Contest Finalists to Help Plan Bay Area’s Future

Make a lane on the Bay Bridge for transit only? That's part of one proposal that made it through to the final round of MTC's visioning contest. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
Make a lane on the Bay Bridge for transit only? That's part of one proposal that made it through to the final round of MTC's visioning contest. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

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The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) announced late yesterday the selection of six “transformative transportation projects” and six “transformative operational strategies” as finalists in its Horizon initiative. The contest solicited long-range ideas for improving mobility in the Bay Area by 2050.

Among the notable proposals was one to bring the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) train across a rebuilt San Rafael bridge to connect with BART and Amtrak in Richmond; another is to build a regional bicycle “super network” that would have dedicated bikeways along the routes of freeways, connecting directly to fully protected bike lanes through city and town centers.

Of course, many of these ideas are cost-prohibitive–at least for now. However, “you might really be able to take some of these more visionary ideas and, even if they don’t make it as a full-scale, regionwide project, you can ignite people’s interests and get some pilot projects going,” said Stuart Cohen, co-founder and Executive Director of TransForm, and one of the judges of the competition, in a phone interview with Streetsblog.

A couple of proposals from the 12 finalists, as described in a MTC one-sheet. Image: MTC/ABAG
A couple of proposals from the 12 finalists, as described in an MTC one-sheet. Image: MTC/ABAG

“The competition was meant to inspire big ideas and game-changing innovations,” said MTC Chair and Rohnert Park City Councilmember Jake Mackenzie in a prepared statement. “The selection committee initially planned to name no more than ten finalists. But we received so many promising, outside-the-box ideas that would not just improve existing projects but also help expand the limits of what may be possible over the course of the next generation that the panelists decided to take a closer look at twelve proposals.” The proposals were picked from some 500 submissions from advocates, individuals, and consultancies.

A couple of the ideas, said transportation advocates, would work well when combined–for example, there’s a proposal to make I-80 metered and tolled, in a way to ensure traffic speeds are maintained. This could also allow transit buses to use the freeways without getting bogged down in traffic. Combine that with the idea, seen in the chart above, to convert general-purpose lanes on the bridges to bus-only lanes, and bus performance would be greatly enhanced regionally.

“A number of the projects involve rethinking automobile-centric corridors as multi-modal ones. That’s something MTC and Caltrans haven’t managed to do, or have done very poorly (plonking BART stations in freeway medians),” wrote Livable Cities Tom Radulovich in an email to Streetsblog.

In general, advocates Streetsblog spoke with didn’t see much hope for overcoming the political and institutional impediments that often prevent proposals like this from reaching fruition. Beaudry Kock with Seamless Bay Area (a finalist group that proposed fare integration and a zone system across transit operators in the Bay Area) was skeptical that anything would come of the contest. “I think the fact that this proposal won suggests that there is some momentum within the MTC to see serious work start on this issue,” he wrote in an email to Streetsblog. “Whether that translates into concrete action in the near term, I personally doubt it: we still lack the institutional structures and leadership that are necessary to help get this kind of thing rolling.”

Regional fare integration, free transit, [and] regulating the timing of freight deliveries are proven concepts that have been standard practice in well-run cities around the world for many decades, but are still ‘outside-the-box’ for MTC,” wrote Radulovich.

“We recognize that not all the finalists’ ideas are brand-new,” wrote Dave Vautin, a principal planner and analyst with MTC and the Project Manager of the Horizon contest and Plan Bay Area 2050, in an email. However, the contest will allow these ideas from the advocacy community to percolate through an official process. “This was one of the benefits of opening,” it up to the public, he added. “We were able to receive project submissions from a broader range of stakeholders so those projects can compete for inclusion in Horizon & Plan Bay Area 2050.”

He explained that beyond the twelve finalists from the competition, MTC’s public agency partners are continuing to brainstorm creative ideas, including a Muni Metro extension to South San Francisco, a next-generation South Bay rail network, gondolas crisscrossing Oakland and Alameda, and a tunnel on SR-87 in downtown San Jose.

Vautin recommends that people look at the over ninety projects under consideration for future planning. For a full list of the submissions, click here. The summary sheet of the twelve finalists is available here.

  • mx

    It is utter madness that MTC a basic (and excellent!) proposal for integrating regional transit service to be a mere potential “transformative” project to be considered under a plan for the year 2050 instead of the agency’s fundamental purpose for existing and something they are already doing.

    I have no faith in MTC’s ability to ever deliver. It’s structured to ensure transit never gets better because nobody will give up their fiefdoms. This is the agency that recently spent a quarter-billion dollars on a new headquarters, which they use to do nothing more than run the region’s worst transit planning website, hire a contractor to run a mediocre-at-best fare payment system, and sign grant paperwork. Can the state legislature strip it of its power and funding over transit and give it to somebody who at least vaguely cares?

  • LazyReader

    Growing the bureaucracy into something enormous. 90 projects that need money San Francisco doesn’t have. No one can predict the future, but trends are ushered in by innovators. The fact of the matter is, Silicon Valley and auto industry are working on smart highways and driverless automotive technology. When that tech is applied to high capacity vehicles like vans and buses you can sweep these projects under the obsolescence rug. The bike program holds some promise in effect by actually taking cars of the roads. But I don’t know why the Bay Area is being so ambitious when BART alone has a infrastructure deficit of nearly 10 billion dollars. Cities shouldn’t double down on new infrastructure investments until
    they’ve fixed what they already possess. Burrowing billions to build when they cant afford what they currently have is like buying a second
    house when you haven’t even paid off your first mortgage. And this is
    taxpayer money, and taxpayers shouldn’t be saddled with a debt burden
    especially when there’s a very real chance that driverless cars will
    usurp a great deal of their customer base. Leaving behind a huge burden of debt and unfunded obligations to former transit employees.

  • LazyReader

    Growing the bureaucracy into something enormous. 90 projects that need
    money San Francisco doesn’t have. No one can predict the future, but
    trends are ushered in by innovators. The fact of the matter is, Silicon
    Valley and auto industry are working on smart highways and driverless
    automotive technology. When that tech is applied to high capacity
    vehicles like vans and buses you can sweep these projects under the
    obsolescence rug. The bike program holds some promise in effect by
    actually taking cars of the roads. But I don’t know why the Bay Area is
    being so ambitious when BART alone has a infrastructure maintenance deficit of
    nearly 10 billion dollars. Cities shouldn’t double down on new
    infrastructure investments until they’ve fixed what they already
    possess. Burrowing billions to build when they cant afford what they
    currently have is like buying a second house when you haven’t even paid off your first mortgage. Taxpayers shouldn’t be saddled with debt burden especially when there stands a good chance high capacity vehicles, automated or not will usurp their customer base. Leaving behind a huge burden of
    debt and unfunded obligations to former transit employees. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/b7a95186dbb64d31f658536164b77ce505707a21dad8aa0da29dfbcbfaec0d46.jpg

  • JustJake

    MTC has outlived its usefulness. A truly transformative approach would be to develop the path to a successor agency.

  • Agreed. I read this article and thought to myself…in 18 years of living in the Bay Area we are being fed the same hype and promises of “better transit,” “better roads” and “better integration” yet either nothing gets accomplished or is done incorrectly.

    Tom R. needs to go away. Same with SPUR. They keep peddling the obvious yet sit back and watch the opposite unfold.

    2050 plans that should have been implemented in 2000. A few years ago it was 2030…then 2040…now 2050. As for cost, if it ain’t getting built today because of high costs you can forget about it being built 30+ years from now.

    It’s time to give it up, Bay Area. You’re not fooling any of us any more.

  • 11 years after the T line opened I’m still waiting for signal priority along the route and a direct transfer at Bayshore…like we were promised.

  • Ethan

    The point of the contest was looking for ideas and patterns in submissions that MTC hadn’t thought of or perhaps not given enough consideration.

  • LazyReader

    Well it’s a nice PR stunt the fact is San Francisco has a massive infrastructure deficit that needs fixing. Most of these “transformative” approaches cost money the city doesn’t have.

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