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Posts from the "Caltrain" Category

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Remembering Ellen Fletcher, Palo Alto’s Pioneer Bicycle Advocate

Cross-posted from Cyclelicious.

Ellen Fletcher. Photo: Richard Masoner

Holocaust survivor, PTA mom, city council member, and bike advocate Ellen Fletcher succumbed yesterday at age 83 to lung cancer at her Palo Alto home.

Ellen escaped Berlin as a Jewish child on the Kindertransport trains and spent her teen years as a refugee in World War II London, where she biked to her factory job.

She eventually ended up in Palo Alto, California, where she got her start in cycling advocacy as safety chair of the local PTA when she saw that the best way to protect school children from their greatest danger was by reducing auto traffic around schools. She revived the Santa Clara Valley Bicycle Association (which exists today as the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition) in the early 1970s. Ellen pioneered the first bike boulevard in the United States on Bryant Avenue (now named in her honor) while serving on the Palo Alto city council from 1977 to 1989.

Caltrain Bikes on Board Pioneer

If you like bikes on Caltrain, you can thank Ellen Fletcher. Beginning in 1977, she and Daryl Skrabac of San Francisco pushed Southern Pacific to try bikes on board. They finally agreed to a four month demonstration in 1982, when four bikes were allowed in the aisle of the cab car. Southern Pacific refused to continue the experiment. When the Peninsula Joint Powers Board took over the line in 1992, they agreed to make room for bikes, but needed money to make it happen. Cap Thomas of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition persuaded the city of San Francisco to contribute $40,000 to making space for 8 bikes in each cab car.

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SamTrans Poll Shows Strong Support for Tax Measures to Support Caltrain

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The Green Caltrain blog has some promising news today for moving Caltrain toward a stable funding solution. Adina Levin from Friends of Caltrain reports:

At its board meeting on Thursday, SamTrans announced the results of polling that it conducted in June. According to the poll, a ballot measure to support Caltrain and SamTrans would pass, barely, at the 66% threshold required in California. The transit agency is considering a ballot measure on the 2014 ballot to address the underlying financial problems.

The poll found stronger support for a 1/4 cent sales tax to support Caltrain and SamTrans than for a 1/8 cent sales tax to fund Caltrain alone. High priorities for voters include reducing traffic, providing stable funding for Caltrain, supporting transit for the elderly and disabled, and supporting infrastructure.

The poll also showed that Caltrain electrification is massively popular, with 79% of voters in favor.  The controversy over High Speed Rail in recent years has not blunted the overwhelming support for cleaner, faster, more frequent service.

Voters expressed greater support for the tax after the poll asked voters questions about their priorities and values transit service. This strongly suggests that a ballot measure would get better results if there was a campaign to encourage voters to consider the benefits of transit service. Transit supporters have between now and 2014 to raise awareness.

Caltrain relies on unstable funding from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and local transit agencies along the Peninsula. As we’ve reported, the Caltrain Board has declared numerous fiscal emergencies while taking little action to solve the problem in the long run. Although the agency managed to avert devastating service cuts in the last budget cycle, transit advocates have come together to push for long-term measures to ensure riders’ access to quality transit isn’t threatened every time the partner agencies reduce their share of the pot.

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CA Senate Approves Funds for High-Speed Rail, Commuter Rail Upgrades

In a pivotal vote Friday, the California Senate approved $4.5 billion in bonds to begin construction of CA High-Speed Rail (CAHSR) connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles. The funds will help fund construction of the line’s initial segment in the Central Valley and upgrades for the Caltrain and Metrolink commuter rail lines in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, respectively.

CA High-Speed Rail depicted sharing tracks with Caltrain in the Bay Area. Photo: CAHSRA via igreenspot.com

The vote, which reached a majority by just one senator, came as a major relief to high-speed rail advocates. The project, which has been increasingly scrutinized since voters approved over $9 billion in bonds for it in 2008, could have been scrapped without the approval. Had the vote failed, California could have lost another $3.2 billion in matching federal funds.

“Building high-speed rail in California could reinforce cities as the hubs of our economies, significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, get commuters off congested roads, and cost much less than highway and airport expansion,” said Stuart Cohen, executive director of TransForm, which lobbies for smart growth and sustainable transportation in California.

“It will provide Californians with an improved transportation option that has for decades been available in other nations,” added Cohen, who noted that the vote comes exactly 150 years after the Transcontinental Railroad was authorized. Although high-speed rail is popular — and expanding — in other countries in Asia and Western Europe, CAHSR would be the first such system in the United States.

The previous plan from the CAHSR Authority lacked support even from TransForm, but the group praised the revised plan released in April, which reduced the project’s cost from about $100 billion to $68 billion, reduced the impacts on communities which it would run through, and provided funding to upgrade Caltrain and Metrolink tracks, which would be shared with CAHSR. “This new plan is simply much better,” said Cohen after it was released.

In San Francisco, funds approved in the Senate bill would help electrify the Caltrain tracks by 2019 and extend them to the Transbay Transit Center currently under construction. Friday’s vote was widely praised by SF officials.

The approved Senate bill “provides not only the beginning of the nation’s first high-speed rail line that will connect its diverse and growing communities, but also the local connections that will deliver the economic growth from high-speed rail into our towns and cities in the form of travelers be they commuters, tourists or students,” said a joint statement from SF Municipal Transportation Agency Director Ed Reiskin and Chairman Tom Nolan.

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Battle Lines Drawn in High-Speed Rail Vote

Later this week, the plan to build a High Speed Rail line connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco faces a crucial vote in the California legislature.  Governor Jerry Brown asked lawmakers to release $2.7 billion of the $6 billion in bonds passed by California voters in 2008 for High Speed Rail.  Combined with $3.3 billion in federal funds, the allocation would build 130 miles of High Speed Rail in the Central Valley.

Currently there are three competing visions for High Speed Rail in the Golden State.  For simplicity’s sake, we’ll refer to the three as: The Governor’s Plan, Plan B, and No Rail.  The Governor’s Plan refers only to his request to spend $6 billion in the Central Valley, not the entire route.  To help you keep track of who is saying what over the next several days, Streetsblog presents your High Speed Rail scorecard.

Image via High Speed Rail Authority

The Governor’s Plan:

The Plan: The Governor’s Plan would create a high speed rail network connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco.  The plan would also pay for the electrification of existing Caltrain and Metrolink rail so these tracks could be used for high speed rail, but would also speed up local service for thousands of commuters.  The new long-term plan would spend $68 billion, create over 500 miles of High Speed Rail and 100,000 “job years.”  The first leg of the plan, or the Governor’s Plan as we’re calling it, begins with 130 miles in the Central Valley.

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Transbay Transit Center to Fill Downtown With People, Not Cars

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The new Transbay Transit Center is expected to transform San Francisco’s downtown core by focusing new development around a massive regional transit hub in eastern SoMa. Scheduled to open in 2017, it will link 11 transit systems and eventually CA High-Speed Rail. Some have called it the ”Grand Central of the West.”

Renderings via TransbayCenter.org

The SF Planning Commission last week approved an influx of high-density office and housing redevelopment, including the West Coast’s tallest skyscraper, in the neighborhood surrounding the new station at First and Mission Streets, known as the Transbay Center District. To ensure that new workers and residents come by transit, foot, and bike instead of clogging the streets with cars, the plan would make sweeping streetscape improvements and limit the amount of car parking in the area.

“This is going to be one of the best examples of transit-oriented development in the world,” said Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of the SF Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR). “We’re going to be putting in $4 billion in transit infrastructure and then putting our tallest buildings right on top of it. It’s going to be studied and emulated all over the world if we get this right.”

The hub, which replaces the old Transbay Terminal, would connect to transit systems in all nine Bay Area counties, including Muni, BART, AC Transit, SamTrans, and Golden Gate Transit. Caltrain would operate on an electrified system connecting directly to the station, thanks to a recently-approved plan to extend tracks from the 4th and King station. Caltrain would share those tracks with high-speed rail trains.

Streets within the plan area — bounded by Market Street to the north, Steuart to the east, Folsom to the south, and just short of Third to the west — would be transformed with improvements for walking, bicycling, and surface transit.

Major streets — Mission, Howard, New Montgomery, Second, First, and Fremont Streets — would get wider sidewalks, road diets, transit lanes, and boarding islands. The planning department is also looking at creating a transit-only plaza on Mission between First and Fremont.

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Mapping a Fully Transit-Connected Bay Area

Brian Stokle's map envisions how the Bay Area region could possibly be connected by future transit projects -- some planned, some only envisioned -- including high-speed rail, BART extensions, and BRT lines. Image via The Atlantic Cities

Imagine the freedom of being able to hop on a nearby train or bus to reach virtually any place in the Bay Area (and beyond) on an integrated network of reliable transit.

That’s the vision cartographer Brian Stokle sought to lay out in a map featured in the latest issue of SPUR‘s monthly magazine, The Urbanist. In a recent article in The Atlantic Cities, Urbanist editor Allison Arieff says that the map, along with another map of existing regional transit that Stokle created, “have generated a lot of conversation (and some controversy) — which is exactly what they were meant to do”:

The majority of the projects, routes, and modes shown in Stokle’s proposed “Future” map (or some might argue, “Utopian”) reflect current Bay Area planning. However in some cases, the mode or route has been changed. In other instances, some new routes have been suggested. For example, BART to Livermore and Dumbarton Rail are two projects that are not included in this map. Instead, access to Livermore from BART is provided by bus rapid transit, and the Dumbarton corridor is served by rapid bus service. New projects that are not currently part of planning, or are in their early phases include projects like the Oakland Emeryville streetcar down Broadway, Capitol Corridor crossing at Vallejo, and 101 Rapid in the Peninsula.

Some ideas are old, some more novel. In San Francisco, the controversial Central Subway (now under construction) is shown extending all the way to Lombard and Van Ness to meet the coming BRT line, which is also extended to connect the Transbay Terminal to Marin County via the Golden Gate Bridge (where a BART line was fought off in the 60′s).

What would it take to bring a comprehensive vision like this into reality, and which projects could be feasibly built? Regional planners are currently figuring that out as they develop the Bay Area’s 25-year Sustainable Communities Strategy and Regional Transportation Plan. Next month, staff from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the Bay Area’s transportation financing agency, will present a list of the transit projects they determine to be the most beneficial and cost-effective to build in the coming years. Stay tuned to Streetsblog for more on that.

In the meantime, check out Stokle’s map of the existing regional transit network — one of SPUR’s ideas for saving transit – after the break.

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Six Ideas for Saving Bay Area Transit

[Editor's note: This article is re-published with permission from the transit-themed March issue of The Urbanist, the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association's (SPUR) monthly member magazine. The article, written by SPUR Regional Planning Director Egon Terplan, is based on a discussion paper developed by the SPUR Transportation Policy Board. Read the full paper at spur.org/tsp.]

Improving transit by changing financing, fares, speeds, metrics, territory and maps.

Every day, Bay Area residents and visitors take more than 1.4 million trips on one of 27 different public transit operators. But for more than a decade, the costs to operate these transit systems have been increasing far faster than any improvements in the service. Unless we make changes now, the system will not be sustainable in the future.

Regionwide, transit carries one in ten people to work. It costs more than $2.2 billion to run these 27 transit systems each year. More than $700 million comes from fares and $1.5 billion is a direct subsidy from a hodgepodge of sources (sales taxes, federal funds, state gas tax revenues). By looking out to 2035, these systems will face a combined $17 billion capital deficit and an $8 billion operating deficit.

In recent years, the costs of running these transit systems have increased far faster than inflation, even as ridership on some bus systems has declined. About 14,000 people work full time for the region’s public transit systems. Wages and fringe benefits account for more than three-quarters of the operating and maintenance costs of transit, and the cost of fringe benefits in particular is rising fast. At the same time, budget shortfalls, unpredictable revenues and service cuts are degrading the quality of public transportation. Transit systems face competition from an underpriced alternative — driving — and often operate in low-density and auto-oriented environments that are not conducive to growing ridership.

Unless there is some change to costs and revenues, with corresponding improvements in service, the viability of transit in the Bay Area is at risk. Recognizing this looming crisis, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the regional agency that funds transportation, launched the Transit Sustainability Project (TSP).

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Caltrain Approves Increased Fares, Votes to Keep Warm Planet Bikes Open

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The Caltrain Board of Directors today approved an expenditure of $50,000 to support Warm Planet Bikes, according to the agency’s Twitter feed. That influx is expected to keep the bike parking and repair shop open until the agency renews its contract with Warm Planet or another operator in six to eight months. The facility parks up to 170 bikes every day at Caltrain’s 4th and King Station in downtown San Francisco, allowing commuters to avoid having to bring them aboard the trains.

The board has also reportedly approved a fare increase proposal which the Mercury News detailed earlier this week:

The new proposal recommends just a 25-cent increase for a one-way ticket, no matter how far the route, and a 50-cent increase for the one-day pass.

But if at least half of the ticket buyers don’t switch to Clipper cards by March 1, 2013, staff is suggesting that the board reconsider the original proposal.

Meanwhile, staff has backed off a plan to eliminate the popular 15 percent discount pass for Clipper riders who take the train eight times within a 60-day period. Most of the complaints Caltrain received after announcing the fare increase proposal on Jan. 17 centered on elimination of the eight-ride ticket. Staff now is recommending that the pass has to be used within 30 days, at a discount of only 7.5 percent.

The fare increase is set to take effect July 1.

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Caltrain’s Warm Planet Bike Station in Jeopardy

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Warm Planet Bikes has provided more and more Caltrain commuters a secure place to park their bikes at the Fourth and King Street Station in downtown San Francisco in recent years. But the shop could soon shut down without continued support from the public transportation agencies it relies on. Though Caltrain is developing an agreement to support the shop, it may not come until it’s too late.

SF Bike Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum (left) stands with transportation officials at Warm Planet's grand opening in January 2008. Photo: SFBC/Flickr

“Caltrain needs to provide interim funding for uninterrupted service of bike parking at Fourth and King,” said Shirley Johnson, vice chair of the Caltrain Bicycle Advisory Committee and head of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s Bikes ONBoard Project. “To expect Warm Planet to stay open without paying for it, that’s just not possible.”

When the bike shop opened in January 2008, it had room to provide attended parking for up to 100 bikes. But over the years, demand has grown, and managers have sacrificed more and more retail space to accommodate parking and avoid “bumping” bike commuters the way Caltrain often does.

Today, Warm Planet parks up to 170 bikes per day, all for free. But the grant the shop had originally relied on ended a year and a half ago, and without a lift from agencies like Caltrain — the transit system whose customers it serves — the shop can’t sustain itself much longer.

“It’s been difficult, but I’ve been making a go of it,” said Warm Planet’s owner and president, who goes by the single name Kash. “This facility doesn’t exist so I can run a bike shop. This facility exists so that people who want to get on Caltrain can park their bikes.”

Kash has sought out other sponsors but says it’s difficult to attract support, since Warm Planet is a for-profit business despite the bike parking services it provides for a public transit agency. Advocates have been pushing Caltrain to find interim funds to keep the shop going, and though staff is negotiating one, a proposal has yet to be put on the table.

“We are very pleased to have a bike parking facility there,” said Caltrain spokesperson Christine Dunn. “We know how important it is, and we have no intention of closing it.”

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Advocates: Caltrain Needs to Address Challenges for Cyclists at SF Station

Bicyclists have to contend with a mess of taxis, delivery trucks and other vehicles obstructing the bike lane on Townsend Street near the entrance to the Caltrain station, to the right. This is why some ride on the sidewalk. Photos by Bryan Goebel.

San Francisco police returned to the Caltrain station at 4th, King and Townsend streets this morning to warn bike commuters not to ride on the sidewalk one day after a sting that resulted in a number of citations for people on bikes. Bike advocates complained, however, that Caltrain has known for years the station presents a challenge to bicyclists, and said the agency’s inaction has allowed conflicts between bicyclists and pedestrians to continue.

Instead of seriously addressing flaws in the street and station design, the situation has led to the selective enforcement of bicyclists. Police told Streetsblog they have received complaints from pedestrians about bike commuters, and yesterday issued a number of citations to bicyclists for riding on the sidewalk. SFPD Lt. Troy Dangerfield said today it was part of a “month-long campaign on bicycle and pedestrian enforcement.” However, the officers did not target drivers obstructing the bike lane.

Shirley Johnson, a member of Caltrain’s Bicycle Advisory Committee and a longtime leader of the Bikes ONBoard program, said she’s been riding on the sidewalk for years.

“I just thought that’s how you’re supposed to get to the station. There’s a curb cut right there, on the sidewalk,” she told Streetsblog. “No one has ever said anything and people are getting ticketed. That seems very unfair.”

“I’m very careful. I ride really slow on the sidewalk,” she continued. “But I can only imagine if someone’s late for the train they’re probably coming along at a pretty good clip. I always got there early enough that I never had to do that but I can see that it’s a safety concern.”

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