Skip to content

Posts from the "Caltrain" Category

3 Comments

Voters Back Downtown Growth in San Bruno and Menlo Park

Simulated view at San Mateo Avenue and El Camino Real in San Bruno of retail and office developments that are now possible. Image: Yes on Measure N

Tuesday’s election saw large majorities of San Bruno and Menlo Park voters approve plans for substantial new downtown development. The plans could potentially transform both downtowns by bringing several thousand more workers and residents within walking distance of the two Peninsula cities’ Caltrain stations, both improving transit ridership and making the downtowns livelier, more livable places.

San Bruno’s Measure N, approved by 67 percent of voters, raises height limits for new buildings on the city’s downtown commercial streets. Menlo Park’s Measure M would have slowed growth by placing new restrictions and caps on future downtown development, but it was rejected by 62 percent of voters.

Both cities grew up with traditional downtowns centered around railroad stations, and both have a grid of pre-war streets centered on their Caltrain stations and El Camino Real, the Peninsula’s historic main street and a major bus corridor. Neither San Bruno nor Menlo Park have attracted higher density, mixed-use development to their downtowns, unlike larger cities in San Mateo County like San Mateo or Redwood City.

“I believe our planners have done sound work to revitalize our downtown, and surrounding neighborhoods, as a vibrant mixed-use area with jobs, housing, new shops and beautiful public places in close proximity to our Caltrain station,” said San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane of the city’s Transit Corridors Plan, which required Measure N’s passage before it could be implemented, according to city officials. “We need housing, and we need it desperately,” said Ruane.

City planners expect that the passage of Measure N, and the recent relocation of San Bruno’s Caltrain station to San Bruno and San Mateo avenues, will spur major office development north of the station. Photo: Andrew Boone

Measure N repeals several provisions set forth in Ordinance 1284, a 1977 initiative which slowed commercial and residential development in San Bruno by requiring that voters approve plans for any building exceeding 50 feet (or three stories) in height. Voters have approved two such construction projects since then: the Tanforan indoor shopping mall in 1984, and The Crossing, an 835-unit, five-story residential development, in 2001.

Read more…

23 Comments

Caltrain and High-Speed Rail Pursue Level Boarding, Compatible Platforms

California High-Speed Rail (foreground) and Caltrain (background, right) will have to share Transbay Center platforms. Image: CAHSR Authority

Correction 10/8: Caltrain and the CAHSRA haven’t agreed to create a joint specification for train cars, but will explore options for platform compatibility.

Officials representing Caltrain and the California High-Speed Rail Authority recently announced that they’ll work closely together over the next several months to explore what options are available from train car manufacturers to allow for level boarding, examine the potential benefits of platform compatibility, and the impacts on the operation of each transit system of doing so.

The cars would allow both systems to board trains from high-level, shared platforms at the future SF Transbay Transit Center, Millbrae, and San Jose stations. The announcement was made last Monday at a meeting hosted by transit advocacy group Friends of Caltrain in Mountain View.

“Level boarding,” so called because passengers will be able to walk directly from platforms onto trains without any steps, maximizes passenger capacity by speeding up boarding. It’s crucial that these three stations have platforms that work for both Caltrain and CAHSR, to maximize flexibility and to reduce redundancy.

Still, many transit advocates remain skeptical that the CAHSRA is sincere about pursuing shared level platforms. The agency issued a Request for Expressions of Interest on October 1 specifying single-level train cars with a floor height of 51 inches above the rails, incompatible with most of the available bi-level electric commuter trains that Caltrain is considering. CAHSR officials insist they have not ruled out alternative platform heights, but say that trains operating at speeds of 220 mph work best with a floor height of around 50 inches.

Average weekday ridership on Caltrain has doubled since 2004 to 59,900 passenger trips in June of this year, fueled by robust employment growth in both San Francisco and throughout Silicon Valley. Rush-hour crowds continue to grow, and up to one-third of passengers are unable to find a seat on the most popular trains and instead pack into aisles and vestibules.

“I’ve heard stories of standees crowding three or four into a bathroom because there are not enough seats on these trains to handle the volumes of customers we have,” stated Caltrain Modernization Project Delivery Director Dave Couch.

Development at San Francisco’s Transbay Center will add thousands of Caltrain passengers every day. Image: Transbay Transit Center

About 20 percent more seats will be available on many rush hour trains by mid-2015, after a $15 million project to lengthen trains from five to six cars, using 16 surplus train cars purchased from LA’s Metrolink.

But Caltrain’s ridership growth shows no signs of letting up, as cities located along the rail line increasingly focus commercial and residential development within walking distance of Caltrain stations along El Camino Real.

“We’re anticipating to take on 200,000 new jobs and another 94,000 units of housing by 2040, primarily along the Caltrain corridor and Market Street,” said Gillian Gillett, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee’s transportation policy director. “People want to live here, and companies want to stay here and grow here.”

Capacity on an electrified Caltrain could eventually double from today’s levels, to over 9,000 passengers per hour, if eight-car trains were run eight times an hour, according to an analysis conducted by Friends of Caltrain. But running such frequent service requires both level boarding and shared platforms, so that Caltrain could use any of the Transbay Center’s six proposed platforms even after CAHSR service starts in 2029.
Read more…

8 Comments

Supes Stand Up to Transbay Developers, Approve Original Rail Funding Deal

This post supported by

The Board of Supervisors yesterday unanimously approved the original agreement to fund Transbay District transportation upgrades, like the downtown rail extension to the Transbay Transit Center, through development charges. Although supervisors had announced a compromise agreement two weeks ago, some developers apparently backed out of it. City Hall officials decided to move forward with the original agreement, since those developers threatened to file a lawsuit either way.

A rendering of the Transbay Transit Center and surrounding high-rise development to come, via TransbayCenter.org

The disagreement arose after Transbay developers began to fight the establishment of a special property tax, called a Mello-Roos tax district, which they had agreed to in 2012 to help fund local infrastructure projects, like the extension of Caltrain and California high-speed rail to the Transbay Center. The developers, who still must approve the Mello-Roos agreement in a vote, hired former Mayor Willie Brown to lobby for a lower tax rate, since property values (and thus projected taxes) have skyrocketed in recent years.

“Kudos to the Supervisors for supporting the original Mello-Roos agreement, rather than delaying the vote again or agreeing to further concessions,” said Livable City Director Tom Radulovich. “Any project of this size is going to be subject to lawsuits and threats of lawsuits. Shame on these developers for seeking to reap all the benefits of the Transbay project, their beneficial re-zoning, and San Francisco’s booming land values, without any portion of this enormous windfall going towards the public good.”

Under the compromise agreement announced two weeks ago, the developers would have paid the same maximum of $1.4 billion in taxes, but spread over 37 years instead of 30. Supervisor Scott Wiener said this would have retained “every penny” of the original deal, but some said the economics would’ve worked out in the developers’ favor. The SF Chronicle penned an editorial on Sunday blasting the “unwarranted tax break to developers” and “huge giveaway”:

Read more…

22 Comments

Developers Don’t Want to Pay for Caltrain/HSR Extension to Transbay Center

Developers who are building towers around the Transbay Transit Center in SoMa are fighting to reduce a special property tax that will be levied on developments in the area. The biggest loser could be the downtown rail extension to bring Caltrain and California high-speed rail into the terminal, as more of the funds for the regional rail hub and other long-term projects would have to come from taxpayers.

A rendering of the Transbay Transit Center and surrounding high-rise development to come, via TransbayCenter.org

The group of developers is backed by former mayor Willie Brown, who registered as an official lobbyist to work for them in July (he also recently lobbied “pro bono” for AnsoldoBreda, the manufacturer of Muni’s current train fleet). Brown previously helped create the Transbay Joint Powers Authority to oversee the massive package of projects centered around what’s been called the “Grand Central of the West,” expected to open in 2017.

SF Chronicle columnists Phil Matier and Andrew Ross reported in July:

Brown confirmed for us that he is representing Boston Properties — builder of the 61-story Salesforce Tower — and more than a half dozen other property owners.

In exchange for the city allowing them to increase the height and density of their projects, the property owners agreed two years ago to be assessed up to $400 million to help pay for a Transbay Transit Center rooftop park and other public improvements to the area.

Only now, thanks to skyrocketing property values and changes in the city’s methodology for calculating the assessments, the developers — paying into what’s known as a Mello-Roos special district — could face up to $1.4 billion in charges.

The Board of Supervisors was expected to approve the agreement creating the Mello-Roos district on Tuesday, but D6 Supervisor Jane Kim postponed the item one week. “We wanted additional time to be able to brief all of the offices on this issue, but also talk to the multiple parties involved,” Kim said at the meeting.

Read more…

4 Comments

Caltrain Raises Fares for Go Pass, Paper Tickets

Caltrain’s Board of Directors approved a set of fare increases last week that will raise up to $598,000 in farebox revenue. Caltrain will hike prices for its annual unlimited-ride Go Pass, paper one-way tickets and day passes, and special-event parking fees. Farebox revenues are projected to total $75 million in 2015, paying 60 percent of Caltrain’s $126 million operating budget.

Most of the new revenue will be raised by a 15 percent increase in fees for Caltrain’s Go Pass program, which currently provides discounted annual passes to 81 participating employers. Employers currently pay $165 per year per full-time employee (or a flat fee of $13,750, whichever is greater) to receive unlimited Caltrain rides for all of their employees for one year. This annual fee will rise to $180 per employee (or at least $15,120) on October 5, 2014, and then to $190 per employee (or at least $15,960) “beginning in 2016″.

This pricing structure makes the Go Pass program cost-effective only for larger employers, who can provide free Caltrain passes as a valuable employee perk. Introduced in 2003, the Go Pass program has generated a reliable and growing ridership base and increasing farebox revenue for Caltrain, with over 40,000 workers now eligible for the free passes. But as Go Pass expands, revenue per passenger trip declines, because the passes are sold at a deep discount compared to regular monthly passes — a growing concern as peak hour trains become increasingly crowded.

The higher Go Pass fees will generate an additional $600,000 for Caltrain in 2015 and $1 million in 2016, assuming that the number of total eligible employees remains stable. Even at the $190 per employee annual fee that Caltrain will charge in 2016, Go Passes are far cheaper than the private shuttles operated by some large Silicon Valley companies.

“Evidence suggests that employers would stay [in the Go Pass program],” wrote Friends of Caltrain Director Adina Levin last year, citing data from the Valley Transportation Authority’s (VTA) corresponding EcoPass.

But Caltrain is still probably leaving millions on the table, since even employers with high participation rates get a huge discount per employee compared to regular adult monthly fares. The largest participant in the Go Pass program, Stanford University, has seen the share of its faculty and administrative staff using Caltrain jump from just four percent in 2002 to 24 percent in 2013. With about 13,000 faculty and staff, Stanford now pays $2.2 million annually for Go Passes, or $700 per employee who actually take the train to work. Without this discount, the university would pay twice as much for two-zone monthly passes for its employees who use Caltrain, and three times as much for three-zone monthly passes.

In an effort to “incentivize use of the Clipper fare payment system”, Caltrain is also raising fares on paper one-way tickets and day passes. Passengers purchasing one-way paper tickets already pay a 25-cent premium over the fare paid with a Clipper transit card; that premium will rise to 50 cents. Prices for paper ticket day passes, currently sold for the equivalent of two one-way trips, will rise 50 cents. The fare changes will take effect on October 5.

Read more…

2 Comments

San Jose Approves Diridon Plan, With Creek Restoration and Reduced Traffic

The Diridon Station Area Plan proposes a complete network of linear parks featuring the Los Gatos Creek and Guadalupe River. Image: City of San Jose

On Tuesday evening, the San Jose City Council finally approved the Diridon Station Area Plan. The final plan retains a creek trail restoration project that had been on the chopping block, while strengthening requirements for SAP Center to help reduce demand for driving to the arena and Diridon Caltrain Station.

After transportation and housing advocates complained that the San Jose City Council wasn’t planning to allow public comment during their final review of the plan, Mayor Chuck Reed agreed to hear from the public one last time, before finalizing and approving the 30-year land use and development plan for everything within walking distance of the City’s downtown rail station.

At the City Council’s preliminary review of the plan on May 20, several residents spoke in favor of the recommendation by the Diridon Plan to “daylight” the Los Gatos Creek Trail, and extend the trail along the creek to connect with the Guadalupe River Trail, just north of Santa Clara Street. The creek currently flows through an enclosed culvert underneath Montgomery Street and Park Boulevard.

Despite this public feedback, and support for the project within the draft Diridon Station Area Plan, city officials instead proposed on June 6 to eliminate the restoration of the creek from the plan’s recommendations, saying that “acquiring the land would be extremely costly… and the bridge structures [of the streets above the creek] would still shadow much of the creek”.

Read more…

9 Comments

San Jose Diridon Area Plan Could Add Parking, Lose Trail, Pass Council Tues.

SAP Arena’s existing surface parking lot. San Jose has already agreed to expand the parking available to Arena visitors by over 900 spaces in the Diridon plan. Photo: Google Maps

Just four days before San Jose’s City Council was expected to approve the Diridon Station Area Plan, a four-year-old community-based plan to guide the next 30 years of transit-oriented redevelopment around the Diridon Caltrain Station, city officials released a memo on June 6, proposing numerous amendments in response to City Council questions and public comments made at the council’s preliminary review of the plan on May 20.

These amendments include adding a “Parking Policy 9″ to the plan’s Implementation Strategy Report, developed in close collaboration with SAP Center. The sports and entertainment arena has requested that over 20,000 car parking spaces be constructed in the Diridon Station Area — double what the city’s recommends based on its projections of parking demand — and has criticized the city’s plans to improve transit as “unlikely to allow convenient transportation.”

Development projects within 1/3-mile of the Caltrain station or SAP Center would be affected by Mayor Reed’s June 10 proposal. Image: City of San Jose

The city’s memo recommends adding new conditions to future commercial development within the Diridon Station Area. Shared parking, which would allow SAP Arena visitors who arrive for events to park in the parking lots of future office buildings, would be a required for all development projects located within 1/3-mile of the Caltrain station, “if necessary to mitigate the loss of parking” of new buildings constructed on existing parking lots.

Mayor Chuck Reed, who is also represented on the San Jose Arena Authority’s Board of Directors along with City Council members Pierluigi Oliverio and Kansen Chu, proposed additional development conditions in his own June 10 memo [PDF]. City Council members Sam Liccardo and Pierluigi Oliverio voiced support for the Mayor’s proposals in a June 13 memo [PDF].

Mayor Reed’s new development conditions would give SAP Center control over any future city plans to reduce the existing parking supply, proposing that the implementation of the Diridon plan include ”a goal to maintain the current parking availability until the City and Arena Management agree that transit ridership is robust enough to reduce parking supply without negatively impacting SAP Center operations.” (emphasis added)

The Reed-Liccardo-Olivero proposal would also expand the required parking studies to all projects located within 1/3-mile of SAP Arena, in addition to those located within 1/3-mile of the Diridon Caltrain Station as proposed by city staff. These parking studies would need to “identify the impacts of the project on the existing parking supply within the Diridon area, and suggest ways to mitigate the impact if it is deemed significant,” possibly resulting in the construction of surplus parking spaces, the cost of which would be borne by developers and passed onto tenants in the form of higher rents.

Read more…

55 Comments

Clipper Card Upgrade Could Bring Seamless Regional Travel, Or Not

Transit riders can transfer between BART, Caltrain, and SamTrans bus services at the Millbrae Transit Center, but riders must pay each transit agency’s full fare. Photo: BART

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission will soon renew its contract for Clipper, the Bay Area’s “all-in-one transit card.” Transit advocates are urging MTC to use the opportunity to create a more seamless fare system, and remove barriers that could allow Clipper payments on both the region’s transit agencies and “first-and-last-mile” trip services.

Transit riders can currently use the Clipper card to pay fares on the Bay Area’s seven largest transit agencies (Muni, BART, AC Transit, VTA, Caltrain, SamTrans, Golden Gate) and the San Francisco Bay Ferry, and it’s set to include several other smaller transit agencies by 2016. While using a single card is certainly more convenient for customers whose trips take them across seemingly arbitrary transit agency service boundaries, it hasn’t made those trips faster or more affordable.

“Take the trip from U.C. Berkeley to Stanford: important destinations that are both inherently walkable places with daytime populations in the tens of thousands,” SPUR Transportation Policy Director Ratna Amin wrote in a blog post last week. “It’s logical to think they’d be linked by high-quality transit connections. But even during the morning rush hour, this trip takes nearly two hours.” It also costs $10.10, or about $400/month for a weekday commuter.

Clipper transit card reader

Clipper transit card reader. Photo: Dan Honda/San Jose Mercury News

“In other regions where transit works better, you don’t have to think about what brand of transit you’re taking or who operates it,” said Adina Levin, co-founder of Friends of Caltrain. “And you don’t pay a lot extra to take different brands.”

Even many shorter trips are either cost-prohibitive or time-prohibitive on transit. A one-way trip during rush hour between Daly City and Menlo Park, located 25 miles apart in San Mateo County, takes under an hour via BART and Caltrain, but costs $8.80. SamTrans’ ECR route is available for just $2, but takes about 2.5 hours. By car it takes just 45 minutes during rush hour, and for less than half the BART + Caltrain fare in gas money. Residents who can’t afford $17.60/day in transit fare and also can’t afford five hours of travel time drive instead for such trips, adding significantly to traffic congestion on the Bay Area’s highways.

“The Bay Area needs a regional transit fare policy… that doesn’t penalize customers who transfer between systems,” wrote Egon Terplan, SPUR’s regional planning director, as part of the urban think tank’s “Six Ideas for Saving Bay Area Transit.”

One proposal by MTC that would at least reduce the transfer penalty is a standard 50-cent fare discount that transit riders would receive when transferring between transit agencies. Although such a small discount won’t boost transit ridership, it would at least remove one barrier to regional fare integration by making discounts the default type of fare agreement between transit agencies in the Bay Area. Another MTC proposal is to enable future Clipper cards to charge passengers daily and/or monthly fare maximums. This would be similar to existing daily and monthly passes, except that riders wouldn’t have to “commit” to any minimum number of trips, or even sign up to receive a discount for heavy transit use. This concept could be expanded to apply to trips between transit agencies, thus creating creating daily and monthly regional transit passes.

Read more…

103 Comments

Longer Trains May Be No Match for Growing Caltrain Crowds

Caltrain’s rush hour trains have never been more crowded, which isn’t just uncomfortable for riders — it also discourages potential commuters who instead drive along Peninsula highways, and makes rides more difficult for elderly passengers and riders with disabilities. Commuters could see some relief in 2015, when Caltrain plans to extend the length of some of its trains, but the crunch won’t end any time soon if ridership trends continue.

During a typical weekday on Caltrain, the number of trains with more passengers than seats (with passengers left standing) has increased from just two during summer 2010 to over ten trains in summer 2013. The agency estimates that standees account for 10 to 20 percent of passengers on the busiest winter trains, and 30 to 40 percent during the summer.

Caltrain lacks dedicated areas for standing and has no rails or handles to hold on to, so standing on Caltrain is more difficult than on other rail transit systems such as BART. Caltrain’s cars are designed to maximize seats, with about 650 on each train, making it easy for commuters to read or work on laptops.

With Caltrain attracting about 4,300 new weekday riders every year since 2010, ridership will reach almost 60,000 on weekdays this summer, and could surpass 75,000 by 2018.

Read more…

94 Comments

Transit Researchers Want Your Videos of Tech Shuttles at Muni Stops

The public debate about the proliferation of tech shuttles, and the fees they should pay to use Muni stops, has thus far been driven more by emotion than by data and empirical analysis. But two city planning researchers at UC Berkeley are looking to change that by studying crowdsourced videos of private shuttles in bus zones, which they’ll use to gauge the delays they impose on Muni.

Photo via Mark Dreger and Dan Howard

Photo via Mark Dreger and Dan Howard

The $1 fee that the SFMTA will charge shuttles every time they use a Muni stop, as part of a recently-approved pilot program, has outraged gentrification protesters who view private transit as a cause of skyrocketing rents and evictions. They want higher fees. But the fee is limited by state law to an amount that recovers the costs of administering the program, and $1 is what the SFMTA has estimated to be the cost of enforcement and permitting.

By amassing videos of shuttle stops, Cal researchers Mark Dreger and Dan Howard think they can demonstrate the costs of Muni delays due to shuttles blocking stops while loading.

“We would like to find out what it really costs to provide this service, and no data exists to set a precedent for a fair market price for the use of these stops,” Dreger and Howard wrote on a Facebook page about the study, which includes instructions on submitting a video.

Of course, as we’ve written, Muni and private shuttles — which make it easier for commuters not to own and drive cars — wouldn’t be fighting for scraps of curb space if the SFMTA re-purposed more parking spaces for transit stops. The SFMTA has implemented a few of those in a pilot, but it’s not a widespread practice yet.

Read more…