Critics of the $1.58 billion Central Subway have called it expensive and unnecessary, and now they are taking issue with its design.
But Muni officials say any perceived design flaws were actually practical decisions.
On Monday, the planned line’s design was called unsafe and inefficient. Among the sticking points were single entrances at stations, short platforms that can only accommodate one two-car train in each direction and a lengthy transfer to the Market Street subway.
The Moscone Center and Chinatown stations will both have only a single entrance, which could be a problem for crowds in emergency situations, according to Howard Wong, a former Muni engineer and member of SaveMuni, an organization seeking to change the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s funding priorities.
“So the question is, what if there’s a massive fire, or a terrorist attack at that point, and there’s a lot of smoke and confusion?” Wong said, adding that passengers could become backed up from the street level down to the train platform.
However, Central Subway Project Director John Funghi said every station will have well-lit emergency exits. He said having a single exit can, in some cases, help contain certain calamities.
Wong criticized the decision to use short platforms, which can only accommodate a single two-car train in each direction. He said not only does that limit Muni’s ability to run three-car trains, but it can create a problem if a vehicle breaks down at a platform.
Funghi said the decision to run two-car trains was made by the SFMTA when the T-Third Street line’s platforms were built. The underground platforms, he said, could be lengthened later at an additional cost.
SaveMuni members also took umbrage with a long passageway connecting the new line to the Market Street subway. The walk is expected to take 4½ minutes on average.
Moving walkways were considered, Funghi said, until it was discovered that the underground passageway is too narrow. He said the SFMTA is now looking at rest areas, and placing escalators and elevators in areas that will shorten the walk.
The Central Subway, which is currently in the final design phase, would carry passengers from the Caltrain station at Fourth and King streets north to Chinatown, with stops at Moscone Center and Union Square. Initial construction work has already started, and trains could be running by 2018.
The project has been heavily criticized as being too expensive and producing too little benefit for riders at a time when the SFMTA faces a $21.2 million budget shortfall for this fiscal year and an uncertain financial future.
SaveMuni member Gerald Cauthen said money spent for the new line would be better used to improve the existing bus system. However, he said, if the SFMTA insists on moving forward with the subway, it should be designed to move people around more safely and efficiently.
“This is a boondoggle,” Cauthen said. “But if you’re going to build a subway, you should build it right.