O’Rourke Punctures SFMTA’s Subway Balloon

BATWG Newsletter Issue No. 30​

Here is “Citizen/Taxpayer” Michel O’Rourke’s refreshing and painfully accurate response to SFMTA Director Maguire’s uninformed opinion about the Central Subway, as quoted in the SF Chronicle on November 15, 2020:

In an apology for yet another delay of the benighted Central Subway, Mr. Tom Maguire, MUNI director of ‘Sustainable Streets’ gave us the following bromide:

“It is frustrating…” “We made the decision to build the Central Subway long before COVID, and it was the right project, bringing subway service to Chinatown and the most congested part of the city. And it’s still the right project.”

We felt compelled to inform Mr. Maguire that not all of the citizenry share his point of view. As follows:


Greetings Mr. Maguire

Right project? No, Mr. Maguire. I am sorry to disabuse you of fantasy, but is not the right project, it’s the wrong project. Always has been.

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Union City Politicians Determined to Let a Highway Scar Their City

BATWG Newsletter Issue No. 30

This letter was sent to ACTC Chair Pauline Cutter on November 16, 2020. 


Dear ACTC Commissioners:

Union City Harkins Back to 1958

The East West Connector (EWC) project (now called the nicer-sounding “Quarry Lakes Parkway”) has a long history dating back to 1958. This project never did catch on, at Caltrans or anywhere else and makes less sense now than ever, except to Union City’s local pols. As of a few months ago the capital cost of project had rocketed to $362 million including $74 million in City-owned land being donated as a site for the highway.

Despite the fact that highway building in urbanized areas has been essentially out of favor for a half a century, Union City’s government is determined to raze a historic 1888 landmark and obliterate the site of an attractive extension of the Quarry Lakes Recreational Area along Alameda Creek so it can run its 2-mile highway right to the front door of Union City’s much-heralded “transit-oriented” housing development north of the BART station.

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Valley Link Project – Still in its Infancy

BATWG Newsletter Issue No. 30

On September 9, 2020 the Tri-Valley, San Joaquin Valley Regional Rail Authority (TVSJVRRA) was presented an update on the Valley Link (VL) project by its staff and consultants. The presentation outlined the following major changes: changes in alignment, revised section boundaries, revised station locations, revised station lengths, revised ridership, revised train length and revised cost estimates. Other uncertainties, including the method of train propulsion, remain. Nonetheless two weeks later, presumably driven to position VL for early federal stimulus funding, the Alameda County Transportation Commission (ACTC) approved the diversion of $400 million in Alameda County sales taxes to the project. BATWG opposed the ACTC’s action, arguing that earmarking of capital funding for the plan as presented was premature and that critical information was lacking.

Numerous outstanding questions that are critical to potential success or failure of the VL project remain unanswered. Chief among them:

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Pro-Active Responses to COVID-19 (Elsewhere)

BATWG Newsletter Issue No. 30

The impact that COVID-19 has had on transit and rail service differs widely depending on where in the world you choose to look. Certainly in the United States and Europe transit ridership is down by 70 to 90% but in Asia, after brief but complete shutdowns, it’s near normal. This is largely due to the different approaches used to treat the pandemic. Asian countries like China, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea and Taiwan were able to use a very affective test/trace/isolate approach developed from their experience with previous pandemics like SARS, Bird Flu, H1N1 and Ebola. The Western World, but for a few exceptions (Denmark, Germany, Norway), lacked adequate testing, which is not mandatory and has allowed COVID-19 to spread to such a point that tracing is now both more onerous and less useful.

Even now test results of PCR tests still take days to be returned while not covering the whole population.

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MTC Begins Final Phase for Plan Bay Area 2050

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) released its draft Bay Area 2050 Plan on July 8, 2020. Following that milestone, public review and comment over the summer led to modifi­cations and additions that are now being incorporated. These modifications escalated the Plan’s price tag by $668 billion, demon­strating the challenge of building support among the 100 government entities around the Bay. The final Plan Bay Area 2050 is expected to be adopted by the fall of 2021.

The Plan anticipates that the nine-county Bay Area will add 2.5 million new residents and 1.33 million new jobs between 2020 and 2050. The Plan envisions that by 2050 the Bay Area will be affordable, connected, diverse, healthy and vibrant. These aspirations are expressed through thirty-five strategies defined as policies or bundles of investments, clustered under eleven categories:

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VTA’s Santa Clara Street Subway Goes Off the Rails

The estimated price of building the 4.8 mile BART extension through San Jose has increased again. It’s now up to $6.86 billion and rising. This all started because of downtown demands that the entire subway be built with no construction impact on Santa Clara Street. This short-sighted demand apparently stemmed from the misguided belief that constructing the two downtown stations using the standard cut-and-cover methods used all over the world for station construction would bring Santa Clara Street to a halt for the entire 4 to 6 year construction period. This is not true. As shown in the section below, at no time would the street be entirely closed. Here’s how it’s normally done.  First, one half the street is excavated and decked over, after which the traffic is shifted to the decked half while the other half of the street is similarly excavated and decked. This phase of the project can be completed in a relatively short amount of time. Once the wooden decking is in place and traffic again flowing, the major below-grade construction work begins. At the end of the job the permanent new roadway is reconstructed, again in a relatively short amount of time and again while keeping at least half the street operating at all times.

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COVID’s Long Term Impact on Transportation

We’ve taken a hit. COVID is obviously no joke…not something to be taken lightly. While it’s too soon to predict exactly how COVID and its aftermath will affect society, there are a few observations that can safely be made.

The Problem:

Vaccine:  Yes, there could soon be a highly effective vaccine and/or other curative. If so, great….the sooner the better. But what if it takes longer than expected to make these curatives available? Or, what if there are troublesome side effects or if the vaccines and treatments aren’t fully effective? What if another vicious virus comes along, requiring us to go through the whole agonizing process all over again? Even if an effective, early vaccine does become available it will take many months to inoculate a large share of our population.

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BART in Distress

BART’s Board of Directors faces major financial and administrative challenges.

According to the 2018-19 Alameda County Civil Grand Jury Report:  “Violent crime on BART, including robberies and aggravated assaults, increased by 115% over the last five years…. Rider satisfaction with BART fell from a high of 84% in 2012 to a low of 56% in 2018…. Since at least 2012, cleanliness has been a top concern for riders who responded to the survey.

The Grand Jury report continued: “Respondents  cite ‘personal security in BART system’ as the second largest service rating decline…, just after fare evasion. Lack of visible police presence on trains and in stations has long been a concern of riders … News reports of the three homicides in July 2018 and a video in October 2018 of a man swinging two chain saws while riding BART reinforced worries among Bay Area residents about their safety on BART.

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