Aaron Peskin Blasts Central Subway

Central Subway Denounced by Aaron Peskin
By Matt Smith, SF Weekly August 23, 2011
Party and former supervisor, has condemned the $1.6 billion Central Subway light rail project that once counted on him as a vociferous champion.

"It's the most expensive project with the least ridership in the country," Peskin told us Tuesday, saying he's withdrawn his support because of cost overruns and evidence that it will be slower than the buses it's supposed to replace.

Peskin joins a growing chorus calling the project a study in inefficiency. Peskin's statement comes on the heels of similar complaints from former Central Subway backer Jake McGoldrick, a scathing July report from the San Francisco Grand Jury, and a recent Wall Street Journal editorial saying "the subway is a case study in government incompetence and wasted taxpayer money."

Muni spokesman Paul Rose sent an e-mail to SF Weekly, defending the project:

The Central Subway project is the result of extensive community feedback and planning and will improve quality of life through travel time, savings, and increased mobility. It will carry an estimated 43,900 passengers everyday, relieve surface congestion along the Stockton Street corridor, and serve as a vital transit link in the Financial District and Chinatown -- two of the most dense areas in the City. The project will also reduce travel times from Chinatown to the Caltrain station from approximately 20 minutes to eight minutes.

Since 2003, I've been writing columns exploring the ways the Central Subway would squander money while actually worsening passengers ability to get where they're going on time.

During the past few months, more people have come around to my way of thinking.

In July Civil Grand Jury warned that the subway's costs "could stretch the existing maintenance environment to the breaking point," echoing my 2007 column stating "The Central Subway project will not significantly improve our ability to get from one place to another, and it will make the city's public transportation system more expensive to run and maintain. In addition, its rationale is based on bogus financing and ridership numbers."

An August 23 Wall Street Journal opinion piece cited the Grand Jury report, and quoted a transit expert saying that taking the bus would be five to 10 minutes faster than riding the Central Subway along every segment of the proposed train.

In response, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority published an online response saying the project is worthwhile because it will connect Chinatown to the Mission Bay area, which is being developed as a quasi satellite downtown. Plus, the response said:

The Union Square/Market Street Station provides a direct, underground connection to the Powell Street Muni/BART Station via a modern, well-lit concourse.
At least 60 percent of the project funding is dependent on $942 million in federal subsidies -- called a "full-funding agreement" -- which have so far seemed locked up, thanks to Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi's clout in Congress.

As more critics come forward, however, Peskin predicts that Pelosi will be unable to resist calls to cancel San Francisco's tunnel to nowhere.

"Republicans could potentially kill the full-funding agreement, as they see that people like me and Jake are coming out against it," Peskin said. "We were voting for it when its cost was comparatively tiny, and estimated ridership was much bigger."