Cross-posted from the SPUR blog. Gabriel Metcalf and Ratna Amin are SPUR’s executive director and transportation policy director, respectively.
For a group like SPUR — one that works to promote transit, walking and biking as primary forms of mobility — there’s no question that a transit strike is a major setback. It instills in people the sense, consciously or unconsciously, that they cannot count on transit being there when they need it. People who don’t have the flexibility in their jobs to work from home, or who need to get their kids to school, are getting the message that they can’t rely on transit for daily trips.
All of this is deeply unfortunate.
What does it mean for our broader transportation agenda when something like this happens?
Fully 63.5 percent of the 400,000 daily trips on BART are to or from the San Francisco downtown area, and 50.1 percent of all BART trips go through the Transbay Tube, according to data from BART’s monthly ridership reports. On weekday mornings it carries about 21,000 people per hour to the west side of the bay. By comparison, the Bay Bridge carries about 24,000 people per hour in the same direction. Both systems are currently very congested for much of the morning and afternoon peak hours (though not all the cars on the bridge are full), according to a Bay Bridge congestion study.
Although only about 5 percent of the region’s workers use BART during the morning peak, taking that 5 percent off the road brings tremendous benefits to our roadways and other travelers. With BART’s closure, we see how moving that small number of people off transit and onto roads causes “chaos” through much of the region. Many of the highway corridors that BART serves are operating near capacity at peak hours already — which is part of why BART keeps breaking ridership records. When highways are operating near capacity, it takes very few added cars for congestion to become gridlock.
Our region is projected to grow from 7.2 million people today to 9.3 million people in 2040 — that’s 2.1 million new people who will need to get around the bay. Auto demand on highway links like the Bay Bridge already exceeds capacity. Assuming we are not going to add more road capacity on these corridors, we actually need transit to carry significantly more people each year than it did the year before.
The BART strike focuses us on the need for a reliable public transit system. And it contains some important lessons for our broader transit agenda.
Lesson No. 1: The Need for Redundancy
Losing BART to a strike is somewhat like losing BART to an earthquake. And it just so happens that SPUR has conducted an in-depth study on how to provide resilience in our transportation system in the event that we lose segments of our network to an earthquake.