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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Caltrain Success Story

Every now and then BATWG singles out a transit operation that we regard as particularly successful.

Caltrain definitely fits into that category. Between 2000 and 2019, Caltrain’s ridership soared from 29,728 riders a day to 63,597 riders a day, an increase of an extraordinary 114%. (Since last March, the pandemic has radically reduced these numbers as it has for transit operations around the world, but this does not detract from the past success of the Caltrain operation or for its potential for even greater success in the future.

In large part, this increase in Caltrain popularity and usability was because of the Caltrain Peninsula Joint Powers Board’s popular Baby Bullet program which was introduced in 2004. By skipping some stops, the Baby Bullet trains provide both faster service for longer distance travelers, and good local service for shorter distance travelers. By 2019 Caltrain was operating 92 weekday trains with 22 of those being Baby Bullet trains.

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Is SFMTA’s Aversion to EnRoute Coupling Crippling Muni Metro?

The original Muni Metro, designed by the Louis T. Klauder Company fed the J, K, L, M and N lines into the Twin Peaks and Duboce Tunnels and then into the Market Street subway. This arrangement allowed every Muni Metro rider to reach downtown San Francisco without having to transfer. To make this work, the one and two car trains operating along the Avenues were coupled into longer trains at the two portals

But the Muni subsequently had trouble making the couplings work and rather than fixing the problem, in the mid 1990’s it threw in the towel and abandoned coupling entirely.

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