Archive for October, 2012

Washington Metro held a Press Tour of the new 7000-series railcar. Here is what Metro is calling a modern “21st century” railcar:

As you can see, they got rid of the carpeting . But other than that, it is basically the same 1970’s design.

Two years ago, blogger Matt Johnson enumerated all the ways the disappointments with this new design. The biggest problem is that these are not articulated railcars, Even more surprising was to read that passengers won’t be able to move between cars at all.

Except for the USA, articulated railcars are becoming the norm. Articulation increases the usable space on the train, and eliminates “hotspot” crowding in one particular car.  Articulation posed no technical problems because Metro already operates trains in married pairs, and the new railcars  are not intended to be backwards compatible with earlier cars.

So what possible reason did staff have for not using articulated trains? Yonah Freemark asked that very question, and the answer is that Metro staff just hates change:

Metro spokesperson Lisa Farbstein: “We have not designed our cars that way. It’s a choice we made when we started the system decades ago. No plans to change it just to change it.”

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Bumper Tap Leads to Murder

Oakland police have released a chilling surveillance video of a road-rage homicide.

Last December, Charles Butler was parallel parking in front of a convenience store, and accidentally tapped the back bumper of a Lexus. Bumper taps are not an uncommon occurrence in urban neighborhoods, but in this case it may have led to a deadly argument. Butler and a passenger in the Lexus LS-400 can be seen in the convenience store. Butler then leaves the store, and departs in his car. The passenger gives chase on foot.

Moments later, out of range of cameras, Butler is shot dead in his car. The perpetrators are still at large.

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Buy-America policies, a self-inflicted trade embargo, makes it very difficult for transit agencies to get rolling stock on the Global Market. Having no domestic passenger railcar industry doesn’t help either.

Case in point: Amtrak California. They have funds in hand, but it will take years to acquire new bi-level rolling stock. In the meantime, what can they do?

The idea of spending millions of dollars retrofitting cars from the 1960’s is absurd. Deacdes ago I rode those cars as a kid, and even back then they seemed antiquated.

I can think of only one historical analog: Cuba’s fleet of antique automobiles.

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Google’s 33% Transit Modeshare

Even though the Googleplex is located in a sprawly Mountain View office park, the company manages a remarkable 33% modeshare thanks to the GBus:

Commuting to work without driving, meeting with someone on another continent without flying and riding cars without gasoline? It’s not a futuristic dream, but a way of life at Google. We support and encourage carbon-free commuting because it’s a vital part of our longstanding commitment to sustainability.

We help take cars off of the road—not quite like the Hulk, but we are green. Back in 2004, one motivated Googler started a vanpool that ran from San Francisco to Mountain View as a 20 percent project. As demand grew, the program morphed into what is now one of the largest corporate shuttle services in the country. Today, up to a third of employees ride the GBus shuttles throughout our Bay Area offices five days a week—that’s more than 3,500 daily riders, or 7,000 one-way car trips avoided each day.

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Double Facepalm

Two years ago, when this blog criticized the CHSRA for its Amtrak-style practices, it was meant somewhat as a joke. Who knew they would actually go out and hire Amtrak’s Chief Engineer!?

Frank Vacca, the chief engineer of Amtrak, has been hired as chief program manager of the California High-Speed Rail Authority.
Mr. Vacca has over 35 years of experience in commuter, inter-city and high-speed passenger rail systems. “Frank Vacca is a highly recognized and respected executive in rail and will be a major asset in delivering high-speed rail to California in his new role as the Authority’s chief program manager,” says Jeff Morales, CEO of the Authority. “Frank’s expertise will help fulfill our ongoing commitment to partner with existing rail systems in building a statewide rail network.”

Mr. Vacca has a long and varied background in rail management, most recently as the chief engineer of Amtrak – a position he has held since 2006. He has held several other key positions with the national rail line. He was also the deputy general manager for infrastructure engineering at New Jersey Transit. In his role as chief program manager, Mr. Vacca will lead technical and engineering teams as they focus on delivering the high-speed rail project.

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You would think that even a big fat idiot like Mayor Ford knows streetcars take cars off the street, freeing up space for the drivers:

Just in case you had any doubt Mayor Rob Ford is no fan of streetcars you should hear his Newstalk 1010 traffic promo.

The promo Ford recorded for the radio station, which also carries his weekly Sunday radio show, has been played around half a dozen times in the last few months during the Jim Richards Show, according to Newstalk 1010 officials.

“Hi, I’m Rob Ford, that traffic report would have been a lot better without streetcars,” Ford says in the promo.

The TTC wouldn’t comment on the promo Wednesday.

However, TTC Chair Karen Stintz had a great response:

“My only comment is that the TTC daily ridership on streetcars alone is greater than GO Transit’s entire daily ridership on all its vehicles … over 250,000 riders per day,” Stintz said.


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As the name suggests, “Capitol Expressway” is the most unlikely street to blow $60 million (!) on pedestrian and streetscape improvements. Or for that matter, building a $310 million light rail line:

San Jose, Calif. – On Friday, October 5th, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) will celebrate the completion of pedestrian safety and access improvements along Capitol Expressway and future VTA rapid transit and light rail corridor. The Capitol Expressway Transit Improvement Project will ultimately transform Capitol Expressway into a multi-modal boulevard offering rapid transit, light rail transit, and safe pathways with connections to the regional transit system. Phase 1 of improvements includes new sidewalks, enhanced and additional street lighting, and a landscaping buffer between the sidewalk and roadway. A ribbon-cutting event is scheduled for 1 p.m. at Beshoff MotorCars – Mercedes-Benz, 3000 E. Capitol Expressway in San Jose.

“The long awaited transformation of East San Jose has begun and I could not be happier for our community,” said Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese. “These fundamental improvements have made this corridor much safer for pedestrians and bicyclists, especially children who are walking and riding to many of the local attractions in the Evergreen area.”

This Press Release is insane. No parent is going to allow their children to walk or ride a bike on this monstrosity, no matter how much landscaping gets added:

Oh, and what exactly are the pedestrian improvements?

Upgraded street lighting for automobiles; and newly installed pedestrian lights to better illuminate bus stops and pathways. Fencing has also been added along the corridor to discourage people from jaywalking.

As you can see from the photo above, it is obvious why jaywalking is a problem.

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Cities are for cars, not restaurants. At least, that is what some LA Nimbys seem to believe:

According to the Beverly Wilshire Homes Association, Gold’s restaurant needs to obtain four more parking spaces in order to operate legally, which Gold’s team says will $12,000. The homeowners association is after Eva and other local restaurants because they take up parking in the area. In the case of Eva, their purchased, secured spaces are 1,000 feet from the restaurant instead of the required 750 feet, so the restaurant has to purchase some new spots or they’ll lose their liquor license.

Something is really wrong with the zoning code when free parking is a condition for holding a liquor license.

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Tunnel Trespassing

90 minutes seems an awful long time to extract a trespasser from a BART tunnel:

BART service through the Transbay Tube has been restored after it was shut down Sunday evening for about an hour-and-a-half after surveillance cameras showed someone walking into the tunnel beneath the bay.

According to BART spokesman Jim Allison, a man “in normal attire walking casually” was spotted entering the tube from the Embarcadero station at about 6:46 p.m. BART immediately shut down the Transbay Tube and sent a train full of police officers inside. They found and arrested a person at 7:44 p.m., he said. Lt. Tyrone Forte said he was found about half way between Embarcadero station and West Oakland station.

The tube is outfitted with surveillance cameras and other security devices aimed at protecting it against terrorists, vandals or someone deciding to take a stroll. BART reopened the tube just in time for the end of the San Francisco Giants game, which was expected to send crowds of fans heading home from AT&T Park.

Aside from the security implications, this kind of thing isn’t fun for the passengers — i.e. being stuck in a dark tunnel without ventilation for over an hour. It isn’t an isolated occurrence either. For example, on the day of the World Cup, a trespasser entered the Oakland Wye, also causing 90 minute delays (and yeah, I’m still pissed about missing the game).

I’ve never seen any other urban metro system this susceptible to delays caused by intruders. Not sure if the problem is the lackadaisical police response, or the lack of redundancy…

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Ouch. San Mateo voters love the idea of electrification, just not the high-speed rail part.

CHSRA has totally poisoned the well.

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