Alexander Clark Real Estate

‘The Front Steps’: How the New Central Subway Could Have Been The Richmond’s

In San Francisco’s easternmost neighborhoods, the big news transit-wise is that the long (long) delayed Central Subway is tremblingly close to opening to the public, connecting Chinatown to Third Street via a new north-south underground corridor.

But every time SF embarks on any new railway venture, the question always persists: What about the Richmond?

Geary Boulevard is SF’s busiest byway outside of Market Street, and the Richmond packs in more than 66,000 residents who are separated from downtown by only a few miles of geography, but seemingly in a world apart when it comes to mass transit options.

A Geary Street Muni rail line–or better yet, a subway–seems like a no-brainer. Richmond realtors and home sellers would appreciate the attention paid to the neighborhood as much anybody: Not only does public transit usually boost home values, but it illustrates that City Hall wants to invest in the Richmond, which can only encourage homebuyers to do the same.

But it’s never to be: San Francisco has long speculated about laying new tracks our way, but ambition never quite translates to reality.

(The Central Subway under construction. Photos by Robert Pierce)

We did come tantalizingly close just a generation ago: In 1989, SF voters back Proposition B, an ordinance establishing a 1.5 cent sales tax to fund new public transit projects.

Among the proposals considered under the Prop B largesse was, yes, a Geary corridor rail line, with surface and underground options teased.

But as onetime Muni managers Peter Straus and Duncan J. Watry wrote in their post-mortem years later, “Proposition B contained only enough local funds to build one corridor” but not all of them.

And, tragically, “neither the residential nor the business community in the [Richmond] had gotten together strongly behind the project”–so it never happened.

Where did the Prop B money go instead? To Third Street, creating the very T Muni line now connected to the incoming Central Subway! Not only did Third Street eat our lunch, but decades later they got a second helping too. We can only imagine what kind of similar expansion the Geary line might be seeing now if it had manifested instead.

(Photos by Robert Pierce)

Today, even many who voted for Prop B probably don’t remember that it could have gone another way: The money was there and the plans were laid, but it stalled on the five-yard line.

And it could all be starting again: Just a few months ago, SFMTA staff floated new suggestions for a Muni light rail line connecting the Richmond to downtown. But it’s barely more than a dream for the time being.

Will the dream ever become reality? Like the 38 Geary, it seems like our transit hopes are always perpetually just about to arrive.

4 replies »

  1. Yea imagine a subway that goes down California meets Geary at 20th and 25th before it turns south and travels down Fulton to Ocean Beach. Just like the old trains that got torn up when buses arrived and automobiles became the mode of travel. Imagine if we had invested in infrastructure for mass transportation by trains, instead of investing in infrastructure to support automobiles. There used to be a train the went to Pacifica back in the day.

    Making humans economic units essentially subsidizes a lot of destructive industries that must have population growth in order to avoid stagnation. We hide behind equations and ideology while the world transforms into something inhospitable for human survival.


  2. I agree a subway running from the transbay terminal to a stop at Union Square and continuing as a subway under Geary Blvd.


  3. how about simply timing the lights and giving preference to Geary over cross streets? Lets see if theSFMTA can start there. It’s nuts that coming home at night when there is no cross traffic, still takes near 20 minutes to go a few miles, because 75% of the time is spent waiting at traffic lights for nobody to cross, let alone the wasted environmental resources (gas, charging, etc).


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