Exit Interview: Director Tom Radulovich Reflects on 20 Years with BART

What Now for BART?

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Tom Radulovich after his Streetsblog exit-interview outside a cafe on the Valencia corridor in the Mission. Photo: Streetsblog
Radulovich after his Streetsblog exit-interview outside a cafe near his home in the Mission. Photo: Streetsblog

Tom Radulovich, as most Streetsblog readers probably know, is retiring from BART at the end of the year. He was first elected to the BART Board of Directors in November 1996, to represent the 9th District, which includes portions of San Francisco. He serves on the board’s Personnel Review Special Committee and on the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Board.

Radulovich is also Executive Director of Livable City. According to his Livable City bio: “Tom has dedicated his professional life to make transit better, and to ensure the Bay Area is a more livable, equitable, and sustainable home for all.”

That sounds about right; Radulovich has been a powerful and progressive force in San Francisco’s livable streets movement. That’s why yesterday afternoon, Streetsblog caught up with him at a Valencia Street cafe near his home in the Mission, to reflect on his 20 years on the BART board, and what he plans to do next.

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Streetsblog: Last night, SPUR did a presentation on the incredible coordination that goes on between transit agencies in Switzerland, so you can get off your train, and know your bus will be waiting for you and will leave as soon as people are finished transferring. Why has it been so impossible to achieve this between BART and the transit agencies it connects with?

Tom Radulovich: We’ve been meaning to do “pulse-hub” for the past 40 years. We have, for example, the physical connection between Caltrain and BART at Millbrae, but we haven’t coordinated schedules, so sometimes there’s a long wait. And we don’t hold trains if a train is late, so we don’t guarantee the meet.

SB: So what’s the problem?

TR: There’s no regional leadership on this. We need the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) to get agencies coordinated with carrots and sticks, but MTC has shown no interest in that. So we’ve tried to get there bilaterally. A few years ago we set up a BART/AC Transit board committee to meet quarterly. Both agencies were interested in creating timed transfers, especially with AC Transit bus lines that begin or end at a BART station. If it’s a bus route that runs every two minutes, we don’t necessarily need a timed meet. It’s most useful to coordinate where the services are infrequent.

SB: So late at night you don’t end up waiting 20 to 30 minutes for a BART train/bus connection to get home?

TR: You have to sync up a meet. We’re going to pilot those at a few routes and stations. AC transit is restoring a lot of services, so I’m hopeful that we will do it bilaterally.

SB: But not with Caltrain and BART?

TR: BART and Caltrain just don’t talk to each other and haven’t since the divorce.

SB: The divorce?

TR: When BART expanded into San Mateo County, a decision was made that San Mateo didn’t want to join BART, so there was an agreement to jointly operate BART ‘s six station in San Mateo. The project ran over budget so we ended up in a bad marriage, fighting over money, and it ended in divorce–SamTrans said, there’s your extension, and do what you will. So since then there really hasn’t been any kind of meaningful Caltrain coordination. Fares are another obvious one. Caltrain has its own fare system.

SB: What is it about fare integration and coordination that makes it so hard to achieve?

TR: Advocates and most of the BART directors are pushing the new Clipper consortium to make coordination a priority. First thing will be syncing up on youth fares. Let’s at least define a youth as the same age range so we can do a youth card that works on all transit systems. We’re trying to sync that up as a start.

SB: What is it about American cities that they can’t get this fare coordination thing fixed?

TR: Some people blame the fragmentation. But look at London with its seamless fare zones. It’s a great example–the zone fare system has public and private operators, but it works, so it’s not really an issue of agency consolidation. Besides, look at New York, where the Long Island Railroad and the subway are run by the same parent agency, and yet there’s still no coordination of fares or schedules.

SB: So it’s back to the lack of regional leadership. On another note, RR/the BART bond passed. What’s that going to mean for riders?

TR: I’m leaving on a good note. BART was not paying enough attention to the urban core–it wasn’t looking at capacity and state of good repair. But it’s changed in the past few years with change in BART leadership. Grace Crunican [BART’s general manager] has been an advocate of good repair, rather than kicking the can down the road. You can’t just ignore it anymore–the breakdowns, the extreme overcrowding. Even the directors who prefer more extensions to the suburbs can’t ignore the city. Riders will begin to see improvements in reliability. And they will begin to see improvements in capacity, years from now, when the new train-control system is installed. They are also going to see improvements in things like escalators.

SB: What else are you proud of accomplishing during your tenure?

TR: The other thing I’m pleased about–we’re awarding the last contract of the earthquake safety program, to retrofit the tube itself. We’ve got that money, through a previous bond, and now we’re going to complete the last contract. So that’s a more secure, resilient system than it was before.

SB: The BART bond has some funds to study a second BART tube, but there’s nothing concrete about it. Are you disappointed about that?

TR: We could have maybe gotten away with adding another billion or two to the BART bond, but another $20 billion? Clearly not. Besides, I think we have to figure out what the second tube is–the projects we’re doing are kind of un-sexy, but we were able to convince people of their importance and we understand our capital needs. If we are going to build a second tube, we have to decide from where to where and what it’s going to be. I’m still an advocate for maybe the tube needs to be for Caltrain, more than BART. There’s a real pull between wanting a tube for capacity relief, into and out of downtown SF. Or do we want to go to Mission Bay? I’ve been hearing for 20 years that Mission Bay is the new downtown, but it’s really not. We are building the Salesforce Tower a block from Embarcadero Station. Downtown continues to grow.

SB: And where would the tunnel emerge on the other side?

TR: Is it a new travel market, such as Emeryville, Alameda, or West Berkeley–which is a regional transit corridor? I hope we’ll be taking a pretty robust look.  Part of the problem is having no planning organization–a regional entity that actually plans, instead of stapling together 26 regional plans. Each of these agencies runs one mode. BART will say the answer is BART without understanding exactly what the question is. We have to zero in on what’s the problem we’re trying to solve, rather than just saying, okay, let’s spend $20 billion going from Alameda to Mission Bay.

SB: A couple of months ago SFMTA did a survey that showed there’s still, no surprise, a huge demand for a Geary subway. But when they talked about the subway they seem to focus on continuing to use their light rail trains, rather than thinking regionally and considering BART integration.

TR: SFMTA has this idea that a “light rail” line needs to become a streetcar line. There’s a whole world of light metro, Vancouver’s Skytrain is a good example. For some reason, San Francisco thinks this is something we really can’t do. Did they really need to make the Central subway an extension of the T-Third line? But there’s a culture here of “we invented cable cars, so we can run cable cars. But anything new has to be backwards compatible.” Why did they build a new high-floor line when the rest of the world is going to low-floor cars? The agencies are closed to innovation or new ideas. San Francisco doesn’t really think about outside San Francisco very much.

SB: Which is weird for a city known for its innovation in all other areas.

TR: They need to be looking at how other people are solving similar problems around the world, not how did San Francisco solve it the last time.

SB: Getting back to BART for a moment. There’s always been this tension between suburban, park-and-rides and creating dense, livable places around BART stations.

TR: BART has historically been unclear about what its priorities were–it’s not always been walking and cycling access to stations. There are stations built in a freeway median and you only have an access to one side. There are people in Bay Point, for example, who are living  a few hundred feet from the BART station, but they end up having to walk a mile and a half because of that. When that station was conceived–before my time–they just didn’t think it was important to have bike and pedestrian links branching out in every direction. Where BART is expanding it’s doing better in that regard.

SB: Speaking of biking, Streetsblog has written extensively about guerrilla safety measures that were put in on this street, Valencia. What’s your view on that?

TR: We’re all really impatient with the pace of change. We’re tired of all the bureaucratic dodges. People taking direct action; it encourages me. Not to say that’s how it should happen–the city should be doing these things. But people are tired of the city’s dithering. I think it’s positive, if it gets SFMTA off their ass.

SB: What do you think this street will look like 20 years from now?

TR: I hope we’ll have wider sidewalks. It could be a street with no private cars. It could be just pedestrians and bicycles. I could see the remaining parking lots gone, with housing over shops.

SB: What are you most looking forward to in leaving BART?

TR: Going back to just being an advocate. I’ve done advocate and elected-official work; I’ve done both at the same time. Livable City is a great organization. There’s a lot more we can do. I’m looking forward to it.

This interview was edited.

Have more questions for Radulovich? Join Livable City for Radulovich’s Retirement “BARTy ” tomorrow/Friday, November 18 from 6-9 p.m. at City View at the Metreon. This is a Livable City fundraiser and party to celebrate Tom’s 20 years on the BART Board of Directors. 

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