Common Sense Gone Missing

As was graphically pointed out in presentations by MTC, BART, the MTA and Caltrain at a meeting of the SFCTA on February 28, 2023, Bay Area transit systems are having to adapt to greatly reduced post-COVID ridership, escalating operating and development costs and uncertainties over whether or not the generous State and federal subventions of the past will continue. Unfortunately, these problems are occurring at a time when public confidence in the ability of the large transit agencies to operate efficiently and improve their services in an effective manner has declined. So what happened? What went wrong? How can trust in local and regional agencies be re-established?

It appears that a reduction in the quality of daily transit service and the mismanagement of certain large infrastructure projects are at least partly responsible for the problem:

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The Folly of Adding Lanes

“Why Adding Highway Lanes in the Bay Area NEVER Reduces Congestion”

On November 17, 2022 MTC made a video presentation of highways and their future relevance in the Bay Area.

During the presentation MTC planner Alex Eisenhart, using many interesting photos and video clips, carefully explained the problem in an unusually clear and forthright manner. His main point was that adding lanes to roadways does not reduce congestion. The presentation is well worth a look and we recommend it.

Caltrans has a long and storied history of adding lanes to solve traffic problems. In a dynamic and densely built-up area such as the Bay Area, this has never worked for more than a short period of time, but which did and still does do is keep thousands of highway planners and engineers happily engaged in carrying out their “mission”.  However, it wasn’t long before the folly of Caltrans’ approach began to be recognized.

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Alameda County Transit District: Key Upgrade Elements Identified (again)

Enforced bus-only lanes on long distance and trunk lines, including on bridges

Fast direct routes with minimal zigs, zags and detours

Clean, well-maintained, safe and comfortable vehicle interiors

Well maintained and easily identifiable stops

Convenient transfers…timed, especially between neighborhood feeders and trunk lines

Load charts to guide route and service level changes without increasing operating costs

Better coordination between AC and cities like Oakland and Berkeley

Improved signage

Clear and easily available digital maps

Real Time Scheduling and Reliability

Tasks the District can’t handle, farmed out without hesitation

With improvements well underway, an effective marketing program

Adapt to New Conditions or Remain on Autopilot?

The Pandemic has hit. Travel habits have changed. Advances in technology have made it easier to do more with less commuting and other travel. Transit has been dramatically affected by all this. Yet so far there is little evidence that the large Bay Area transit agencies and MTC are adequately heeding the warning signs. Based upon the broadly based surveys of the Bay Area Council, the meticulous economic research of Stanford Professor of Economics Nicholas Bloom, the conclusions of acclaimed transportation consultant Alan Pisarski, and other findings, the handwriting is on the wall. We now have a better idea of how the changes brought on by the pandemic are affecting and will continue to affect transportation, housing and societal norms.

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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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