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Posts from the "Transbay Terminal" Category

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

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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”:

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SFMTA Extends Howard Bike Lane to Embarcadero But Leaves a Gap

Howard looking east between Beale and Main. Sharrows are now in the left-most lane on this block, where the Bike Plan originally called for a continous bike lane. Photo: Google Maps

SoMa’s westbound bike lane on Howard Street was extended east to the Embarcadero last week, creating a link from the waterfront to 11th Street. However, the SF Municipal Transportation Agency apparently left a gap on the block between Main and Beale Streets, where Howard passes the temporary Transbay Terminal. According to tipster Hank Hodes, the SFMTA painted only sharrows there, forcing bike commuters to ride in a lane with motor traffic, even though a continuous bike lane was called for in the SF Bike Plan.

The Howard bike lane serves as half of SoMa’s east-west bike corridor, along with the eastbound bike lane on neighboring Folsom Street, and is “a route preferred by many riders over Market Street for its minimal transit and straight angled intersections,” noted Hodes. But commuters hoping for a continuous bike lane that doesn’t suddenly dump them in motor traffic are apparently out of luck.

Howard at Steuart Street. Photo: Hank Hodes

We have an inquiry in with the SFMTA as to why the change was made, but one possible explanation is that curbside bus parking for the temporary terminal ate up space that would have been allocated to the bike lane, and no alternative plan to allow for the bike lane was created. Under the SFMTA’s Bike Plan design [PDF], the space for the bike lane on that block would have been carved from a 12’6″ traffic lane (and part-time parking lane), but that lane doesn’t appear to exist today. The “existing configuration” shown in the Bike Plan design, it seems, was altered to create room for a wider bus stop lane on the opposite side of the street.

Since most of the real estate for the new bike lane (including the originally planned section between Main and Beale) comes from reallocating the excess width of existing traffic lanes, no car parking was removed. A one-block eastbound traffic lane was removed between Steuart and Spear, however, which should help calm car traffic.

Bicycling on Howard has increased dramatically since the SFMTA implemented the main stretch of the bike lane between 2001 and 2006. During that time, the number of bicyclists at Howard and 5th Streets climbed 300 percent, according to city data provided by the SF Bicycle Coalition. From 2006 to 2011, the number of bicyclists at Howard and 11th Streets increased by an additional 104 percent, according to the SFMTA’s 2011 Bicycle Count Report [PDF].

See more photos after the break.

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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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Protest Over Parking Lot at Transbay Center Site

workers_small.gifTeamsters Local 665 workers protest a parking lot at the future site of the Transbay Transit Center. Photos: Matthew Roth.
Despite a stated Transit First policy, the Transbay Joint Powers Authority (TJPA) and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) are encouraging solo drivers to bring their cars into San Francisco's downtown and park all day at low prices, according to a parking union who has been picketing in front of a temporary 250-space parking lot at 80 Natoma/81 Minna Street, the site of the future Transbay Transit Center.

Teamsters Local 665, which represents city parking workers and some private sector parking workers, has been picketing this week in front of a parking lot administered by ABC Parking, a non-union company, demanding that TJPA and Caltrans shut the parking lots down and use the property for open space.

"If you are going to drive into San Francisco, it’s the premium way to get into town and [it should] not be subsidized by Caltrans," said Local 665 President Mark Gleason, who asserted that Caltrans and TJPA lots were half the price of nearby municipal parking facilities. Gleason argued the MTA, which runs Muni, could be getting a lot more money from parking if those facilities were not in business and drivers had to park in municipal lots. Even if they chose to park in private facilities, said Gleason, they would pay more money and the city could collect more parking tax revenue.

"The service they are providing should dovetail with the Transit First Policy and should not be adversarial to it," said Gleason. The union estimates there are at least 7,000 parking spaces in more than 15 Caltrans easements that could be closed.

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SF Transbay District Plan Offers Lofty Vision for Growth and Livable Streets

transbay_park_small.jpgElevated Transbay Park. Images: Planning Department
The recently released Transbay Transit District Draft Plan is the culmination of two years of detailed work by the many city agencies and consultants that had a hand in it, and its objectives for creating a vibrant, walkable public realm and its goals to promote transit and reduce automobile traffic make it a valuable mission statement for growth in San Francisco's downtown over the next 25 years.

The Planning Department's Joshua Switzky, one of the lead authors, said like any draft plan this one will fluctuate based on the public and the Planning Commission's feedback, but the principles espoused in it should remain intact.

"The plan that we put out is clearly the one we think is the best plan. Depending on what the Commission wants to do, we will potentially make changes. It's kind of really open to the process," said Switzky.

Switzky pointed to several key recommendations, ones that could prove contentious several years down the line when more detailed proposals are hammered out. One is assuring the quality of pedestrian accessibility with the objective in the plan to maintain, on average, 21-foot sidewalks, 15 feet for circulation and 6 feet of curbside amenities, such as bike racks, benches, street trees, or news boxes.

"That will mean different things on different streets," said Switzky. "On some streets, the only way to achieve that will be to eliminate on-street parking. Sometimes it might mean eliminating a travel lane." Sometimes, he said, it could be a combination of both. "The future of this area is probably a lot less on-street parking than there is today."

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