San Francisco's T Line Never Delivered on Promises

The light rail line was supposed to improve transit to less accessible parts of the city, but service so far has been disappointing.
October 22, 2018, 8am PDT | Camille Fink
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Rachel Swan reports on the T-Third Street Muni light rail line in San Francisco. The line runs through communities along the eastern side of the city, many of which are growing quickly. It was pitched as an alternative to local bus service and a quick and efficient way to move people from some of the city’s more far-flung neighborhoods.

But soon after the line opened in 2007, it was plagued with delays that have continued:

The T line’s problems appear to stem from its design. It hits about 60 intersections looping from Sunnydale to the Folsom portal, where it travels underground to Embarcadero Station and then changes signs to become the K-Ingleside. Most of those intersections have traffic signals that don’t always sync up to give trains priority over other vehicles.

In addition, says Swan, trains are slowed down by cars making illegal left-hand turns and on parts of route where trains share roads crowded with vehicle traffic.

Plans to improve service include using software to help trains get through lights and intersections more easily, addressing problem points on the route, and increasing train capacity by adding additional cars.

With the rapid growth in development in neighborhoods along the route and the demand in ridership that will result, whether these changes will fix the T line’s problems remains to be seen. In addition, residents say 23rd Street in the Dogpatch neighborhood marks the end of gentrification in the area, and they wonder if service improvements will benefit lower-income and more isolated communities to the south.

“Even so, politicians and transit officials still champion the T as a great social equalizer, saying it could pump business into the city’s most neglected neighborhoods and give those residents a quick link to the downtown core,” says Swan. 

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Published on Monday, October 15, 2018 in San Francisco Chronicle
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