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SamTrans Plans For Rapid Buses on El Camino Real, Just Not Anytime Soon

SamTrans’ ECR route runs every 15 minutes on weekdays and every 20 minutes on weekends along El Camino Real between Daly City and Palo Alto. Photo: munidave/Flickr

Last week, SamTrans released its first study of potential Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service along El Camino Real in San Mateo County, from Daly City to Palo Alto. BRT could reduce travel times for bus passengers by up to 25 percent thanks to express skip-stop service and transit signal priority. Faster bus service would attract 3,100 to 5,600 more riders by 2020, depending on how much additional bus service is added.

But adding new service would cost money — anywhere from $5.7 million to $10.3 million annually — and without any additional operating funds, SamTrans isn’t expected to launch such express bus service anytime soon.

In the meantime, the transit agency will set the stage for faster buses by pursuing $2.4 million in capital grant funds for transit signal priority. If implemented, that will allow buses to extend the green phase of 120 traffic signals along El Camino by a few seconds, avoiding delays for bus passengers.

“We would love to get the traffic signal priority in for the existing ECR route,” said SamTrans planner Barrow Emerson. “What it does is really improve the reliability of a bus service, because you’re staying on schedule.”

SamTrans officials say dedicated bus lanes on most of El Camino Real aren’t feasible, because the street is too narrow for four lanes of auto traffic and bus lanes. Image: VTA

The study, conducted by Emerson over the past year, also included an analysis of a long-term “Full BRT” scenario, including dedicated bus lanes and enhanced bus stops with level boarding and similar to proposals from other transit agencies in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Full BRT would slash trip times by another 25 percent, on top of the savings provided by express skip-stop service. Only 11 miles of bus lanes were included in the scenario, keeping at least four lanes for car traffic along all of El Camino Real. Ridership would reach 34,000 each weekday by 2040 under this scenario, and building dedicated bus lanes and enhanced bus stops would cost about $150 million.

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SamTrans Upgrades El Camino Real Bus Service With More Reliable Route

SamTrans hopes to attract more transit riders after combining its popular 390 and 391 bus routes into a single route, called ECR, that now runs the length of San Mateo County along El Camino Real with more frequent and reliable service. The ECR runs every 15 minutes on weekdays and every 20 minutes on weekends between Daly City and Palo Alto, between about 5 a.m. and 1 a.m. the next morning.

The old 391 route used to run between Daly City and downtown San Francisco, a service that SamTrans no longer provides. “By eliminating the lower-performing San Francisco portion from the ECR line, SamTrans is able to invest more heavily in its Peninsula service,” the agency said earlier this month. On an average weekday, about 400 riders used the 391 to access downtown San Francisco, a small portion of the 11,600 passenger total ridership of 390 and 391 combined.

The ECR service replaced the old routes on August 12, and public officials marked the occasion at the Redwood City Transit Center last Friday. “This is for more reliable public transportation, a critical issue for us,” said Redwood City Mayor Alicia Aguirre. “As our community grows, we need better transportation.”

The ECR bus route runs along El Camino Real, the thick black line in this map. Source: SamTrans Service Plan Market Assessment

Since most of San Mateo County’s population and employment centers are concentrated along a narrow strip of land near El Camino Real, bus service along the corridor is exceedingly important. Routes 390 and 391 together accounted for more than 25 percent of SamTrans’ total weekday ridership in 2011, according to the agency’s 2013 service plan.

The new service clarifies what used to be two confusing, overlapping routes. The 390 bus ran between Daly City BART and Palo Alto Caltrain, while route 391 ran between San Francisco’s Transbay Terminal and Redwood City Caltrain during weekday commute hours and between Daly City and Redwood City Caltrain at all other times. Even between Daly City and Redwood City, where the two buses overlapped, the routes didn’t make all the same stops — Route 390 skipped San Bruno BART while Route 391 skipped Daly City BART.

“The bus drivers often had to explain to riders waiting at the stops where they were going,” said SamTrans spokesperson Christine Dunn.

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San Mateo County Supes Vote to Fund Bike/Ped Coordinator, SamTrans

Redwood City - San Carlos Border

Heading north on Old County Road in Redwood City, this bike lane ends abruptly at the San Carlos border. Piecemeal bicycle routes such as this are common in San Mateo County. Image: Google Maps

The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to approve $10 million to boost SamTrans service and $156,000 to create a new full-time bicycle and pedestrian coordinator position over the next two years. The funds come from Measure A, a ten-year, half-cent sales tax approved by voters last November, which is expected to generate $64 million this year.

The approval will allow the San Mateo County City/County Association of Governments (C/CAG) to hire a full-time bike/ped coordinator to oversee the implementation of the county’s Comprehensive Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan, which was adopted in 2011.

Advocates have long pointed to the lack of coordination among the county’s 20 cities and towns as a major barrier to implementing improvements for walk and bicycling in San Mateo County. Former C/CAG Executive Director Richard Napier, who retired in December after 17 years of leading the agency, had been opposed to hiring a bike/ped coordinator because, he argued, the existing level of staffing was sufficient to support active transportation projects.

“Cyclists want to see bike routes that are contiguous, and designs that are consistent,” said Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition Deputy Director Colin Heyne, adding that the future bike/ped coordinator would provide a “single, accessible resource to explain and move forward funding, design, and coordination priorities” for bicycle and pedestrian projects. In a letter to the Board of Supervisors, the SVBC pointed out that Alameda, Marin, San Francisco, and Santa Clara counties all “employ staff in a similar bicycle/pedestrian coordinator capacity.”

Bob Page, a Woodside resident who has commuted by bicycle in San Mateo County for 40 years, says that cycling has become more difficult over time as traffic has increased and cities have install more traffic signals and wider roads while bicycling conditions go neglected. “The county, with its 21 jurisdictions, makes it difficult to develop regional bikeways,” he said. “A coordinator at the county level can do a lot to facilitate and promote inter-jurisdictional facilities, which are badly needed.”

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Improving Daly City’s “Top of the Hill” for Walking and Transit

John Daly Boulevard and Mission Street are still car-centric roads, but that is starting to change for the better with the completion of the Centennial Transit Plaza, shown here under construction earlier this year. Photo: City of Daly City

Last Saturday, Daly City officials and residents convened to celebrate a newly built transit plaza, the centerpiece of the long-awaited $3.4 million Top of the Hill project, which includes a series of pedestrian and streetscape improvements along three blocks of Mission Street between John Daly Boulevard and Parkview Avenue. The project was constructed with $2.3 million from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and $700,000 from the San Mateo County Transit District (SamTrans).

Wider sidewalks, curb extensions, and new red-brick crosswalks on Mission Street at Vista Grande Avenue in Daly City. Photo: City of Daly City

Top of the Hill is the most significant street re-design project carried out to date as part of the Grand Boulevard Initiative, a collaboration between 19 different public entities that seeks to improve walking, biking, and transit, and to enable transit oriented development that can help reduce traffic congestion along El Camino Real from Daly City to San Jose.

Because San Mateo and San Francisco counties operate separate transit systems, bus riders traveling between Daly City and San Francisco are forced to transfer at the county line (except those riding SamTrans Bus 391, which serves downtown San Francisco). The new Centennial Transit Plaza, named in honor of the city’s 100th anniversary in 2011, is located on the northwest corner of John Daly Boulevard and Mission Street. It’s one of two important transfer locations in Daly City, serving 600 to 800 SamTrans bus riders every day. The other transfer location – between the SamTrans, Muni, and BART systems – is the Daly City BART Station, located a half-mile to the west.

People can now walk across Mission Street on the north side of the intersection, where a red-brick crosswalk replaced "No Ped Crossing" signs, to access the new transit plaza. Photos: Google Maps (left), City of Daly City (right).

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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…


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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Caltrain Riders Try to Prevent Dramatic Service Cuts as New Blog Launches

294690855_854dcfa3b6.jpgDeep cuts could leave Caltrain closing its gates much earlier every day. Flickr photo: prawnpie
At Streetsblog, we've covered a lot of transit cuts over the past year, from Muni to AC Transit to SamTrans. But none of those agencies has seen cuts quite as devastating as what appears to be on the way at Caltrain, where all weekday off-peak and weekend service is potentially on the chopping block.

Not surprisingly, Caltrain riders are upset, including many of Streetsblog's readers. Soren Peterson, a Caltrain commuter who lives in San Francisco, said the cuts would force him to drive a lot more.

"I live in Potrero Hill and commute to Palo Alto for work," explained Peterson. "Although I try to be out by the last limited train of the evening, this is not always possible and as a result I occasionally depend on one of the evening trains."

Those evening trains could soon be gone, according to Caltrain CEO Mike Scanlon. At the Caltrain Board of Directors meeting last Thursday, Scanlon announced that the agency is broke, and may need to wipe out fifty percent of its service. That's in part because the state has pulled $30 million in funding from the agency in the past three years, but it's also because Caltrain relies on unstable local funding sources.

The three local transit agencies that contribute money to Caltrain -- Muni, VTA, and SamTrans -- are all financially strapped themselves this year, and Scanlon, who also manages SamTrans, said he'll be asking his other agency to reduce its contribution to Caltrain by 70 percent. If that happens, the SFMTA and the VTA would likely follow suit, leaving Caltrain with a $30 million deficit -- nearly a third of its $97 million budget.

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Bay Area Transit Chiefs Assume Leadership Roles at APTA

nat_ford_ribbon_small.jpgMTA CEO Nat Ford. Photo: foggydave
The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) announced its newly elected executive committee today at its annual meeting in Orlando, Florida, and Bay Area transit bosses will be taking prominent roles that could influence the nation's transit priorities. San Mateo County Transit District (SamTrans) General Manager and CEO Michael J. Scanlon is the new Vice Chair and San Francisco MTA Executive Director Nat Ford is the new Secretary/Treasurer. APTA's new Chair is Mattie C. Carter, Commissioner of the Memphis Area Transit Authority.

MTA Board of Directors Chairman Tom Nolan applauded Ford in a statement: "Ford’s election to this important leadership post in the transit industry strengthens San Francisco’s voice in crucial national discussions about the future of public transportation in this country, particularly on the challenge of how we will pay for it.... His involvement at the highest levels of APTA will continue to help the SFMTA both learn from and inform the best practices of our industry.”

In other MTA news, the agency has recently posted its job announcement for the Director of Sustainable Streets position, which, as we've reported, could be a very positive change within the agency to prioritize the city's Transit First policy. The Director of Sustainable Streets would, among other duties:

  • Coordinate the development of the Agency’s strategic plan, long-range goals, objectives and policies
  • Develop policy and direct planning, designing, and environmental clearance of capital programs and services in the SFMTA’s multi-modal transportation network
  • Oversee street operations which include installation and maintenance of traffic signs, signals, meters and markings
  • Manage off-street parking facilities (include approximately 15,000 spaces in City-owned garages and lots)
Here's hoping they find a strong voice who can help convince the city's leadership to innovate and embrace bold transportation initiatives.

SamTrans to Raise Fares and Cut Nearly All Express Routes

3778040161_8ca74e3160.jpgFour of these six routes will be discontinued or have reduced service. Flickr photo: 4nitsirk
The SamTrans Board of Directors voted today to cut nearly all express routes to San Francisco, reduce service on several local lines, and raise adult one-way fares by 25 cents in an effort to narrow a $28.4 million budget deficit. The express route cuts include the MX, NX, PX/RX, DX, and the FX. The KX will survive, but will no longer serve Palo Alto and will be reduced from 30-minute to 60-minute headways. The 342, a local route serving Millbrae, will also be discontinued.

The changes will save a total of $7.3 million, about half of which will be realized during fiscal year 2010, which started in July.

Several other local routes, including the 280, 14, and 141 will have reduced weekday frequencies. The 390 and the 391, which are SamTrans' highest-ridership routes, will maintain their current weekday schedules, but will drop from 30-minute to 40-minute headways on the weekend.

In spite of the breadth of the cuts, most members of the public at the hearing supported the plan, since it doesn't cut any coast-side routes, and generally makes cuts where there are the fewest riders. The express routes on the chopping block had a combined daily average ridership of 1,079 in July, far fewer than routes like the 390, which averaged 6,364 daily riders alone during the same period. Nearly half of the people in attendance stood up when asked if they were attending in support of the coast-side routes, which, unlike the express routes, are not duplicated by Caltrain or BART. Many speakers expressed gratitude to the board for sparing route 17, a coast-side line that many said they are dependent on to get to employment.


SamTrans Considers Raising Fares, Cutting Service and Eliminating Lines

488599115_1acfd28e3a.jpgFlickr photo: kuronakko

SamTrans - the buses and paratransit vehicles that run the length of El Camino Real between Palo Alto and Daly City, traverse the Santa Cruz mountains, and service San Francisco's financial district - is preparing to raise fares and reduce service on some bus lines and eliminate other lines in order to close a $28.4 million budget gap.

SamTrans serves more than 15 million riders annually through its 339 regular buses and its Redi-Wheels and RediCoast (Paratransit) vehicles. Its fixed-route bus system currently consists of 54 routes.

The financial crisis forced SamTrans Deputy CEO Chuck Harvey to present several options to close the gap at a San Mateo County Transit District Board of Directors meeting August 12 and arrive at a preliminary operating budget of $136.5 million for the 2010 fiscal year.

Harvey presented options for achieving 7.5 percent, 10 percent, and 15 percent savings. "To get to 15 percent savings, it's wholesale amputation," he said.

To achieve 15 percent savings Harvey proposed: reducing service on up to 22 lines and eliminating 17 lines; increasing adult, youth, and discounted fares by 25 cents or more; and eliminating the 15 percent discount on the SamTrans pass with the purchase of a Muni sticker.

"It is indeed a cruel twist of fate that brings us here today," said Board of Directors Chairwoman Zoe Kersteen-Tucker. "More than ever, we need to reduce our dependence on cars, yet we are facing a significant crushing deficit, and we cannot look to the state to help us out at least for the next four years."