has been prepared and evaluated favorably by the FTA.

Issue #3: The Central Subway will “re-route” the existing T-Third Line to Chinatown and deny residents all along the T-Third alignment, including Bayview-Hunters Point and Visitacion Valley, a direct light-rail connection to the Market Street Subway.

Response: The current plan as adopted by the Third Street corridor communities has always been to provide a rail connection directly between South of Market, Union Square and Chinatown, with a transfer connection to the Market Street Subway. The current operation of the T-Third Line around the Embarcadero and into the Market Street Subway is not a valid long-term solution because it does not provide for direct access to Chinatown and potential extensions further north. In addition, continuing T-Third service in the Market Street Subway may restrict the ability to serve the future needs of the other light rail lines that will continue to operate in the subway.

Issue #4: The location and depth of the Central Subway station located at Market Street is problematic, subway should be shallow not deep.

Response: Station Location-After considerable planning, design and community input, it was decided to provide a combined Union Square/Market Street Station within the two blocks between Market and Geary Streets. Customers boarding from the Union Square area will be able to access the station from an entrance in Union Square and descend to the platform located between Geary and Ellis Streets. Those accessing the station from the Market Street area can use the existing five access locations at the east end of the BART/Muni Powell Street Station on the Market Street Subway.

Station and Subway Depth-The depth of the Union Square/Market Street Station was the result of trying to minimize the disruption to the City during the construction phase. A shallow alignment would require opening up Fourth and Stockton Streets all the way from Harrison to Geary Streets. In addition, there is not sufficient vertical clearance between the existing Powell Street Station and the surface of Market Street at Fourth and Stockton Streets to accommodate a shallow crossing. Even of greater concern, a shallow crossing of Market Street would disrupt all traffic and transit surface operations on Market Street for an extended period of time. Again, based on extensive planning and community input, it was decided to pass under the Market Street Subway using tunnel boring machines, which will greatly reduce surface construction impacts along the alignment and avoid a shutdown of Market Street. The trade-off for this decision was a deeper Union Square/Market Street Station. However, it should be pointed out that many systems around the world, including Atlanta, Washington D.C., London, Paris and Moscow, operate very successfully with deep stations.

Issue #5: Running buses in combination with light rail vehicles in the tunnels to better serve the bus customers coming from north of Chinatown.

Response: Joint bus/rail use was studied and rejected based on operational and safety concerns. The frequency of trains proposed for the Central Subway is one train every 2 minutes during peak operating periods. There is not sufficient spacing of trains to allow for buses to be accommodated without degrading rail service. In addition, the trains are operated using automatic train control whereas the buses would be manually operated, which creates an unsafe operating condition.

Issue #6: Run light rail and buses on the surface until they cross to the north of Market Street where they would enter a subway.

Response: Surface alternatives were studied and rejected because of congestion concerns. Crossing Market Street at grade would seriously impact the current Market Street surface operations, and transitioning from surface to subway operation in the Union Square area would have tremendous impacts given the narrow street width and short block lengths in that area.

The current design of the Central Subway is the result of many years of planning, decision-making and community involvement. Over 150 public presentations have been made to community groups and stakeholders along the corridor during the planning and project development phase. The Central Subway Community Advisory Group includes representatives from organizations along the corridor, including Chinatown, Union Square, Market Street, South of Market, Bayview-Hunters Point and Visitacion Valley, all of which have helped guide the project. In addition, the project has received strong support from organizations representing the communities along the corridor, including RENEW SF, Chinese Chamber of Commerce, Union Square Association, Market Street Alliance and Yerba Buena Alliance, as well as, citywide organizations such as SPUR (San Francisco Planning + Urban Research Association).

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency welcomes continued input on the Central Subway project. Please contact the project team by phone at 415-701-4371 or by e-mail at

telephone311 Free language assistance / 免費語言協助 / Ayuda gratuita con el idioma / Бесплатная помощь переводчиков / Trợ giúp Thông dịch Miễn phí / Assistance linguistique gratuite / 無料の言語支援 / 무료 언어 지원 / Libreng tulong para sa wikang Tagalog / คว“มช่วยเหลือท“งภ“ษ“โดยไม่เส’ยค่าใช้จ่าย


©2000-2013 San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. All rights reserved.