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Posts from the "Caltrain" Category

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A Straighter Extension of Caltrain/HSR Into Downtown SF: Is It Worth It?

A simulation of a curve in the planned downtown extension alignment, as rendered in a video from the TJPA.

By 2029, San Francisco’s Transbay Transit Center — which has been called the “Grand Central of the West” — will allow people to hop on an electrified Caltrain to San Jose and high-speed rail down to Southern California from the same platform. That’s the vision, at least, of planners working on the extension of Caltrain from the current terminus at 4th and King Streets to the massive transit hub under construction in SF’s downtown core.

But some advocates and planners say the planned rail alignment for the downtown extension of Caltrain and California High-Speed Rail, which will share tracks along the Peninsula, needs to be revisited because it includes too many sharp turns, which they say could slow the trains down and create a bottleneck. Planners at the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, however, say any increase in speeds would be minimal, and that embarking on a planning process for a different alignment could delay construction by at least a decade. Currently, the extension is expected to be built some time before high-speed rail is completed in 2029.

“Are we sure a new alignment will be better? Definitely not, we just think it’s worth asking the question again at this stage,” said Gabriel Metcalf, the executive director of SPUR, who was appointed to the TJPA Board by Mayor Ed Lee. “From my perspective, the DTX (downtown extension) is now the highest priority transportation project in San Francisco, and it should be the focus of a lot of attention until it is underway. We think that at this stage it’s a good idea to take some time to explore alternative alignments and ways of phasing the project.”

Brian Stokle, who writes the blog Urban Life Signs, wrote a post in March about “uncrooking San Francisco’s crookedest tunnel” in which he laid out the conceptual differences between a few different alignment options. Some alignments could alleviate engineering obstacles, while causing other complications to arise. One of them would allow riders to transfer to the Central Subway station under construction at Moscone Center. Altogether, there’s no clear winner.

“Whatever tunnel and stations get built, we should be considering what we’re asking for and what’s most important,” Stokle wrote. “Simply stating this is a tunnel to get to the Transbay Center is missing the point. We’re creating a valuable piece of infrastructure that should work for at least a century into the future and work for not just Caltrain, HSR, and downtown, but benefit the entire region, including other transit operators, residents and commuters.”

But changing the alignment could set the DTX back by decades, according to Scott Boule, the TJPA’s community outreach manager.

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SPUR Urges City to Reap the Benefits of Removing Highway 280

“If the freeway were removed, Mission Creek Park would become an asset to the entire area. The lower drawing shows a future view of Seventh Street to Mission Creek and beyond.” Image: SPUR

Taking down the northern spur of highway 280 is the cover story in the latest issue of the Urbanist, the SF Planning and Urban Research Association’s member magazine. SPUR makes the case that if San Francisco is to reap the full benefits of moving Caltrain and high-speed rail underground and re-developing the Caltrain yard at 4th and King Streets, taking down the freeway is a can’t-miss opportunity:

Currently, the stub end of Interstate 280 creates a barrier between the developing Mission Bay neighborhood and Potrero Hill. At the same time, the Caltrain railyard — 19 acres stretching from Fourth Street to Seventh Street between King and Townsend — forms a barrier between Mission Bay and SOMA. The obstruction will only get worse if current plans for high-speed rail proceed, forcing 16th Street and Mission Bay Boulevard into depressed trenches beneath the tracks and the elevated freeway.

Check out the rest of SPUR’s analysis here.

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Maker Faire: A Model for Encouraging Car-Free Transportation to Big Events

Bike Valet Parking at Maker Faire.

Space for parking up to 2,000 bicycles was provided at Maker Faire this year. Photos: Andrew Boone

The runaway success of Maker Faire, the annual San Mateo festival that celebrates do-it-yourself technology and crafts, has led organizers to get creative in encouraging attendees to come without a car and avert a traffic mess.

Fire Sculpture at Maker Faire

One of the ever-popular fire sculptures on display at Maker Faire.

Since Maker Faire’s debuted in 2006, organizers have developed a model program for managing traffic demand for the growing number of attendees — estimated at more than 120,000 this year — who flock to the two-day event to see the eccentric and occasionally practical inventions of 1,000 “makers.”

At this year’s event, held last weekend at the San Mateo County Event Center, the valet bicycle parking lot “had 735 bikes at 1 p.m., and about 1,000 bikes at 3:30 p.m., which was about the peak,” said bike parking organizer Gladwyn de Souza.

“It’s also part of the attendee experience. We want people to have a good time, so we want to provide them with choices that don’t involve driving,” said Katie Kunde, Maker Faire’s senior sales manager.

Maker Faire’s website provides comprehensive details on how to get to and from the event by transit, bicycle, walking, car-share, driving, paratransit, and even combinations of those modes.

Maker Faire also coordinates with local bicycle clubs to organize group bike rides to the event on Saturday from San Francisco and San Jose, and gives riders free copies of Momentum, an urban cycling magazine along with a free “I Rode My Bike to Maker Faire 2013″ patch. Read more…

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City Hall Pushes Caltrain to Move the 4th/King Railyard

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The various public agencies shaping the plan to bring high-speed rail into downtown San Francisco disagree on what should be done with the Caltrain railyard at the 4th and King Street station. Officials from San Francisco’s Planning Department and Mayor’s Office say it’s time for the railyard — along with the northern spur of the 280 freeway – to be opened up for development, reconnecting the South of Market District and Mission Bay while making it more feasible to build a more direct HSR alignment to connect to the Transbay Transit Center.

Caltrain, however, is not on board. The agency has its sights set on electrifying the rail line by 2019, including the 4th and King Station, and it is wary of possibly delaying the project by setting out to relocate the yard. “There is an urgency for Caltrain to get electrification in place with expediency,” Caltrain spokesperson Jayme Ackemann told the SF Chronicle in January. “With electrification we significantly reduce our operating costs.”

There’s no dispute that Caltrain needs to reap the benefits of electrification, particularly since it will be necessary to share tracks with CAHSR, which is providing the funds to make it happen. But SF officials warn that moving ahead with $250 million in spending to electrify the railyard when a re-think of the site is in order will be a huge waste. With the land value of the 19-acre SoMa site estimated to be upwards of $225 million, opening it up for development could pay for a significant chunk of high-speed rail infrastructure in San Francisco.

“The opportunity is to both knit the neighborhoods back together by redeveloping the yards, while at the same time producing value that could we could use to fund transportation improvements,” said Gillian Gillett, Mayor Ed Lee’s transportation policy director.

“We totally support electrification, and we want to make sure it happens as quickly as possible, but we don’t want to allow it to happen in such a way that it precludes future benefits for the city,” Planning Director John Rahaim told the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee earlier this week.

The idea of developing the Caltrain yard, which sits between 4th and 7th Streets, has been well-studied. The Planning Department published a study in December exploring some of the possibilities, including building an underground train station. In 2007, the SF Planning and Urban Research Association published its own study of a similar scope called A New Transit First Neighborhood. In a blog post last month, SPUR’s Tomiquia Moss and Sarah Karlinsky noted that “putting the right type of development here could knit together the surrounding neighborhoods [and] capitalize on the extensive transit access.”

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Mayor’s Transpo Chief: “Let’s Be San Francisco and Take Down the Freeway”

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The 280 freeway looking from Potrero Hill, where it divides the neighborhood from Mission Bay. Photo: Michael Patrick/Flickr

The idea of removing the northern section of Highway 280 near Mission Bay is gaining more traction as planners look for ideal ways to usher in high-speed rail and transit-oriented development in downtown San Francisco.

At a SPUR forum yesterday, Mayor Ed Lee’s transportation policy director, Gillian Gillett, sketched out a proposal to follow in the footsteps of the removals of the Embarcadero Freeway and a section of the Central Freeway, which revitalized the neighborhoods the roads used to divide. As Adina Levin at Green Caltrain reported, Gillett argued that replacing the elevated portion of I-280 with a street-level boulevard, from its current terminus at 4th and King Streets south to 16th Street, would improve the livability of the area, open up land to develop new neighborhoods, provide funding through real estate revenue, and open up engineering solutions to facilitate the extension of Caltrain and CA High-Speed Rail to the planned Transbay Transit Center.

If the freeway is left to stand, its pillars would present an engineering obstacle to running the train tracks undergound, meaning the only other feasible way to allow rail tracks to safely and expediently cross 16th Street would be to dip 16th underneath the tracks. And that would make the intersection — a gateway to Mission Bay — even more hostile for people walking and biking than it already is.

As past cases have shown, creating a surface street where that part of I-280 now stands and integrating it into the neighborhood would actually reduce overall car traffic. In a moment that would make the city’s mid-20th Century freeway protesters proud, Gillett told the crowd, “Let’s be San Francisco and take down the freeway.”

Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe called the proposal “an exciting opportunity to re-orient our city around sustainable public transportation and create a more walkable city.”

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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.

Read more…

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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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