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In 2010, the NY Times published article on the Northern Alameda Chapter of the Sierra Club. It was not a flattering article, as it went into the group’s reluctance to embrace smart-growth policies. Many of its members were opposed to in-fill development in the downtown area (near the BART station). At the time, I pointed out that the group was endorsing candidates opposed to AC Transit BRT.

Now comes the 2014 election, and to judge from their endorsements it is clear nothing has changed. They again endorsed Councilmembers Worthington and Arreguin — even though both voted against BRT. As well, the Sierra Club endorsed the candidacy of George Beier, who organized neighborhood opposition to BRT.

Arreguin deserves special mention for sponsoring Measure R. It would reduce height limits and increase minimum parking requirements in the downtown. Groups such as Transform and Greenbelt Allliance are oppopsed to Measure R, but the Sierra Club is curiously silent on the matter.

If you visit the Sierra Club Transportation Policy web page, it states the following:

Walking and bicycling are best, along with electronic communications to reduce trips. Next are buses, minibuses, light rail and heavy rail (as corridor trips increase); electrified wherever feasible. Rail systems are most effective in stimulating compact development patterns, increasing public transit patronage and reducing motor vehicle use. Station access should be provided by foot, bicycle and public transit, with minimal, but full-priced, public parking. Accommodation of pedestrians, bicycles and public transit should be given priority over private automobiles.

Land use patterns should be designed to improve pedestrian access, encourage shorter trips, increase public transit use, enhance the economic viability of public transit and decrease private motor vehicle use (auto mobility). Therefore zoning, financing, land-use controls and other policies should concentrate employment near transit stations or stops, densify residential areas to allow shorter trips.

This a good transportation policy. What would it take for the National leadership to demand that local chapters adhere to it?

 

 

HR 3040 (Safe Freight Act) and S2784 (Rail Safety Improvement Act) have been introduced in Congress. The legislation would require freight trains to be crewed by both a conductor and an engineer. The unions are obviously very much in favor of the bills, predicting a “safety disaster” should freight trains have just a single crew member:

Part of the excuse for single-person crews is the coming of yet another new technology, positive train control, which Congress is mandating the rail carriers all adopt by 2015. This automated system will track trains’ speed and position, and apply the brakes in certain situations. Railroaders call this tech advance a good thing—but as an additional boost to safety, not something you’d want to rely on to replace a human. “The railroad unions have been asking for PTC to be implemented as a safety overlay, not in place of a crew member,” Wright says.

Even as companies have been lobbying to delay PTC because of its cost, they’ve also been eyeing it as an opportunity to cut labor costs. They will save billions of dollars if they can implement one-person crews, says Kaminkow.

Contrary to the aims of the legislation, a two-man crew mandate could actually reduce the overall safety of the transportation system. That is because increasing costs for freight train operators makes them less competitive against trucking. The end result will be more cargo shipped by truck — a mode of transport orders of magnitude more deadly than trains.

 

 

Assault on Amtrak

assaultUrban Shield, the SWAT team and arms manufacturer trade show, was recently held in Oakland. The event, funded by the DHS and organized by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department, featured a number of training scenarios. Here is one event, the Assault on Amtrak (starting 50 seconds into the video clip):

Mother Jones reporter Shane Bauer has been covering the event — or at least trying to. The Sheriff’s department kicked him out of the convention center:

bauer

 

The Alameda Sheriff’s department is one of the biggest proponents of militarization, including the use of unmanned drones and a gunboat.

 

As the the crown jewel of the Los Angeles public transportation network, Union Station has huge potential as both a destination and transit node. And with $1.7 billion in transportation dollars available, planners could do a lot to improve the facility with the new Master Plan. Sadly, this plan leaves a lot to be desired, in many ways being a step backwards.

One problem with the Plan is that it would make the station more auto-centric. A whopping 5,480 parking spaces would be built in 5 new parking facilities. Ironically, the Mozaic apartment complex would be demolished to make room for the parking. The Mozaic was built just 7 years ago, winning accolades as an innovative in-fill development.

 

laus_parking2

 

 

Then there is problems with the bike access. Planners had proposed new bike/ped bridges to get cyclists through the station area. But as you can see, the bridges have a large dismount zone. It isn’t much better for pedestrians either as there is strangely no connection from the overpass to the platforms below. These bridges will be expensive, and it isn’t clear what purpose they serve. The staff report says the bridges “tie the station together” which sounds like something the Big Lebowski would say.

laus_bridge

 

 

And finally there is the bus plaza. Currently located at ground level in front of the east entrance, it offers convenient and direct access to the main hallway. Planners propose re-locating the buses to an isolated upper level area in order to “reduce pedestrian/bus conflicts.” That is planner-speak for “we don’t want people who ride the bus standing outside the retail.”

A staff report to the MTA Board said that previous plans by Catellus had prioritized real estate development of the site, to the detriment of transit users. The new Master Plan was supposed to fix that problem. But other than the run-through tracks, this latest plan offers little of value for transit riders.

Bus bays kept safely inside hermetically-sealed tubes.

Buses kept safely inside hermetically-sealed tubes.

 

Does the Obama Administration have a diabolical plan for weather control?

It does’t — but if it did, Governor Brownback promises that he would keep it out of Kansas. Because if there is one thing he won’t stand for, it is Washington solving the drought problem.

Bikes or Bathrooms?

Caltrain is spec’ing its new electric railcars. The agency will have to decide what is more important: bikes or bathrooms:

caltrain_bathroom2

 

In the bad old days of Caltrain service, a passenger might have to wait as long as two hours just to board a train. With electrification, Caltrain will offer much faster service, operating at BART-level frequency (we hope). There is no reason to continue with the on-board bathrooms — let alone 5 per train. There are better uses for that space.

Bloomberg has an interesting article on the poorly managed PATH system. Even though PATH is basically a subway, the system is three times more expensive to operate compared to the NY subway. Mismanagement by the Port Authority is certainly one reason. But another problem is that PATH is regulated by the FRA:

Federal Railroad Administration regulations, higher maintenance costs and round-the-clock service have boosted spending compared with other transit systems, Port Authority officials say.

A major difference between PATH and the New York subway system is that the trans-Hudson rail is regulated by the FRA while the Federal Transit Administration oversees the subway. The FRA imposes stricter safety standards and labor requirements, imposing higher costs, Port Authority officials said.

Before each run, PATH workers must test a train’s air brakes, signals and acceleration, Mike Marino, PATH’s deputy director, said in a telephone interview. When a train gets to its terminus, workers repeat the test. In addition, every 90 days all of PATH’s rail cars undergo a three-day inspection at a facility in Harrison, New Jersey. Brakes, lights, communications, heating and air conditioning, signals and odometers are all checked, Marino said.

“It’s a very intense inspection on every piece of rolling stock,” he said.

Although the Port Authority has tried to switch its regulator to the Federal Transit Administration, the FRA has opposed a switch for safety reasons, Marino said. PATH runs parallel to high-speed trains operated by NJ Transit, Amtrak and freight-line CSX Corp.

I’m sure that FRA-mandated HVAC check is essential for saving lives.

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