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What can be more absurd than spending $150 million on a faregate scam when the BART budget is in free fall? And yet the EB Times still calls Allen a “fiscal conservative”.

Mayor Steven Sharf, you may recall, is the one who made a tasteless joke during his state-of-the-city address about building a wall around Cupertino and making San Jose pay for it. Cupertino has a severe jobs/housing balance, and Sharf has been vehemently opposed to new infill housing in Cupertino.

Also receiving a Sierra Club endorsement is Palo Alto councilwoman Lydia Kuo, who wants a citywide height limit and opposes transit lanes.

Dr. Tegnell discusses the Swedish model for COVID-19, and why Sweden does not have mandatory face mask requirements.

Denver’s RTD A-line operates between downtown Denver and the Denver International Airport. The line was built as an FRA-compliant service, which was predictably a huge mistake. In this case, the problem wasn’t so much with unreliable tank-like trains but rather FRA shenanigans over the grade-crossings.

Grade-crossings are a simple technology. The gate must come down with sufficient warning to give motorists time to stop. By law, this lead time has to be at least 20 seconds:

A highway-rail grade crossing warning system shall be maintained to activate in accordance with the design of the warning system, but in no event shall it provide less than 20 seconds warning time for the normal operation of through trains before the grade crossing is occupied by rail traffic.

49 CFR Part 234.225

Even though the RTD A-line complied with FRA Section 225 requirement, RTD was cited for noncompliance because, according to the FRA, the gates occasionally had excessively long warning times. The FRA would permit at most 15 seconds additional warning time. How or where the FRA came up with this “excessively long” metric is unclear.

In the view of the FRA, gates with excessive downtime will tempt impatient motorists to drive around the gates. It should be noted that these were four-quadrant gates with center medians, so it would take a very determined motorist to do that.

The FRA did give a temporary waiver to RTD to open the line, but only if flaggers were stationed at each and every grade crossing until the “problem” was fixed. In the meantime, Denver RTD and its contractor fiddled with the software to try reducing variation in gate downtime.

Denver RTD contractor spent over two years adjusting the software but could not meet the FRA demands. The reason for this “failure” had nothing to do with the software — the variation in gate downtime was due entirely to conditions outside the control of the system. Once an approaching train activated the warning signal, there is no going back. If the train operator slows the train for safety reasons (i.e. poor visibility or possible hazard ahead), there is no way to recall the signal. No amount of software hacking can fix this basic issue.

Communication between the FRA and RTD contractors became increasingly acrimonious (the letters can be reviewed under docket FRA-2016-0028). The FRA was accused of enforcing unrealistic and nonexistent regulations, and the FRA replied that it would shut down the line if the problem wasn’t fixed. Meanwhile, Denver RTD was paying a lot of money to have flaggers standing around, and the future of the RTD “G” line was in doubt, as it used the same systems.

Things finally came to a head when Aaron Marx, a train signal expert working on the project, was sent around the country to measure gate downtimes on other commuter railroads (including Caltrain and Amtrak/ACE in the Bay Area) as well as UP freight lines. His extensive data showed that the RTD A-line actually had far better gate downtime variation than every other rail line he looked at.

Gate crossing raw data

The FRA had now backed itself into a corner. If it was going to shut down RTD A-line then logically every other rail system with crossing gates would have to be closed too. The FRA relented, and the matter dropped. The issue now is who pays the bill for those flaggers:

Denver Transit Partners, the contractor that built, maintains and operates most of the Regional Transportation District’s commuter rail lines, has upped the amount of money it’s seeking in a legal battle that will go to trial next month. The new figure is $111 million, $31 million higher than the company’s previous estimate from late 2018.

RTD, which has countersued the company, is seeking $27 million in damages, according to a court document filed this week. The dispute between the two entities centers over crossing gate issues that plagued the otherwise mostly successful A Line to Denver International Airport for years, and kept the G Line to Arvada from opening until 2019.

The FRA is not a defendant in the lawsuit, even though they were the ones who caused the problem in the first place.

Merchants in the Northgate section of Telegraph Avenue are complaining about the new cycletrack installed by the City of Oakland, and want it removed. But ironically they admitted it improves safety:

Businesses have said that they have lost customers who like to pull up for just a moment.

The double-parking along Telegraph by UberEats drivers has been one of the main hazards for cyclists. Restaurants should figure out a new business model that does not depend on dangerous double-parking.

Robert Reich, author of The System: Who Rigged It, wants to help the poor and homeless by….blocking infill development on his street:

Screen Shot 2020-08-04 at 7.47.05 PM

The “character” of his North Berkeley neighborhood was originally the result of racially restrictive covenants. After the courts outlawed the covenants, they were replaced by zoning rules which served the same purpose. Berkeley was one of the first cities in the country to use zoning this way.

And sadly, it is not the first time Dr. Reich has proposed keeping the working poor as far away as possible:

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Just a reminder: 99% of bicycle fatalities involve a collision with a motor vehicle — and bike helmets do not protect against that type of impact. If you don’t want to take my word for it, then here is Eric Richer, Giro’s Brand Development Manager, explaining it:

“There are many misconceptions about helmets, unfortunately,” says Giro’s Richter. “We do not design helmets specifically to reduce chances or severity of injury when impacts involve a car. As mentioned earlier, the number of variables is too great to calculate – the speed of the car, the mass, the angle of impact, the rider, the surface, the speed of the rider, did the driver or rider swerve a little or hit the brakes before impact. All of these variables and more are unique in every instance, and there is no way to accurately predict what is going to happen or the forces involved.

“What we do is work to make riders more visible, create helmets that provide relevant coverage so that riders wear them whenever they ride, and advocate for better infrastructure to help reduce the chances that you’d encounter an impact with a car.”

 

Common sense prevails in Tacoma:

Tacoma will no longer require people to wear helmets when bicycling, skateboarding, roller-skating or riding a scooter in the city limits. Tacoma City Council approved the first reading of an ordinance on Tuesday that in part repeals a section of city code requiring helmets for certain modes of transportation.

The changes come after the city completed its micro-mobility pilot program, which began in 2018 when the city entered into an agreement to allow companies Bird and Lime to deploy scooters and bikes on Tacoma streets with the intent of evaluating new and environmentally friendly transportation options.

“This code review was spurred by our team’s work on micro-mobility; however, as we dug into the Tacoma Municipal Code as it relates to active transportation, it quickly became apparent that there’s some outdated, inconsistent code language that doesn’t align with best practices or city and state policy.

 

Work crews are putting the finishing touches on a short cycletrack along Adeline, just north of the Ashby BART station. It runs for a few blocks before dumping bikes out into this mess of an intersection:

20200628_153032

Berkeley has now built three cycletracks, all of which have this problem. They run for a few blocks, then abruptly stop — right at the most dangerous location. If you notice, there is a cyclist riding out in the parking lane, because who in their right mind would use the roadway.  The entrance to the BART station is just beyond the traffic light, so this is a critical gap in the bike network.

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Fulton cycletrack is another half-assed job. It inexplicably comes to an abrupt halt 2 blocks from the traffic diverter at Dwight Way