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San Jose has a $1 billion backlog in street maintenance, and the police department is understaffed. Despite all that, the city tried purchasing a parking garage in order to give away some free parking to Safeway customers:

One of those properties is the 330-slot garage that the Safeway customers use at 88 E. San Fernando Street. The city of San Jose bid $850,000 to buy the garage last year.

Citing state guidelines for the dissolution of redevelopment property, the oversight board rejected the city’s offer, challenging the city’s method of appraising the property. Earlier this year, the board accepted the garage sale to a private operator, MVP REIT Inc., which paid $3.575 million. At that price, the new owners needed to charge more for parking.

Quelle horreur! Charging market-rate pricing for parking — a whopping $4/hr. And for those who can’t afford that, there is a light-rail stop across the street, and the (free!) bike racks.

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Bulb-outs, while useful in most cases, do have a number of drawbacks. They are very expensive to build, and often cause conflicts for bike lanes. It is much better to do these projects as full-blown Protected Intersections — which as it turns out can be much cheaper:

In 2010, Berkeley received a Safe Routes to School grant to add pedestrian bulb outs at this busy intersection. Hundreds of students cross this section everyday, which connects the North Berkeley Branch Library with neighboring parks and schools. Bulb outs shorten crossing distances for walking and place pedestrians where they are more visible to drivers. However, because bulb outs cause water to drain differently on the street, they are costlier to design.

When the project was delayed due to engineering staff constraints, Caltrans threatened to rescind the grant to fix the intersection. To their credit, Berkeley staff jumped into action. They quickly figured that the drainage design challenges are minimized by moving the bulb outs into the street. This move allowed them to maintain existing curb lines and drainage. Then, by moving the bike lane behind the bulb outs – abracadabra! – Berkeley created a protected intersection.

All bulb-out projects should be done this way.

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The SMART Board has decided on a fare structure, and voters are having sticker shock over the high ticket prices:

Critics say the fares are too expensive and won’t entice the North Bay commuters who drive solo — SMART’s primary targeted customer base. Some also argue the charges are an affront to the financial sacrifices taxpayers in the two counties have made, and will continue to make, through the quarter-cent sales tax that supports the rail line through at least 2029.

We failed miserably,” said SMART director Shirlee Zane, who joined fellow Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt in voting against the approved fares. “What we’ve done, in effect — and I want to be clear, I didn’t vote for this — by approving these very high fares, the public has said, ‘We’ve been paying for this train for eight years. It’s public transportation, and now you’re going to turn around and charge us these really outrageous fares?’ ”

SMART director Zane should know better. She was on the Board when it approved the purchase of FRA-compliant DMU’s. These heavy DMU’s are more expensive to operate compared to light-weight DMU’s. The SMART Board had even done a study which quantified the extra expense. It was inevitable that the inefficient DMU’s would require higher fares. Even worse, though, is that they can only afford to run trains during commute hours. There will be just a single midday run, and no weekend service only 6 weekend round-trips.

There is virtually no other transit operation using heavy DMU’s, which really tells you something. California’s two other DMU systems, eBART and the San Diego Sprinter, both use lightweight European DMU’s.  Indeed, it is instructive to compare performance metrics of SMART vs. NCTD Sprinter:

sprinter_smart3

(Click chart to enlarge)

One note about the data: Whereas NCTD provides extensive budget and operations data, it is difficult to obtain any numbers from SMART. Some metrics were calculated based on newspaper reports, so any clarifications/corrections are welcome.

Bank of KDOT

Gov. Sam Brownback is now having to use KDOT highway funds to keep Kansas solvent:

In order to keep funding its government despite dramatically decreased tax revenue, the Legislature has flipped all its piggy banks. One of them is the Kansas Department of Transportation—or what sarcastic Kansans now call “the Bank of KDOT,” for the stupendous quantity of money that has been diverted from its coffers to the Kansas general fund and state agencies.

Kneecapping the agency that builds roads isn’t just a great metaphor for Gov. Sam Brownback’s tenure. Like the cut to the state’s university funding, this damage will be most keenly felt years from now, when deferred maintenance and high debt loads take their toll. An ex-head of the Kansas Turnpike Authority said in December that the practice had created a “long-term disaster for our state highways.”

On Wednesday, Brownback announced that Mike King, the secretary of KDOT, would be resigning this month. King, who was appointed in 2012, has presided over a rather unusual period in Topeka finance.

Since 2011, according to the Kansas City Star, the state has diverted more than $1 billion in “extraordinary” transfers from KDOT. If you include “routine” transfers, from 2011 through the 2017 budget year the total diversion from the Bank of KDOT will amount to more than $2 billion.

There may be a silver lining to this fiasco if it stimulates debate over how much road infrastructure Kansas requires. Kansas, I was stunned to learn, has the nation’s 4th largest road network! Hopefully, Brownback will be successful in permanently cutting back the KDOT budget.

SEPTA removed its Superliner V railcars from service after structural defects were discovered:

SEPTA has identified a defect with its Silverliner V Regional Rail cars that has resulted in these trains being taken out of service for the immediate future. This will impact customers starting Tuesday, July 5, as SEPTA’s passenger capacity for weekday travel will be reduced. All 120 Silverliner Vs, which SEPTA received between 2010 and 2013 and comprise approximately one- third of the Regional Rail fleet, are out of service.

The Silverliner V structural defect was discovered early Friday morning by SEPTA railroad vehicle maintenance personnel. Follow-up inspections with the fleet showed that there was a problem with cracking in the main suspension systems. Within 24 hours, all Silverliner Vs had been taken out of service. SEPTA will work with Hyundai Rotem, the rail car manufacturer, to resolve the problems. The suspension systems are still under warranty, and Hyundai Rotem is working cooperatively with SEPTA to locate and expedite the procurement of materials to repair or replace the failed suspension components.

These Hyundai-Rotem railcars have been an ongoing headache for SEPTA (and other agencies):

It wasn’t the first time that problems with the cars surfaced. Delivery of the cars, which started in 2010, was delayed because of workmanship defects and other problems; the cars also have experienced trouble with doors opening and closing during exceedingly cold weather.

Hyundai Rotem entered the U.S. market a little more than a decade ago, aggressively underbidding competitors. Its manufacturing record produced complaints, not only in Philadelphia, but by Boston mass-transit officials who had ordered cars assembled in South Philadelphia and complained of delays and shoddy workmanship.

[…and also Metrolink in So. California]

There is a large worldwide market for commuter trains. They come with competitive prices and reliable service histories. But instead of using any of those proven designs, SEPTA wanted trains built locally, and designed to an obsolete government spec. And so while it is easy to blame Hyundai, the real culprit is Buy-America policies.

Das Liar

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