Redrawing Muni Metro: Simply redrawing Muni Metro’s route map could yield impressive service improvements for the entire system. Here’s how:
Muni Metro is designed so that all lines pass through Downtown. While this means that passengers rarely have to transfer trains (since most trips are to or from Downtown), it also means that trains must be extremely well-coordinated within the Market Street Tunnel, through which all six Metro lines pass. Unfortunately, trains are not well-coordinated, and Metro gets stuck in its own traffic; trains often have to stop between stations to allow another train to clear the station ahead. The result: embarrassingly slow speeds, which SFMTA admits leads to higher operating costs and a bad rap. Could limiting the number of lines traveling through the Market Tunnel alleviate Metro’s congestion problems? Could redrawing the Metro routes improve on-time performance? Perhaps. I’ve redrawn the Muni Metro network in a way designed to increase the efficiency of the entire system—especially within the Market Tunnel. The revised route map is shown here, and important points regarding route revisions and trade-offs are discussed below.
Present-day KT separated, T merges with N: The T line will run from Sunnydale to Caltrain/4th & King, and continue west as the N line to Ocean Beach. The N and T would run as the same line, similar to how the K and T run as the same line today. The portion south of Caltrain/4th & King retains the T line name in anticipation of the Central Subway extension (the N and T would run as separate lines again upon completion of the Central Subway).
The merged ‘NT’ line would use the present-day T line platform at Caltrain/4th & King.
M terminus extended to Caltrain/4th & King: As the T line will no longer serve the Market Street corridor (see previous point), the M will be extended to Caltrain/4th & King to accommodate commuters transferring from Caltrain. M line passengers gain direct access to the ballpark and Caltrain, while Caltrain commuters gain direct access to the Twin Peaks neighborhood and SF State, a notable high ridership station. Caltrain commuters will no longer have a direct link to K line stations between Balboa Park and West Portal, such as City College. Th
e extended M line would use the present-day N line platform at Caltrain/4th & King.
K loses direct Downtown link: The K line loses its direct link to Downtown; inbound ridership between Balboa Park and West Portal on the K is too low (less than 5500 per day) to justify running the K line through the Market Tunnel and adding to system congestion. (For comparison, inbound ridership between Balboa Park and West Portal on the M is nearly 11000.) Passengers served by present-day K line stations between Balboa Park and West Portal must transfer to the M at West Portal for Downtown service, or take the J line to Duboce & Church via the Mission (see next point).
K merges with J; J loses direct Downtown link: The present-day K line combines with the present-day J line to form one J Church-Ingleside line. By combining the two lines, City College/Ingleside passengers gain direct access to the Mission and the Duboce Triangle (where passengers can transfer to the N for Downtown or Ocean Beach service). As areas served by the J line are also served by BART, the J will lose its direct Downtown link to increase overall efficiency in the Market Tunnel, and will terminate at Duboce & Church. Note that BART provides a faster and less expensive option for travel to Downtown stations such as Powell or Embarcadero for areas served by the J.
Lines running in Market Tunnel decreases from 5 to 3 (3 to 2 between West Portal and Van Ness): Fewer lines entering and exiting the Market Tunnel results in less required coordination between entering and exiting trains (only the L, M, NT now enter and exit the Market Tunnel; think of a highway with fewer cars trying to enter and exit). This leads to smoother operations.
Revised headways: The following discussion excludes the F-Wharves line. Metro’s current headways are pegged at 7-10 minutes during peak hours, 15-20 minutes during off-peak hours. Assuming average peak headways of 7 minutes and average off-peak headways of 15 minutes, a total of approximately 630 trains run each day for the present-day 5-line system (present-day KT counted as one line). Theoretically, during peak hours, one train passes through any given Market Tunnel station between Van Ness and Embarcadero every 1.4 minutes. However, this is often not the case due to congestion-related delays and service blips.
With the redrawn route map, fewer lines run through the Market Tunnel. This allows more frequent headways to be implemented on each line, thus providing more frequent service to areas served by only one Metro line. Conversely, the Market Tunnel will see slightly reduced service. However, reducing service in the Market Tunnel modestly, say to 2 or 3 minute headways during peak hours instead of the current 1.4, may actually increase overall efficiency because larger gaps between trains create a buffer for delays. With the redrawn route layout, Muni can recalibrate peak headways to 5 minutes for the J line, 6 minutes for the L, M, NT lines, and 12 minutes for all lines during off-peak hours. Even with increased headways, this scheme would require only 620 train-runs per day, lower than the current 630 (this is due to the fewer number of lines overall). At the same time, Muni would provide better service to non-Downtown areas while maintaining a decent (and likely more reliable) 2 minute headway in the Market Tunnel during peak hours.