Waterfront Transportation Assessment | Phase 2

Downtown San Francisco as seen from Mission BayWTA final report coverFINAL REPORT NOW AVAILABLE

Download the Waterfront Transportation Assessment Phase 2 final report. (10.6MB PDF)


The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) and the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) have been partnering with community stakeholders and other government agencies to conduct the Waterfront Transportation Assessment (WTA). (See the SFMTA WTA page.) The WTA recognizes that San Francisco’s population and job growth have outpaced needed transportation improvements in the neighborhoods of SoMa, Mission Bay, and the Central Waterfront (see Study Area map, below). Approved plans (e.g. Transbay Center District, Rincon Hill, Eastern Neighborhoods, Mission Bay) are building out and additional development is under discussion. It is clear that we must make significant transportation investments within the Study Area in order to meet the needs of a growing city by creating reliable transit and safe conditions for walkers and cyclists while facilitating traffic flow and reducing modal conflicts.

In support of the SFMTA-led WTA, SFCTA has forecasted future travel demand, analyzed existing roadway and transit capacity, and reported the types of projects and policies that could address transportation conditions in five years and twenty-five years. The purpose of this report is to summarize the findings and recommendations from SFCTA’s tasks in contribution to the overall effort (also referred to as “Phase 2”). It will inform the update to San Francisco’s countywide transportation plan and San Francisco’s input to the Regional Transportation Plan.


We focused our analysis on the evening peak period since it is the time of day when the most overall travel happens. We also focused on understanding trip-making that is internal, outbound, and/or passes through the Study Area, referred to as “trips of interest,” since they represent the largest trip markets. Today, approximately 220,000 people make trips within the Study Area or in the outbound peak direction during the weekday peak period (about 20% of total citywide travel demand during this time period) and by 2040, that number is expected to increase by almost 50% to approximately 320,000. The majority of these trips, just over half, are trips within San Francisco, with the three largest local corridors being: 1) Within the Study Area and Downtown; 2) Between the Study Area and Southeast San Francisco; and 3) Between the Study Area and Southwest San Francisco (see graph below). Another one-third of the trips are destined for the East Bay, 13% are destined for the South Bay, and the remaining 2% for the North Bay.

Study Area "trips of interest" by corridor by mode 2012 and growth in trips in all modes by 2040

Waterfront Transportation Assessment Study Area and Sub-areas

Roadway capacity

During the afternoon rush hour, Northern SoMa operates essentially at capacity in the outbound direction due to the downstream bottleneck of the Bay Bridge. Those traveling through Northern SoMa are affected by the same congestion even if they are not destined for the Bay Bridge. SoMa south of the freeways and Mission Bay/Central Waterfront are not as capacity constrained today, but are vulnerable to become so in the future. While Southern SoMa, Mission Bay and the Central Waterfront are much less intensely traveled today and will continue to experience a relatively smaller share of demand in the future, the limited number of entrance and exit points mean that an increase in outbound peak period vehicle traffic of 15-20% in Southern SoMa and 20-25% for Mission Bay/Central Waterfront could cause the network to approach the level of congestion experienced in Northern SoMa today.

Transit capacity

Between BART, Caltrain, and Muni Metro, the highest capacity rail transit lines in the entire Bay Area region serve the Study Area today, supplemented by local and regional bus service and regional ferry service. Recently, transit serving the Study Area has experienced unprecedented levels of ridership growth and is regularly experiencing extremely crowded conditions. At times, passengers are unable to board some vehicles due to overcrowding. Each operator has major expansion plans that have been identified but still seeking funding including:

BART’s “Big 3” investments in rail-car expansions, new maintenance facility, and automated train control system upgrades that would allow approximately 7,000 more passengers/hour in the Transbay tube.

Muni’s Fleet Plan which would provide approximately equivalent total peak direction capacity to BART Transbay service by 2040, accommodating approximately 33,000 passengers/hour across all corridors leaving the Study Area.

Caltrain’s Modernization Program including Electrification and Extension to Downtown San Francisco, which, along with High-Speed Rail would more than double Study Area-to-Peninsula capacity by 2040, from 3,250 passengers/hour to almost 7,000/hour.

As transportation demand intensifies, best practices indicate that strategies to accommodate additional demand should include a combination of expanding capacity and managing demand by encouraging some trips to shift outside the peak period or to the shoulders of the peak. This analysis does not identify the balance between the additional amount of transit capacity that should be planned for versus level of effectiveness that demand management strategies can provide in shifting trips out of the peak. A more robust analysis of existing and future transit capacity needs is underway as a part of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission-led Bay Area Core Capacity Transit Study that will recommend short-, medium-, and long-term solutions to provide additional transit capacity in the Transbay corridor and in the Muni Metro system in partnership with the SFMTA, SFCTA, BART, Caltrain, AC Transit and the Water Emergency Transit Authority (WETA).

Mode share vision

To inform the city’s planning to accommodate growing Study Area demand, we used San Francisco policy goals and national and international examples to identify a future mode share vision that might be plausible and desirable to strive for.

The graph below presents the results of this analysis (assumptions documented in Chapter 4 of the report). As shown, the potential to attract additional trips to walking, cycling, and transit could result in serving more than the entire forecast increase vehicle trips by other modes.

Mode Share Vision Analysis Results, 3-hour pm peak, Study Area trips of interest


San Francisco transportation plans are on the right course, but we must continue to plan, fund, and deliver transportation projects and policies to accommodate the mobility needs that will be created by anticipated growth.

The Study Area is rapidly growing, and many game-changing investments that will begin to address these needs are already planned and funded but still must be delivered such as the Central Subway, Muni Forward treatments citywide including on 16th Street, the downtown Ferry terminal expansion, a first phase of Muni’s and BART’s fleet expansions, and implementation of initial phases of the Bicycle Strategy and WalkFirst.

Other investments are committed local and regional priorities but still have funding shortfalls such as Caltrain Electrification and its extension to Downtown; BART’s train signal upgrade and new maintenance facility; the rest of Muni’s fleet expansion; and implementation of the rest of the Bicycle Strategy and WalkFirst.

Finally, there are some areas where needed investments are less well-defined but in early stages of planning such as transit capacity for BART and Muni Metro (through the Metropolitan Transportation Commission-led Bay Area Core Capacity Transit Study) and smarter management of San Francisco’s freeways network (through the SFCTA-led Freeway Corridor Management Study).

This report does not present specific project costs or funding shortfalls for these investments as transportation investment prioritization and funding strategy work typically happens through citywide efforts such as the San Francisco Transportation Plan, Transportation 2030, and regional efforts like the Regional Transportation Plan (RTP). As of Summer 2015, the SFCTA has begun the process to update the SFTP and forward priorities into the 2017 RTP. In the meantime, new development under discussion can contribute to addressing the transportation impacts of “baseline” growth through coordination between those development plans and the needs for which there are shortfalls or undefined implementation strategies.

Photo courtesy Jim Maurer via flickr Commons.