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San Mateo County Still Thinks the Wider the Better

Highway 101 facing north from Ralston Avenue in Belmont, part of a 14-mile segment planned since 2009 by San Mateo County traffic engineers to be widened to ten continuous lanes. Photo: Andrew Boone

Highway 101 facing north from Ralston Avenue in Belmont is part of a 14-mile segment that may be widened to ten lanes. Photo: Andrew Boone

San Mateo County’s City/County Association of Governments (C/CAG) is leaving an expansion of Highway 101 with new carpool lanes on the table, even after the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) concluded they will jam up with traffic the day they open. If constructed–by 2024 at the earliest–a 14-mile section of the highway from San Bruno to Redwood City would be widened from eight to ten lanes at a cost of up to $250 million.

MTC says traffic will move faster in all lanes, and carry more people in fewer vehicles, if the existing left-most lanes are converted to Express Lanes instead. Free for buses and carpools, and available to solo drivers for a toll, express lanes have cut traffic on Highways 680, 880, 580, and 237 by maintaining a congestion-free lane even during rush hours. On Highway 101 such lanes could help pay for express bus and van services. The express lane conversion could be completed in three years and cost $110 million less than the carpool lane expansion favored by C/CAG.

“It would be a huge missed opportunity if we can’t use innovative strategies to cut traffic by moving more people in fewer vehicles along the Bay Area’s most critical transportation corridor,” said TransForm Community Planner Clarrissa Cabansagan. TransForm published a study in 2013 [PDF] making the case for converting existing lanes to express lanes on Highway 101 rather than widening it.
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Bay Bridge Bike Path Closed For a Month

BikePathEnd

The bike path on the Oakland Bay Bridge doesn’t quite reach Yerba Buena Island yet. Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog

“Caltrans is prioritizing safety,” says Friday’s press release announcing that the bike path on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge will be closed, beginning today, for the entire month of March.

Right when the days are getting longer and that after-work bike ride to the end of the bridge is truly tempting, the entire path will be closed “to minimize potential risks to the public.”

The remains of the old bay bridge, which run parallel to the new bridge and the bike path, are slowly being removed. The cantilever portion was peeled back from its center over the course of months last year, and in February the first truss section was lowered to a barge and floated away.

Crews will now begin working on a second truss section, using torches to cut it away from its supports and sometimes creating smoke and noise.

For the last few months, the bike path was partially closed from time to time as crews did similar work on the first truss section. The bridge itself was never closed and car traffic flowed past–only the bike path along its southern rim was blocked partway to the end. But even then, you could ride or walk at least partway across, to catch the stunning views and maybe check out the demolition work on the old bridge. And usually on the weekends you could count on riding all the way to where the path currently ends, just before Yerba Buena Island.
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South Bay Cities Still Have the Asphalt Bug

Santa Clara County want to depress a two-mile segment of Lawrence Expressway below grade to increase auto traffic capacity at a cost to taxpayers of $540 million. Photo: Andrew Boone

Santa Clara County wants to depress a one-mile segment of Lawrence Expressway below three intersections to “address existing and forecast traffic congestion” at a cost of $440 million in future sales tax dollars. Another $100 million is proposed to depress Lawrence Expressway under Homestead Road. Image: Santa Clara County

“Induced demand” is the idea that building and widening roads doesn’t make traffic better–it makes it worse. Late last year Caltrans finally acknowledged that, yeah, it’s probably true that all the work they’ve been doing for the past few decades has been for naught.

Not everyone got the memo. The Valley Transportation Authority (VTA)’s proposed half-cent sales tax, which is supposed to fund everything from buses to Caltrain to bicycle routes, could also open the floodgates to billions of dollars in continued highway expansion. That’s because Palo Alto, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Cupertino, Campbell, Saratoga, Los Gatos, and Monte Sereno have included a total of $1.5 billion in auto traffic capacity expansion projects in their draft proposals on where to spend the money [PDF]. That means $1 billion will go to county expressways and another $500 million on state highways and local arterial roadways.

San Jose’s funding priorities [PDF] include $650 million countywide for reconstructed highway interchanges “to support economic development,” including $320 million for six expanded interchanges. Even more money could be sunk into traffic capacity expansions on city streets via a “local streets and roads” category intended for repaving but which also can include lane additions and signal modifications. The North County and West Valley cities have proposed $1 billion for local streets and roads, while San Jose has proposed $1.8 billion.

In other words, more and more asphalt.

“As a voting member of the VTA Board of Directors, I think expressways are extremely important,” said San Jose City Council member Johnny Khamis at the city’s February 9 review of the sales tax. “I take an expressway every single day to work because I can’t get on Highway 87 because it’s too congested!”
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Riders Feel Railroaded by Caltrain Fare Hikes

Caltrain at Palo Alto Station. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Caltrain at Palo Alto Station. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Public transportation becomes less accessible for low-income Peninsula residents and workers this year with fare increases for both Caltrain and SamTrans buses. Caltrain tickets go up by fifty cents on February 28 while SamTrans bus tickets were raised by 25 cents on January 10. Unlike Muni, neither agency offers discounted tickets to transfer between buses or between the train and buses, and neither offers a discount for low-income residents or students.

“I’m a longtime Caltrain rider… but with the fare increase I might be considering other transportation alternatives,” said Sunnyvale resident Dora Tello at the December 3 Board meeting where the fare hike proposal was considered. “Please do not raise fares.”

“By raising the prices we will be excluding people,” said San Francisco Supervisor Malia Cohen, the lone Caltrain Board member who voted against the proposal.

Caltrain officials estimate the fare increases will bring in $8 million more per year, which they say is needed to keep up with rising costs. While Caltrain has long maintained that electrification of the passenger rail service would reduce costs by switching from diesel fuel, its operating budget is projected to rise from $128 million today to $182 million by 2021, when the new electric trains begin running. However, there will be a concurrent increase in service, capacity, speed and, presumably, riders–so the increased costs should be offset by more revenue from ticket sales. In the railroad industry this is known as the “sparks effect.”

Either way, “Everybody isn’t going to get everything they want,” stated San Mateo County Supervisor and then Caltrain Board Chair Adrienne Tissier in response to complaints that ticket prices are already too expensive. “We all have to do our fair share to keep the train alive.”

“I’m going to support the increase,” said Board member and San Francisco Treasurer Jose Cisneros at the meeting. “I’ve seen us come way too often to the budget discussion where we’ve had to look at cutting service.”

But transit advocates have long noted that the agency’s Go Pass program, which sells all-zone, unlimited-ride tickets to large employers, provides far too steep of a discount, ignoring a major revenue source. Go Passes are sold for $190 per year per eligible participant, usually employees who work at least 20 hours per week. To participate, companies must purchase passes for all eligible employees, whether or not they ride Caltrain to work.

Stanford University, for example, receives a discount of over 50 percent for the Caltrain passes it provides its employees as part of their compensation packages. About 25 percent of the university’s workers use Caltrain, which means Stanford purchases four passes for every one that actually gets used, or $760 per year per Caltrain commuter. Without the Go Pass program, the university would be paying either $1,512 per year (two zones) or $2,148 (three zones) for most of their workers. Over 100 organizations (mostly private companies) participate in the Go Passes program.

A comprehensive fare study later this year will “review the fare structure and pricing system-wide, including the cost of a monthly pass and GoPass, as well as the potential for income-based fare discounts,” according to the agency’s December staff report [PDF]. Demand for riding Caltrain is at an all-time high, and free transit passes are an increasingly coveted perk for tech workers.

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Super Bowl Blocks Bikes

Santa Clara Police close a one-mile section of the San Tomas Aquino Trail during events at Levi's Stadium

Santa Clara Police close a one-mile section of the San Tomas Aquino Trail during events at Levi’s Stadium, forcing the public to use a two-mile on-street detour. During the stadium’s construction, city officials promised that the trail would remain open at all times. Photo: Andrew Boone

Want to walk or bike to Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium this Sunday? It won’t be easy. The big game’s organizers have banned the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition (SVBC) from providing free valet bike parking at the stadium. The City of Santa Clara also agreed on a ten-day closure, from Jan. 31 to Feb. 9, of the San Tomas Aquino Trail for the construction of an entertainment area on the surface parking lot next to the stadium.

“Many of us were hoping to see Super Bowl 50 be the most bike-friendly big game yet. Instead, attendees will apparently have no place to park a bike, even if they are able to navigate past the closed bike path and double detour on surrounding streets,” wrote SVBC in an online petition to the Super Bowl 50 Host Committee that has gathered 280 signatures. “In a region with soaring traffic and a country where transportation accounts for 27 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, ignoring people-powered transportation seems both irresponsible and antiquated.”

Valet bike parking and quality pedestrian and bike infrastructure cut both car traffic and reduce demand for car parking on event days, direct benefits to both Levi’s Stadium and those living or working in the area.

“The largest bike parking area takes up about 4000 square feet for up to 285 bikes,” wrote SVBC Bike Parking Coordinator Alison Pauline in an email. “We are parking up to 285 bikes in an area that could fit 13 cars.” Paluine said volunteers typically park between 100 and 200 bikes at 49ers games, depending on how many fans show up to watch the team play. Record turnout to date was over 700 bikes for a two-day Grateful Dead concert in June of 2015.

SVBC Bike Parking Volunteers at Levis Stadium

Volunteers park hundreds of bicycles at every Levi’s Stadium event, except Super Bowl 50, for which organizers have banned valet bike parking and closed the San Tomas Aquino Trail. Photo: SVBC

A network of over 100 miles of continuous off-street walking and bicycling paths stretching from Mountain View to San Jose connect directly to the football stadium’s main entrances along the San Tomas Aquino Trail in northern Santa Clara. “Our publicly funded San Tomas Aquino Trail has been taken over by a private corporation with the complicit support of the City of Santa Clara,” said former SVBC Board of Directors member Scott Lane. “This world-class network of off-street trails is intended for everyone to enjoy, not only those wealthy enough to afford 49ers football tickets.” Lane led successful negotiations in October 2014 between active transportation advocates and Santa Clara Police Chief Mike Sellers to allow trail access for people walking or bicycling to stadium events.

“While there will likely be a sizable increase in pedestrians on the San Tomas Aquino Creek
trail before and after NFL events, the creek trail is open to both pedestrians and cyclists and there are no restrictions on use,” promised Santa Clara city officials in the stadium’s Environmental Impact Report. “Anyone at anytime can access and use the trail.”

Additionally, the Super Bowl will cost Caltrain an estimated $400,000 to $500,000 to operate extra trains to shuttle fans to and from Mountain View, where they can transfer to Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) light rail trains – operating for the exclusive use of Super Bowl ticket-holders. VTA rail ridership to the stadium is capped at 12,000, and even at $20 a ticket the agency said it will not recover Super Bowl costs either. SamTrans is paying 12 bus drivers to remain on call so that bus bridges can be set up in case Caltrain breaks down. None of the transit agencies will be compensated by the National Football League or Levi’s Stadium.

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Bigger Intersections and More Traffic Planned for Millbrae BART/Caltrain Station

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El Camino Real and Millbrae Avenue

Millbrae Avenue at El Camino Real in Millbrae, slated for expansion with even more traffic lanes despite its location at San Mateo County’s busiest transit hub. Photo: Google Maps

As the City of Millbrae inches closer to final approval of plans for new construction at the Millbrae BART/Caltrain Station, officials have quietly proposed adding new traffic lanes and traffic signals to intersections near the station. The traffic expansions aim to cram even more auto traffic through the area, worsening already hazardous conditions for people walking or bicycling to and from the station.

The draft Millbrae Station Area Specific Plan to construct two major mixed-use developments on the Millbrae Station’s surface parking lots and along El Camino Real west of the station was released last June. The draft proposed only two new traffic signals and no lane additions be considered to support additional auto traffic, and envisioned a redeveloped station area that would boost both transit use and retail sales by making major safety improvements for pedestrians.

“Streets and intersections in the Plan Area will be reconfigured to provide a safer and more pleasant walking and biking environment that can be enjoyed by children, the elderly, and people with disabilities,” states the station area plan.

But last Tuesday Millbrae’s City Council approved a set of General Plan amendments allowing city engineers to add new traffic lanes to El Camino Real and Millbrae Avenue – already eight lanes across, including turn lanes – as well as lane additions or new traffic signals to three other intersections. This despite the fact that the project’s Environmental Impact Report, adopted by the city on January 12, recommended against these traffic lane additions, calling them “legally infeasible.”

“The plan as laid out in text and drawings prioritizes the convenience of auto traffic and parking at the expense of pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit,” wrote Sierra Club representatives in a January 22 letter to the City Council. They also wrote that it contradicts “the concept of a Transit Oriented Development.”

Intersection Expansions

Traffic lane additions planned for two El Camino Real intersections adjacent to the Millbrae BART/Caltrain Station. Image: City of Millbrae


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Two Bay Area Cyclists Cut Down By Drivers in One Day

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Goettingen Street lacks any design measures to discourage speeding. Image via Google Street View

While out with friends last night in West Portal, I mentioned that a cyclist was killed in San Francisco that morning. One of my friends corrected me and said “no, it was San Jose.”

My heart sank as I realized two Bay Area bicyclists had been cut down in separate incidents.

In San Jose, a bicyclist was struck by a pickup truck driver near Martial Cottle Park, as reported by InsideBayArea. “It does not appear that speed was a factor,” said San Jose Police Sergeant Todd Lonac. “It just appears to be a tragic accident.”

Ruling out excessive speed alone, however, does not absolve the driver. We still don’t know if texting or some other form of distraction was a factor. It’s too early in the investigation and not enough information is available for the cops to tell the public it was a faultless “accident.”

In Portola, meanwhile, a 63-year-old bicyclist was killed by a 26-year-old motorist who was apparently speeding and driving on the wrong side of Goettingen Street. The case was extreme enough that the SFPD arrested the driver on “suspicion” of vehicular manslaughter.

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Repairing the Gash in the Heart of Oakland

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The 980 Freeway created a 560-foot-wide gash through Oakland.

I-980 created a 560-foot-wide gash through Oakland. Photo: Roger Rudick

On a rainy morning in Preservation Park in Oakland, I met with Andrew Faulkner and Jonathan Fearn, advocates with “Connect Oakland,” to discuss their organization’s vision to remove the 980 freeway, which sits between downtown and West Oakland.

“The 980 freeway was supposed to save downtown,” said Fearn. Instead, he explained, it became a 560-foot-wide asphalt moat, combining with the 880 and 580 to encircle West Oakland with wide freeways. Fearn and Faulkner see connections between the highway and many of West Oakland’s problems.

“It’s part of a larger pattern of dislocation and disinvestment in the community,” said Christopher Sensenig, an urban designer and founder of Connect Oakland.

The freeway resulted from an aborted attempt to build a second bridge from Oakland to San Francisco. Even though the bridge never happened, the road that would feed cars to and from it was already in motion. All the planning to build the 980 caused investors to abandon the area. Advocates for the freeway then sold it as a way to invigorate downtown Oakland, by building a giant “glorified offramp,” as Faulkner called it, that would lead directly into parking structures.

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With Big Levy Vote, Seattle is Ready to Lead the Nation on Bike Infrastructure

Dexter Avenue.

pfb logo 100x22Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

The last two years have revealed a very clear new superstar in the country’s progress toward protected bike lane networks.

It’s the Emerald City: Seattle.

In the last two years, Seattle has completed seven protected bike lane projects, more than any other city in the country in that period except New York.

Seattle heaved through a significant “bikelash” a few years ago, and it’s discovered an ocean of political support on the other side.

On Tuesday night, the city’s voters did something remarkable: By 56 percent to 44 percent, they approved a property tax increase that will spend $65 million on a 50-mile protected bike lane network and a 60-mile neighborhood greenway network over the next nine years. It’ll also put $71 million toward Seattle’s goal of eliminating serious and fatal crashes, $15 million to repair 225 blocks of damaged sidewalks, $250 million to maintain existing roads, and $140 million to maintain existing bridges.

The project list goes on. But it never stoops to the mistaken claim that a fast-growing city can fix its transportation problems by building more and more lanes for cars, always hoping that the next lane will be the one that never fills up.

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Funds for San Diego “Park” Go Mostly to Free Parking for County Employees

Nobody’s going to give San Diego County an award for park planning — we hope! — on its “Waterfront Park project,” which is more accurately described as the “subsidized garage project.”

Bike SD

The top photo shows the county administration building pre-park. The bottom photo shows the site of the new $36 million garage built with park funds. Images: Bike SD

Grinning county officials recently cut the ribbon on a $36 million parking garage that will be free for county employees. With 640 spaces, the cost works out to $56,250 per space. The parking garage cost about three times what was spent to build the actual park on the nearby surface lot that the garage replaced, writes John Anderson at Network blog Bike SD

He explains:

The new county parking garage is the second portion of the “Waterfront Park project” that created a 12-acre park across Harbor Drive from San Diego Bay, replacing 8 acres of surface level parking lots adjacent the County Administration Building. That project cost $49.4 million dollars after an initial project cost estimate of $44.2M with $19.7M for building the park, $18.5M for building underground parking, and $6M for design and administration costs.

In total, between the two projects $54.5M was spent on moving parking spaces and $18.5M was spent on the actual park that people enjoy. This is excluding the $5.2M of difference from the original estimate to the actual construction costs and the $6M of design and administration costs. Those cost breakdowns yield a result of 75% of funds used to move spots for empty cars and 25% of funds used to build a park. For purposes of this article let’s assume the admin and cost over-run figures split on the same lines. The vast majority of the funds used for these joint projects was for moving parking spaces, not for building a park.

This project was sold as a project to build a great park – it would seem fitting if most of the funds were actually used to build a great park. Instead we spent 75% of the funds to relocate parking spaces, not creating new spaces but moving existing parking spaces. 251 spaces moved approximately 15 feet, they were undergrounded in the same location as the previous surface level lots.

To make matters worse, a beautiful historic building was demolished — of course — to make way for the subsidized garage with the extra-wide stalls. Little Italy was thriving without it, and the giant monolithic structure will probably just make the neighborhood less attractive, writes Anderson. Well done, San Diego!

Elsewhere on the Network today: You’ll never believe what’s blocking the bike lane in Louisville, via Broken Sidewalk. And Seattle Bike Blog says that voter approval of the “Move Seattle” transportation levy will lead to an “unprecedented effort to end traffic violence.”