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House Transpo Bill Spells Trouble for Transit Projects Across America


Chicago’s Red and Purple Line modernization project could be delayed or worse under the funding formulas in the House transportation bill, says Representative Dan Lipinski. Image via CTA

A provision in the House GOP’s new transportation bill threatens to upend how transit agencies fund major capital projects, delaying or killing efforts to expand and maintain rail and bus networks.

The Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act (STRR), released Tuesday and marked up in committee yesterday, would change funding rules for the three federal programs that support transit maintenance and expansion projects, known as New Starts, Small Starts, and Core Capacity.

Currently, transit capital projects are eligible to receive 80 percent of their funding from federal sources, with local sources providing the remaining 20 percent. This is the same as the federal match available for highway projects. But the new House bill would cut the maximum federal match for transit projects to 50 percent while leaving the highway formula untouched. The bill would also prohibit transit agencies from counting funds from other federal programs (TIFIA loans, for instance) toward the local portion.

Representatives from urban areas warn that the House bill jeopardizes projects to maintain and improve transit systems. At the mark-up hearing yesterday, Representative Dan Lipinski, a Democrat who represents Chicago, said the measure “could end or delay Red and Purple Line modernization projects in Chicago.”

By cutting the potential share of project funds available from federal sources, the bill would also make transit projects less appealing relative to highways in the eyes of local governments, which would have to pitch in a smaller percentage for road projects.

Smaller cities are more likely to take advantage of federal matching funds that exceed 50 percent of a project’s total cost. Albuquerque, for instance, is counting on an 80 percent match to build its downtown BRT route. Larger cities are more likely to supplement a 50 percent federal grant with another source of federal funds, like TIFIA loans.

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Got an Idea for Better Mobility in the Bay Area? Here’s Where to Send It

Six years ago there was no such thing as Uber. And a short time before that, bike-share and car-share were just ideas. Today, there’s an array of new ways to get from A to B. None required new bridges, trains, roads or other expensive infrastructure.

Just Transit SF with city backgroundSo what else is possible?

That’s what the Palo Alto-based Schmidt Family Foundation, created by a Google executive, hopes to find out with its “Just Transit SF Challenge.” They’re soliciting ideas aimed at “helping provide equity to areas that don’t have transportation access now,” explained Jessica Early, an administrator of the challenge. The contest is part of the “11th Hour Project,” a program of the foundation, which aims to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Awards are in three categories: $125,000, $50,000 and $25,000. “Prize competitions spark innovation in a way that traditional grant-making often can’t,” added Early.

This is not about pie-in-the-sky fantasies. Contestants must partner with an agency, business, or non-profit that can implement the idea, at least in part, by 2017. Partners might include BART, SFMTA, or an organization such as PODER (People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Justice), which works on solving environmental issues in low-income communities of color.

“A hundred grand and great ideas shouldn’t substitute for investing in bus reliability, or putting subways in the ground,” said Nick Josefowitz, BART Director, District 8. “But I’ve always been impressed by how much systems can be improved when you bring in a bit of money and some fresh thinking. That’s why this prize is so exciting to me.” Read more…

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Will the Bay Area Continue to Reduce Driving With Improved Transit?

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Commuters in SF and the East Bay are ditching cars faster than anyone in the nation, as evidenced by regular crowds packing on to BART at 19th Street in Oakland. Photo: Sergio Ruiz/Flickr

Commuters in the Bay Area ditched cars faster than in any other major metropolitan area between 2006 and 2013, according to a new U.S. Census report. With studies showing that car traffic in San Francisco is declining, the report is one more sign that efforts in SF and the region to attract commuters to transit, walking, and biking may be working.

The report looked at work trips in the San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward Metropolitan Statistical Area. The Sacramento Bee summed up the findings:

Commuting by private car in the densely populated region, including carpooling, dropped from 73.6 percent of workers in 2006 to 69.8 percent seven years later, giving it the nation’s third highest level of alternative commuting.

Commuters in the New York City-centered metropolitan area were least likely to use private cars to get to their jobs in 2013, but even so, a majority – 56.9 percent – still did. Ithaca, NY, had the second lowest use of cars, 68.7 percent, followed by the San Francisco Bay Area.

It’s not clear which modes of transport the 3.8 of commuters who ditched cars switched to, as the local breakdown wasn’t immediately available. Record-breaking transit ridership on BART and Caltrain have continued to make headlines over recent years (though, per capita, ridership has declined over the last 20 years).

“The Bay Area continues to be a leader in shifting away from driving and toward alternative transportation modes, particularly public transit, but we need to do much more,” Supervisor Scott Wiener, who sits on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, wrote in a Facebook post today.

Wiener emphasized the urgency of some of the major expansions envisioned for regional transit: “A second transbay tube, train service to the Transbay Transit Center, electrified Caltrain, more subway lines, and a lot more bus service everywhere.”

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Fewer People Are Riding the Bus Because There Are Fewer Buses to Ride

Source: The Century Foundation

In most big American cities, bus service shrank between 2006 and 2012. No wonder bus ridership is dropping too. Graphic: The Century Foundation

Remember when the Great Recession decimated transit agency budgets, but the White House and Congress refused to step in and fund bus service while spending billions of dollars to subsidize car purchases? Well, the hangover continues to this day, leaving bus riders in the lurch.

Last year, bus ridership in America shrank 1 percent. While rail ridership grew 4 percent, enough to lift total ridership slightly, buses are still the workhorse of U.S. transit systems, accounting for most trips. If bus ridership is shrinking, something is wrong.

Jacob Anbinder at the Century Foundation has been poring over the data. He notes that in most of the nation’s biggest cities, bus ridership was on the upswing until the recession. Since then there’s been a noticeable falling off. His chart below shows bus ridership in America’s ten largest urban regions:

New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Philadelphia, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Houston, Washington DC, Atlanta, Boston

It’s not surprising that bus ridership fell when a lot of people were out of work, Anbinder says. What’s disturbing is that bus ridership is still slumping even as the economy has picked back up.

But the explanation is simple enough. As Anbinder shows in the chart at the top of this post, a lot of transit agencies cut bus service during the recession, and for the most part it’s still not back to pre-recession levels.


Overcoming the Barriers to a Seamless Bay Area Transit Experience

Transit fragmentation can take many forms. Funded and managed by the City of Oakland and operated by AC Transit, the free B shuttle in downtown Oakland was a new transit service added to existing AC Transit and BART services.

Transit fragmentation can take many forms. Funded and managed by the City of Oakland and operated by AC Transit, the free B shuttle in downtown Oakland was a new transit service added to existing AC Transit and BART services. Photo: Sergio Ruiz

Ratna Amin is SPUR’s Transportation Policy Director. This piece originally appeared in SPUR’s The Urbanist.

The Bay Area’s prosperity is threatened by fragmentation in the public transit system: Riders and decision-makers contend with more than two dozen transit operators. Inconsistent transit experiences and disjointed planning and investment make our transit system less efficient, less usable, and less likely to help us meet our goals for a thriving and sustainable region.

The Bay Area economy and labor market is increasingly regional: 29 percent of Bay Area commuters cross a county boundary to get to work each day. These long commutes, many of which traverse the bay, put incredible stress on constrained transportation corridors. Two-thirds of Bay Area commuters drive to work alone, creating significant congestion on the region’s freeways and bridges. Dramatic growth in employer-run shuttles over the last few years demonstrates the demand for alternatives, both to car travel and to regional transit such as BART and Caltrain, which are running short on room for passengers. As people move further out to find affordable places to live, the expectation is that regional travel will grow.

For these reasons and others, such as managing sprawl and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the Bay Area invests heavily in transit. It is spending $21 billion over the next 25 years to build public transit infrastructure and $159 billion to operate and maintain the transit system. Despite similar expenditures in the past, overall transit ridership has not been growing in the Bay Area. Most trips within the Bay Area are still made by car, with transit accounting for only 3 percent of all trips. Part of the reason it’s hard to increase transit ridership here may be due to how fragmented our system is compared to others.

Many could benefit from more integrated transit

We have the opportunity to increase the market share for transit in places where there is significant demand for regional travel. Half as many people travel from central Alameda County to San Francisco as travel from the Peninsula/Silicon Valley/San Jose to San Francisco, for example. However, 44 percent of the Alameda County trips use public transit while just 17 percent of the Silicon Valley trips use public transit.

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Applying the Parklet Strategy to Make Transit Stops Better, Quicker

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Planners are looking to use the parklet model to deliver bus bulb-outs at low cost. Muni and AC Transit (shown) are developing programs with different takes on the concept. Image: Ben Kaufman

San Francisco’s parklet revolution has broadened the possibilities for how curb space can be used. Now, city planners in SF and the East Bay are taking the idea in a new direction: using temporary sidewalk extensions to make transit stops more efficient and attractive.

Three different names for the concept have emerged from planners at three institutions where it was conceived independently — “temporary transit bulbs,” “multi-purpose parklets,” and “stoplets.” Those terms come from, respectively, SF transportation agencies, Alameda-Contra Costa Transit, and Ben Kaufman, a graduate student at the UCLA Department of Urban Planning.

Whatever you call it, the method could allow transit agencies to much more rapidly implement transit bulb-outs — sidewalk extensions at transit stops — and reap the benefits at about one-twentieth the cost of pouring concrete, on average, according to Kaufman.

For his UCLA graduate project, Kaufman is wrapping up a stoplet design guide for AC Transit, which received a Safe Routes to Transit grant to study the idea.

Kaufman sees stoplets as a way to re-invent the bus stop. “Why can’t we create a space that people actually want to sit at, that would make people excited to wait for a bus?” he said. “Instead of being a waiting experience, it can be a relaxing experience.” Like parklets, stoplets would be “adopted” by merchants who want to improve bus stops in front of their storefronts.

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Another Day, Another Driver Blocking Muni’s Busiest Metro Line

N-Judah riders can’t get any relief from idiots who leave their automobiles in the way of Muni’s busiest line.

The entire length of the metro line was shut down for at least 40 minutes Thursday, starting at about 2 p.m., after the driver of an extra-wide pick-up with a raised chassis parked at the curb on Carl Street. The vehicle was so big it obstructed the train’s path, clearly marked by a white stripe.

The SFMTA’s Twitter account reported that the line was blocked at 2 p.m., and that it was cleared by 2:38 p.m.

This time, there were no superhuman feats from N-Judah riders to clear a path — the truck was eventually towed.

Until the streets on the N’s route get improvements like separated transit lanes and car restrictions, riders can continue to expect routine shutdowns caused by clueless motorists. The list of recent causes: Parking a vehicle that’s too wide, attempting to drive into a visibly-marked train tunnel, an angry passenger throwing out the vehicle’s keys, and the most common one — double-parking on the tracks, as exhibited below on Ninth Avenue:


Three-Bike Bus Racks on Muni: A Solution for Late-Night Transit Woes?

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Photo: SFMTA

Muni is testing front-mounted bike racks that can carry three bicycles (instead of the usual two) on some of its most hilly bus routes. If implemented widely, that third bike space could prevent some late-night travelers from getting “bumped” when racks fill up.

Bike capacity on transit is particularly important in SF and the Bay Area, given geographic barriers like hills and, well, the bay. Late at night, when many buses cover little ground and come just once an hour, getting home can be especially difficult for people with bikes who rely on transit for part of their trip, or who are just too tired to make the ride home. Late-night buses, it seems, often attract the most bikes.

Last month, Janel Sterbentz was one of the lucky ones. She narrowly avoided waiting an extra hour at Market Street and Van Ness Avenue at 2 a.m. on a Friday morning, when the hourly AC Transit All-Nighter bus — the only way to get to the East Bay by transit once BART shuts down — arrived with both of its bike rack spots full.

Unlike Muni, AC Transit and SamTrans allow bikes on board late-night buses at the operator’s discretion.

An AC Transit bus with a three-bike rack at the Transbay Terminal in SF. Photo: Kenya Wheeler/Twitter

An AC Transit bus with a three-bike rack at the Transbay Terminal in SF. Photo: Kenya Wheeler/Twitter

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Cafe Owner, Breed, Sway Muni to Keep Two 21-Hayes Stops Within a Block

Muni’s 21-Hayes will continue to make an inbound stop for Central Coffee at Central Avenue, a short block after its stop at Masonic (seen in background). Photo: Aaron Bialick

There’s a reason Muni’s 21-Hayes still stops twice on the block between Central and Masonic Avenues — the owner of the cafe on the corner of Central demands it.

The SFMTA announced last week that it will ditch plans to remove the inbound bus stop at Central, after a persistent protest campaign by the owner Central Coffee, who insists the stop keeps him in business. As a result, bus commuters will continue to slog through the North of Panhandle neighborhood.

SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin said “we are no longer recommending” removal in an email blast last Friday. Approval of the stop removal was taken off the SFMTA Board of Directors’ Tuesday agenda.

The decision was made “based on community feedback” and a push from D5 Supervisor London Breed, according to Reiskin’s email. In a statement, Breed said she “received many neighborhood concerns about the removal of the Hayes/Central bus stop.”

“The large community contingent requested SFMTA staff and directors to keep the bus stop on Central and Hayes,” she said. “For my part, I asked SFMTA to listen to the neighbors concerns about removing the bus stop. And to look for creative solutions to address their concerns while implementing Muni Forward.”

Under Muni Forward, the SFMTA is starting to implement stop consolidations along some routes. Protests against have typically come from seniors and the disabled riders near each individual stop — not merchants.

Reiskin wrote in the email:

As we work to improve Muni citywide, selective bus stop removal is one of many tools in our toolbox to reduce travel times and create a more efficient public transit network. By optimizing the location of bus stops and reducing the number of stops, we can improve service for customers, reduce conflicts between buses and other vehicles, improve safety for people walking and bicycling, and decrease the amount of time buses spend stopped at stoplights.

In 2009, Muni reported that 70 percent of Muni stops are closer than its own policies dictate. A 2010 SFMTA survey found that 61 percent of riders said they would consider walking farther if it made their overall trip faster and more reliable.

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Muni Double-Berthing Still Delayed Pending CPUC Approval

The ongoing delays for double-berthing in Muni Metro stations continue, as Muni waits for its training plan to be approved by the CA Public Utilities Commission.

After Muni officials demonstrated double-berthing for the CPUC in December, expecting the green light, Muni Operations Director John Haley told Streetsblog that CPUC needed to sign off its training plan, which Muni officials apparently didn’t anticipate. In early February, Haley told us he was in talks with CPUC and hoped to have approvals in place within two to four weeks.

But CPUC spokesperson Terrie Prosper said it was only on March 27, last Friday, that the agency received all of the documentation needed.

“We had already done the training,” said Muni spokesperson Paul Rose, “but the CPUC requested that we get signatures from each operator. We have done that and are awaiting a response.”

“It is too early to provide a date for launch,” he added.

Prosper told us on Wednesday that CPUC would send a written reply “in the coming days” to “allow SFMTA to place the system in service.” Rose said Muni hasn’t received it yet.

The SF Transit Riders Union “has been eagerly awaiting double berthing for quite a long time, and we’re very happy that the SFMTA is ready to move forward,” said spokesperson Reed Martin. SFTRU “urges the CPUC to move quickly and approve the plan, allowing Muni Metro riders to finally experience double berthing in action!”

We also have a few more details on some of the limitations of double-berthing, also known as double-train loading. According to Muni Deputy Director of Operations Jim Kelly, double-berthing will only be possible at Civic Center, Powell, and Montgomery Stations because the platforms at the rest of the stations are too short for two trains to load safely. Each train which loads behind another train will also stop a second time at the front of the platform.