Archive for February, 2011

Sarah Goodyear suggests that rejecting Federal funds for transit projects has become a badge-of-honor for Republican Governors. In fact, right-wing idealogues are not the only ones sabotaging Federally-funded transit projects.

It was one year ago that Berkeley City Council turned down a $200 million FTA grant for a new BRT system.

Before BRT got nuked, AC Transit did manage to install a Next-Bus system for the line. As you can see, Berkeley’s decision has had drastic consequences on the quality of service:

Had the BRT been built, NextBus would be reporting a reliable 5 minute headway, without “bus bunching” which afflicts the line:

One reason for the bus bunching is that AC Transit throws a lot of buses on the route to maintain 15-minute headways. But with the agency facing further budget cuts, that will no longer be possible.

So expect the service to only get worse…

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Caltrain Labor Productivity

Caltrain has hit an iceburg. Due to declining tax revenues, the agency faces a $30 million deficit next year.

One might think this would be an ideal time to modernize the system, and to fix long-standing labor productivity problems. But nope, the only solution up for consideration is massive service cuts.

And just how archaic are Caltrain operations? Consider this NY Times blog posting from last year:

Today’s Barbary Coast column is about a primitive form of communication. No, not something from an ancient civilization. It’s the system in place to identify the trains, tracks and departure times at the otherwise very modern Caltrain terminus at 4th and Townsend Streets in San Francisco. Instead of flat screen TVs or digital displays, the station uses wooden signs called “dog bones” that must be manually changed with the help of a long stick. It’s a throwback to the old days, but there’s a question of cost. It takes three employees to make sure this task is covered. Remarkably, when they designed this building a decade ago, architects were ordered to incorporate the manual signs. They are built into the metal superstructure. Caltrain would not say how much these workers are paid.

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The FRA (Federal Railway Administration) has issued new Proposed Rules for “High-Speed and High Cant Deficiency Operations”.

In layman’s terms, that means how fast trains are permitted to travel around curves. Obviously, faster is better, especially as the Administration has announced an ambitious $50 billion plan for high-speed rail.

The FRA has long been known for obstructing high-speed rail in the US, so it is no surprise that the new rules generally retain the antiquated regulations. Don’t expect Amtrak to be swapping its museum rolling stock for Pendolinos or Talgos anytime soon.

In the case of the Acela, the new rules would shave a measly 2 minutes over its entire run. That is well below 30 minutes that might be possible with modern tilting trains.

DB class 612 operating at 11.8 inches of unbalanced superelevation, well beyond what FRA allows

It is also worth discussing the absurd methodology used to validate the “new and improved” safety regulations. The FRA ran a variety of diesel-hauled commuter trains, and an Amtrak Acela Express trainsets. In terms of suspension and performance characters, these trains are quite primitive. No Pendolino or DB Class 612 took part in the tests. It would be like using a Model-T to devise highway safety rules.

In other words, this is the FRA’s usual lowest-common-denominator approach to regulation.

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Some $10 billion in Federal, State, and regional funding will be spent building new BART and high-speed rail lines into San Jose Diridon Station. Given that unprecedented level of transit investment, we can expect San Jose to make major zoning changes, right?

Well last Tuesday, council was presented the Staff recommendation. And as you read this, keep in mind they hired consultants, and did over one year of public outreach meetings to come up with this 1-line recommendation:

Parking goals only, no proposed changes to current code

So despite a 10-figure expenditure on new rail lines, San Jose will keep its existing auto-centric development patterns. And what might that look like? The Alternatives Analysis Report projects 15,000 new parking spaces in full build-out scenarios. That is in addition to some 5,000 parking spaces for the station itself. And if a new ballpark is built, there could be even more parking.

Ironically, the San Jose decision comes at the same time the CA High-Speed Rail Authority adopted its Station Area Development Planning Guidelines. That policy calls for “reduced parking requirements for retail, office, and residential uses due to their transit access and walkability.”

But the planners did make some pretty pictures! Too bad they bear no resemblance to reality.

No cars, no parking evident in this artist rendition

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With its narrow windows and blank walls, one might mistake this for a penitentiary. Or perhaps a psychiatric ward for the criminally insane. But it is in fact a new public housing project under construction in Oakland.

Tassafaronga Village

Some things never change: for stupendously ugly architecture, one can’t beat a public housing project.

All the charm of an anti-septic hopsital ward

This award winning “Gold Nugget Award of Merit, Best Infill, Re-Development or Rehab Site Plan, Leed-Certified, Best Green Sustainable Community of the Year” project was funded by the Oakland Housing Authority, and supposed to be Transit-Oriented.

Like most such “affordable” housing projects, it is indeed situated near a transit station, but is otherwise quite auto-oriented. As seen in the site plan below, it wastes a huge amount of space to accommodate the the 1.2 parking per housing unit ratio. Even worse, those parking spaces were put in a garage, which probably cost a fortune.
Affordable Parking

Ironically, this project was recently promoted on the SF-Streetsblog website by New Urbanist developer Peter Calthrope for its “highest level” of green technology. What does it say for the Bay Area environmental community, that such stupendously ugly, auto-oriented architecture can win “sustainable community of the year” awards?

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