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Posts Tagged ‘VTA’

The VTA is still defending its decision to build the phase-2 San Jose BART extension with a deep bore tunnel. They are being roasted on social media for the design of the stations, which would be as much as 90′ underground. VTA is pushing back, saying this is no big deal:

[VTA spokeswoman] Alaniz contends the deep stations won’t be a hindrance. Riders will have the option of taking escalators, multiple high-speed elevators or stairs at each stop. VTA estimates that even at the peak of rush hour it will take riders “less than a minute” to get from the platform to street level by taking the elevators, Alaniz said, while escalators will take between a minute and 90 seconds depending on whether the rider walks or stands. “A minute, to me, just seems extremely nominal when I think about a typical commute,” Alaniz said.

It is not clear where Alaniz obtained the 90 second figure, as it is significantly lower than what has been publicly discussed. A study of the downtown SJ station using simulation software showed it could take as long as 3.55 minutes to exit the platform, and 12 minutes to exit the station.

The simulation was done in the context of an evacuation. While one might argue routine rush-hour traffic is not quite the same as an evacuation, note that the simulation assumes the faregates and emergency exits are opened. In fact, Alaniz does not indicate whether the 90-second figure includes wait-time at the faregates.

The reason for the lengthy travel time is due not so much to the depth of the station, but the lack of exits. In a conventional downtown cut/cover station, there are exits heading off in multiple directions. These deep-bore stations funnel passengers through a single narrow chokepoint, which can easily back up.

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The timing would have been fortuitous. Had the VTA simply stuck with its original cut-cover tunnel plans for BART phase-2, then some of the most disruptive construction might have occurred during the COVID shutdown.

As most know, the BART phase-2 tunnel was originally planned as conventional cut-cover, and considerable engineering work had been done on that design. But the cut-cover plan was derailed when San Jose demanded a more complicated deep-bore design. This led to years of delays (not to mention billions in cost overruns).

The reason for the unusual demand was to reduce disruption of local business. Those businesses have now been destroyed anyway by COVID — so all the extra tunnel expense was for nothing. Downtown San Jose will now get a double whammy: COVID followed by BART construction. This was probably not the outcome they were expecting.

One can imagine in some alternate universe that the VTA took advantage of the COVID shutdown to expedite construction. While the pandemic was not predictable, any major delay in the planning pipeline reduces flexibility in construction scheduling. Compare to the controversy over the LACMTA Purple line extension through Beverly Hills. Rather than give in to irrational demands, the LACMTA stuck with original plans, and then expedited that plan when COVID hit.

Project schedule as of July 2016

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Anaheim has its $200 million ‘ARTIC’ station. San Francisco has its $2+ billion Transbay Terminal. But the award for most expensive and useless intermodal station project will surely go to San Jose, for its $10 billion (yes with a “b”) Dirion makeover.

There is a lot that can be said about problems with the project, but this one picture from a recent presentation sums it up:

Screen Shot 2020-04-10 at 7.07.16 PM

The Caltrain/HSR platforms are on the elevated structure, and the VTA LRT stop is proposed to be re-located underground. Note that the layout we have today has both the LRT and Caltrain platforms at-grade alongside each other. So after spending $10 billion, they’ve made the transfer worse — even though convenient “intermodal” transfers was a design goal. With the Caltrain tracks elevated above grade, it would be simple to continue the LRT line at-grade through the station area, with a stop directly at a station entrance (preferably the north concourse side on Santa Clara St).

What’s bizarre is that a group of stakeholders were sent on a junket to study European train stations, including this one in Rotterdam –which as you can see has the trams located at-grade directly outside the station:

Screen Shot 2020-04-10 at 7.18.38 PM

 

 

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The BART-SJ extension includes a redundant station at Santa Clara, duplicating the existing Caltrain service. At last month’s VTA Board meeting, Director Bob Rennie asked staff the following:

Rennie: We’ve had a number of people come to our Board meeting and ask why are we spending the extra money to extend to Santa Clara? I’ve never seen a trade-off of other options. If we have not done a trade-off analysis, are we going to do a trade-off analysis? Can we do a wider station at Diridon instead?

VTA Staff (Dennis Radcliffe): Many of those things were considered, but generally we are not exploring any of those…The Santa Clara station provides parking that we’re not providing at the downtown station.

I know this is pointing out the obvious but….if VTA wants to provide more parking at that location they can build a new garage at the Santa Clara Caltrain station and have those riders board Caltrain. 

 

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Further delays on BART-San Jose project

I am Jack’s complete lack of surprise:

BART service to downtown San Jose — including the crucial stops at the Diridon train station and First Street — could slip to as late as 2030 under some new estimates being floated by the Valley Transportation Authority. At one point, political and business leaders had anticipated BART service beginning in 2026 in downtown San Jose.

The reasons for the new estimates for BART service, as of now? VTA cites multiple factors. For one thing, environmental clearance had been anticipated in 2017 but was pushed back to 2018. Then, to help minimize disruption to merchants along Santa Clara Street, beneath which BART trains would run, VTA spent additional time to craft a single-bore tunnel option for BART’s approval. 

The EIR had nothing to do with it. The single-bore option is what caused the delay. BART had originally planned on conventional cut-cover construction, but chucked those plans to start over from scratch on a more complex design. A 4-year delay usually results in higher costs, so don’t be surprised when there is a follow-up announcement on ‘unexpected’ cost increases.

deepbore

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Contrary to what you may have heard from the VTA, development around the new Berryessa BART station will be extremely car-centric:

More density and imagination should be employed for the development than what has been shown to this point, said Bob Staedler, principal executive with Silicon Valley Synergy, a land use and planning consultancy.

“The Berryessa development is disappointing, not a real transit-oriented development with that largest field of parking and townhomes,” Staedler said.

The Berryessa retail will have a parking ratio of 4.5 spaces/1,000 sq-ft! To put in perspective, the typical suburban grocery store has a ratio of 3. BART’s TOD guidelines recommends no more than 2.5 (and ideally 1.6).

far_image

 

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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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The Bay Area is notorious for preventing infill development around transit stations. But with Branham LRT station in San Jose, things have hit a new low.

The San Jose General Plan designates the area around the Branham LRT station for mixed-use development. Nonetheless, the VTA-owned property is zoned “A” (agricultural!). To facilitate transit-oriented development, VTA submitted a request to change the zoning. Developing the Branham parking lot is a no-brainer, since it has just 13% utilization.

But neighbors and Councilmember Johnny Khamis are pushing back, forcing the VTA to at least temporarily withdraw the application:

When VTA’s application was filed recently, San Jose City Councilman Johnny Khamis said he would demand it address traffic around the northbound on-ramp to Highway 87 near the site before he would even consider a land use amendment.

“I let VTA know that they would have big opposition, including myself, to developing that property…without traffic mitigation measures at least started. “To change the zoning to housing before we address the traffic concerns, it seemed irresponsible to me,” he added.

Gee, if only there were an LRT station nearby to mitigate the traffic….

branham

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Silicon Valley is supposedly America’s capital of innovation. But its transportation sales tax measure is a huge step backwards. It would spend $3 billion on highway expansions, leaving hardly anything on bikes and transit. According to the environmental group TransForm, the measure performs badly on reducing automobile VMT.

Silicon Valley already suffers from some of the nation’s worst gridlock. Rather than provide transit alternatives, the VTA is proposing further cuts to the bus network. The transportation expenditure plan would lock those cuts in place for the next 2+ decades.

Getting around by bicycle won’t be any easier either, as the plan allocates just 4% of funds for bike/ped infrastructure. Compare to Alameda County, which will be spending 10% of its local funds on bike/ped. Or the upcoming measure in San Luis Obispo county, which would spend 15% of funds on bike/ped projects.

The one big transit capital project is, of course, the BART extension to San Jose. However, the expenditure plan would continue the line out to Santa Clara Caltrain station, wasting hundreds of millions of dollars duplicating the existing Caltrain service.

Speaking of Caltrain, the Caltrain advocates are happy that the expenditure plan includes $1 billion for grade separations and “capacity improvements”. Their joy will probably be short lived as the VTA has always re-purposed Caltrain funds to pay for BART cost overruns.

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VTA proposes cuts to bus network

A bus network is a compromise between ridership and coverage. Trunk routes provide the bulk ridership, while feeder lines fill in the geographic gaps. Geographic coverage is pretty important for low-income riders without cars, seniors, persons with disabilities. And in a place like Silicon Valley, geographic coverage is also needed for reaching the remote office parks.

However, feeder routes do not generate much farebox revenue. And with VTA struggling to pay for a ludicrously expensive BART subway, it is looking to cut bus service:

Despite a Santa Clara Valley population and jobs boom, ridership on buses and light-rail trains has dropped a staggering 23 percent since 2001, forcing the Valley Transportation Authority to consider its biggest shake-up ever in transit service.

Tough, unpopular decisions loom if the VTA hopes to attract those new passengers, get them to their destinations and improve its dismal 10 percent fare box return, which is the worst in the nation among similar agencies.

At the crux: Is the board willing to cut sparsely used, unprofitable routes that carry a handful of passengers — many of whom have no other means of transportation?

“This is going to take quite a bit of courage,” VTA General Manager Nuria Fernandez said following the release of a 68-page report on bus operations. “Ridership continues to decrease. Our fare box is not getting any better. Clearly we are going to have to make a choice to take a chance or nothing will ever change.”

Currently, about 30 percent of VTA bus service is geared to covering areas where bus rides are vital to the very few riders those lines carry. The two-year, $50,000 report by consultant Jarrett Walker + Associates said if that was lowered to 20 percent or 10 percent and money was redirected to the most heavily used routes, ridership and fare revenues would likely increase.

VTA riders are being given a hobson’s choice. They can choose either a comprehensive network with 30-60 minute headways, or a much more limited network with 5-15 minute headways.

The one choice they aren’t being given is to restore cuts made in bus funding.

In 2002. the VTA provided 1,508,300 revenue-hours of bus service. By 2013, service levels declined to 1,290,216 revenue-hours. The reason for the decline was to pay for very expensive expressway, LRT, and BART projects. The only logical choice is to reduce the highway spending, and to bring BART costs under control, in order to avoid eviscerating the bus network.

vta_graph

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