Archive for February, 2012

With the BART Warm Springs construction now underway, it is worth looking at the impact on the local waterways:

As can be seen from the map, the BART extension crosses a number of creeks. During the past 100 years, these creeks crossing the ROW were culverted, piped, and undergrounded by the Army Corp of Engineers, and the Alameda County Water District — causing enormous damage to the ecosystem.

Might some creek restoration been done as part of this massive $1 billion project? Sadly, nobody seems to have given serious consideration to that idea. Not even California Regional Quality Board, whose motto (ironically) is Preserving, enhancing, and restoring the San Francisco Bay Area’s waters for over 50 years. The new BART line will generally preserve the existing conditions, except that higher-capacity culverts and pipes will be installed (i.e. flood control “improvements”).

Now granted, some of the creek culverts are situated very close to buildings and other development. Restoring those creeks would be a major undertaking. But there are some which are comparatively “easy”:

Part of the problem may be institutional bias in the Alameda County Water District.  They have fenced off almost all their creeks and waterways, preventing ordinary citizens from going out and enjoying the habitat. Perhaps out of embarrassment for the ecological damage done? Whatever the reason, it cuts off what could be ideal transportation corridors for bikes and peds. And the BART tracks that cross this creek will be yet another barrier.

Trail and Creek Off-Limits

Incidentally, there is one bit of good news, it is the restoration of Alameda Creek beginning next year, with installation of fish screens and ladders. Although it should be noted this project is North of (and unrelated to) the Warm Springs extension.

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PTC Fail

Here is some shock news. Rail operators are asking for an extension the Federal PTC mandate.

PTC (Positive Train Control) was mandated after the deadly 2008 Chatsworth Metrolink collision, when a train engineer was too busy texting to notice a red signal. The deadline for PTC implementation was to be 2015, but our “friends” at the American Public Transportation Association are arguing for an extension:

But a House bill that would dictate the nation’s future transportation agenda pushes back the installment deadline five years. Rail industry officials say more time is needed to deal with the complexity and costs associated with installing and operating the equipment.

“It’s still really in the product development stage,” said Rob Healy, vice-president of government affairs for the American Public Transportation Association, a trade association for commuter rail operators. “There’s not only a dearth of technology, but also expertise in terms of getting this installed.”

This is truly one of those facepalm moments. Automatic train control is a mature technology, not requiring any “product development”. ERTMS (to use one example) is an off-the-shelf worldwide standard. Instead, rail operators have taken a “not invented here” approach, leading to massive cost blow-outs and schedule delays.

BTW, here are some hilarious photos of the prototype PTC proposed for Caltrain. I feel safer already.



A printer…WTF? Caltrain’s PTC application states the following:

Thermal line printer technology which is currently used in various applications such as gas station pumps and rental car agencies could easily be adapted to the railroad environment. The small size and mobility make placement on rolling stock is a non-issue. However, close attention must be paid to maintain adequate paper supply. A document holder that will require relocation and available space for a printer to be mounted on the fireman/observers desk top are depicted in Figure 14.

In case you are wondering, the printer is to provide “hard-copy” confirmation of orders to the engineer. At least they aren’t using stone tablets.


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Cycling float from this year’s Carnival in Rio.

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Marina Blvd (San Francisco) – An idiot Porsche driver gets impatient with traffic backing up around a construction zone. He tried to pass (ignoring signs) driving straight into fresh concrete! The construction crew had to dig him out.

Full details at the Paceline forum.

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It has only been a few weeks since California’s Redevelopment Agencies were killed, but Legislators are already dreaming up ways to re-incarnate the beast.

One approach under study is to loosen the rules governing “infrastructure financing districts,” which can issue bonds and repay them from increases in property taxes in project areas. That’s similar to redevelopment, but the districts are more limited in scope and, under current law, require approval of two-thirds of local voters.

Two pending bills, including one to underwrite the upcoming America’s Cup boat races in San Francisco, would eliminate the voter approval requirement, but Brown is unlikely to go there. Backers of the concept are hoping, however, that he might accept lowering the voter threshold to 55 percent, similar to that for school bonds, or even to a simple majority.

While the current two-thirds threshold for local bond measures sounds like a lot, it guarantees all interests are represented. Without it, advocates for bikes, peds, and transit don’t get a seat at the table. Reducing the bar to 55%, or even simple majority, would allow cities to revert to their bad old ways of subsidizing parking garages, and other auto-centric crap.

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Transit Villages Are Neither

Came across this ridiculous sign today in Pleasant Hill. It reads: “Contra Costa Centre Transit Village”. As you can tell, it plonked next to a major freeway off-ramp that is definitely not transit-oriented.

This is hardly an isolated example. “Transit Village” has become a popular name for redevelopment projects (that are neither transit nor village). While the Transit Village concept might have once been a good idea, it is now a meaningless planner buzzword. Can we just kill the term already?

And yes, they call it a “transit” “village” because of a nearby BART station (and parking fortress). Good luck walking there, though. And note that logo on the front, commanding commuters to Work, Live, Shop . I’m sure the slogan sounds much better in the original German.

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You’ve heard of the Idaho Stop Sign Law? Well, get ready for the Paris Red Light law:

Parisian cyclists have won the right to go through red lights following a fierce debate over their claim that the move would reduce the risk of road accidents. A three-year campaign by cyclists’ associations — which say it is idiotic for them to stop at traffic lights — bore fruit when the Government published a decree authorising councils to change the rules.

Paris will be among the first major cities to try out the new system after councillors approved a plan to allow bicycles to turn right or to go straight at a T-junction even when the lights are red.

Thousands of cyclists are fined in the city every year for failing to stop at “un feu rouge”.


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3rd Class

Governor Brown on why California needs a high-speed rail line:

Gov. Jerry Brown is on a mission to prevent the United States from becoming a Third World country, and he says the solution is a high-speed railroad in California. “We’re not going to be a Third World country if I have anything to do with it,” Brown said in a Friday morning interview on KCBS-AM in San Francisco. Fourteen countries already have high-speed rail, but the United States does not.

Having a high-speed rail line is hardly a prerequisite for first-world status. Factors like the quality of the education system, health care, income levels are the standard metrics used by economists. All programs being heavily cut by the Brown Administration.

However, it is interesting how many cities and states fool themselves into building things like trains and sports stadiums — for appearances. The thinking is that anyone living without such things is merely third-class. Because, well, trains and stadiums are way more sexy than maintaining a world-class university or health care system.

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Tempe’s Gold Plated Streetcar

According to the project page, Tempe’s streetcar line will have a capital cost of 160 million dollars.

  • For all of 2.6 miles of track.
  • Along a wide ROW with minimal impacts.
  • Running in mixed traffic.
  • With bus-stop style stations.

How the fuck does a simple streetcar project wind up costing $60 million/mile!? For that kind of money, they are getting into the price range of a full-blown metro.

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