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Millbrae’s Transit Hub Plans: Lots of Parking, Same Car-Dominated Streets

Housing for about 850 new residents and offices for 868 workers are slated to rise where these Millbrae Station parking lots currently stand — but so are more than 2,000 new parking spaces. Photo: City of Millbrae

BART and the City of Millbrae are moving ahead with plans for two major mixed-use developments on the Millbrae BART/Caltrain Station’s surface parking lots and along El Camino Real just west of the station.

The projects are expected to bring over 2,000 new residents and 2,000 jobs within walking distance of San Mateo County’s busiest transit hub. The developer in the running for one of the sites promises it would become an urban center friendly for walking and biking.

But without a bolder vision from Millbrae officials, the plan has fundamental flaws that could undermine the purpose of transit-oriented development: to make it easier for people to get around without cars. The development, as proposed, would add about 2,200 car parking spots and make no substantial changes to the surrounding car-dominated streets to allow people to safely get around the area by foot and bike.

New residents and workers are expected to drive for 69 percent of trips, according to the environmental review for a proposed update to the Millbrae Station Area Precise Plan, which must be approved by the City Council.

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Will Caltrans Get On Board With a Contraflow Bus Lane on the Bay Bridge?

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Image: SPUR

Image: SPUR

The proposal to improve transbay transit with a contraflow bus lane on the Bay Bridge is gaining traction, as the SF Chronicle reported yesterday. The idea has been pushed by proponents at SPUR, AC Transit, and some BART board members for years as a relatively quick and inexpensive solution to move more people between SF and the East Bay. BART is already experiencing “crush loads” under the Bay, but a second transbay tube may not come for decades.

As SPUR explained in a video in 2011, converting an eastbound traffic lane into a westbound bus-only lane during morning commute hours could move an additional 10,000 bus riders per hour — “almost the entire capacity on the entire upper deck” of the Bay Bridge — on AC Transit’s 30 transbay lines, which currently carry an estimated 14,000 passengers per day. It would require the construction of new bus ramps, including one to connect to the Transbay Transit Center in SF.

“With our packed capacity, and all of the development in the Transbay area and [Transbay Center] nearing completion, we’re going to really need that bus capacity,” said Tom Radulovich, a BART board member and director of Livable City. “Building a shiny, multi-billion dollar terminal and having those buses stuck in traffic doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

The biggest barrier to implementing the idea is convincing Caltrans, which has jurisdiction over the Bay Bridge, said Radulovich. According to him, the agency has said that the contraflow lane is unnecessary because it can manage car congestion through ramp metering. Caltrans didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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Three-Bike Bus Racks on Muni: A Solution for Late-Night Transit Woes?

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Photo: SFMTA

Muni is testing front-mounted bike racks that can carry three bicycles (instead of the usual two) on some of its most hilly bus routes. If implemented widely, that third bike space could prevent some late-night travelers from getting “bumped” when racks fill up.

Bike capacity on transit is particularly important in SF and the Bay Area, given geographic barriers like hills and, well, the bay. Late at night, when many buses cover little ground and come just once an hour, getting home can be especially difficult for people with bikes who rely on transit for part of their trip, or who are just too tired to make the ride home. Late-night buses, it seems, often attract the most bikes.

Last month, Janel Sterbentz was one of the lucky ones. She narrowly avoided waiting an extra hour at Market Street and Van Ness Avenue at 2 a.m. on a Friday morning, when the hourly AC Transit All-Nighter bus — the only way to get to the East Bay by transit once BART shuts down — arrived with both of its bike rack spots full.

Unlike Muni, AC Transit and SamTrans allow bikes on board late-night buses at the operator’s discretion.

An AC Transit bus with a three-bike rack at the Transbay Terminal in SF. Photo: Kenya Wheeler/Twitter

An AC Transit bus with a three-bike rack at the Transbay Terminal in SF. Photo: Kenya Wheeler/Twitter

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Daly City Votes to Continue Subsidizing Residential Parking Permits

Willits Street two blocks south of the Daly City BART Station. Only residents are allowed to park vehicles in the street on weekday mornings, and each residence may receive up to three free permits. Photo: Google Maps

Daly City’s City Council shot down a proposal last month to charge $40 a year for residential parking permits near the city’s BART station. The permits, which give resident car owners privileged access to on-street parking, are currently free.

The proposed fee, which amounts to 11 cents per day, elicited raucous opposition from public commenters at the council meeting. The fee would have applied only to a household’s third and fourth parking permits, leaving the first two permits free. The maximum number of permits each household could receive would be capped at four vehicles, up from the current three.

“The proposed fee would encourage driveway and off-street parking; reduce traffic congestion; create a safer pedestrian environment in the affected neighborhoods; recover the costs for processing parking permits and a small portion of the cost for parking permits enforcement,” wrote Daly City Director of Finance and Administrative Services Lawrence Chiu.

The argument to stop subsidizing parking quite so much didn’t get very far. City Council Member Judith Christensen called the proposal “outrageous.”

“That would be 1,039 people who will be paying $40 for something that for 20 years was free,” she noted, pointing to the city’s data on how many households are now parking a third or fourth vehicle in the street.

“I’m absolutely opposed to the raising of parking permit fees… we should disapprove any fee whatsoever,” said Council Member David Canepa.

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BART Will Study Second Transbay Tube, West Side Extension

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BART plans to study a new Transbay tube, leading into SoMa and SF’s western neighborhoods. Image: BART [PDF]

Updated 11:06 p.m. with comments from BART Board-elect Nick Josefowitz.

BART says it will formally study the decades-old ideas of building a second Transbay tube and extending service to SF’s western neighborhoods.

Ellen Smith, BART’s acting manager for strategic and policy planning, recently told a SF County Transportation Authority Board committee (comprised of SF supervisors) that regional transportation agencies plan to fund a study of a subway connecting the South of Market area to Alameda, with a possible extension west underneath the Market Street subway, towards the Richmond and Sunset Districts.

BART has only sketched out the ideas as conceptual routes, and has yet to provide even a ballpark estimate of a timeline or costs.

Don’t expect to take a ride anytime soon, though: “We could be talking decades,” Smith said. Building a new underwater tube is “clearly a massive investment and undertaking, technically, operationally, financially, and politically.”

The tube would be a key piece of the infrastructure needed to accommodate the growing number of riders squeezing into the existing Transbay tube, BART’s busiest section of track.

A second tube would “greatly increase our capacity, but probably not double it,” said Smith. It would make the system more resilient, keeping service running even if minor mechanical problems occur within the existing two-track tube. It would also make 24-hour service possible, since BART maintenance crews currently need to clear the tube for nightly work.

The current single tube “was planned in the 1960s, when there were only 3.6 million people in the Bay Area,” a small fraction of the 9 million expected by 2040, said Smith.

The ideas for BART expansions in SF are hardly new, but it’s the first time BART said it will study them.

SPUR has long pushed the idea of a second Transbay tube, and explained its vision in a video in 2011. In the meantime, the organization says bus service should be given higher priority on the Bay Bridge with the creation of a contra-flow transit lane. Smith said BART is considering launching a new Transbay bus service, but the Metropolitan Transportation Commission has only just begun preliminary consideration of a transit lane on the bridge.

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Officials Celebrate BART’s Shiny, Costly New Oakland Airport Connector

BART’s new Oakland Airport Connector at Coliseum Station. Photos: Melanie Curry

The ribbon was cut Friday on BART’s new $484 million Oakland Airport Connector, with a ceremony complete with the requisite speeches, live music, and even a raffle. Free rides were given to everyone who came.

The new cable-propelled system is elegant, clean, quiet, and relatively quick. But it’s also a shining example of how BART can misplace its funding priorities by building a new flyover train to serve relatively few passengers while neglecting — and increasing — the maintenance costs of the starved larger rail network, as transit advocates argued throughout the years it took to plan and build the OAC. Its $6 fare will leave everyday BART riders paying for the lion’s share of its operating costs of $18 to $21 per trip.

“Despite the obvious needs, BART has gone forward with seemingly thoughtless projects like the airport connector,” Joél Ramos, TransForm’s regional planning director. “I use the word ‘thoughtless’ because they didn’t give alternatives fair consideration. BART never seriously considered a system integrating dedicated bus lanes, something we know to be efficient and reliable.”

The $6 train trip from the Coliseum BART station to the airport costs twice the fare of the now-defunct AirBART bus, and almost three times the fare of AC Transit’s 73 bus route (an underpublicized airport connection). And it doesn’t include the fare to anywhere else on BART.

The OAC travels at a sedate 30 mph, taking about eight minutes to get from the Coliseum BART station to the Oakland airport, including a pause in the middle to switch cables. That stop seems long enough to take on passengers, but there’s no station there — just the green corrugated-iron wall of the cable wheelhouse. The lack of a station is just one of the train’s many missed opportunities.

Meanwhile, BART’s everyday riding experience is in decline, belying its image as a state-of-the-art rail system: Trains are overcrowded at peak hours, doors sometimes won’t open, lights won’t work, and other equipment failures lead to increasing tube-clogging delays.

At Friday’s celebratory ceremony, however, little mention was made of the downsides of diverting resources to the OAC at the expense of the larger system. Officials made speeches focusing on benefits like fewer car trips to the airport, an easier way for travelers to get to San Francisco, and increased transit service for the development planned around Coliseum BART Station.

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VTA Cuts Alum Rock and Santa Clara BART Stations From Funding Plans

An artist’s rendering of the proposed Five Wounds Urban Village, which would redevelop an industrial site with new housing, office, and retail space around a new Alum Rock BART Station. Image: Taeker Planning & Design

Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) officials announced on October 6 that they would not seek federal funds in 2015 to construct Alum Rock and Santa Clara BART stations planned as part of the transit system’s extension through downtown San Jose. The move sparked an outcry from neighborhood leaders and elected officials, who have worked in community planning efforts for over a decade to anchor new compact, walkable urban centers with the transit stations.

A $2.3 billion, 10-mile extension of BART to Berryessa in northeast San Jose, from its current terminus in Fremont, is currently under construction and scheduled to open in late 2017. Another $4.7 billion is needed for an extension from Berryessa to Santa Clara’s Caltrain Station, through downtown San Jose, which had earlier been slated to have four stations. VTA planners say the extension would get a better chance of winning a $1.1 billion New Starts construction grant from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) by cutting the $1.3 billion cost of the Alum Rock and Santa Clara stations from the grant application.

“This is a radical change from what we understood from VTA for the last nearly-15 years,” said Terry Christensen, the Friends of Five Wounds Trail’s executive director and long-time resident of the Five Wounds/Brookwood Terrace neighborhood. VTA first proposed the Alum Rock station for that neighborhood in 2001.

The locations of future BART stations planned for the rail transit system’s extension to Santa Clara, through downtown San Jose. Image: Valley Transportation Authority

While FTA’s policy guide for scoring New Starts transit projects requires that funded projects “be supported by an acceptable degree of local financial commitment, including evidence of stable and dependable financing sources,” cutting the two stations still leaves the BART extension $1.7 billion short of its construction budget. Cutting the stations also hurts the project’s ratings on other factors FTA scores on: mobility improvements, particularly for car-free households; economic development effects, or the likelihood of attracting transit-supportive development;, environmental benefits like reduced vehicle miles traveled; and congestion relief.

VTA is now pursuing a “phased station implementation”, first constructing BART stations only at Diridon and Downtown by 2025, and later adding the Alum Rock and Santa Clara stations when an additional $1.3 billion for their construction somehow becomes available. VTA planners are also proposing to relocate the proposed Alum Rock Station, if and when it is ever built, to Santa Clara and 23rd streets to trim another $165 million in tunneling costs from the project.

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Watch BART Board Candidates Nick Josefowitz and James Fang Debate

The race is on for the BART Board of Directors seat representing District 8, which wraps around northern, western, and southern San Francisco. Twenty-four year incumbent James Fang faces a challenge in the November election from Nick Josefowitz, and the two debated for the first time at last week’s meeting of the Sunset Heights Association of Responsible People. The video of the debate above was provided by the Josefowitz campaign.

BART District 8 is shown in orange on the left. Image: BART

BART District 8 is shown in orange on the left. Image: BART

Josefowitz, a solar power tech entrepreneur and a London-raised newcomer to SF, could be a serious contender to defeat Fang, the BART Board’s longest-running member and the only elected Republican in SF.

Josefowitz’s attacks against Fang include the fact that he is a Republican, and his record on keeping BART escalators and elevators clean and running (or not). Josefowitz has also pointed to Fang’s role in the poorly managed labor negotiations last year that culminated with a strike. Fang defended his record: the BART extension to SFO, a doubling of BART’s ridership, and consistent budget surpluses since he joined the board in 1990.

Fang, a Sunset District native, is the president of the magazine Asian Week and former owner of the SF Examiner. He continues to push his vision for “BART to the beach,” an extension through the Richmond District under either Geary Boulevard or Fulton Street (see the 22:00 mark).

Josefowitz’s platform includes a push to develop BART station parking lots into housing (5:30 and 10:00). Fang insists that BART does have such plans at all stations except Orinda and Walnut Creek (7:20), but that many residents don’t want the development.

Check out the video to see Fang and Josefowitz discuss other topics, like crackdowns on people sitting in stations (8:30) and BART workers’ right to strike (12:00).

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Costly New Parking Garages Still Gobbling Up Land at BART Stations

Oakland and BART officials cut the ribbon Monday on a new parking garage for a “transit village” being built at MacArthur Station. Photo: BRIDGE Housing/Twitter

BART continues to encourage the construction of multi-story parking garages at its stations, despite the exorbitant costs and lost potential for valuable land that could be put to better use.

On Monday, Oakland and BART officials held a press conference and ribbon-cutting ceremony to tout the opening of a 481-space parking structure at MacArthur BART station. The structure was built at a cost of $15,371,000, or about $32,000 per space (based on a 2012 figure), and is part of a “transit village” housing and retail development. But like most park-and-ride fortresses, it will mostly sit empty when commuters aren’t using it to store cars, which is most of the time.

The only media coverage of the MacArthur press conference was a San Jose Mercury News photo slideshow showing Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, two BART board members, an Oakland council member, and a developer rep cutting the ribbon, before heading up to the empty rooftop to take in the views.

Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich, who sits on the BART board, said he’s “appalled that we wasted tens of millions of dollars building a commuter garage at an urban station like MacArthur.”

“Ridership kept growing at that station despite the reduction in parking during construction, which demonstrates that we could have done perfectly well without it,” he said. “Many of our highest-ridership stations — Balboa Park, Berkeley, 19th, 16th, 24th, Glen Park — have little or no commuter parking. At stations like MacArthur, Ashby, West Oakland, and Lake Merritt, we should be phasing out parking as we build transit villages, and enhance walking, cycling, and local transit access instead of building structured parking.”

Only 10 percent of people using MacArthur station drive there, the Mercury News reported in 2011, and five shuttles operate in the station area.

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Avalos Ready to Champion Freeway Ramp Closures at Balboa Park Station

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The 280 freeway on-ramp at Geneva Avenue next to Balboa Park Station would be removed under the recommendations of an SFCTA study. Photo: SFCTA

Balboa Park Station could become a safer transit hub by 2020 if the city moves forward with proposals to close one freeway ramp and re-align another, as recommended in a study recently completed by the SF County Transportation Authority. Although the proposal hasn’t received much public attention, it’s sure to face a tough political fight when it’s eventually implemented, said D11 Supervisor John Avalos, who chairs the SFCTA. Avalos said the project is worth implementing, and he’s eager to champion the plans as soon as they can move forward.

Supervisor John Avalos. Photo: Steve Rhodes/Flickr

“It’s a political problem how to implement these changes around the station. People want things to be different, but they don’t want any change,” said Avalos. “The trade-offs, they see as really harmful to the neighborhoods.”

The SFCTA study proposes altering freeway ramps, changing traffic signals, and a new frontage road for loading — changes that were vetted by the Balboa Park Community Advisory Committee. The study notes, “With strong support, consensus, and high priority from the community, agencies, and elected officials, the initial pilot projects could begin in 2016, with full implementation by 2020.”

Avalos’s term in office will end in late 2016, but he said he hopes to help move the freeway ramp changes forward before he leaves. “I have two-and-a-half years of office left, and I want to be part of actually getting some implementation on these changes,” he said.

The goal of the SFCTA study was to find ways to make the streets safer around Balboa Park Station, which is surrounded by car traffic moving to and from six nearby freeway ramps. Even though 24,000 people use the station daily to ride Muni and BART — it’s BART’s busiest station outside of downtown SF — it seems to be designed as an afterthought to the 280 freeway. Many commuters exiting the station walk or bike to City College’s main campus.

“The neighborhood has long suffered from its cluster of poorly-designed freeway on- and off-ramps,” said Livable City Director Tom Radulovich, a member of the BART Board of Directors. “We finally have a definite and buildable proposal for the freeway ramps that will reduce the burden that they impose.”

Through the study, planners and CAC members explored several options for re-configuring the freeway ramps. The favored option would remove one of the two northbound on-ramps, at Geneva Avenue. A curved southbound off-ramp that slings cars onto westbound Ocean Avenue would also be removed and replaced by a new ramp that approaches the street at a head-on 90-degree angle. That new intersection would be signalized.

This proposal originally called for closing the second off-ramp that touches down at Geneva, but that idea was dropped.

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