Transbay Terminal move: More highrises, less transit?

Caltrain proponents such as Michael Kiesling, who devised the plan to extend Caltrain to the Transbay Terminal, have reported that the decision to kill the Caltrain extension is driven by land speculation. The interests of real estate speculators who own parcels adjacent to the Transbay Terminal are what really underlie the mayor's position to permanently evict transit from the site of the Transbay Terminal, according to Kiesling and other activists.

Fritzi Realty Corp. and KSW Properties, through their lobbyist Doug Wright, and Stuart Sunshine, transportation aide to mayors Jordan and Brown, are behind San Francisco's policy favoring downtown redevelopment at the expense of transit. They have sought to relocate bus operations of the Transbay Terminal to a proposed facility at Beale and Howard Streets.

This facility would be one third the size, 2 1/2 blocks further from Market Street, and unable to accommodate future rail extensions. It would also increase bus operating costs. Its less central location and smaller size would lengthen the routes of Muni, SamTrans and Golden Gate Transit routes that serve the terminal. Also it would provide less bus storage space.

Backers of the smaller, less convenient terminal succeeded in persuading the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to prioritize it as part of the Bay Bridge retrofit projects. As part of the proposed 10-year bridge toll increase to $2, $80 million in tolls were allocated to the new terminal.

Kiesling notes that Fritzi and KSW purchased the parcels adjacent to the Transbay Terminal while BART was being planned and built. At that time plans called for elimination of transbay bus service, which meant the demolition of the Transbay Terminal. According to Norm Rolfe, a member of the Transbay Redevelopment Area Citizens Advisory Committee, Fritzi and KSW have been awaiting this event, expecting it to increase their land values. They missed the building boom of the 70s when other developers put up buildings close by despite the presence of the Terminal and many freeway ramps that have since been demolished. In all this time Fritzi and KSW have not built any new buildings on their land parcels, and have considered transit and the Terminal ramps to be a blight on the neighborhood and their property values.

"The only blight in their neighborhood is their property," opined AC Transit Director Matt Williams in a recent article in the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

According to Kiesling, Fritzi and KSW have not made their views known on what the future of the neighborhood should be. Kiesling believes that Fritzi and KSW have no particular vision for the neighborhood besides getting rid of the Transbay Terminal.

Unfortunately the terminal is the only site in downtown San Francisco large enough for a railway station with capacity for potential future suburban and intercity rail. Cities throughout the world have such stations. To visitors from other cities, the main station is glaringly absent from San Francisco. Such stations are centerpieces of many cities' economic vitality.

To date the SF Redevelopment Agency has refused to entertain plans to renovate the Transbay Terminal or build a large station in its place that could accommodate rail and extensive joint retail development similar to Union Station in Washington, DC. Therefore rail and transit proponents are working to prevent the relocation of the Terminal. That will buy time for activists to publicize what they see as wrong with the politics of this issue.

Kiesling, Rolfe and others feel that they have common sense on their side. It makes no sense to put up new buildings without increasing transit access, they contend. BART director Roy Nakadegawa, another foe of the Terminal move, explained that increased transit will not be possible with more BART trains. BART has only two tracks through downtown and these tracks are already near capacity. The Bay Bridge, before the elimination of the Key System tracks, carried twice as many people, and the Transbay Terminal handled many times the number of passengers currently using it, according to Kiesling.

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Last updated: November 18, 1997

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