Transit Deserves First Priority in Bay Bridge, Transbay Plans

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By Matt Williams and Miriam Hawley

This editorial originally appeared in the TIMES: West Contra Costa County, 5/28/97 under the title "Transportation Issues Deserve Our Attention."

Two major questions that have long-term implications for commuters between the East Bay and San Francisco will be considered by our state legislators within the next few months.

The first concerns the design of the proposed new span of the Bay Bridge--not whether the bridge is to have graceful towers, the issue currently receiving the most attention--but whether it will be designed to maximize the number of people or the number of vehicles that can cross it.

The answer to this question will determine how well the Bay Bridge will operate, for decades, for the people who regularly cross it to get to work, to school, or to any of the numerous destinations across the Bay.

Consider the following intractable facts of the Bay Area's transportation life:

The common-sense, fiscally sound solution to the ever-increasing numbers of transbay travelers is to include HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lanes for buses and carpools in both directions on the Bay Bridge. By protecting buses and carpools from traffic congestion, HOV lanes offer significant travel time savings--a powerful incentive for using transit and carpools. One fully-loaded AC Transit bus can replace 40 to 60 autos on the bridge. In 1962, when just one eastbound bus-only lane operated on the Bay Bridge, buses carried 40% of the people crossing the bridge in only 3% of the vehicles.

Transbay travelers of the future will save time and money if HOV lanes are included now, in early plans for the bridge, when innovative solutions can most easily be integrated into the design.

The second, related question now before decision-makers in Sacramento concerns the future of the Transbay Terminal. The Terminal opened in May, 1937, 60 years ago this month. It was built and has always been operated as an integral component of the Bay Bridge. Ramps that connect the Terminal directly to the bridge take transbay buses above congested city streets, directly to protected bus stops within the Terminal. From its central location, passengers have only a short walk to the heart of the financial district. The Terminal was financed with bond money that was repaid from tolls paid by users of the bridge. It is owned by those who paid for it, the people of the Bay Area who use the bridge.

Nevertheless, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors has voted to demolish the Transbay Terminal and replace it at a new location at Beale and Main Streets, farther from the downtown destinations of many transbay transit patrons. The proposed new terminal would cost many times more than the cost to retrofit the existing, perfectly adequate Terminal.

Taxpayers should be outraged.

Removing the Terminal from its First and Mission Street site will clear the way for lucrative development at this prime location, evidently a more compelling concern for San Francisco Supervisors than the convenience and cost of transbay travel. The final decision about the fate of the Transbay Terminal will be made by our representatives in the state legislature.

Proposals to replace the Terminal at a location less convenient for transbay travelers violate sound planning and good fiscal sense. Why spend several hundred million dollars to replace something that works well today? If today's transportation decisions are made in the best interests of the traveling public, the Eastshore Freeway HOV lanes now under construction will be extended across the Bay Bridge to a seismically retrofitted Transbay Terminal at its current location.

Vital public interests are at stake. Your comments are welcomed by legislators in Sacramento.

The Architecture 21 web site provides a Map showing distances between most major destinations in downtown San Francisco and both the Transbay Terminal site and the proposed Main-Beale Terminal site. This link takes out of the PR2000 site.

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Last updated: June 21, 1997

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