Avoiding the Impending Bay Area Stall

Highway backups are increasing. Despite the hoopla, auto and truck use in the Bay Area continues to increase. People talk of trains, but trains can’t go everywhere. They’re too expensive for one thing. Along highways, arterials and busy streets one constantly sees buses bogged down in traffic. Do you think San Francisco is in the forefront of getting its buses out of traffic? If so check out the grey bus-only lines on this map of Minneapolis.

To make matters worse the interiors of urban buses are often dismally uninviting. On Muni buses for instance the ride is so rough that it’s virtually impossible on many routes to any longer read a magazine or book. On these routes the hard plastic seats are so bad that many riders say it’s now more comfortable to stand than sit.

Private industry, with its “hi-tech” buses figured this out years ago and as a result, the interiors of the hi-tech units are comfortable and well-appointed.

As one might expect, uncomfortable buses stalled in traffic invariably push people back to traveling by automobile. MTC has projected that between 2015 and 2025 the number of Bay Area auto trips will increase by 10% and between 2025 and 2030 by another 12%. With commutes getting steadily longer it’s not hard to see what this does to vehicle miles traveled, traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. In short, travel in the Bay Area is already bad and, if practical steps are not taken, will get steadily worse.

The following five actions would help:

  1. Bus-only Lanes. First and foremost, it’s essential to get busloads of riders out of traffic congestion, at least during the peak commute hours. Only by giving would-be bus users the option of zipping comfortably past miles of gridlock would bus riding come to be regarded as a viable alternative to the automobile. To ease travel constraints it will be necessary for more people to ride collectively instead of all by themselves.

  2. Improve the quality of the bus ride:

    Needed on long distance buses….quiet interiors,  good suspension systems to afford a smoother ride, sufficient upholstery to make reading and sleeping comfortable, wi-fi, charging stations, a coffee kiosk.  

    Needed on urban buses…..quieter interiors, better suspension systems to afford a smoother ride, sufficient upholstery to make reading possible.

  3. Fit Service to Demand: In areas where regularly-scheduled bus service doesn’t attract enough riders to justify the cost, replace it with a mix of TNC’s (Uber and Lyft vanpools), and highly efficient publicly-operated demand-responsive vans and shuttle buses, coupled with more carpooling. 

  4. Stop the Sprawl: The developers have called the shots in the Bay Area for a very long time.  It’s essential to adopt a smarter way of organizing built-up metropolitan areas.  Together with the above-indicated bus improvements, an emphasis on in-fill rather than sprawl would in all likelihood make travel easier for everyone. 

  5. Congestion Pricing: If the above four long-overdue improvements weren’t enough to cause a 15 to 25 percent shift from solo driving to collective forms of travel it would probably be necessary to enact either congestion pricing or highway tolling or both.  

Continuing the current slowdown is untenable and unacceptable.  

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