Well-Founded Projections by a Seasoned Expert

Mr. Alan Pisarski is an internationally acclaimed transportation expert. At the October 21st BATWG meeting Pisarski provided an insightful analysis of the short and long term effects of changes on transportation and the economy of metropolitan areas like the Bay Area that have been brought on by COVID, and the resulting demographic and societal changes. During his presentation he stressed the “iffiness” of the data at hand and the consequent high degree of uncertainty inherent in today’s forecasting efforts. From his remarks it was clear that he thought the dogged determination of some local and regional agencies to proceed assuming that everything would soon “get back to “normal” was most unwise.

Here are Mr. Pisarski’s “Five Steps to Guide Transportation Spending and Planning during the Coronavirus Pandemic” and its aftermath, as published in the Reason magazine last August:

First, he calls for a “moratorium on all expansion-based transportation investments—for the obvious reasons.” The COVID pandemic is remaking transportation demand, for commuters, households and freight logistics. “While being willing to accept some absolutely clear and verifiable capacity needs, we must place a hold on transportation expansion investments, at least until the dust settles”, he says.

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Leveling the Transportation Spending Boat

The passage of the long awaited federal infrastructure bill with $45.5 billion earmarked for California comes as welcome news. (While this may sound like a large sum, it isn’t. With only $9.45 billion of this amount earmarked for transportation statewide, there is none to be wasted)

For this and other reasons it is necessary to make optimal use of the transportation resources we have, which tend to be scarce most of the time. Making this happen will take effective regional leadership as well as commitment on the part of transit agencies, local politicians, regional and State officials to ensure that incoming transportation funds are always intelligently distributed and prudently spent.

This will take some important changes to the current way of doing things. The boat needs leveling:

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Senate Bills 9 and 10, and their Impact on Transportation

Senate Bills 9 and 10, take effect Jan. 1, 2022. Signed into law by Governor Newsom in September 2021, these bills would make it easier for Californians to build up to six additional housing units on many properties previously reserved exclusively for single-family homes. This approach gained credence in Sacramento because of heavy pressure from housing developers, but also because some State Legislators came to believe that placing housing units near transit stops would lead to more transit use and therefore less traffic congestion.

This conclusion was reached despite MTC’s Plan Bay Area 2050 projection that adding 1.54 million new housing units between and 2015 and 2050 would do little if anything to improve transit’s dismally low percentage of commute trips, much less non-commute trips. In fact, despite PBA 2050’s emphasis on affordable housing and expansion of transit services, its projections show that by 2050 there will be at least 2.5 million additional personal vehicle trips a day on the region’s roadways and that even with a 110 percent expansion in transit miles operated, only about 3% of the region’s jobs would be accessible within 45 minutes by transit; versus 18 percent within 30 minutes by personal vehicle. Under the circumstances it seems evident that higher residential densities created if the two bills are left to stand will inevitably lead to more congestion in the region’s urban neighborhoods and communities and more barriers put in place of good transit travel.

Senate Bills SB 9 and 10 are among the most contentious bills to ever get through the California legislative process. They face broad opposition because they largely override local government’s zoning and land use decision-making, disrupt established and stable neighborhoods and yet provide no assurance that they would either create more affordable housing or significantly increase transit use. It appears that in 2022 these highly controversial bills will face one or more State ballot propositions designed to rescind them.


Getting Real About Seamless Transit

There’s been a lot of recent talk in the Bay Area about seamless transit. Different people and groups seem to have different opinions of what the term means.

To get this straight, it is necessary to start with an objective. In the first place it is obvious that traffic congestion has gotten out of hand in many places. In addition most scientists now agree that man’s excessive use of fossil fuel energy is causing global warming, including such disastrous “byproducts” as hurricanes, habitat destruction, ocean rise, fresh water shortages and wild fires. In as much as 45% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions comes from transportation, seamless transit can be regarded as an effort to reduce transportation’s share of the problem.

To cut greenhouse gases and ease traffic congestion will require in part that our bus, train and ferry boat systems become convenient enough to convince many travelers to drive less and use transit more. So what would it take to actually bring this about?

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Caltrans’ I-205 “Managed Lane” Project: A Classic Example of what Happens when Highway Planners Ignore the Big Picture

Excerpts from BATWG’s 11.4.21 letter to Mr. Scott Guidi of Caltrans respond­ing to the Notice of Preparation (NOP) for a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the I-205 Caltrans/SJCOG project.

NOP: The goal is “….to improve local, regional, and interregional circulation for all modes of travel between the Central Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area” by addressing the following problems:

  • Increased commute times and corridor congestion on I-205
  • Increased use of I-205 as an intercity and interstate truck or freight route
  • Need for alternative [non-automotive] modes of transportation between San Joaquin County and the San Francisco Bay Area.

BATWG: The project proposes to examine a “no build” and four “build” alternatives – three of which would add freeway lanes and a fourth that would convert an existing I-205 mixed flow lane in each direction into a multiple-occupant vehicle (HOV) lane.

Currently five westbound lanes converge at the I-205/I-580 junction: three westbound from I-205 and two westbound from I-580. Three of the four NOP build Alternatives would add a fourth westbound lane on I-205. It is obvious that six westbound lanes funneling into four I-580 lanes would make the already bad congestion problem even worse. Under no circumstances should I-205 be widened in a manner that would add either traffic or congestion on I-580. The fourth build alternative would reserve an existing I-205 lane in each direction for multiple-occupant vehicles. Arranged with proper traffic controls, Alternative 4 could achieve the three stated NOP objectives listed above, but is probably a non-starter.

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