The Decline and Fall of the Bay Area’s Transportation Agency

The State Legislature created the Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission (hereinafter MTC) in 1970. At the time it was widely anticipated that MTC would put an end to parochialism and bring a regional perspective to what was already recognized as a serious regional problem. As set forth in Title 7.1 of the California Government Code, the underlying reason for bringing MTC into existence was simple and to the point: Article 66502 of Title 7.1 reads as follows: “There is hereby created…. the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to provide comprehensive regional transportation planning for the region comprised of the City and County of San Francisco and the Counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano, and Sonoma.”

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But this didn’t happen, and as a result both the Region and MTC have fallen on hard times. Ridership on buses and trains is declining and an ever increasing flood of cars is overwhelming Bay Area roadways. With respect to MTC people are increasingly asking: “Where’s the Beef” and, “Is there any content…...or is it all process? These problems didn’t develop by accident and they weren’t inevitable. Here’s a part of what happened: Continue reading

BATWG’s Response to the Proposed CASA Compact

Mr. David Rabbitt, President of ABAG
Mr. Greg Scharff, Vice President of ABAG

Dear Mr. Rabbitt and Mr. Scharff:

Your help in making certain that this BATWG position reaches all members of the ABAG General Assembly would be much appreciated. Thank you!

BATWG opposes the CASA Compact in its present form for the following reasons:

The CASA Compact is based upon the false premise that piling high-density housing around bus stops and rail stations will substantially increase transit use and therefore materially decrease freeway backups and urban congestion. Less than 5% of the Bay Area’s total trips are transit commute trips. Therefore, even if housing close to bus stops and train stations caused some commuters to switch to transit, it wouldn’t count for much. The elephants in the closet are a.) the significant  number of commuters who will continue to drive and b.) the non-commuters, which in the Bay Area account for at least 95% of total daily trips,who will most certainly also continue to drive. Will those rushing their kids to pre-schools and soccer matches, or seeing their doctors, or running errands or heading for Big Box stores exchange their car trips for a series of bus and train trips? No, they will not. Transit-oriented housing will neither significantly increase transit use or materially reduce automobile use.  As have been outlined elsewhere in these pages, there are other much more practical ways of achieving these ends. Continue reading

A Corrupted MTC Board Selection Process

Bay Area transportation is in a royal mess, due in large part to the Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s failed policies.

With the upcoming appointment of a new MTC executive director there is now an opportunity to improve things. As things stand MTC is little more than an echo chamber for powerful interests. It is not receptive to new ideas and its endless series of “public outreach” meetings are geared more to selling than listening. Perhaps this is in part because every four years the MTC Board members are selected through a weak and secretive process that is again in progress at this time. Continue reading

Why is Bay Area Land Use Planning and Transportation in such Disarray?

Life in the Bay Area is getting worse, not better. The housing agonies increase, the commute trips get longer and the highway backups and urban traffic congestion become increasingly oppressive. Unfortunately the local and regional agencies involved in public infrastructure seem unable to deliver the smart infrastructure improvements needed to make things better. And yet without agency change there can be no resolution of the Region’s land use and transportation problems.

How did a wealthy, environmentally and tech-savvy region get so burdened with governmental dysfunction? To answer that question it is necessary to first examine the way things are in more detail. Continue reading

SFMTA Not Focusing on What’s Most Important

In recent years the SFMTA has often yielded to the demands of assorted pressure groups. In so doing it appears to have lost sight of the big picture. Here are excerpts from what letter-writer “Shamelessly” had to say on the subject in a recent issue of Streetsblog:

“…. Residents concerns should be heard……but unless a fundamental issue of justice is raised or a [positive] compromise found…residents should be expected to adjust to [productive] changes….there’s a balance to strike, and right now it’s too often weighted in favor of the loud voices of people who simply don’t like change or [remain committed to the complete and free use of the private automobile over all over considerations]. That balance needs to shift.”