When officials shut down BART stations Monday night to dissolve a protest, many San Franciscans found themselves frustratingly stranded downtown. It highlighted a truth about their bridge-dependent, water-surrounded city -- San Francisco's transportation infrastructure is limited, and when one part fails, commuters don't have many options for getting home.
According to a new animation produced by the urbanist nonprofit SPUR, it's about to get much worse. San Francisco's teetering on a transportation crisis that could lead to crushing traffic and overcrowded transit for the fast-growing city. The biggest issue at stake? The Bay Bridge needs a makeover, and quick.
The Bay Bridge was produced by government bonds during the Great Depression (before that, the only way to get from downtown San Francisco to Oakland was by ferry). In 1972 the BART system tunneled beneath the bay, adding mass transit to the range of options. Yet in the 40 years since BART opened, the Bay Area's population has almost doubled -- it's estimated to grow another 1.7 million in the next 25 years -- but no additional capacity has been added to either the bridge or BART. In fact, with a population the size of D.C. crossing the bridge into the city each day, the bridge is operating at close to its maximum. (The city's already gotten a taste of living without the Bay Bridge when it was closed for seismic repairs in 2009. It wasn't pretty.)
Yes, a huge construction project is currently underway for the Bay Bridge. But guess what? While the the new bridge will be sturdier, it won't be any larger than the bridge it replaces.
The video has some suggestions for how the city can make changes now. Ideas include increased bus service that packs more commuters into an HOV lane, or updates to BART like adding cars with more doors, which would reduce delays. There's also the possibility of adding a second tunnel for transit, which could double as a high-speed rail portal. The organization hopes to continue the conversation with groups ranging from architects to civic leaders. "SPUR cares about the long term solutions necessary to make public transportation a more viable system, and knows how long it takes to make changes at the regional level," says producer Jordan Salinger.
What the video doesn't address are some solutions which might bring about behavioral changes in Bay Area residents. Increasing the toll for the bridge might help reduce car trips, as could creating a congestion tax in the city that would deter people from driving. What about dramatically increasing the rate for parking in San Francisco's downtown? And, while they're certainly not as sexy as, say, high-speed trains, perhaps finding a way to make ferries more efficient and pleasant could be a viable solution for the bay. A fast, comfortable, solar-powered boat to the city? That serves cocktails on the way home? I'd take that over BART.