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Posts Tagged ‘BART’

Following up on yesterday’s posting on the VTA single-bore proposal, I thought it is useful to share BART’s opinions on the idea. Several of their staff testified at a VTA Board meeting in September (the relevant video section is embedded below).

Needless to say, the BART senior staff were not amused with the proposal. They have decades of experience with underground heavy metro, whereas VTA has no never done such a project. You can sense their exasperation as they go over the blunders in the VTA design. It is not encouraging that VTA Board members asked so many dumb questions.

Their entire testimony is worth watching, but the flaws that really stand out were the following:

  1. The single-bore design carries $440 million to $1.8 billion of additional risk.  There several reasons for this, but the main culprit is market risk. Very few firms are qualified to do such a design, whereas there are many local firms qualified to bid on a conventional twin-bore project. Another risk is that the VTA single-bore design has not progressed beyond the “cocktail-napkin” engineering stage.
  2. The deep bore stations as spec’ed out by VTA do not conform with California fire code. It is unclear how to work around that constraint. VTA tried to hand-wave around the issue by claiming the standard twin-core stations are also non-compliant (BART staff vehemently disagreed).
  3. The stacked platforms are too narrow to handle large “event” crowds that are to be expected, such as a concert or Sharks game.

It is clear that if the VTA were to go ahead with their design, it will take longer to complete, have higher cost, and result in a tunnel with serious safety, access, and operational problems. And for what — to shave some months off a road closure!? Geez, what a train-wreck this is turning into.

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BART has kicked-off its transit-village project at Walnut Creek. And as usual, it has a huge amount of parking. Might as well call it a parking-oriented village:

The first preliminary work begins Saturday in the “south permit lot,” where the new 900-stall BART parking garage will be built. It will stand next to the existing multilevel garage, which will remain in service. Ron Heckmann, a spokesman for the project, said the new structure will more than compensate for the loss of the south and north permit lots and the permit lot east of the station to residential and retail development, the net gain being about 100 stalls.

The new garage building is expected to open in late 2018, said Arthur, adding he hopes all the 596 apartments and ground-floor retail spaces will be finished in about five years. Parking for apartment residents and retail patrons will be provided in underground garages below those future buildings.

775 underground parking garage spaces will be built (at great expense) for the 596 apartments — in addition to the 900-stall parking garage.

wc_garage

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Warm Springs is what BART calls an “automobile-access” station. No expense was spared in building new roads and highways for convenient car access. It has a huge parking lot, tricked out with solar panels and other “green” features.

The pedestrian access on the other hand…

warm_springs_xing2

The photo above is Warm Springs Blvd, at the east entrance to the station. Those signals are totally new, and provide car access to the station. But as you can see, they lack pedestrian signals, and there are no crosswalks. The signals only permit cars to cross, not pedestrians. A pedestrian crossing the street (say to the business park on the other side), has no easy way to do it. The nearest intersection with ped signals is at Grimmer Blvd  — a half-mile detour just to cross the street. And in any case, there is no sidewalk on the other side of Warm Springs Blvd, even though the road was completely re-built. So the detour would involve walking out in the roadway.

The other roads in the station neighborhood are no better. Fremont Blvd, along the west side of the station, lacks sidewalks on both sides of the street. The speed limit is 45 mph (with actual speeds much higher), so you can imagine what that is like for pedestrians:

fremontblvd

And here is Grimmer Blvd, along the north side of the station, which also lacks basic pedestrian accommodation:

grimmer

North of the station, Warm Springs Blvd changes name to Osgood Rd. But it has the same crappy pedestrian access. Pedestrians must get by on a weed-choked dirt path:

osgood

These terrible conditions are not due to any lack of time or money. The Warm Springs station went through 10+ years of design and construction. During that time, vast sums were spent “improving” roads and freeway interchanges around the station, but not a single thing done for pedestrian access. From almost every direction, it is impossible to safely walk to the station.

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BART needs to close a $25-$35 million shortfall in its operating budget. The media blames the deficit on overpaid janitors, while staff is proposing a menu of fare increases:

The board held onto the possibility of putting a surcharge on rides taken using paper fare cards and reducing BART’s discount rates for youths, seniors and disabled people. The directors did not vote on fare increases, which they say are needed to help fill a projected $25 million to $35 million budget gap, but they discussed which fare proposals should undergo a mandated federal civil rights study so that they can be considered when the board assembles a spending plan.

There is one very easy solution to this problem: raise the cost of parking. BART has 45,984 parking spaces. Increasing the daily parking charge by $2.25 ($45 monthly) is sufficient to cover $25 million. Increasing the daily parking charge by $3.15 ($63 monthly) would raise $35 million. Those adjustments would make BART parking charges comparable to current market rates.

BART parking lots fill up at the crack of dawn, and the monthly reserved slots have years-long waiting lists. The Warm Springs station already has a waiting list and it isn’t even open yet. Because BART  is giving away parking at below-market cost, there is no parking availability (except for a lucky few). So even if there weren’t a deficit, the parking fees need to be raised regardless.

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Uber and Lyft ridersharing services are being blamed for the low ridership of the Oakland Airport BART connector:

BART officials had hoped their $500 million connector to Oakland International Airport would be a money maker — but instead it has wound up costing the financially beleaguered transit agency $860,000 in the past two years, as ridership has dropped below the break-even point.

“We didn’t anticipate Uber and Lyft and the others, and that’s hurting us,” said BART spokesman Jim Allison.

Oakland International reports that the number of airline passengers taking ride-hailing services to and from the airport totaled more than 11 percent in January — up from 7 percent in July.

With the competition, ridership on BART’s connector has been dropping below the 2,800 rides a day needed to cover the line’s $6.1 million annual operating costs. That wasn’t always the case. In the months following its November 2014 opening, the line was averaging 3,200 daily riders — or about 400 over the break-even point. No more. For the past three months, ridership has been down an average of 11 percent over the same time a year earlier.

Ridership for the month of January was 2,530. In February it was 2,798. That ridership is very close to the amount predicted by staff for the $6 fare (2,685 daily trips) back when the Board first approved the project. So the ridership isn’t unexpectedly lower — it is exactly where they knew it would be.

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So much for that BART transit-oriented development policy:

The BART board is expected to consider on Thursday an additional $37.1 million, 655-space parking garage to the Dublin station.

The proposed six-story garage would replace a current surface parking lot of 118 spots. A net 540 spaces would be added, according to a BART report. The estimated $37.1 million would include $8.6 million in design and $28.5 million in construction costs. Operating costs are expected to be $240,000 annually.

Some quick calculations show the annualized capital cost (at 5% interest rate) is $1.855 million. Including the maintenance cost ($240k) and daily parking fee ($2.50) that comes out to a daily $8 subsidy per commuter!

There are currently 3,100 people on the reserved parking waiting list. So even after spending all that money, it won’t do anything to improve parking availability.

dublin_parking

 

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In the November election, voters will decide whether to approve a $3.5 billion bond for overhauling and repairing BART. The East Bay Times has been editorializing against the bond. Most of what they write is completely loopy. For example, complaining that the costs are not given in year-2065 dollars, or that households would pay more if interest costs were to balloon to 12% (if rates get that high, then the BART bond will be the least of our worries).

There is, however, a kernel of truth in the argument that the bond is back-filling a structural deficit in the maintenance budget. The Times scapegoats the “excessive” worker salaries for this deficit. That is incorrect as the deficit would exist even without recent pay increases. The deficit is the result of two structural problems.

The first problem is the long-term decline in gas tax revenues. For the past two decades, politicians at the State and Federal level have refused to increase the gas-tax. As inflation eats into gas-tax revenues,  there has been a big decline in revenue to support transit operations. This has forced BART and other agencies to use creative accounting and borrowing to shore up finances — but that can only go on for so long.

The second problem has to do with the design of BART itself. The low-ridership extensions into far-flung suburbs are a huge drain on finances. Unfortunately, the BART bond exacerbates the problem by providing $350 million for the construction of new parking garages. Subsidizing auto-centric development around the peripheral BART stations is not the solution to the suburban ridership problem.

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