Archive for November, 2011

CHSRA Needs a Bike Planner

Looking at station plans for Fresno, it is clear the CHSRA needs a bike planner.

Standard industry practice is to locate the bike parking in a central location, preferably near the station agents. And if CHSRA uses fare gates (which seems increasingly likely) then the bike parking should be inside the paid area.

Where bike parking should NOT be located is in remote locations. Bike thieves love it when transit agencies do that. Especially when running an intercity service where bikes may have to be left for days at a time.

(Click images to expand. I have helpfully pointed out the bike parking area so it is easier to locate.)

Bike Parking in BART Paid Area

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In justifying its jaw-dropping $100 billion estimate, the CA High-Speed Rail Authority argues that the cost of doing nothing is even more. $170 billion (to be exact) for equivalent transport capacity built with more highways and runways.

Ah, but what assumptions went into the $170 billion number calculation?

The answer:

For this analysis, system capacity was used instead of a ridership forecast to make the comparison between a high-speed rail investment versus an equivalent investment in highways and airports.

In other words, the theoretical capacity of the rail line was the basis of the cost analysis, as opposed to the actual ridership! And that theoretical capacity is:

  • 12 trains per hour in each direction
  • 1000 seats per train19 hours of operation per day
  • 70% average load factor for trains

No HSR network on the planet comes anywhere close to running this maximum level of service.

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Like a lot of news stories, the LA Weekly describes CHSRA Board Member Dan Richard as the smartest guy in the room:

In August, Gov. Jerry Brown set out to inject some honesty into the debate over the cost and business plan for the vast public works project — for which taxpayers are on the hook. He appointed two nonpoliticos, who also are free of longtime insider ties to big labor: rail expert Dan Richard and financial guru/banker Michael Rossi.

Richard’s “expertise” stems from his tenure on the BART Board (an elected position, making him anything but a “non-politico”). His main accomplishment during that time was the BART extension to the SFO airport. In fact, his bio on CHSRA web page boasts about this project.

As most readers know, the BART-SFO project went 100% over cost projections. And the ridership has been so dismal, it blew a huge fiscal hole in SamTrans finances. In any other circumstance, that project would have disqualified Richard from serving on a transit agency board. In assbackwards California, the opposite is true: failure is rewarded with responsibility over even larger mega-projects.

Speaking of BART-SFO, Quentin Kopp was recently interviewed on KQED public radio and had this to say:

Real high-speed rail, you get on in one place, you get off in another. Making people transfer from one train to another in my opinion is a sure recipe for discouraging ridership. That’s why I fought to have BART into SFO, not a mile and a half away, and that’s proved to be the most successful part of the entire BART system.

And when you read this quote, you have to wonder why nobody at KQED (or any other media outlet) ever looks up the BART-SFO numbers and asks, “Hey, is it a good idea to put these guys in charge of a $100 billion project?”

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Boarding a Moving Train

This video is ridiculous, but I’ll give points for creativity:


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The Bay Rd. and Gloria Way intersection is one of the most dangerous in East Palo Alto. Two months ago, a second-grader was struck and killed while walking to school. An 8-year old was also struck 6 months prior. The intersection also had a head-on crash and a bike-car collision within the past year.

In response to the community outcry over the fatality, consultants were hired to recommend safety improvements. The firm (CHS Consulting Group) has given their initial report. I am gobsmacked by their recommendations:

A stop sign is not needed at an East Palo Alto intersection where a 6-year-old girl was struck and killed by a vehicle in September and an 8-year-old boy hit in April, a transportation engineer hired to suggest traffic improvements at the crossing told the city council Tuesday.


State guidelines for traffic control devices require five collisions within a 12-month period to justify installing a stop sign, according to the consultant’s report. CHS Principal Transportation Engineer Paul Krupka, who discussed the report with the council, said the bike and vehicle accidents did not qualify for the collision count because they involved right-of-way violations not correctable by a stop sign.

To make matters worse, the consultants suggest parking removal on Bay Rd. — a residential arterial — to “improve” visibility. Without bulb-outs or other measures, this could effectively widen the intersection, leading to increased traffic speeds.

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Rick Perry: High-Speed Rail Advocate

Hard to believe, but Texas Governor (and GOP Presidential contender) Rick Perry was once a big proponent of high-speed rail:

Rick Perry launched his Texas gubernatorial campaign in 2002 with an idea that he hoped would become his legacy: a 4,000-mile-long, 21st century transit network on which motorists would drive 90 mph on toll roads 10 lanes wide, high-speed trains would hum alongside, and there would be room for electric power lines, broadband fiber and pipes to pump oil, natural gas and water to a rapidly growing state.

Perry called it the Trans-Texas Corridor, and advertised his blueprint as “bold” and “visionary” — a “plan as big as Texas and as ambitious as our people.”

And it would all be done without raising taxes, thanks to partnerships with the private sector. The entire venture, priced at more than $200 billion in today’s dollars, would leave the old interstate highways in the dust and provide, in Perry’s view, a model for the nation.

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Stair Channels are a common feature in the Netherlands and other bike-friendly countries. So why don’t we have them in the US?

Actually, we do. The BART system has implemented them at several stations, most recently the Ashby BART station as part of a station retrofit. Chicago has them also. But those efforts, while well-meaning, have been underwhelming. American channels are tiny and situated too close to the wall.

The problem is planning code and ADA leaves little room to design a proper stair channel. Make the ramp stick too far out from the wall, and the regulations say you’ve created a “tripping hazard”. Not wanting lawsuits, transit agencies did the best they could under the circumstances.


Dutch bike channel

Bike ramp in Chicago

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Rick Scott: I Told You So

You knew this was going to happen. Florida Gov. Rick Scott on the latest $100 billion cost blowout of California’s high-speed rail:

“The news today out of California that High Speed Rail cost estimates have now tripled to the $100 billion range reinforces that Florida made the right decision earlier this year to protect taxpayers from just this sort of boondoggle. As I said at the time, High Speed Rail would be far too costly to taxpayers and I believe the risk far outweighs the benefits. Im glad Florida is no longer entangled in the high speed spending web.”

Now when any other state proposes a HSR project, the expectation will be that costs are low-balled by a factor of 3. The CHSRA hasn’t just screwed up their project, but everyone else’s too.

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Not a good sign when conservative Republicans praise Sen. Boxer:

California Sen. Barbara Boxer won rare praise from Republicans Wednesday for unanimously passing an overhaul of federal highway programs bill out of her committee. Boxer, a liberal Democrat who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, worked hand-in-hand with conservative Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe to consolidate 90 federal highway programs into 30, grant states more flexibility in spending highway money

That “flexibility” comes directly at the expense of dedicated bike/ped programs:

Republicans have waged a concerted fight to eliminate the programs, complaining of wasteful spending on transportation museums and landscaping along with bike trails. The bill continues current funding for bicycle and pedestrian paths but removes all funding for transportation museums. States that don’t want bike lanes can spend the money instead on high-occupancy car lanes or other congestion-reducing measures.

Great. So now HOV lanes are a bike program.
Senator Boxer is pitching the bill as actually increasing the funding available for bike/ped projects. That is utter crap. It is extremely difficult, even in a state like California, to get routine accommodation for bikes and peds in highway projects. Without the set-aside, it is highly unlikely that money will flow to non-motorized projects.

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There is a perception that Federally-funded recreational trails are a fringe benefit for the granola-eating, spandex-wearing crowd. That is not at all the case: off-road vehicle users are also beneficiaries. While environmentalists may not exactly like them, the off-road lobby can be a powerful ally.

A U.S. Senate committee has unveiled a draft proposal that would end the Recreational Trails Program (RTP), which provides money to states to develop and maintain trails, the American Motorcyclist Association reports.

On Nov. 4, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee released its proposed transportation funding authorization bill for the next two years, entitled “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century” (MAP-21). The bill specifies what transportation programs are approved for federal funding. The panel is expected to vote on the bill on Nov. 9 before sending it to the full Senate for approval. If it clears the Senate, then it would go to the House for further consideration.

The RTP, which became law in 1991 as part of a federal transportation funding authorization bill, is considered to be one of the most important and beneficial laws for off-highway vehicle (OHV) riders ever passed by Congress. AMA President and CEO Rob Dingman, who had a hand in creating the law in 1991 with BlueRibbon Coalition founder Clark Collins, has stated that abolishing the program would effectively create a tax increase on OHV riders because the RTP funds would no longer be designated for a program that benefits motorized trail users.

Wayne Allard, AMA vice president for government relations, was shocked by the committee’s proposal.

OHV trails are mainly in Republican-leaning districts. I don’t think red-state Senators thought this one through…

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