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Posts from the Transit Category

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Facades, Shakeups and Loans: Transbay is Officially Off Track

Despite the renderings, without leadership from the City of San Francisco, Transbay will never see trains in it's basement. Image: Transbay Joint Powers Authority.

Despite the renderings, without leadership from the city of San Francisco, Transbay will never see trains. Image: Transbay Joint Powers Authority.

Streetsblog readers have probably seen the stories in the Chronicle, Examiner and others that San Francisco is preparing to loan money for the completion of the Transbay Transit Center (TTC), which is now facing a $260 million construction deficit. This is all coming as the Transbay Joint Powers Authority Board of Directors reportedly decided to remove Maria Ayerdi-Kaplan, the executive director of the agency overseeing construction.

Here are details of the financing plan, in a release from San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee’s office:

The City and County of San Francisco and the MTC have proposed to address this timing gap by providing interim financing of $260 million to complete the first phase, the bus facility. The City will issue short-term variable rate certificates at times and in amounts necessary to meet the needs of the project’s construction, a portion of which would be purchased by MTC and a portion of which would be privately placed with Wells Fargo Bank, for a term of five and three years, respectively, with an option to renew. The short-term certificates will be repaid by special taxes and net tax increment generated within the district. Given the timing of development within the district, this short-term financing, secured by the City’s General Fund, is anticipated to be repaid in approximately five to ten years.

The release from the Mayor’s office justifies the move in this way:

The Transbay Transit Center is a key to the Bay Area’s continued economic vitality for the coming century, acting as the future northern terminus for Caltrain and the California High Speed Rail system within the multi-modal facility that will accommodate 11 transit operators and serve more than 45 million passengers a year.

This is more-or-less how the overall $4.5 billion project was sold in the first place. But it’s hard to see how this loan can be linked to Caltrain or California High-Speed Rail or for any multi-modal aspect, when nothing’s really being done to create the 1.3 mile downtown rail extension (DTX) to bring trains from Caltrain’s current King Street Station to the TTC. In fact, it’s weird to see the city returning to highlighting the rail aspect, which was absent or underplayed in other recent releases from city leadership. For example, in a release sent to Streetsblog today, Supervisor Jane Kim’s office announced:

The Board of Supervisors will be voting on an amendment to the Transbay Redevelopment Plan to increase the maximum height limit from 300 feet to 400 feet on Block 1 (160 Folsom Street). Block 1 is proposed as a mixed income homeownership project consisting of 391 residential units and 9,126 square feet of retail space in a 400-foot tower, adjacent townhomes, and two 65-85 foot podium buildings. With the additional height made available through this amendment should it pass, the original project’s number of affordable housing units increases to 40 percent.

It’s nice that height limits are going up around this important site, but no mention of transit. The release is reminiscent of other recent announcements concerning the project. For example, this one from March 7 from the Transbay Joint Powers Authority (TJPA):

Today the Transbay Joint Powers Authority (TJPA) Board and Executive Director Maria Ayerdi-Kaplan, joined by House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and the Honorable John Burton, celebrated the progress of the four-block Transbay Transit Center and unveiled the spectacular Penrose pattern awning that will soon gracefully adorn the Center. This distinctive awning features a unique pattern discovered by Professor Roger Penrose that combines elements of math, science and art.

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New BART Cars Show Agency is on the Right Track

New BART car arriving in California. Image: BART.

New BART car arriving in California. Image: BART.

BART seems to be digging itself out of a month’s worth of power problems and delays on the Pittsburgh/Bay Point Line. But, no doubt, it’s only a matter of time before BART gets slammed again, given the age of its fleet. Indeed, its rolling stock is so old, the agency is reduced to searching for spare parts on eBay.

That’s why a good-transit-news-starved media was abuzz with the arrival of the first of BARTs new cars. Dubbed the “Car of the Future,” they boast more doors (for faster loading and unloading), more comfortable seats, better seals to keep them quiet inside, and–one hopes and assumes–far more reliability. According to a BART release:

BART is now one step closer to providing much needed capacity relief with the arrival of its first new train car now set to begin a crucial onsite testing phase. The first train car was unveiled today at BART’s testing facility in Hayward, marking the beginning of the arrival of a new fleet of 775 train cars over the next five years.

“This next testing phase is critical to having safe and reliable new train cars,” said Board President Tom Radulovich. “As these new cars arrive and get approved for passenger service, we can finally start running longer trains. That’s something every line on our system needs right now. In fact, the need is so great we’ve been able to get the manufacturer to increase the monthly delivery rate from 10 cars per month to 16 per month, putting the final car delivery 21 months earlier than the original schedule.”

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SFMTA Votes for a Surcharge on Cash Fares for a Faster Bus

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Want to pay cash? Get ready to pay more. Photo: SFMTA

Want to pay cash? Get ready to pay more. Photo: SFMTA

SFMTA’s proposed budget for 2017-2018 was passed yesterday by its board. Next stop, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Included in the budget, a 25 cent fare hike for cash fares. And this fare hike is really for the good of the riders–seriously.

A few decades ago, if you boarded one of London’s iconic double-decker buses, you didn’t line up and pay at the door. You entered front or back and a conductor, not the driver, came around and collected your fare while the bus was in motion. The result was the buses didn’t wait at each station while people lined up to pay. Over time, with cut backs and changes in bus design, the decision was made to have drivers also collect fares. Thus, London buses, like buses everywhere else, started to have interminable dwell times. It’s a ridiculous system that makes riding a bus a slow, plodding experience (well, slower than it needs to be).

Now, of course, computers, smart phones, and pre-paid cards (“Oyster” in London or “Clipper” here in the Bay Area) can replace the old conductors for fare collection and allow everyone to scramble onto the bus at once, which is already speeding up commutes, with the added bonus of centralizing fare collection and making transit more seamless, at least in theory. And Streetsblog has long supported the idea of an all-in-one transport card that will work on everything from buses to car-hailing.

The problem is some people take the expression “cash is king” a little too literally and are reluctant to move on, especially seniors who aren’t always comfortable in the digital world. So they keep lining up to pay at the fare box. And we keep waiting for them to unroll bills and push them into the little machine. That’s why the SFMTA board wants to give people an incentive to get them over their Luddite tendencies; the aforementioned 25 cent surcharge for  paying a fare with cash.
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Eyes on the Street: First Phase of Second Street Makeover

SFMTA is putting in some initial improvements before 2nd Street's big makeover begins in the Fall. Image: SFMTA

SFMTA is putting in some initial improvements before 2nd Street’s big makeover begins in the fall. Image: SFMTA

As the photo shows, SFMTA is making some quick improvements to the 2nd Street bike lanes. This is a temporary fix, intended to be replaced once a full-blown makeover starts this fall.

It was last August that Streetsblog brought you news of the project to rebuild 2nd Street with protected bike lanes, bus boarding islands, pedestrian bulb outs, and other safety features. For now though, the painted improvements will run between Market and Howard streets, with new restrictions on left turns from 2nd to Folsom, Mission and Harrison. The final project should be completed in mid-2018.

While Streetsblog is often critical of city agencies for not going far enough, it’s nice to see things moving in the right direction on 2nd. And, no, this isn’t an April Fools joke!

2nd Street will look like this sometime in Mid-2018. Image: SFMTA

If all goes to plan, 2nd Street will look like this sometime in Mid-2018. Image: SFMTA

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Guest Editorial: The Time Has Come To Rebuild BART

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Is BART's infras ready for a top-to-bottom revamp? Image: Wikimedia Commons

Is BART infra ready for a top-to-bottom revamp? Image: Wikimedia Commons

When BART was built in the late 1960s, it was the most advanced subway system in the world. But what was once state of the art technology is now almost obsolete and unable to cope with the ever increasing demands made on the system by booming ridership.

BART trains still run on a 1967 computer system which causes 25 percent of BART’s major delays and limits how many trains BART can run per hour. The basic infrastructure of BART’s electrical system has remained unchanged since it was first installed in the late 1960s, and the failure of which has caused the recent shutdown of Pittsburg-Bay Point station. Many of BART’s escalators date back to the start of the system, and can no longer handle crush loads, inclement weather, or even heavy regular usage.

BART’s decaying infrastructure is the result of decades of underinvestment and a culture that had focused on costly and imprudent exurban expansion over maintenance of the core system. But over the past few years, a new generation of leadership has come to power at BART. This leadership was elected by Bay Area voters with a mandate to fix the existing infrastructure first, before spending money on glitzy new extensions.

As a result of this new leadership, over the past 10 years BART has transformed how it maintains its train fleet, nearly doubling the number of miles each train car can travel before it experiences a breakdown. Last year, BART even led the country in the proportion of its train fleet that was operational and ready to ride on the average weekday morning.
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If You’re Requiring Parking by Transit Stations, You’re Doing It Wrong

The city of Waterloo, Ontario, is in the process of building a new 12-mile light rail line called Ion Rapid Transit. Now the most pressing question is how to make it a success.

Image: Tritag.ca

And so is more mandatory parking! Image: Tritag.ca

Mike Boos at TriTag says the transit line should have no trouble meeting ridership forecasts, with bus routes along the corridor already carrying nearly as many passengers as initially projected. But one lingering concern is the city’s policy of mandatory parking. Waterloo still requires new residential and commercial development near light rail stations to include a minimum number of parking spaces. Boos says the city should be doing the reverse:

Parking supply may have a bigger impact people’s choices to take transit than proximity to rail stations [1]. If part of the cost of car ownership is simply hidden as part of the cost of a home, office, or retail space, it’s easier to decide to own and drive a car in spite of good transit being nearby. The default of having abundant free parking everywhere handicaps decisions to walk, bike or take transit.

A level playing field would mean that there’s an extra cost and effort to find a space for your car, so you might think twice about owning an extra car, or using it to go to work or shop.

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Albuquerque Plans Center-Running Busway

Albuquerque's ART bus rapid transit seeks to change the way people get around. Image: City of Albuquerque

Albuquerque’s ART bus rapid transit project will put a center-running busway on the city’s main street. Image: City of Albuquerque

Recently, Albuquerque has gotten a good look at the insanity that can grip people when confronted by the idea of reallocating street space from cars to transit. The city is planning to add center-running bus lanes along Central Avenue — its main street — and for months public meetings about the project featured people standing on chairs and shouting, actual fights, and the occasional police escort out of the building.

But this week, cooler heads prevailed. The Albuquerque City Council voted 7-2 to accept $70 million in federal money and get started on the project, called ART, which is backed by the city’s Republican mayor. Now, after a long and tense drama, it looks like ART is a go.

Dan Majewski helped found YES ART NOW, a grassroots group that supported the project. He is elated. Majewski said council members had a well-reasoned debate and weren’t swayed by opponents who said bus lanes would ruin their neighborhood.

“I think it’s an absolute game changer,” Majewski said. “I think that’s part of why there’s been so much vitriol around the project.”

“It’s really symbolic of the culture shift,” he added. “What we witnessed [Monday] night was historic: the city voting to prioritize something other than automobiles. We’ve never seen a situation where people are consciously voting to take away lanes for cars and give them to transit.”

With the ART, the stars seem to be aligning for Albuquerque to become more than “a collection of … nondescript subdivisions connected by monotonous commercial strips,” as one local writer put it.

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Mission Street Transit Lanes: What About the Bikes?

Right lane transitways on Mission leave no place for cyclists. Image: SFMTA

Right lane transitways on Mission leave no place for cyclists. Image: SFMTA

Earlier this week, the SFMTA sent out a release with a progress report on the “Red Lane” paint (actually, a thermoplastic adhesive) they are applying, clearly marking lanes for Muni Streetcars and buses (and taxis):

Early signs indicate success. Preliminary data shows transit-only lane violations dropping by more than 50 percent on some segments of 3rd Street. On Geary and O’Farrell streets, the red lanes have reduced Muni travel times by 4 percent despite traffic congestion increasing on the same segments by 15-18 percent.

But what about bikes?

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SF Mayor’s Veto of Increased Transportation Sustainability Fee Stands

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 Left to right: Thea Selby of the Transit Riders Union, Peter Cohen, Council of Community Housing Organizations, Margaret McCarthy, SFBC, Supervisor John Avalos, Peter Straus, Transit Riders Union, and Calvin Welch, Human Services Network at a presser pushing to override Mayor Lee's veto. Image: Jeremy Pollock.

Left to right: Thea Selby of the Transit Riders Union, Peter Cohen, Council of Community Housing Organizations, Margaret McCarthy, SFBC, Supervisor John Avalos, Peter Straus, Transit Riders Union, and Calvin Welch, Human Services Network at a presser pushing to override Mayor Lee’s veto. Image: Jeremy Pollock.

Supervisor John Avalos, backed by safe streets and transit advocates, and Supervisors David Campos and Jane Kim, made a push today to override Mayor Lee’s veto of a proposed increase in the Transportation Sustainability Fee (TSF) on large commercial developments. But the override only got six votes rather than the eight required.

The proposal would have increased the one-time fee on large commercial projects by $2 from $19.04 to $21.04 per square foot (and that only applies on the portion above 100,000 square feet, if the project is large enough to qualify). It also requires commercial projects in the pipeline that have not received Planning Commission approval to pay half of the difference between the new TSF and the previous fee.

The TSF was a huge step forward, requiring developers to pay a fee for for impacts on transportation infrastructure brought about by the workers and residents they bring to the city. The proposed increase, meanwhile, would have generated an estimated $2.4 million a year along with $30 million in one-time revenue for the SFMTA.

“Mayor Lee’s veto of the TSF ordinance preserves a backroom deal with developers and forces tax payers, Muni riders, and workers to subsidize the increased transportation impacts of big developments,” said Supervisor John Avalos. “The SFMTA will be forced to make up for the gap in revenue through increased fares and fines or further defer much-needed maintenance and capital projects.”
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Nobody Should be Surprised by BART Breakdowns

President Nixon and his wife Pat ride BART on opening day. Source: BART.

President Nixon rides BART on opening day. Source: BART.

For years now, civil engineers have given America’s aged infrastructure a “D” grade and warned that if we don’t do something soon, it’s simply going to fall apart.

Guess what?

Train service between North Concord and Bay Point stations was completely shut down at the end of this week, with more misery expected. According to releases from BART, it’s unknown when the delays will end. The cause: older rail cars were knocked out of service by electrical surges. Things were in such disarray this week that it made national news.

And although new cars are on the way, it won’t be enough. “Our electrical system dates from the 60s and early 70s. Patching it here and there doesn’t cut it anymore. We need to rip it out and install a modern electrical system,” said Nick Josefowitz, BART Board member and transportation advocate. “It’s a big job – hundreds of miles of cables and third rail, dozens of substations and transformers, etc—but we have little choice.”
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