Outgoing BART Board President Tom Radulovich endorsed planning instructor Lisa Feldstein for his replacement. Photo: Streetsblog.
20-year BART board veteran and current board president Tom Radulovich announced yesterday that he will not seek re-election this November. Additionally, he endorsed a replacement: Lisa Feldstein, an instructor at the University of San Francisco. It looks as if Feldstein is going to have quite a bit of competition for Radulovich’s seat. That said, Streetsblog figured it worth talking with Feldstein to find out what she’s all about and to learn her vision for BART. Streetsblog caught up with her yesterday afternoon at a coffee shop near the Balboa Park BART station.
Streetsblog: Let’s start with the obvious question. Who are you and why do you want this job?
Lisa Feldstein: I’m a planner and transportation geek and I care a lot about BART. It’s the spine of the region and there’s a lot we need to do so it serves today’s commuters. I grew up in NYC. My grandfather drove a city bus and my dad was from San Francisco. He always talked about San Francisco like it was paradise on earth. So I went to law school in Berkeley, with a plan to return to the East Coast. But I met my spouse. BART has been part of my life ever since, getting to and from jobs, Berkeley law, which I graduated from in 1992, and then I went back to school in 2007 to get a planning degree.
SB: So this is hardly your first foray into politics and planning?
LF: I was appointed to the San Francisco Planning Commission by former Supervisor Tom Ammiano. Then from there I took a job with a non-profit, teaching public health professionals in planning. The idea was public health professionals have to clean up from planning decisions. Planning and public health started as one thing, and they separated. Planners made non-walkable suburbs which helped with communicable disease but led to chronic disease.
SB: Such as diabetes and heart disease from the lack of exercise?
LF: Public health people had figured out what the problem was but had no idea how to intervene so my job was to teach them at the front end so they could work with planning departments.
SB: And now it’s generally recognized that bad planning leads to bad public health outcomes.
LF: Right. And the partnership [between health and planning] has been very successful, putting health elements into general plans.
SB: You had a law degree. But you decided to go back and study planning, even though you were already working in it?
LF: My daughter was young at the time. And I burned out on all the travel, but I liked the teaching part. So I went back and got a PhD so I could teach.
SB: You’ve been doing that for a while. So you want to get back into hands-on work with BART?
LF: I like the idea of being able to stick my hands back in and make some positive change on issues that I’ve been thinking about for so long. Some of that is transportation specific, but a lot of it has to do with equity.
SB: How so?
LF: BART is not that old a system, but it was created for a white middle class, mostly men, and that’s not really the ridership anymore.
SB: Right. If you look at old pictures of BART, the ridership is very, well, monochromatic.
LF: Today’s ridership is much more diverse, racially, socially, economically and we don’t have a single commute pattern anymore.
SB: It’s not just people commuting from the suburbs to Market Street.
LF: Lots of people, particularly low income, are commuting from suburb to suburb. BART is over capacity and it doesn’t serve the needs of the Bay Area’s population today.
SB: Right. So if you’re working a night shift, BART kind of sucks.
LF: When I was studying for my qualifying exam in planning, the last Transbay service was like at 12:02. If I missed it, I had to walk miles to get a bus that ran all night. So I’ll be advocating for extended service, but I understand there are real issues with maintenance. BART has to have buses, at least, that run all night.
SB: You’re talking about a dedicated service?
LF: Yes, to help people work swing shifts, night shifts and weekends.
SB: What are some other things you hope to work on with BART?
LF: The platforms at rush hour; they get backed up onto the stairs. It’s a matter of time before someone falls–we need to manage the capacity.
SB: Sounds like you would support peak pricing, like commuter railroads back east.
LF: Part of BART’s problem is it’s not quite commuter rail, but it’s not quite a subway either. You can do peak hour pricing, but BART’s already expensive. The pricing structure looks like commuter rail, so you end up creating further inequities for people who don’t have other choices. Lower income people have the least flexibility, but you’re now asking them to pay more. BART doesn’t even have monthly passes, so if you moved to a peak-ride cost, you have to first do something about passes.
The other problem, especially for low income people, is BART is connected to 28 other transit systems. It’s outrageous that when you transfer from BART to Muni you get a discount, but not in the other direction. AC transit used to have the reduced fare for transfers, but they had budget problems. So that was something that just got eliminated.
SB: Travel to Europe, to a city such as London, and you have one card and one fare and you can ride anything. We have Clipper–but there are still so many different agencies with different fares. Why can’t we get the fare structure more rational?
LF: The Europeans have the advantage that the government structure is more centralized. The government can say “you’re going to do it this way.” But here–and it’s the same with land use planning–every jurisdiction does whatever it wants.
SB: Which is why we have a suburban-style McDonald’s with a drive through on Ocean on a major transportation corridor?
LF: Or the one near me on Haight and Stanyan. But even near a BART station, usually, once you get back to ground level, it’s not BART’s jurisdiction. But it’s not as if BART always does a great job either. Look at the plazas at 16th and 24th and Mission. Read more…