Light rail brings uneasy future to SF's 3rd St.
- Published Friday, August 30, 2002, in the San Francisco Business Times
Light rail brings uneasy future to Third Street
By Ron Leuty
Along San Francisco's Third Street, a concrete backbone that cuts
through drowned dot-coms, scrap-metal yards, liquor stores and the
city's poorest enclave, a new light rail project carries the hope of
an economic renaissance.
But whether it actually moves Third Street's residents around Pacific
Bell Park into Bayview/ Hunters Point and Visitacion Valley is another
question for shopkeepers along the stretch.
The Third Street light rail project, which began in May, will stretch
5.4 miles from Caltrain's station at Fourth and King streets to
Caltrain's Bayshore station, just north of the San Mateo County line.
At a cost of $550 million, the 19-station system eventually will hook
up with the planned Central Subway through Chinatown.
[BATN note: at over $100 million per mile for surface construction on
existing streets, Muni's Third St. extension will be by far the most
expensive such project to have been constructed anywhere in the world.]
"As far as everybody's concerned who I talk to, they think (light
rail) will do a lot," says Arthur Nelson, who operates ALN Realty from
a storefront near the corner of Third Street and Shafter Avenue. "I'm
not all that convinced.
"Light rail doesn't mean anything," he says. "You've got a bus, and
people don't get off of that."
Housing just off the Third Street artery, home to large segments of
the city's black and Hispanic population, should be a greater
priority, Nelson says.
Already, property owners are fielding offers from real estate brokers,
Nelson says, though workers nearly three miles away just now are
cutting away the roadway for the rail line's cradle.
When the full Third Street-Central Subway project is completed in
2011, San Francisco Municipal Railway spokeswoman Maggie Lynch says,
it will carry more than 90,000 people a day.
"A lot of people commute from Visitacion Valley to Chinatown," Lynch
Construction of the $733 million, 1.7-mile Central Subway received the
green light in early August from the Federal Transit Administration.
Ripe for investment
Pat Bernard, owner of Bay Brokers, says she's puzzled that more
property transactions haven't occurred in the neighborhood.
"If I was going to make an investment, I would make it there," she
says. "The homes are lovely, and they're a good value."
Muni officials say the now-dormant stadium-shopping center project of
the San Francisco 49ers and developer Mills Corp. had nothing to do
with Third Street rail moving forward. But some in the neighborhood
feel differently -- and they wonder what will attract people to the
"It makes me wonder what's going to be the big incentive for people to
travel to this end of Third Street," says Ed Mazzei of Mazzei
Hardware, which was started by his grandfather in 1936. "I still don't
know what the big draw's going to be."
Light rail should gussy up the neighborhood and it may help carry
residents downtown faster, Mazzei says.
Mazzei's store does a steady stream of business -- contractors pulling
up for a tool or neighborhood residents wanting to have new keys cut
-- but the neighborhood has no single attraction.
"If it's transportation, I'm sure people will use it," says resident
But Mazzei still doesn't see any great benefit for his business,
especially as construction moves closer to his store.
"We've got roots. We'll be able to survive the work," he says. "But I
know there are a lot of small businesses that won't."
Ron Leuty covers transportation for the San Francisco Business Times.