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Archive for the ‘transit’ Category

Leaderless

There are now 5 transportation agencies within the Federal government that are being run by acting administrators:

  • The FTA: Therese McMillan’s is acting administrator while her nomination is pending in the Senate.
  • NHTSA, where David Friedman has been acting administrator since the resignation of David Strickland (over the GM ignition switch scandal).
  • The FRA, which is losing Joe Szabo (thank God!).
  • NTSB: Deborah Hersman resigned as Chair earlier this year. Christopher Hart has been Acting Chair.
  • FHWA: Gregory Nadeau is acting Administrator.

Other than McMillan, the Obama Administration has yet to make a nomination for these agencies. It is one of those rare opportunities where the Obama Administration could dramatically support transit, bikes, and livability goals. Well, that is if the Administration were really interested in doing that.

Just imagine: an NTSB that focuses on road safety, instead of hot-air balloons and rocketships. An NHTSA that implements regulations for truck sideguards. An FRA that doesn’t regulate passenger trains out of existence. An FHWA that isn’t blindly promoting highway expansion.

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Did Planet Mongo cost James Fang the election?

flash_gordon

rocket_ship

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Alameda County voters will soon go to the polls to decide the fate of a proposed BART extension to Livermore. The project has been controversial not just among transit activists, but also Livermore residents. In 2012, a transportation sales tax measure that would have funded the project was narrowly defeated, largely because of lackluster support in Livermore. A majority of Livermore voters were opposed.

And now the debate over the project has gotten a lot uglier, with ex-Director Robert Allen making inflammatory comments about the kinds of people he thinks will use BART:

Robert Allen comments

 

So there you have it. Billions of dollars should be spent extending BART out to Livermore, just to have it surrounded by a moat of parking. To protect Livermore from thugs that ride transit.

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Assembly District 15 Election

One of the more closely watched races in California is Assembly District 15. The seat had been held by Nancy Skinner, who is being termed out after 6 six years. The California Democratic Party has nominated Elizabeth Echols, even though she has never held elected office. Her challenger is Tony Thurmond, who served on both the Richmond City Council and the W. Contra Costa School Board.

Echols previously ran for an position on the AC Transit Board of Directors. Reading her candidate statement for that position is rather eye-opening. One of her main interests was having AC Transit increase its investment in hydrogen fuel buses. Keep in mind this was in 2009, during the depths of the Great Recession, when AC Transit was in terrible financial condition. It is baffling that she would propose using expensive technology (that does nothing for riders) at a time when routes were being slashed.

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As part of the “blended” plan, Caltrain and CHSR will be sharing the same tracks and stations. It would be a no-brainer for trains to have compatible platforms, right? Indeed, staff from both agencies announced (just days ago) that they would be doing precisely that.

And yet someone at the CHSRA didn’t get that memo. In a spec published just yesterday, the HSR trains are to have a floor height of 1295 mm (51 inches). This spec will serve as the basis for a train procurement process that has now begun.

1295mm is incompatible with Caltrain requirements. It really makes no sense — other than being compatible with the NEC. Why are they trying to maintain backwards compatibility with a rail line thousands of miles away?

Besides the platform height, there are other problems with the HSR train spec. These “off-the-shelf” trains are supposed to comply with both Buy-America and Buy-California rules — even though there are no high-speed manufacturers in California or the rest of the country.

The spec also has a requirement for 220mph operating speeds. As noted by the Peer Review Group, 220mph is not needed until the entire SF-LA line is in service:

It may not be optimized to have all trains running at 350 Km/h, particularly those trains with several intermediate stops. Very high speed is only needed on a long distance range and/or when high-speed rail is competing with air.

The 2014 Business Plan optimistically predicts LA-SF route will not be in service until at least 2028. Realistically, it will be decades before LA-SF is in service. Until then, the CHSRA would be running a strictly regional service — and regional services do not require extremely expensive HSR trainsets.

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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.

 

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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.

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