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SFSU Students Study How to Un-Suck Biking to BART

Professor Jason Henderson's "Bicycle Geographies" class explores how infrastructure could make cycling from BART to class safe and fun. Photo: ???TK

Professor Jason Henderson’s “Bicycle Geographies” class (seen with additional university staff in this photo) explores how infrastructure could make cycling from BART to class safe and fun. Photo: Nolen Brown

Professor Jason Henderson’s “Bicycle Geographies” class wants the ride from Daily City BART to San Francisco State University’s campus to be comfortable and fun.

And why shouldn’t it be?

After all, it’s only a 1.6 mile trip that should take even a novice cyclist about 15 minutes. Given the proximity to BART, this should be a no-brainer. But thanks to some harrowing intersections, high-speed traffic lanes, and oddly placed and timed “safety measures,” it’s anything but.

“That route probably felt quite calm in a big group with 40-plus people in a group ride,” said Joshua Handel, one of five students in the class, during a presentation to administrators at the school. Handel is referring to a Bike to Work Day ride done earlier this month with staff and students.

“But when one does it alone, there’s a lot of traffic stress,” he continued.  Read more…

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Northern California High-Speed Rail Scoping Meeting

Scenes such as this may be commonplace in the Central Valley by 2029. Photo: Wikipedia Commons.

Scenes such as this may be commonplace in the Central Valley by 2029. Photo: Wikipedia Commons.

Monday evening the California High Speed Rail Authority, in conjunction with Caltrain, held a scoping meeting at the William J. Rutter Center at UCSF in Mission Bay. They answered public questions and took comment on plans to electrify Caltrain and bring high-speed trains from Bakersfield to San Francisco by 2029.

Streetsblog readers will recall that a few months ago the California-High Speed Rail Authority released a revised plan to link up Northern California to the Central Valley spine (which is already under construction). This meeting was one of a series to prepare the environmental reports for this next phase of construction.

Casey Fromson explains Caltrain's electrification project. Photo: Streetsblog.

Casey Fromson explains Caltrain’s electrification project. Photo: Streetsblog.

The meeting started at 5:30, with members of the public invited to visit local information stations to ask questions about the projects. Casey Fromson, a government affairs officer for the Caltrain Modernization Program, was at the Caltrain information station. She explained that electrification of Caltrain, which, if all goes according to plan, should be completed in 2021, will offer faster service because of the better acceleration of electric trains. “A trip that our current, diesel baby bullets do in 60 minutes will take 45 with a train of electrics,” she explained. Still, it was disappointing to learn that Caltrain won’t be exploiting the top speed capabilities of its new electric fleet, which will start arriving in 2020. Although the trains will be capable of 110 mph, the tracks will only be able to handle about 80, because of the curves and the number of grade crossings. Getting the line up to full speed will have to wait for another round of improvements, such as adding more passing tracks, eliminating more grade crossings, and building more gradual curves, changes that will only come with the HSR project in 2029.

Brian Stokle, with the group “Friends of the DTX,” [the “downtown extension” of Caltrain to the Transbay Terminal] was among the visitors. He expressed disappointment at the lack of progress in connecting Caltrain to Transbay, currently under constructions. “There’s no true political champion for it yet. And it’s a lot of money,” he said. That was a concern echoed by others at the meeting.
Read more…

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The Taraval Boarding Island Question: Q&A with Katy Tang

Supervisor Katy Tang, at her desk at City Hall. Photo: Streetsblog.

Supervisor Katy Tang, at her desk at City Hall. Photo: Streetsblog.

Last week, Streetsblog brought you an editorial from Katy Tang about the issue of installing concrete boarding islands on Taraval as part of SFMTA’s Muni Forward project. This was in response to a headline in the SF Examiner, that declared “Supervisor Slams Brakes on L-Taraval Changes.”

As Streetsblog readers may recall, business owners were pushing back against the boarding islands because of the potential loss of parking in front of their shops; Streetsblog brought you the story of the rancorous public meeting about it, and other issues, back in February.

Is it true that Supervisor Tang was holding up safety improvements because of her small-business constituents and their objections? Streetsblog had reached out to Tang several times. Finally, Friday, Streetsblog was able to sit down with the District 4 Supervisor and get her perspective, face to face.

STREETSBLOG: The Examiner story was accurate, with the exception of the headline?

TANG: Factually, it was true. It just didn’t tell people all of what was going on.

SB: So what is going on? Let’s pick this up from that infamous meeting with the community at Dianne Feinstein Elementary about Muni’s proposed improvements to the L-Taraval.

TANG: At that large meeting, everyone was yelling at each other and not giving time to hear people. We heard from people that they were confused about what SFMTA proposals were on Taraval.  It’s not just about boarding islands. It might be about transit-only lanes. Parking removals associated with boarding islands. Traffic signals. Stop removals. So it was a whole host of things. You had to look at every intersection to know what’s going on. Because those meetings were just shouting fests, and it wasn’t just that one, there were several, we felt like, you know what? We’re not being productive. MTA wants feedback, and people aren’t providing feedback, they’re just yelling.

SB: So you arranged smaller meetings?
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SF Celebrates Bike to Work Day

Margaret McCarthy, Interim Executive Director of the SF Bicycle Coalition, gives a rousing speech in front of SF City Hall. Photo: Streetsblog.

Margaret McCarthy, Interim Executive Director of the SF Bicycle Coalition, gives a rousing speech in front of SF City Hall. Photo: Streetsblog.

San Francisco has come a long way. That was the theme of a rousing speech delivered by Margaret McCarthy, Interim Executive Director of the SF Bicycle Coalition, at a ceremony this morning in front of San Francisco City Hall. “We’ve seen a 184 percent increase in cycling in the past decade,” she said with her trademark ebullience. “San Francisco is a biking city!”

Bike to Work day, of course, is a chance to grow those numbers and take a look at what still needs to be done to make cycling accessible to all. It brings together advocates and lawmakers and helps them focus on getting more and better bicycle infrastructure everywhere in the city. But for Julia Schaber, a graphic design intern with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, the ride had a greater significance: it’s her first ride since a crash on April 7. “I hit the Muni tracks on Ocean and San Jose, behind Balboa Park BART–it’s one of the worst,” she said, referring to the cycling conditions at that dangerous intersection. “I went over the handlebars, went to the ER in an ambulance, and spent about a month recovering.” Read more…

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L-Taraval and the Concrete Boarding Island Question

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Supervisor Katy Tang addresses a grumpy audience about proposed Taraval safety improvements back in February. Photo: Streetsblog.

Back in February, Streetsblog reported on one of three meetings about SFMTA’s planned “Muni Forward” improvements to the L-Taraval line. Since then, SFMTA has held various smaller meetings with local stakeholders, confirmed SFMTA.

But rumors have grown that, under the direction of Supervisor Katy Tang, the SFMTA was backing off safety improvements, such as adding concrete boarding islands. This was reinforced by a San Francisco Examiner headline “Supervisor slams brakes on L-Taraval changes.” Concrete boarding islands require the elimination of some parking spots on Taraval, and local business owners were objecting.

This follows a pattern, also seen on Mission Street, where local business owners complain that any elimination of traffic lanes or parking hurts business. This led to Supervisor David Campos calling for a rethink of the transit-only lanes on Mission. He confirmed that directly with a Facebook post.

But in the case of Tang, sources close to the goings-on say the rumors are wrong. Streetsblog reached out to Supervisor Tang’s office on several occasions but, most likely due to timing, hasn’t connected so far. That said, Streetsblog was able to obtain this response via email from Tang to the Examiner and, along with it, to the rumors that she’s for eliminating boarding islands:

With a single headline, “Supervisor slams brakes on L-Taraval changes,” the Examiner has completely misrepresented what has transpired with the L-Taraval Muni Forward Project. [The Examiner’s article] from May 5, 2016 attempted to provide readers with an update about SFMTA’s proposed changes to the L-Taraval to improve pedestrian safety and transit reliability. Instead, readers were led to believe that my office tried to stop the proposed changes from happening.

SFMTA presented our community with a set of proposals that included installation of boarding islands, stop removals, transit-only lanes, and traffic signals as part of the L-Taraval Muni Forward Project. Naturally, the proposal was met with opinions from all sides. Neighbors were invited to community meetings that turned into public shouting matches. Thus, our office suggested that we hold focus group meetings with representatives from all communities to move the conversation forward in a more productive manner. We included community members who represented youth, seniors, transit riders, drivers, merchants, bicyclists, pedestrian safety advocates, and those with disabilities. Through this forum, we were able to discuss in greater detail SFMTA’s initial proposal and where potential changes could be made or not be made. All of the detailed feedback will help SFMTA refine its initial proposal.

As with all large projects, community members will find that they share a diversity of opinions. But regardless of how people feel about specific proposals, most community members have acknowledged that we share common interests: safety and transit reliability. My job is to facilitate a productive dialogue to ensure that we meet our shared goals in the best way possible – not to interject my own opinions about a project. At no point during this process did I slam the brakes on any component of the L-Taraval Muni Forward Project. We are trying to move the conversation forward, and we hope the Examiner will do the same.

– Katy Tang, District 4 Supervisor, San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

Read more…

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SF Bicycle Coalition’s “Bike Talks” Series

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Janice Li, Advocacy Director for the SF Bicycle Coalition, and BART District 8 Director Nick Josefowitz lead Monday's evenings talk. Photo: Streetsblog

Janice Li, Advocacy Director for the SF Bicycle Coalition, and BART District 8 Director Nick Josefowitz led Monday evening’s talk. Photo: Streetsblog

Monday evening, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition held the second of its first three scheduled “Bike Talks,” a series it plans to continue to foster discussion and help shape its advocacy.

Here’s how the SFBC describes the meetings:

Here at the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, we know our members love to dig deep on the details of the policies that guide our everyday lives. We are excited to start Bike Talks, a series of policy-focused discussions to engage our membership more deeply in our organization’s advocacy work. Each discussion will have a theme and bring in members and experts on the topic to grow the dialogue.

Monday night’s discussion, which featured Nick Josefowitz, BART director representing District 8 (which includes parts of San Francisco) and father of new baby twins, focused on the future and past of BART and how it can be more accommodating to cyclists. Remember it was less than three years ago that bicycle advocates scored a major victory when BART finally dropped its ban on bikes during rush hour. That was part of a shift in BART’s management and philosophy, explained Josefowitz. “We’ve gone from a board with a suburban vision of BART, where everybody drives to a station, finds free parking, and then takes a Cadillac, armchair-style BART into downtown,” he said. Josefowitz said the new BART cars will have smaller, more subway-style seats to carry more people. “It took ten years of advocacy by TransForm, Bike East Bay, and SFBC, but now the general managers, executives, planners—everybody at BART realizes we do not want to double down on suburbs and cars, because there is a better way of doing things.”

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A Look at Proposed BART Improvements in November 2016 Ballot Measure

Modern signals will mean more capacity. Source: BART

Modern signals will mean more capacity. Source: BART

If passed by the BART Board this summer, the November ballot will have a $3 billion-plus bond on it to help BART upgrade its infrastructure, including about $400 million for new train controls and signals. BART’s communications staff released some graphics to help voters understand exactly how much additional capacity that will buy, and what that will mean from a rider perspective.

Unlike with an automobile, a train takes a very long time to stop. So the driver of a train can’t moderate speed simply by watching the back of the next train without risking a rear-end collision (certainly not if the trains are travelling at speed). Traditionally, railroads work on a block-signal system–trackside signals keep trains a safe distance apart by splitting the right-of-way into segments. A train is not permitted to proceed to the next segment of track until the train in front of it has moved out of it. That assures that trains will never collide. It’s what’s usually happening when you’re on a train that stops between stations for no apparent reason–it means a train in front of it was delayed (often for something as simple as someone holding a door). It causes delays to ripple back–so a single delayed train can cause problems way down the line. It also limits capacity.

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San Francisco Needs to Get Out of the Car Storage Business

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Free private automobile storage on transit routes makes for inherently dangerous conditions. Image: Wikimedia

Free private automobile storage on transit routes makes for inherently dangerous conditions. Image: Wikimedia

Marco Salsiccia is a blind resident of the Sunset District. Last month, while stepping off an L-Taraval train at a stop without a boarding island, he got his cane stuck in the wheel well of a car as it illegally passed the train. His cane snapped in two. The motorist stopped briefly and then took off. Salsiccia emailed his San Francisco Supervisor Katy Tang about the incident:

Today’s situation could easily have been much worse. I could have been injured, maimed, or even killed. If this happened to me, I imagine similar—if not worse—things have occurred to others in the highly-trafficked area.

Indeed, worse things have happened. Salsiccia had his foot run over by a driver a few years earlier while he crossed Taraval from Safeway (fortunately, he only suffered some bruising). As Streetsblog previously reported, SFMTA data shows that 22 people have been hit getting off trains on Taraval just in the past five years.

Streetsblog reached out to Tang’s office to get her take on the rate of improvements on Taraval under SFMTA’s Muni Forward program. Streetsblog will update this post if a reply is received. But this was part of her reply to Salsiccia’s email:

Please know that there is currently an intensive planning process happening to plan for future safety improvements along the L-Taraval, including proposals for boarding islands. Along with that have been other ideas for how we can properly train/educate drivers about slowing down near trains where passengers are getting on/off the trains, and stopping behind the train when this occurs.

If that seems a bit wishy washy, there’s a reason. As previously reported, there’s resistance to boarding islands because they require taking away (or relocating) street parking. And this gets local merchants up in arms.

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BART’s Electrical Issues Not Yet Solved

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BARTs Group Manager, Vehicle Maintenance Engineer, at his desk at the Hayward shops.

Henry Kolesar, BARTs Group Manager, Vehicle Maintenance Engineer, at his desk at the Hayward shops.

BART’s power surge problem, which had been frying train electronics and took some 85 cars out of service at its height, has gone away and service is more or less back to normal. Here it is from BARTs own statement:

After swapping out the generation of train cars most prone to damage (our “C” cars) to help establish regular service again, the spikes in voltage along the track have gone away. So we have since moved the C cars back to add more cars to the line, and the problem has not reoccurred.

“The problem has gone away,” said Paul Oversier, Assistant General Manager of Operations, “but we need to get to the bottom of this. We don’t want our customers to suffer through another round of this so we need to get to the root cause.”

In other words, they haven’t fixed the problem. It went away on its own.

Henry Kolesar, Group Manager, Vehicle Maintenance Engineer at BART’s Hayward repair facility, gave Streetsblog a tour and showed us the parts that are causing the problems. Kolesar also endeavored to explain exactly what’s going on with the electrical engineering (and we think we get it).

The key component that got fried is called a thyristor. That’s already been widely reported. So what is a thyristor exactly? The motors on BART trains run on 1000 volts of power from the third rail. But BART trains are controlled by computers. The computers do all the calculations about how fast the motor needs to turn to assure that the train is going at the proper rate and that it’s stopping and starting exactly where it needs to. The computers figure out how much voltage to apply to the motors to achieve the proper speed and acceleration. Here’s the problem: the computers run on 36.5 volts.

So you need a device that can take the signal from the 36.5 volt computer and use it to regulate the 1,000 volts of power coming into the train motor. Obviously, you can’t just plug the motor into the computer’s circuits, or it would turn into a smoking glob of mush.

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Proposed East Bay Bike-Share Sites Announced

Proposed bike-share stations near downtown Oakland.

Proposed bike-share stations near downtown Oakland.

Note: This story has been corrected since it was originally posted. Thank you to sharp-eyed readers.

Bay Area Bike Share released a map of proposed sites for bike-share stations in the East Bay today. Proposed sites for expansion into San Francisco and San Jose have already been released, but these are the first ones for Berkeley, Oakland, and Emeryville. The total number of bikes planned in the three cities is 1,300, with 800 of them in Oakland and 100 in Emeryville, to be rolled out by the end of 2017.

Phase 1, about 25 percent of the final East Bay expansion, will include 350 bikes at 34 stations.

Proposed bike-share stations near the UC Berkeley campus.

Proposed bike-share stations near the UC Berkeley campus.

A map of the initial proposed East Bay hubs, available here, shows them mostly sited along a spine between downtown Berkeley and downtown Oakland. Five stations surround the UC Berkeley campus’ south and west sides, with another located across from Berkeley High School and the downtown Y, and a seventh a little further south on Telegraph at Blake street.

From there, the corridor of proposed sites generally follows Telegraph Avenue, incorporating BART stations and outlying hubs along 40th Street into Emeryville and on the western side of Lake Merritt.

Amtrak stations are left out of the first phase, though, and so are the West Oakland and Rockridge BART stations.

It looks like a good start, if your destinations are all near Telegraph or in downtown Oakland. With luck, further expansions to connect these hubs to other destinations will come sooner than later.

Having bike-share available close to the new Telegraph Avenue parking-protected bike lanes will be a game-changer for that area and we hope it will create some urgency to finish the new facilities further towards Temescal.

What do you think? Are these in the right places? Bike-share needs a somewhat dense network of hubs to be useful, but it’s also necessary to put the hubs in places near where people want to go. Is this a good start?

Bay Area Bike Share is still accepting suggestions for station locations here. Comments can be made here, or at local public libraries, which will be presenting information about the expansion at the following times:

From April 26 through May 9, during regular open hours:

  • Berkeley Library

    • Central Branch, 2090 Kittredge St
    • Claremont Branch, 2940 Benvenue Ave
  • Emeryville
    • Town Hall, 1333 Park Ave (through May 11)
  • Oakland Library

    • Main Branch, 125 14th St
    • Asian Branch, 388 9th St

Also on May 3 from 4 to 6 pm, at the Temescal Branch Library, 5205 Telegraph in Oakland.