The Bay Area Transportation Working Group (BATWG) is a 501 c3 Non-Profit Corporation organized by a group of experienced transportation professionals and activists in 2012. Mostly volunteers, we are dedicated to working with like-minded groups to improve the reliability and appeal of the Bay Area’s passenger rail and bus systems and to bring regional traffic congestion down to reasonable levels. BATWG meets on the third Thursday of the month and publishes a monthly electronic newsletter.
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Actions taken to deal with the Bay Area’s growing transportation and land use problems have been failing for decades. (The Faster Bay Area group has set out to do better, but the returns on that effort are still out). As things stand the prognosis is for more of the same wasteful misdirection scarce transportation funding to ill-conceived programs and projects, all in the name of “progress”. This situation did not arise by accident. It came about in large part of because political power has been and still is vested in a regional public body whose policy-makers seem to neither know much nor care much about reversing the Bay Area’s deteriorating transportation condition. This leaves them vulnerable to being unduly influenced by parochial, development and other outside interests with other objectives. Until this long-standing organizational defect is corrected, the Bay Area will continue to be afflicted by defective rail and bus operations, increased traffic backups and worsening housing agonies.
Senator Weiner’s SB 50, with its state-mandated, developer-dominated, meat axe approach to housing is dead.
But remain alert. Pieces of SB50 are almost certain to start quietly reappearing in other State bills.
As we’ve noted before, the indiscriminate piling of housing near transit stops, won’t significantly increase transit use and won’t have any discernible effect on highway congestion. That’s because except in places where there are abundant transit opportunities, few if any of the incoming new residents will willingly give up their cars. The result of this continued reliance on the private automobile for most trips would be increased traffic near stations and reduced on-street parking, thereby making it more difficult for long distance commuters to access their transit lines. If wiser heads prevail, the next round of legislation will be distinctly different from the heavy-handed approach exhibited in SB 50. Here are a few principles that should apply:
- It can’t be just housing. Transportation woes and housing shortages are part of the same problem and therefore have to be addressed jointly.
- No one size fits all. Even if the State leads the effort the affected towns, cities and counties will need to have a say.
Since last June Mayor Breed’s “San Francisco Muni Reliability Working Group” has looked for ways to improve overall Muni performance. Chaired by SFMTA Vice-Chair Gwyneth Borden and former City Controller Ed Harrington, the group was comprised of 13 individuals, including two San Francisco Supervisors and representatives of the Transportation Workers Union and various other organizations.
The group’s final report contains 66 recommendations, broken down as follows: Technical and Operations: 18, Workforce and Hiring: 24, Context and Regional: 17, and Governance and Organizational: 7. BATWG has reviewed the report and has the following responses:
There are many good ideas embodied in the report. However the Muni is part of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA), a complex and multi-layered 6,000 person organization operating in a difficult fishbowl environment subject to virtually continuous public scrutiny. No group of 13, no matter how dedicated, could adequately identify and respond to all the opportunities to improve the functionality of such an organization. For this reason the Mayor’s group was quite dependent upon Muni management for information and therefore took many of its improvement ideas from proposals already in circulation. The Mayor’s effort is ok as far as it goes, but more is needed.
Bringing a very large and growing organization like the MTC including Muni up to its full operating potential will require periodic management audits of the entire organization. These audits would necessarily have to be comprehensive and completely independent.
Technical and Operations:
BART can’t go everywhere and never will be able to go everywhere. Therefore, to get the Region out of gridlock something else will be necessary. The activation of a regional bus system is one promising opportunity.
A high-quality, out-of-congestion, regional bus system has been talked about ever since MTC formed in 1971. Yet every year struggling to get to where BART can’t go or pushing into increasingly jammed BART trains becomes more time-consuming and difficult.
Whatever is done must be attractive enough to cause a significant number of solo drivers to become less dependent on their automobiles. The network of longer distance buses would therefore have to be highly efficient. Buses would need to travel faster than the adjacent traffic as well as be safe, reliable, and comfortable. In order for any of this to work the buses would have to operate in their own lanes, separate from mixed-flow traffic.
As shown in this California Air Resources Board (CARB) chart below, California’s actions designed to conform to SB375’s greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction requirement have been less than stellar. True there has been some lowering of the ultra-high levels that were occurring between 2000 and 2008, but this improvement resulted mostly from federal and State mandates imposed on automobile and truck manufacturers to improve engine efficiency.
But to get to where California needs to get will require much more than just that. In terms of reduced automobile and truck use, virtually no progress has been made and the Bay Area is no exception to this. As can be seen, in order to meet the 2030 and 2050 targets the pace of reducing car use and making other GHG-reducing changes must pick up significantly. So why have efforts to clear the roadways and reduce GHG emissions so far been so lethargic?