Picking Up the Pace and Wasting Less

Need for State and Federal Oversight:

Much of the funding needed to develop infrastructure in the Bay Area comes from State and federal sources.

Pursuant to the passage of the Urban Mass Transportation Act in 1964, federal funds began to be directed to various local and regional transit improvement projects. To avoid the heavy-handed and physically taxing involvement of the federal government in thousands of local and regional projects, Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO’s) were established across the country.

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Transit “Connectivity”, the Real Estate Development Way

Alameda County Measure BB, passed in 2014, included $400 million to connect BART to Livermore. In 2017 the State Legislature (AB 758) set up the Tri-Valley San Joaquin Regional Rail Authority (TVSQVRRA) and, according to the Legislative Analyst, charged it with “planning, developing, and delivering cost-effective and responsive transit connectivity between BART and the Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) commuter rail service in the Tri-Valley, that meets the goals and objectives of the community, as specified”.

Any rational observer would take this to mean connecting BART to Livermore and ACE in a manner convenient to train riders and would-be train riders. But the TVSQVRRA, we later learned, had other plans. Instead of a viable connection between BART and ACE in Livermore, TVSQVRRA wants to build a 43-mile Valley Link line extending from BART’s East Dublin terminal to North Lathrop, over 30 winding track miles northeast of Livermore.

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BART’s Link 21 Project – Status Report

In August of 2019 BART, in conjunction with the Capital Corridor Joint Powers Authority, launched the ambitious Link 21 project. The plan is to build a second subaqueous rail crossing between Oakland and San Francisco, and create a single highly integrated passenger rail network in Northern California.

Here is an abstruse extract from a recent BART Link 21 team report:

“The Link21 Team is using a Business Case Framework to guide Program Development and Stage Gate processto manage risk. Program Development has been brokeninto three phases; Phase 0 – Program Definition, Phase 1 – Program Identification, and Phase 2 – Project Selection

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Muni Metro – the Case for In-Line Coupling – Part II

San Francisco’s Muni Metro system was originally designed to operate one and two-car trains on city streets, where longer trains weren’t needed, and then to couple the short trains into three and four car trains suitable for subway travel. This arrangement was used from the time the Muni Metro system opened in 1980 until the mid-1990’s when the General Manager of the SFPUC (which then operated Muni) made his fateful decision to discontinue the coupling. This meant that in order to keep up with demand it would be necessary to operate the one and two car trains in the subway. As demand increased it was necessary to continually increase the number of these short trains to the point of their completely overloading the subway and causing the entire Muni Metro system to be snarled up, virtually on a daily basis.

In early 2020 the drop in transit use caused by COVID temporarily put the problem on ice.

But now demand is starting to rise again, meaning that if nothing changes the SFMTA will likely soon be faced with the same problem. Absent coupling, the dreary choice will be to 1.) again overload the subway with short trains, or 2.) send unnecessarily long trains out into the avenues to disrupt cross traffic, or 3.) force a substantial number of Muni Metro riders to transfer between trains to get to the eastern parts of the city. None of the three is acceptable.

For this reason it is necessary to take another look at coupling, which the SFMTA has so far refused to do or even talk about, despite the fact that passenger trains are successfully coupled and uncoupled during revenue service in many parts of the world.

It is emphasized that in the case of the Muni Metro system, six branch lines all feed into one Market Street subway which make San Francisco’s system much more dependent on coupling than most other systems. Here are several ways of proceeding without gumming up the subway, disrupting the avenues or degrading the service for a sizable percentage of Muni Metro riders:

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Golden Gate Sleaze Awards

The Valley Link Project:  Who in their right mind would spend upwards of $3 billion to wind a second set of duplicative tracks through empty hills to make way for a second low ridership rail line?!

The East Dublin Parking Garage:  It would take 76 years to recover the investment.

SMART:  It currently costs SMART over $60 to provide a one-way ride on its system to a SMART rider, who pays back less of $4 of that amount at the farebox. The other $56 + is forked over by the hapless tax payers of Marin and Sonoma Counties.

The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority’s (VTA’s) BART Phase II Project:  Four miles of gold-plated subway whose price has rocketed from $4.7 billion to an astonishing $9.15 billion.

The Muni Central Subway Project:  Oversold and Overpriced. It is now four years late and saddled with a $353 million unpaid debt.

The Link 21 Study:  Planners have spent 35 months and $42 million providing what? No one seems to know.