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Well, I just got back to Miami from a fun week in SF for JavaOne (you know, one of those trips when you have a great time, but when the time comes to go home... you're completely ready). While I was out there, I spent lots of time using SF's transit since I didn't have a car.

Here's the short summary: BART is basically Metrorail ~10 years from now... good, bad, ugly, and all. I really feel like both systems were designed by the same group of consultants, because -- like Metrorail -- the areas where BART succeeds are almost entirely accidental, and the areas where they dumped the most money into it in the holy name of social engineering and "neighborhood renewal" are still mostly irrelevant.

My entire week there, I used BART exactly three (four, depending on how you want to count it) times... from SFO to Civic Center (2 blocks from my hotel), Civic Center to the station on the other side of the Transbay Tunnel (round trip), and from Civic Center back to SFO. The rest of the time, it was largely irrelevant and useless. Like Metrorail, it manages to almost completely miss just about every significant tourist attraction in SF. It goes through downtown SF, but the BART stations themselves aren't particularly close or convenient to anything... usually a quarter to half mile at best.

The southern blue line (Civic Center to SFO/Milbrae) is almost the perfect metaphor for the proposed north line to Dolphin Stadium. On my trips between SFO and Civic Center, I'd say AT LEAST 80% of the passengers were going to or from the airport. I could count the number of people getting on and heading inbound (in SF, "inbound" = "towards the Financial District", "outbound" = "away from it") somewhere besides the airport, or getting off on the outbound train before the airport, on two hands. Maybe. Now, I'll admit, my inbound trip was last Saturday ~6pm, and my outbound trip was this morning (Friday) ~5am, but still... those stations between SFO and Civic Center didn't seem to be getting a whole lot of activity.

From what I was told while I was there, people in SF reacted to BART's first proposed stations south of Civic Center (which weren't initially proposed to go all the way to SFO) exactly the way most Miamians view the North Corridor... lambasting them for spending hundreds of millions of dollars (Billions, in 2k7 dollarettes) to run BART south through low-density poor neighborhoods for no apparent or sane reason. The supporters kept promising that it would rejuvenate entire poor communities and make everyone hold hands & sing "Kumbaya" together. The apparent reality is that developers almost completely ignored the area until ~5 years ago, when the rest of SF became so prohibitively expensive that it was the only halfway affordable area left... at which point the developers bought up and bulldozed those poor neighborhoods wholesale, and many of the southern stations now have scattered islands of upscale affluence within a few hundred feet of those stations (generally inhabited by people who are single, work downtown, and view the idea of walking anywhere besides the half-block to the BART station as utterly suicidal).

Of course, once BART finally was extended to SFO, ridership surged... yet another reason to wonder why the hell it took Dade County 25 years to figure out that the airport is a really, really important destination :bash:

Anyway... getting back to BART. Like I said, BART itself isn't terribly useful for getting around San Francisco itself. HOWEVER, at the same time BART was built and the roads were dug up to build the new stations, they apparently decided it would be a great time to move many of SF's streetcars underground too (remember, when boring tunnels, the biggest expense is just getting the tunnel-boring machine in place to dig the first foot... they took advantage of it to bore out not just BART's route, but a few miles of the SF subway's own tunnels as well). The SF Muni (their subway) is generally more useful than BART within SF itself, and goes lots of places where BART doesn't.

One catch, though... BART and SF Muni have totally different farecard systems, and just about the most awkward transfer logistics two lines that literally run on top of one another could possibly have. To go from BART to Muni, you have to take the escalator up two levels (passing by the Muni level, separated from it by bars), exiting through BART's turnstiles at the entrance level just below the street above, and then the fun begins.

There's probably a set of Muni turnstiles ~200 feet away from BART's, but if you (like most tourists) bought a 1/3/7-day Muni pass, you have to enter through the ONE turnstile adjacent to a manned Muni booth... there are two, and most of the time one is closed. And almost always, the one that's closed is the one that's adjacent to the BART turnstiles you exited through. So you get to walk a LONG block underground to enter through the other set of turnstiles. And, if you've just biked from Fisherman's Wharf to Sausalito over the GG Bridge, are totally exhausted (because you've never biked on real mountains before), and want to use the elevator... well... the booth that's open is probably at the opposite end of the station from the elevator between the street and entry level (there seems to be only one per station). So you'll get to walk an extra 2-4 blocks crossing back and forth from station end to station end between your first entry to your final exit. Fun.

Also, as I discovered, the official headway times for the SF Muni are complete fiction and fantasy (at least, after 6pm and on weekends). In theory, there should literally be inbound and outbound trains arriving nonstop during peak times, and every 2-5 minutes even late at night. Yeah, right. Keep dreaming. The reality is that each particular color seems to run about once per 15-20 minutes after 7pm, and they all get bunched up and arrive one after another (like Metrobuses on Flagler & 8th Streets), then go 15-20 minutes without a single one arriving.

I will say SF's bus system put Miami's to shame and spanks it like an unloved stepchild. For most of my trip, I ended up taking the Mission Street bus between Moscone and my hotel, because it seemed to run as frequently as the subway at night and was only half as far to walk. I'll give the overhead wires used by them a plus for providing instant visual proof that a bus ran along the road, but still emphasize that I think overhead wires would be a disaster in Miami (getting shredded and putting a big chunk of MDTA's buses out of service for days or weeks every time even a baby Cat1 hurricane comes to visit).

Overall, BART today is more useful than Metrorail... but if you take relative age and length into account (BART's about 10 years older, and 3-4x as long), they're remarkably similar. Just about every obvious mistake made by BART's planners was enthusiastically made by Metrorail's planners a decade later. Sadly, Metrorail's planners don't seem to have learned much from either their own mistakes nor those made by others (like BART's). Pre-airport, BART had one really major corridor (transbay tunnel to financial district & civic center) that's almost an exact duplicate of Metrorail's development and demographics south of downtown, and large swaths built with lots of symbolic fanfare through areas where it made almost no financial sense at all. BART is heavily used every day by people who live outside of downtown SF to get there and back, but its usefulness as a general mode of transportation for other trips seems to be about as useful as the southern half of Metrorail today.

IMHO, the most telling aspect of BART's mixed success: there isn't a single Fry's store within walking distance of a BART station.

Comments (particularly from anyone who's lived in SF and Miami)?
 

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BART VS. METRORAIL

THANK YOU FOR YOUR WONDERFUL POST. I HAVE LIVED IN BOTH MIAMI & SF. ACTUALLY, I LIVED IN CONCORD (EAST BAY) BUT SPENT AN EXTENSIVE TIME IN "THE CITY". YOUR POST IS MOSTLY ACCURATE, ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU DISCUSS THE SOCIAL ENGINEERING ASPECTS OF BOTH PROJECTS---BUT I CAN'T AGREE WITH MOST OF YOUR COMPARISONS (EVEN THOUGH I ENJOYED YOUR POST IMMENSELY).

LET ME ADDRESS SOME ISSUES THAT YOU FAILED TO MENTION.

FIRST OF ALL, BART IS REGIONAL. YOU MENTIONED THAT THEY ARE THEY SAME, IN ESSENCE---WITH BART BEING LONGER. THIS IS INCORRECT. BART TRAVELS TO, AND THROUGH PROBABLY 50 BAY AREA CITIES. SF, OAKLAND, MILBRAE, DUBLIN, WALNUT CREEK, CONCORD, BAY POINT, FREMONT, RICHMOND, PLEASANTON, MARTINEZ, PITTSBURG, PLEASANT HILL, ETC., ETC. NOT TO MENTION ALL THE CITIES IT COMES CLOSE TO, BERKELEY AND OTHERS.

THE ONLY WAY METRORAIL WOULD BE COMPARABLE WOULD BE IF IT WENT THROUGH FT. LAUDERDALE, HOLLYWOOD, WEST PALM BEACH, MIAMI BEACH, AVENTURA, PERIINE, HOMESTEAD, CUTLER RIDGE, CORAL SPRINGS.

IN SHORT, THE REASON BART IS SO MUCH LONGER THAN METRORAIL IS BECAUSE IT COVERS THE REGION...NOT THE CITY OF SF.

WHICH LEADS TO MY NEXT POINT.

LIKE MIAMI TO SOUTH FLORIDA, SAN FRANCISCO IS THE HEART OF THE BAY AREA...THE CROWN JEWEL..... LIKE MIAMI, SAN FRANCISCO IS RATHER SMALLISH WHEN IT COMES TO SQUARE MILES--ONLY 49 SQUARE MILES.

BUT UNLIKE MIAMI IT IS A PENINSULA, SURROUNDED BY WATER ON THREE SIDES. IT IS VIRTUALLY UN-ACESSIBLE BY CAR, UNLESS YOU CROSS A BRIDGE. IF YOU THINK I-95 IS BAD DURING RUSH HOUR, YOU SHOULD TRY CROSSING THE BAY BRIDGE. THERE ARE ALTERNATIVE ROUTES INTO DOWNTOWN MIAMI--OTHER THAN 1-95---BUT NONE TO THOSE WHO MUST GO INTO THE CITY FROM THE EAST BAY. THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE ARE ABLE TO COMMUTE TO WORK EACH DAY THROUGH THE TRANSBAY TUBE...THANKS TO BART !

AS IS UNIVERSALLY AGREED ON, METRORAILS' ORIGINAL LAYOUT IS A MASSIVE FAILURE. HOWEVER, IN FAIRNESS TO THOSE WHO ARE NOT OLD ENOUGH TO REMEMBER.....METRORAIL (AS WE KNOW IT) WAS ONLY PHASE 1 OF A 3 PHASE PROJECT. PHASES 2 AND 3 WERE NEVER BUILT FOR LACK OF FUNDING....FROM BOTH FEDERAL...AS WELL AS LOCAL. ALL OF THE LOCALS REGARDED PHASE 1 AS A WHITE ELEPHANT AND REFUSED TO FUND THE LINE TO THE AIRPORT, MIAMI BEACH, ETC.

IN CONCLUSION......HAVING LIVED IN THE SF BAY AREA AND MIAMI....I MUST GIVE BART AND OVERWHELMING VICTORY, STRICTLY COMPARING IT TO MIAMI'S METRORAIL. THERE ARE BART ROUTES WHICH WILL TAKE ME FROM ONE EAST BAY CITY TO ANOTHER. WHEN METRORAIL CAN TAKE ME FROM FT LAUDERDALE TO PERRINE, WITHOUT HAVING TO GO INTO DOWNTOWN MIAMI AND CHANGE TRAINS---IT WILL COMPARE TO BART.

MY FRIEND, I HOPE YOU ENJOYED SF WHILE YOU WERE THERE AND I HOPE WHEN YOU RETURN, YOU WILL TAKE BART'S OTHER LINES...AND DISCOVER THE BEAUTIFUL EAST BAY.

AND NEVER FORGET...THE FIRST TWO LETTERS OF BART STAND FOR BAY AREA......

BLESSINGS !
 

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Good analysis.

If you're remaining in the city of SF, MUNI is the way to go. In my SF travels I've also only used BART from the airport. MUNI Metro, however is a vast improvement over anything in Miami, even the portions that run at surface level. The only complaint is the lack of MUNI rail access to popular northern hoods, like Nob Hill, Chinatown, North Beach, Pac Heights, Marina, etc... I do believe there is a Chinatown extension in progress that will also serve N. Beach. And the streetcars frequent these areas as well.

But if your day to day routine involves downtown, the Mission, the Haight, the Castro, Noe Valley, Western Addition, Sunset, etc, it's very practical to make every trip by rail. I only hope the Miami streetcar can be as successful as MUNI Metro...
 

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Songoten, as the MDT map shows with bold lines, the lines that are in the imminent future are the Orange, Green, Pink, and Blue. Blue already exists, pink is a guarantee (the airport/MIC/Earlington heights connector), Orange (North Corridor) has a very good chance of happening soon, and the green (east-west line) would be next and also has a decent chance of happening soon. This is clearly shown on the MDT map by the fact that stations are shown and the lines are bolded and color-coated to their respective transit corridor. That MDT map is what the real map will probably look like in 7-10 years from now. However, all of the lines in yellow on that map will not be built anytime soon. If we're lucky, we'll get some in the next 15-20 years, and eventually the system will look like that, but it's clearly shown that those lines are in the more distant future by the fact that they are not color coated, not bold, and do not have stations identified as do the others. That being said, the metrorail system will improve dramatically with the addition of the Pink, Orange, and Green lines/segments on that map, so there's no need to worry Songoten.
 

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Good job with the BART/Metrorail comparison, fellas.

I'm going out to the Bay Area in a few weeks (ironically enough to visit a bunch of Miami transplants) and plan on using the system pretty extensively since they all live in the East Bay and why on Earth would I spend all my time there when San Francisco is a subway ride away?

As for "comparisons" I don't think there is one at this point. BART obviously has its flaws but it's a 104-mile system with 55 stops. That's not even including MUNI. And it's still expanding (at least according to their website).
Metrorail isn't even close to that size even if you include every proposed extension.
 
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