Archive for August, 2014

Bikes or Bathrooms?

Caltrain is spec’ing its new electric railcars. The agency will have to decide what is more important: bikes or bathrooms:



In the bad old days of Caltrain service, a passenger might have to wait as long as two hours just to board a train. With electrification, Caltrain will offer much faster service, operating at BART-level frequency (we hope). There is no reason to continue with the on-board bathrooms — let alone 5 per train. There are better uses for that space.

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PATH Crippled by FRA Regulations

Bloomberg has an interesting article on the poorly managed PATH system. Even though PATH is basically a subway, the system is three times more expensive to operate compared to the NY subway. Mismanagement by the Port Authority is certainly one reason. But another problem is that PATH is regulated by the FRA:

Federal Railroad Administration regulations, higher maintenance costs and round-the-clock service have boosted spending compared with other transit systems, Port Authority officials say.

A major difference between PATH and the New York subway system is that the trans-Hudson rail is regulated by the FRA while the Federal Transit Administration oversees the subway. The FRA imposes stricter safety standards and labor requirements, imposing higher costs, Port Authority officials said.

Before each run, PATH workers must test a train’s air brakes, signals and acceleration, Mike Marino, PATH’s deputy director, said in a telephone interview. When a train gets to its terminus, workers repeat the test. In addition, every 90 days all of PATH’s rail cars undergo a three-day inspection at a facility in Harrison, New Jersey. Brakes, lights, communications, heating and air conditioning, signals and odometers are all checked, Marino said.

“It’s a very intense inspection on every piece of rolling stock,” he said.

Although the Port Authority has tried to switch its regulator to the Federal Transit Administration, the FRA has opposed a switch for safety reasons, Marino said. PATH runs parallel to high-speed trains operated by NJ Transit, Amtrak and freight-line CSX Corp.

I’m sure that FRA-mandated HVAC check is essential for saving lives.

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SSF Ferry Still Underwater

The Oakland-SSF ferry is still struggling to find passengers. Farebox recovery is far below the 40% threshold required by the MTC to continue operation:



The service requires a $39 per trip subsidy for each of the ~327 daily riders. That result is not at all surprising when you consider that BART and the toll bridges provide much faster service. Nonetheless, San Mateo TA plans to spend $30 million on this white elephant.


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The Drug Enforcement Administration paid an Amtrak secretary $854,460 over nearly 20 years to obtain confidential information about train passengers, which the DEA could have lawfully obtained for free through a law enforcement network, The Associated Press has learned.

The employee was not publicly identified except as a “secretary to a train and engine crew” in a report on the incident by Amtrak’s inspector general. The secretary was allowed to retire, rather than face administrative discipline, after the discovery that the employee had effectively been acting as an informant who “regularly” sold private passenger information since 1995 without Amtrak’s approval, according to a one-paragraph summary of the matter.

On Monday, the office of Amtrak Inspector General Tom Howard declined to identify the secretary or say why it took so long to uncover the payments. Howard’s report on the incident concluded, “We suggested policy changes and other measures to address control weaknesses that Amtrak management is considering.” DEA spokeswoman Dawn Dearden declined to comment.

Passenger name reservation information is collected by airlines, rail carriers and others and generally includes a passenger’s name, the names of other passengers traveling with them, the dates of the ticket and travel, frequent flier or rider information, credit card numbers, emergency contact information, travel itinerary, baggage information, passport number, date of birth, gender and seat number.

If the DEA had gone through Amtrak police, then Amtrak would have received a share of any money seized. Paying the confidential informant allowed the DEA to keep all the money.

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That legally blind driver who killed a pedestrian will now be facing felony charges. Previously, the DA was only going to charge him with a misdemeanor (which would result in little or no jail time). Concerns by the public for the DA to enforce the law seems to have worked:

[District Attorney] O’Malley says there are just too many aggravating factors for the charge to remain a misdemeanor. First and foremost, she says, he is legally blind. “There was also some half eaten food in the car.”

She added that our inquiry prompted her office to take a second look at the case. “When the press comes and speaks back to us, about what they’re seeing, that we listen very closely, because your eyes and ears are very keen, as I hope law enforcement and my office are.”

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Things didn’t exactly go as planned for Opening Day at the new Levi Stadium in Santa Clara. VTA light rail and Caltrain can not accommodate the crowds (even though a measly 9000 people rode transit to the stadium). The roads, of course, were total gridlock.

But at least you could bike there, right? One of the selling points of the location was the nearby San Tomas Aquino bike path. Stadium planners had boasted that cyclists could ride straight to the front door of the stadium. So I was stunned to read Richard Masoner’s blog posting that the trail actually gets closed for stadium events. How fucked up is that?

The reason is the TSA-style security perimeter. Here is how it was explained to the Santa Clara Bicycle Advisory Committee:

There apparently was some early thought given to making stadium access via raised and covered bridges to separate trail traffic from stadium traffic, but no need to worry about that, the trail will be fine. Besides, that would cost the stadium project a bunch of money and since it wasn’t going to be a problem, why spend the money?

Fast forward to today, and with the post Boston bombing, there will be row after row of metal detectors along the main Great America parking lot (like the whole length of that huge parking lot according to the photo they showed) to screen all the game attendees prior to entering the “sterile (i.e. secure) zone” of the stadium.

Oops, the bike trail passes right through the middle of the sterile zone. So it looks like either the trail will be closed basically all day long on big event days; 4-8 hours before the game until 4-8 hours after the game. Or trail users may be allowed to pass (on foot only), but only after going through security screening. Sounds fine in theory, but realize you’ll be trying to cross a stream of 70,000 tail gating fans pushing and shoving to get into the stadium while pushing your bike along in clip-less shoes for about a mile!

Apparently there is a grant application in the process for the city to get funding to modify the creek trail along the stadium area to run it under the existing and new foot bridges. Now the question remains as to why do we, the tax payers, have to foot the bill to fix the trail that we, the tax payers, paid to build because the stadium folks did not want to pay to put their foot bridges over the trail, that was already there, in the first place. Suffice it to say, the two guys from the stadium project got an earful and high tailed it out of the meeting once their presentation was over. And the high muckety-muck from the stadium project that was supposed to be there as well was suddenly called out of town the day of the BAC meeting that is scheduled 2 months ahead of time?

Still makes you think how cyclists rank in the grand scheme of things. If the stadium guys came along and said OK, we are going to need to close down a mile of Hwy. 101 for a year while we build the stadium, oh and we’ll be closing it down about 15 days a year during events; heads would be rolling. But, it is just a bike path, nobody will care.

And if you want to ride there on Tasman, good luck with that. The VTA removed the Tasman bike lanes to make room for the light rail.



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A driver with an expired license, who is legally blind, hits and kills a pedestrian in a crosswalk. And prosecutors only charged him with a misdemeanor:

An Oakland man who said he is legally blind has been arrested and charged with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter in connection with a crash in Berkeley that killed a 98-year-old man, authorities said Thursday. Robert Jack Gilchrist, 56, was also charged by Alameda County prosecutors with driving without a valid license at the time of the April crash that killed Joseph Luft.

About 12:20 p.m. on April 4, Luft was on his daily walk and heading east in a crosswalk on Bancroft Way when he was hit by Gilchrist’s car as it traveled north on Sacramento Street, authorities said. The impact knocked Luft 40 feet, police said. Luft was conscious and able to speak with responding officers, but died at a hospital that evening.

If  the DMV already determined he can’t safely drive, then the penalty needs to be a felony. This was no accident.

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