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Archive for the ‘planning’ Category

VMT And EIR Reform

There is widespread agreement that automobile LOS is a bad metric for determining the environmental impact of projects. But what should replace it?

The California Office of Planning and Research (OPR) proposes to replace LOS with VMT for the EIR process. That is a step in the right direction, but I am not optimistic it will make transit projects “much much easier” to implement — as some seem to think.

One problem is that LOS is firmly established in transportation agencies. They will continue to use the metric, regardless of what is required in an EIR. It is unlikely that a transit agency, or bike planner, will get to build a project if it were to significantly degrade LOS at an intersection. A City Council is even less likely to approve of such a project. LOS will continue to be a flaming-hoop-of-fire that projects will have to jump through.

Yes, but what about all those frivolous EIR lawsuits? Actually, that problem is greatly exaggerated. Only a tiny number of EIR’s are successfully challenged. The most famous example, the injunction against the San Francisco Bike Plan, will probably never happen again now that California has exempted bike projects from EIR’s.

So using VMT is fixing something that isn’t horribly broken — though it might make it worse. Why might VMT make EIR’s worse? Because sweeping changes in the regulations could provide fertile ground for creative lawsuits. LOS has decades of case precedent, whereas the courts may have to re-define terms like mitigations and significant impacts in a new VMT regime.

 

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Greenwash Alliance

San Jose’s Diridon Station Area Plan will build a Sea of Parking around the new BART and HSR stations. And you don’t have to take my word for it — even Rod Diridon agrees. So you might expect the Greenbelet Alliance to come out against the plan….or not:

The plan also calls for creating a dynamic world-class community next to the station that’s designed around people, rather than cars, to create an attractive urban village in the heart of San Jose.

The Diridon Plan provides one of San Jose’s best opportunities to carry out many of the goals from its Envision 2040 General Plan, especially increasing walking, biking and transit trips. Now the hard part: Making the vision a reality. This will require strong leadership and cross-jurisdictional collaboration. The San Jose City Council should start by approving the Diridon Plan.

pavilion

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House GOP Transportation bill would slash $1.2 billion from housing subsidies for the poor, eliminate funding for high-speed rail, eliminate bike/ped funding, and cut $200 million for new transit projects.

On the other hand, the GOP has no problem with continuing $150 million in subsidies for the Essential Air Services program.

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gBART

The Phase-1 eBART extension, now under construction, will take BART into the Eastern Contra Costa County ex-urbs. Phase-2 would take it beyond the ex-urbs, into rural and greenfield locations. Call it gBART if you will.

It is inevitable that the empty fields surrounding gBART stations will be converted to new housing developments. But will planners use this “blank slate” opportunity to build walkable communities around transit…or will it just be more sprawl?

Well, the answer is pretty obvious from the proposed station renderings. All the stations will be built in a freeway median, surrounded by giant parking lots:

Laurel Road station

Laurel Road station

 

 

Lone Tree Way station

Lone Tree Way station

 

Mokelumne Trail station (at least this one has a bike/ped path)

Mokelumne Trail station (at least this one has a bike/ped path)

 

San Creek station

San Creek station

 

Balfour Road station

Balfour Road station

 

Discovery Bay station

Discovery Bay station

 

Here is the Google Streetview of the Discovery Bay station location:

discovery_bay_streetview

 

MTC policy is that new rail projects must incorporate transit-oriented development in order to receive funding. But as can be seen from these station plans, the TOD requirements are never taken seriously.

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At its March 6 meeting, the VTA Board received the Supplemental EIR for the Vasona LRT extension. This $175 million project will add one or two new stations, and expand the Winchester station.

Now you are probably thinking that with Silicon Valley’s massive housing shortage, the VTA would be planning to use these stations for TOD, right?

Sadly, no. Here is the new Winchester Station-and-Park-and-Ride lot:

winchester

 

And here is the new Vasona Junction Station-and-Park-and-Ride lot:

vasona

 

And here is the Phase-2 (optional) Hacienda Station-and-Park-and-Ride:

hacienda

By the year 2035, the extension is projected to generate 729 new daily transit trips. How awesome is that!

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Data

Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System (SWITRS) is a database maintained by the California Highway Patrol. It contains extensive collision data from all over California, and is a powerful tool for transportation planners and bike/ped advocates.

The CHP is not very skilled at web design. Their web site is so primitive that I can almost picture a 1980′s-era IBM mainframe still being used in some back office to manage the database. Fortunately, the UC Berkeley SafeTREC researchers have geo-coded the data, and made it available through a nicely designed web page. The tool not only gives details on each collision, but will even bring up the Google Streetview image of the location!

For example, here is a map generated for the bike and ped collisions in Berkeley during the year 2011. There were 108 total:

berkeley_injury_map

 

If you are a transport planner, or bike/ped advocate, I think you will find this web tool to be invaluable.

 

 

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Socialist Parking Meter Hours

The nerve of those Berkeley socialist hippies! Restricting automobile traffic in order to increase the value of private property:

Berkeley’s attitude towards automobiles has always been pretty plain if you’ve ever tried to drive there — bring ‘em if you want, but we ain’t making it easy. The city has closed off many of its side streets with barriers and huge potted plants, pushing up property values on those lucky streets at the stroke of a pen, while pushing traffic onto just a few clogged, noisy streets.

Oh, but it gets worse:

But Berkeley isn’t against making a buck off parked cars, and over the past year or so it has been looking for ways to charge more in busy areas.

Why? Because Berkeley hopes to change the behavior of drivers, who park longer in downtown spaces after 6 p.m., when they don’t have to pay. Calling those two extra hours “a high-demand time for many businesses,” Berkeley says it will be helping them by forcing shoppers to shop quickly, hustle back to their cars and make room for more shoppers to park and spend.

Something I will never understand is why business types think the law of supply-and-demand doesn’t apply to parking.

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The Diridon Station Area Plan leaves a lot to be desired. Billions will be spent on bringing BART and HSR into the station — and yet, the San Jose City Council will do little to take advantage of that infrastructure. For the most part, the station area will be a sea of parking.

And you don’t have to take my word for it. Even Rod Diridon says the plan sucks:

Missing from the plan itself is Diridon’s larger vision for Silicon Valley. Diridon, currently the executive director of the congressionally created Mineta Transportation Institute, advocates for a Silicon Valley dominated by high-rise, mixed-use towers built on car-free platforms above train stations.

It’s the only way to escape a future clogged with miserable traffic, he says.

The current plan for Diridon Station, while exciting compared to the area’s current uses, doesn’t propel San Jose — and Silicon Valley — forward as far as it should. The development envisioned for the area can be taller and denser, forming a model for future transit-oriented development. “The current plan is the next generation of the modest evolution of San Jose instead of the paradigm shift that would make San Jose an internationally recognized city,”

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Behold! The New WTC Station

Behold…the new platform at the WTC station. This project, a decade in the making, is truly world class leadership in a transit station design. Let’s go over the highlights:

  • Expensive and functionally useless mezzanine level……Check!
  • Long walkway through the station…..Check!
  • Kitschy public art displays…..Check!
  • Support columns plonked directly in front of stairs and escalators….Check and Check!
  • Low hang ceiling above platform…..Check!
  • Dangerously narrow platform spaces…..Check!

Bravo Port Authority. Your clever design will surely be replicated all over the country.

wtc2

wtc3

wtc4

wtc5

wtc1

wtc6

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Good thing eminent domain is being used to protect train stations from TOD:

Progress on acquiring land in the Crossroads Business Park for the 1,500-space parking lot at the planned station is moving along more slowly. Officials had originally expected the station to be open by now, but numerous issues have popped up, with the most recent problems caused by stalled negotiations for land for the commuter parking lot.

The county had been negotiating with businessmen George Lester and Fitz Johnson, who own the property needed for VRE parking. The businessmen recently gained county approval to build 610 apartment units and commercial space next to the station site.

But the negotiations for the roughly 25 acres for the parking lot have proven fruitless. So the county recently asked the Virginia Department of Transportation to handle the property acquisition.

“They can facilitate it better,” said Spotsylvania County Administrator Doug Barnes.

 

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