Posts Tagged ‘MTC’

Closed Again

This is really getting annoying.


Both the Richmond Bridge and Bay Bridge bike/ped paths routinely get closed — for no apparent reason and with absolutely no notification. I passed dozens of cyclists and joggers on the way to this closed gate.

State Law requires maximum feasible public access to the Bay. The BCDC needs to step in and begin enforcement action on Caltrans/MTC.

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The Mercury News has published an article on the plague of HOV cheaters. Speaking on behalf of the MTC, the article describes the problem as unsolvable — and that the region should just accept a 39% cheating rate.

The Merc describes various “Buck Rogers” gizmos the MTC has tried, everything from phone apps to “laser-guided” cameras, to attack the problem. Of course these technologies are expensive vapor-ware — which completely misses the point. There exists a very simple and very inexpensive solution to the problem that requires no new technology:

The core concept that would permit automated, electronic enforcement of occupancy relies on changing the definition of an eligible carpool. Instead of allowing any vehicle with three or more occupants, a revised policy would limit eligibility to pre-registered carpools. Such carpools would be required to have a transponder. Thus, the only enforcement required on the HOT lane itself would be ordinary electronic toll enforcement: communications equipment to interface with the vehicle-mounted transponder and video cameras to make an image of the license plate of any vehicle without a valid transponder/account combination. The only other enforcement required would be periodic verification that the carpool is still in operation, as originally registered. Thus, enforcement would be off-road, not on-road.

Shifting from casual to registered carpools would return to the original trip-reduction purpose on which the creation of HOV lanes was based: providing an incentive for fellow employees to share rides to work, leaving one or more vehicles at home and thereby reducing congestion on the roads during peak periods. Over the last several decades, a number of studies have found that large fractions of those traveling to work as carpools were in fact “fam-pools”—members of the same family who would be traveling together in any case (and whose carpooling therefore does not reduce peak-period vehicle use). For example, one analysis of data from the National Personal Travel Survey and the National Household Travel Survey found that fam-pools constituted 75.5% of all journey-to-work carpools in 1990 and 83% in 2001.

Metro-area ride-sharing agencies are the most likely entity to register eligible carpools and to work with employers to audit their continuing existence (and hence eligibility for free or reduced-rate access to HOT lanes). Such agencies already have experience working with employers on carpooling and vanpooling programs. The ongoing existence and operation of vanpools is monitored and audited, since the vehicles are often provided by a public agency and must be retrieved if the vanpool ceases to operate or drops below a threshold number of participants. Many of these agencies are supported, in whole or in part, by the state DOT or other public agency, so this new role could become part of their ongoing contractual obligations.

This is such an obvious solution, one has to wonder why it is never discussed within the MTC. It re-enforces the notion that the only purpose behind carpool lanes is to greenwash highway widenings.

And by the way, if you are wondering where this radical idea comes from, the above quote is from the Car-bitarians at Reason. You know things have really gone off the rails when Reason makes more sense than the ‘progressive’ planners at the MTC.


MTC staffers testing out an ‘occupancy-detection’ camera.


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MTC Bridge Toll Slush Fund

In 2004, Bay Area voters passed RM2, which increased bridge tolls by $1 in order to fund congestion relief projects. By law, projects are to have a nexus with transbay travel; although in practice that law was more of a guideline. MTC, which administers the fund, has used it as a slush fund for politically juiced projects. This coming Wednesday, the MTC Programs and Allocations Committee will meet to do more allocations.

Many projects actually have nothing to do with bridge travel. One exception is the Dumbarton Caltrain extension, which would cross the Bay and was one of the projects promised to voters. Here is what MTC is proposing to do with that:




RM2 also has a considerable amount of highway spending in the mix. New HOV lanes on I680 will get additional RM2 funds. The MTC is also proposing to install a 3rd automobile lane on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. Bicyclists and the Bay Trail folks have been wanting to use that shoulder space for bike/ped access. There is also the GGT bus route which desperately needs a dedicated bus/HOV lane. It would be a tremendous loss if that space were surrendered to more automobile traffic.




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Several years ago, the MTC adopted a Routine Accommodation policy for roads and highways in the SF Bay Area. It is a great idea, but progress on implementing the policy has been glacial. Case in point: the James Donlon Blvd extension in Pittsburg, CA.

This project will build a new highway, cutting through open space. It is being built to serve a sprawling new housing development, and to provide congestion “relief” on nearby Buchanan Rd. Despite the Routine Accommodation mandate, it is being designed to the Caltrans Rural Highway standard — meaning no bike facilities nor sidewalks. Bicyclists would be permitted to ride on the shoulder, but it will be alongside traffic moving at 55+ mph highway speeds. This part of Contra Costa county lacks good bike routes, relegating cyclists to busy arterials. If this highway is to be built at all, it should include a Class I bike facility.


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The far-east edge cities of the Bay Area were literally ground zero for the real estate bubble. But despite the real estate collapse and high gas prices, the zombie highway projects keep right on going:

State Route 239 is a legislatively approved but unconstructed route in the state highway system. The highway is to connect Brentwood to Tracy. The study area envisions a new roadway in the area currently covered by the Bryon Highway/J4.

SR 239 has moved from the concept phase to the early planning phase. The County has collected Federal earmarks totaling $14 million to study and construct the new highway. Even with reduced constriction cost $14 million will probably pay for the planning, environmental studies and possibly some initial right of way purchases. Additional funding sources will be needed for the actual construction.

Contra Costa County has selected a consultant team headed by Parsons Transportation Group to perform the technical work, economic analysis, public outreach, project delivery and consensus-building for the SR 239 Project, The work is expected to take approximately two years and will involve the City of Brentwood, City of Tracy, San Joaquin County, Contra Costa County, San Joaquin Council of Governments, Mountain House Community Services District, Alameda County, Caltrans, and the Contra Costa Transportation Authority.

In case you haven’t heard of the “planned” community of Mountain House, the New York Times had a feature on that development. It is basically a ghost town, with the highest percentage of underwater mortgages in the country. Here we are in the midst of major economic downturn, and Contra Costa County is going off and planning a giant new north-south freeway to feed unsustainable developments like Mountain House.

What is really infuriating  is the way this project has flown under the radar. There is no mention (that I can locate) in the MTC’s Federally mandated 2035 Plan. This is not uncommon for the MTC. Their lack of transparency has led to numerous lawsuits and Civil Rights complaints filed with the Feds.

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MTC Moves

It is hard not to see a lot of symbolism in the MTC”s decision to move out of Oakland. Until 2006, the MTC was next door to the BART headquarters. Their new location will be next door to the SF Transbay Terminal.

Goodbye BART, hello high-speed rail.


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The Bay Area’s MTC has long been known for prioritizing road and rail projects at the expense of bus operators. So when the MTC initiated a cost analysis of the region’s bus operators, transit activists were understandably dubious. The project sounded like a “blame the victim” study.

But preliminary study results reveal some interesting numbers. Adjusted for inflation, operating costs for the major bus operators increased by 27% over the past 10 years, while revenue vehicle hours were almost unchanged — increasing by a mere 4% over the same time period. Rail agencies also saw major increase in operating costs, but that was offset by increased service.

Does this indicate bus driver salaries and benefits are out of control? Not necessarily. Comparison to other metro areas, such as Boston, Chicago, and New York shows Bay Area is in the mid-range for compenstation (though pension and “fringe” benefits are at the upper tier).

Interestingly, the study does find Administration costs are out of line. For the Bay Area 7 largest operators, Administration makes up 20% of the operating cost, compared to 16% in Los Angeles, and 9% in Boston. This suggests some consolidation may be needed.

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Shit Flows Down, Money Flows Up

Shit flows down, money flows up was how Tony Soprano described the Mafia. It is also an apt description for our transportation hierarchy.

Consider recent developments in the ‘SMART’ commuter rail saga.

‘SMART’ is now $350 million under-funded (shock news). As a result, the MTC has proposed to “down-size” a $70 million bike path that had also been promised to voters.

Besides the obvious inequity, shifting funds from bikes to trains is fiscally nonsensical. Bike paths require no operating subsidy, and are inexpensive to build. According to the FTA cost-per-new-rider metric, the bike path will be orders-of-magnitude more effective for reducing car trips. Trains might be more sexy than bike paths, but this scheme would cannibalize the most cost-effective portion of the project.

Highway Robbery
The situation gets more distressing as one looks at the overall funding picture. Highway 101, the main competitor for SMART trains, will be lavished with hundreds of millions for expansion projects. Since 2001, some $400 million has been programmed for Highway 101 widening, with more to come.

Sonoma County highway planners have asked the state to let them keep the savings from three Highway 101 widening projects that came in under budget and use it for three new projects. The savings, $50 million in state funds and $23 million in local sales tax money, would be earmarked to widen another stretch of freeway and rebuild two overpasses, said Suzanne Smith, executive director of the Sonoma County Transportation Authority. “This is the first time we have had full funding for these segments in sight,” Smith said. “We are pretty excited about the opportunity to keep the bid savings in the county and in the corridor.”

The bike path, the SMART rail line, and highway 101 all serve the same corridor! Two branches of government, SMART and the County Highway Dept, are operating at cross purposes. The highway department expands highway capacity while SMART is trying to shift car trips to trains. There is not enough money to pay for both, so guess who gets first dibs?

Thus, the transportation food chain is clear: The highway department gets all the resources it needs. The rail service has to truncate its project and raid bike funds. The bike path? It is at the bottom, fighting for survival. Shit flows down, money flows up.

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Confirmation from MTC Executive Director that when it comes to reliable, on-time transit service, some riders are more equal than others:

The Oakland Airport Connector was designed with a very special class of transit rider in mind, which is air passengers. Air passengers pride reliability. You pay a premium to get that reliability.

Aside from the offensive notion that (predominantly white) airport travelers are in a “very special class”, it should be noted that Airport PeopleMovers are notoriously unreliable.

When an airport shuttle bus breaks down, it is no big deal because another one will along in the next few minutes. But when an airport PeopleMover has a system failure, it can be disastrous.

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Every four years, the San Francisco Bay MTC goes through a “certification” process from the Dept. of Transportation in order to qualify for Federal funds. During the year 2000 review, the agency faced a Civil Rights challenge from transit and environmental groups. The basis of the challenge was that the MTC prioritized white-elephant rail projects at the expense of inner city transit riders.

MTC did eventually beat back the challenge, but only after making empty promises to do better.

In a routine certification process, the U.S. Department of Transportation this year made approval of MTC’s planning and spending process subject to two “corrective actions.”

The government ordered an evaluation of how MTC involves the public in its process, and told the commission to better serve low-income or underserved people as it goes about its business in the nine-county Bay Area, coordinating and financing transportation planning.

With FTA rejection of the BART Oakland Airport Connector project (OAC), the MTC is facing fresh allegations of discriminatory practices in funding allocations. If FTA hadn’t pulled the plug, the OAC project would have replaced an inexpensive shuttle-bus with $12 round-trip airport monorail. The $12 fare would be an enormous hardship on airport workers.

In a scathing letter, Cheryl L. Hershey, FTA Director of Civil Rights, states that FTA will do more than just yank Federal funding. The MTC may face another review:

As you are aware, BART is subrecipient of the MTC, and, therefore, MTC is responsible for ensuring its subrecipients comply with Title VI, the DOT Title VI regulations, and FTA Circular 4702.1A. Your agency is responsible for documenting a process that ensures that all MTC subrecipients are in compliance with the reporting requirements of FTA C4702.1A.

The fact that BART has not conducted the necessary equity analysis for the OAC project or fare equity analysis raises concerns that your agency does not have procedures in place to monitor its subrecipients. In order to determine whether MTC is in compliance with Title VI, FTA’s Office of Civil Rights requests MTC send FTA the following information within 30 days of receipt of this letter:

  • a list of all MTC subrecipients; and
  • MTC’s procedures for monitoring Title VI compliance of its subrecipients

FTA will determine whether the information MTC provides meets Title VI requirements.

See Also

A Better Connector

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