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Archive for January, 2012

Mountain View Votes Against BRT

Two years ago, Berkeley sabotaged a BRT plan in the East Bay. Now, will Mountain View be the South Bay version of Berkeley?

The [Mountain View] City Council spent two and half hours discussing a plan for dedicated bus rapid transit lanes on El Camino Real on Tuesday, coming to the same position it came to after a similar discussion in June — opposed. The council took a 4-2 vote in the study session, with council members Mike Kasperzak and Margaret Abe-Koga in support of the dedicated lanes and member John Inks abstaining.

The plans would reduce El Camino Real from six lanes to four, and add two dedicated bus lanes down the middle of the street and bike lanes on each side. With two bus stations located on the median, one at Castro Street and one at San Antonio shopping center, BRT buses would run every 10 minutes, 18 hours a day.

Plans for BRT on El Camino Real are part of an ambitious “Grand Boulevard” effort. It would convert the highway from a  automobile strip-mall thoroughfare into a more bike/ped friendly environment. The bike and bus lanes are projected to quadruple the number of bike trips, and generate 18,000 new transit trips. BRT would also serve as a feeder to Caltrain and any future HSR stations.

But Council seems to have other priorities, and is more concerned with maintaining the route for high-speed auto traffic.

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Who Determines Parking Requirements?

Let’s say you are a developer, doing an infill project in an area of considerable transit and walking potential. What possible reason to include parking as part of the project? It reduces the total amount of floor area that can be leased/rented out. It can also be very expensive to build, if the parking is in a garage.

So I put this question to a developer of a major infill project — and I was stunned by his answer. I had assumed the reasons had to do with the local zoning rules, and the difficulty in getting a variance. Or perhaps he felt parking was needed to make the project marketable.

In fact, he totally agreed that the parking was expensive and unnecessary. The building was in a desirable location, and did not require offstreet parking. And yes, there were zoning requirements, but a variance would have been possible.

Nope, the reason had to do with the bank. The people doing the financing had a standard calculation for the minimum amount of parking. Without parking, their view is that projects are not economical, and did not want to risk a default on the construction loan.

Now, this could have been a unique situation with just one particular bank. But researching other infill projects, there does seem to be a trend. For example, here was one creative solution to the problem:

Tenants who wanted a space on-site paid a premium for it—usually between $150 and $250 a month. The price varied to ensure that some on-site parking spaces were available when one of the building’s luxury units became vacant). The parking spaces in the structure blocks away, meanwhile, were leased primarily to nonresidents—office workers and other downtown commuters. The primary purpose of that parking structure was to secure a construction loan.

So to all you activists working to minimize parking requirements in the General Plan for your downtown area — you are probably wasting your time. It is the banks you need to worry about, not the local zoning.

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Killjoy

When it snows in Seattle and roads shut down, sledders and tubers reclaim the streets and turn them into sledding runs.

But K5 TV reporter Meg Coyle is not amused. In her special live report, she notes sledders are not just breaking the law — they aren’t even wearing helmets! My goodness, someone could get hurt!

And then, a bystander steps in front of the camera. Calls Meg Coyle a ‘complete killjoy’ and to stop ruining the fun. I don’t know who this lady is, but she’s my Hero.

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“SMART” TOD

San Rafael has put together one of those Gawd-awful design-by-committees to do a station area plan for its downtown. This is for when the new ‘SMART’ rail line reaches the downtown.

Here some of their recommendations:

  1. Additional traffic lanes on Hetherton St.
  2. 3rd St. crosswalk elimination
  3. 1:1 parking requirement
  4. Potential public garage
  5. Potential future transit parking

It is amazing how so many of these transit station area-plans morph into autocentric parking plans.


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Don’t Mourn for Emeryville

Today’s Chronicle mourns the loss of California’s corrupt redevelopment agencies. One of the cities mentioned is Emeryville, a strange choice given their status as one of the worst abusers of redevelopment:

“It’s a really huge impact on what Emeryville’s done, and what it can do,” said Helen Bean, the city’s economic development and housing director. Emeryville’s redevelopment budget this year was less than $30 million.

At stake, for instance, is a transit center planned for 59th and Horton streets, near the city’s Amtrak station. Of its $60 million price tag, $4 million was going to come from redevelopment, Bean said.

Other projects at risk include the planned Emeryville Center for the Arts, whose $12 million budget relied on $8 million in redevelopment money. Then there is the South Bayfront Pedestrian-Bicycle Bridge, which would arch over the railroad tracks near the Bay Street mall. It would have cost $13 million in redevelopment money, and the city had already spent more than $1 million designing it. But now it won’t be built, Bean said.

“It’s a key infrastructure project that will just not go forward,” she said.

Let’s set the record straight. The Amtrak “transit center” is actually a massive parking garage project.

And the bike bridge? Emeryville was handed — on a silver platter — a bike/ped undercrossing in that location back in 1994. The undercrossing was to be a mitigation for an I80 HOV project. But some NIMBY residents freaked out, and the tunnel idea was killed. Emeryville then wasted the past 15 years trying to get a bridge built instead.

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Another HSR Resignation

As has been widely reported, several top executives of the troubled CHSRA have resigned. Executive Director Roelof van Ark and Board Chair Thomas Umberg announced their resignations at the last Board meeting. Press Secretary Rachel Wall is also leaving.

Not so widely reported was the departure of Karen Rae, Deputy Director at the FRA. Rae was the one who oversaw the high-speed rail program. In October, she left the FRA to join the Gov. Cuomo Administration.

Her replacement, Karen Hedland, was appointed to the position last month. Are you curious to know her expertise in high-speed rail?

With more than 35 years of experience in the legal profession, Karen’s knowledge and expertise of major infrastructure projects and public finance will continue to be an invaluable asset to FRA in her new capacity as Deputy Administrator.

How typical of the FRA, to appoint a lawyer!

Karen Hedlund

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FRA Hornblowing Rule Divides Communities

The Hornblowing Rule is possibly the stupidest idea to ever come out of the FRA. It created an elaborate, unfunded Federal mandate for grade crossings. If local communities do not pay ransom — tens of millions of dollars — for grade crossing improvements, then the Feds have them subjected to round-the-clock horn blasts.

In the military, this is known as psyops.

Now in some cases, local communities do pay-up. But in a lot of cases, they simply eliminate the grade crossing — problem solved! For car drivers, it is no big deal. They can drive to the nearest Federally-approved crossing. But for pedestrians or cyclists, this can be a huge inconvenience if the nearest crossing is miles away. Whole neighborhoods can get cut off.

For example, here is a project in Lincoln Nebraska, literally the first one I picked at random from Google:

The red dot indicates roads crossings to be closed, the green dot is the new-and-improved crossing. As you can see, the historic road-grid is now gone, and trips from that neighborhood in the upper left quadrant to the downtown area have become much less direct.

And even when crossings don’t get closed, there can be other stupidity. For example, in San Diego, where “G” Street got converted into a 1-way thoroughfare. Here is an FAQ from the project website:

G Street will be converted from a two-way street to a one-way street (eastbound) from Pacific Highway to Front Street. G Street is already one-way eastbound from Front Street to 1ih Street (Highway 94 entrance). As part of the conversion to one-way, parking along the affected portion of G Street will be converted from parallel to angled parking on the north side of G Street, resulting in an increase of about 18 parking spaces.

Q: Will there be more speeding and traffic on the street due to the conversion of G Street from two-way to one-way from Pacific Highway to Front Street?

A: A traffic study reviewed by the City of San Diego Traffic Engineering Division concluded that there would be no significant impact to traffic patterns and vehicle speed in surrounding neighborhoods.

So in the name of grade crossing “safety”, a local city street morphs into a multi-lane freeway on-ramp.

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