Transportation: COVID-19, the Aftermath

Sooner or later things will get back to “normal.” Or will they? What will the new normal be? Will people revert to their previous practice of traveling alone even if it means more years of 3 and 4 stressful hours a day lost to commuting? It’s an open question. Some people are finding that they much prefer working at home to traveling to distant and perhaps risky offices. But is it practical to work at home? Can people be as productive? What about the small city businesses that depend upon an incoming flood of commuters every day? Who gets hurt in case many office workers are located elsewhere?

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The Housing/Transportation Crisis: Next Steps

The Current Approach: Right now everything is in an existential muddle. Some say that jamming high density housing near transit stops in established neighborhoods will solve the problem. This lunacy is based upon the false premise that putting housing near transit will by itself ease traffic. Others say that continuing to permit each town and city to set its own zoning and land use standards is the most democratic, and therefore the only way to go. And then there are those who have convinced themselves that to accommodate increasing population, the growth of the sprawling low-density suburbs should continue indefinitely. (If clogged highways and insufferably long commute times was the objective then this approach has worked brilliantly. However if there are ever to be short commute times and an easing of gridlock it will require a new and more enlightened approach.) Still others are demanding that the large corporations whose hordes of incoming employees largely caused the current mess should step up to the plate and fix it. (It has been suggested that the only time California’s metropolitan highways work is during a pandemic.) Each of these approaches responds to the Bay Area’s Housing/Transportation Crisis in a different way. Taken alone, none of them makes any sense and none is acceptable.

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SMART: Where We Go From Here

(updated May 9, 2020)

Last month BATWG wrote an article about the North Bay voter’s decisive rejection of the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit District’s (SMART’s) proposal to extend its sales tax for an additional 30 years through 2059. At the time we did not foresee the worldwide economic ravages of the Coronavirus pandemic nor its devastating effects on public transportation. The Coronavirus pandemic has upended every transit system in the USA.

Like other transit providers, SMART must undertake rapid policy and operations changes to meet the new conditions. Unfortunately, as dis­cuss­ed last month and below, SMART’s financial and rail operating circumstances were already much more in disarray than those of other Bay Area transit providers. Even before COVID there was already an overwhelming need for the District to put its financial house in order.

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Resuscitating the Transbay Bus Service

According to the San Francisco Examiner, a bus-only lane on the Bay Bridge would save bus users up to 6 minutes a ride. As transit advocates, BATWG would certainly support efforts to convert a peak-direction traffic lane in each direction to a bus-only lane. But anticipating objections to such a change, some uninformed officials are promoting off-peak contra-flow bus lanes on the Bridge. Under this arrangement buses would travel westbound on the eastbound lower level during morning peak hours and eastbound on the westbound upper level during afternoon peak hours.

The proposal is frankly hokey, and here are three reasons why:

First, since the hours of peak traffic tend to vary there are certain to be times when contra-flow lanes would further compound already bad traffic backups.

Second, adding and subtracting contra-flow bus lanes two or more times a day would be a source of confusion to all concerned, which could easily lead to safety problems.

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