Pictures, Because It Coulda Happened: The Sunset Subway!

If you want a rather eye-opening experience about the history of transit and traffic in San Francisco, then you should get yourself over to Eric Fisher’s Flickr account, and take a look at the wealth of historical documents he’s scanned in about proposals going back almost 100 years concerning proposals regarding Muni, BART, etc.

For example, here we see a proposed plan for a subway for Muni that would have traveled downtown, under the existing Sunset Tunnel, and outward towards the Inner Sunset , and end around 19th. Similar plans in the set include a subway station for SFSU, and an underground system for Geary Street. Geary was also supposed to be part of the BART system too, believe it or not.

Imagine if instead of riding an N Judah streetcar that has to fight traffic, double parked cars, and whatnot, taking a subway downtown instead. Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

But that’s not all. Eric’s Flickr account also has freeway and bridge plans too! Imagine a huge freeway gouging the Inner Sunset, and feeding a freeway in Golden Gate Park. Crazy? Not really – plans were drawn up, and if completed would have meant my home would literally be next to an onramp.

I’ve always said that the history of transit planning and development in San Francisco and the Bay Area is a more accurate reflection of the political, social and economic climate of the times than people realize.

After reading up in history books and archives about our past, it’s clear we’re very good at coming up with great ideas, but then decide to go with the cheapest, short term plan possible, and leave the fallout for future generations to deal with, usually at great expense.

Anyway, check it out. It’s definitely very interesting!

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9 Responses to Pictures, Because It Coulda Happened: The Sunset Subway!

  1. Eric Fischer says:

    Thanks for the publicity! By the way, something seems to be wrong with the link to the freeway map… it looks like some extra markup got included as part of the URL.

  2. generic says:

    Very cool. And depressing. But mostly cool.

  3. jp says:

    A subway stop at Irving & 19th would have been a godsend. The freeway… less so.

  4. Steve says:

    Fascinating. “The People’s Railway – A History of the Muni” by Anthony Perles also has maps from 1931 and 1935 of various proposed subway and elevated lines and a cutaway elevation of a 4 track Market St subway. The freeway maps are really scary. Thank gawd for the Freeway Revolt of the 60’s – the 1989 earthquake would have made a colossal mess of those if they’d been built.

  5. Steve says:

    As I remember, the merchants of West Portal, led by John Barbagelata (Barbagelata Realty) banded together against the West Portal subway from West Portal station St Francis Circle. The cut and cover method of tunnel construction made a mess of Market and Mission Sts, many businesses went under in the process and there was the fear that people would have to walk a few extra blocks because of the distance between the stations.

  6. anonymouse says:

    Looking at these plans just reminds me how bad of an idea the current two-level Market Street subway is. There were plenty of alternatives, and they picked the one that would make it the most difficult to build anything crossing Market, which the 4th-Stockton and Geary lines will need to do. Also, is it really true that the Embarcadero station wasn’t in the original plans for BART at all? Seems kind of odd given that it’s now the single most popular station in the system.

  7. Greg Dewar says:

    @anonymouse: the two level subway was built so that it could either accomodate Muni, or serve BART on two levels.
    Don’t forget that a big reason why the Geary bart line was never put in was because it was ultimately designed to lead to the Marin extension, which was killed when Marin opted out.
    If you look at the original plans for BART, when both Marin county and San Mateo county were included, it made a bit more sense. But once those two opted out (for the usual reasons suburbanites hate all things on rails) it short circuited the system and essentially made BART “East Bay Area Rapid Transit” and well, the joyous expensive expansions followed decades later.
    A big reason building BART down to the airport cost so much was because the cost of the land was significantly more than it was in the 50s and 60s. Add to that that Muni once ran a (wait for it) interurban line to San Mateo (much of which is visible if you take caltrain down south) which was killed once they switched to trolley buses (cheaper!) and well, you see why things end up half assed.

  8. Steve says:

    @anonymouse: Yes it is true Embarcadero was not in the original plans for the BART system. Planned hi-rise development along lower Market St is the reason it was added in 1969 when BART accepted a contract to build the station box. The financial district business community paid for the design of the station and BART threw the $16million it saved by not building a subway along West Portal Ave to St Francis Circle (what a bargain!) into the pot. BART service began on Market St in 1973 between Montgomery and Daly City (a whopping 35 cents to ride) and Embarcadero opened 3 years later after transbay service had begun. Exits from Embarcadero in 2009 were appx 35,000/day – BART’s busiest station.

  9. anonymouse says:

    Yeah, the two level subway would have made sense if they had two levels of BART, but as it is, it just feels like Muni was shoehorned in after the fact, and poorly at that. The fact that you have to go up to the mezzanine to transfer, the somewhat odd situation with elevators and fare control, the looooong platforms which are mostly unused (and, with Seltrac, unusable). And of course the stacked tunnel arrangement makes it impossible to ever build branches off the main subway, and very difficult to build anything across it (going under would require a very deep tunnel, going over probably won’t fit and would require extensive station modifications).
    If I could go back in time and design things “properly”, I’d build BART as electric commuter rail, rather more like the Paris RER, with the outer branches actually running on mainline railroads, and being extended via tunnels to the city. The Fremont branch would run on the WP or UP line, the Concord branch would take over the SN right of way, the Richmond line would probably stay more or less as it is, but with the potential for through-running past Richmond, the San Mateo branch would take over from Caltrain, and a potential Marin branch would have used the NWP line. Muni Metro would remain as a subway-surface system, but with the potential to later convert parts of it to full subway if they get too busy (using cars like on Boston’s Blue Line).

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