Friday, August 17, 2012

Just how flawed can San Francisco Bay Area transit agencies can get

Just how flawed can Bay Area transit agencies can get

The flaws of public transportation in the Bay Area.

I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for about fifteen years. I notice while San Francisco do have a number of transportation options there is a lot of flaws with the system. Mostly the flaws have to do with the management of the system. While it is true that passenger train and rail transit lags behind in the US and around the state of California as compared to European and Asian cities there are some things I just find ridiculous and inexcusable.
Santa Clara VTA Montage.jpg
Take Santa Clara county Valley Transportation Authority for example, I noticed they always complained they are short on funding and have to cut back. However at the same time they keep expanding their "light rail" network which people often describe as the lightly used rail. The projects are quite expensive but they push on by compromising their existing service and laying off employees. The rail system was expanded from a history trolley system in downtown and into a full scale system in 1987 and continued to expand afterwards. The system was quite expensive to build and run sometimes needing expensive elevated structures such as the 3 mile long flyover above Great Mall Parkway in Milpitas. It is also subsidized more than bus service. For example VTA buses issue no free nor discount transfers meaning one would need to pay the full single ride fare currently $2 each boarding which can be hefty if two or three buses necessary to get to ones destination and its rare to not need to transfer. If you take three buses you might as well buy a $6 day pass. However for the light rail, which runs under the honor system which, unlike buses or BART, tickets are not checked to enter the train however it is expected to be retained for rare fare inspections by one of the five fare inspectors systemwide), one "single ride ticket" which is Good for light rail only actually allows unlimited rides and transfers on the light rail system for up to two hours. There is even a 8 hour $3.50 pass that is good for light rail only that bridges the gap between the 2 hour ticket and the $6 day pass. Therefore it is actually cheaper to take light rail than the bus. Also the system is lined up in a method that is quite useless to much of the population. I.e. they expanded the system toward the east side after heading to the north northside and Milpitas where there is low density homes, apartments, and big box stores, very few people would ride a system that is quite far for their house having to walk through neighborhood and big parking lots  and requires them ride in the opposite direction that they are going unless they want to head to Milpitas or North San Jose. If they worked in the cities of Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, or Mountain View they would need to transfer to another line at Baypointe or Tasman station. Nowadays VTA plans to extend the line down Capital Expressway all the way down to Capital light rail station which is even more useless as the population density near much of Capital Expressway is low and the light rail doesn't appear to go in the direction much of the population would travel. If VTA wants a rail system that would do good to the general population they should build to places that already has a high density population and high transit ridership. The Campbell line is the only line that kinds of meet this requirement as it links higher density cities and provides light rail to San Jose Diridon station the main station for Caltrain, ACE, and Amtrak. It would be much sensible have extended the existing light rail from its Mountain View terminus to Palo Alto downtown would had been a much better candidate for light rail as its European like neighborhoods encourages walking and transit which many residents already do. VTA should also had planned a line between the European styled shopping residential complex Santana row and Eastridge transit center thru San Jose Diridon station.  The line should go in a subway under Santa Clara street between Diridon station and 24th street where currently the busiest bus lines run nowadays and BART is already planned to tunnel there. It can work just like how Muni tunnel lines under market street in San Francisco at the same time eliminating the current light rail sidewalk crawl through downtown area. The light rail line should then travel eastward via 24th street and McLaughlin where there are many high density residential apartments, condos, and shopping as well as Story rd overpass to busy Story and King road Intersection and near San Jose Giants stadium, and down Tully Rd to Eastridge transit center which is also in a busy high density neighborhood with high bus ridership and many bus lines converge here. However the plan for light rail had been scrapped completely and in its place a Bus rapid transit corridor has been implemented as line 522 which runs parallel to VTA's busiest bus line line 22. Even more ridiculous is that VTA opened an "express light rail service" in Oct 2010 that skips stops in the fastest portion of the line when the light rail runs down the middle of the highway 87/85 corridor at freeway speeds but same fare and does not require upgrade to express fare unlike with vta express buses. However the so called "express train" only save 4 minutes through the skipping five stations between  Ohlone/Chynoweth and Convention Center in Downtown and still has to crawl through the downtown sidewalk at seven miles per hour and only this idea makes no sense at all. Not to mention in 2003 VTA scrapped its entire fleet of Urban Transportation Development Corporation Light rail cars that were barely more than a decade old with brand new Kinki Sharyo Co light rail cars on which is quite wasteful when they should have just added new ones to the fleet as needed. The new elevated platforms that provide level boarding for the new trains can make boarding the steps easier for the old trains. The old trains were compatible  as well as the height of the bottom of the door is the same for both trains this is proven by this picture Light-rail station

Another big issue is San Mateo County which is often known as the Peninsula.  If we compare the Peninsula and east bay its a no brainer that the Peninsula which consists of a corridor of relatively densely populated cities and town on the narrow strip of land between the coast range and the bay with US101 and El Camino Real runs right through the heart of all cities downtown a metro rapid rail system like Bay Area Rapid Transit or commonly known as BART with frequent headways and quick acceleration/braking capabilities would be the most suitable compared to a heavy rail train(caltrain) which has many operation limits therefore reducing frequency and takes much longer to get up to speed and stop. However due to bureaucratic issues BART had been banned from the Peninsula but built in the sprawling low density spread out east bay. Its hard to believe that places like Fremont, Dublin/Pleasanton, Concord, or Pittsburg having BART metro trains that runs every fifteen minutes all day yet in the more densely populated Peninsula where its city center after city center in a line and many employment opportunities they only have a diesel heavy rail train(Caltrain) that only runs hourly midday and most local non express runs takes more than an hour and half to complete the run. The express trains of Caltrain which skips stops only travel during commute hour, while it gets end to end between San Jose & San Francisco quicker, however it skips out most of the stops making it hard for many mid peninsula residents to ride. In the east bay the Bay Area rapid transit is usually only good for trips to San Francisco or Oakland unlike in the Peninsula which can be used for travel between local cities where many employment opportunities in addition to basic needs which a metro system is meant for.  Therefore under common sense a commuter train which was there before BART was built is more suited for east bay cities while BART is most suitable for the Peninsula. Though due to various bureaucratic issues now we have a frequent headway metro in the sprawling suburban east bay and a low frequency headway commuter train in the densely populated Peninsula which is quite dangerous as it had killed many people due to frequent grade crossings which BART does not have. Its only a matter of time before a major crash between Caltrain and a freight train to cause a major disaster in those densely populated neighborhoods. This is not to mention how locomotive horns disturbs the surrounding community which lowers the desirability of living in a transit oriented neighborhood. Also BART should had been built to serve more location in San Francisco than it currently does. Currently BART is the fastest means of transportation within San Francisco however it only serves a narrow corridor down market toward Daly City. It would be in the best interest of the public to have BART serve the corridor to west San Francisco in place of those sluggish Muni light rail street cars and serve the new central subway corridor. BART had originally planned a line to Marin County north of the Golden Gate Bridge however the county turned down due to the cost to the county. There should also be more BART lines traveling through San Francisco as a whole such as down Geary street and to other main residential areas of the city on the especially on the west side so they can commute at ease to the main business centers of the city which is now painfully slow with the existing Municipal railway and bus system.

Though the flaws is not just with public transit. Freeway and street design is also pretty bad throughout the bay area especially through the San Jose area where from narrow back streets to the largest throughfares the roads often have to both dodge residential and commercial development, farmlands, and other hazards resulting in constant merges. Many times roads narrow suddenly to dodge someone's house or yard therefore it is only a matter of time before someone runs into a house. Freeway lanes also suddenly disappear and reappear in stretches it seems like they never finish the job of widening the roadways resulting in constant bottlenecks. 101 through San Jose is a great example of this situation as well as 280 and 880. Its very hard and prohibitively expensive to change infrastructure once it is built. Therefore a lesson for all projects in any urban area is for urban governments to cooperate and think about the future rather than be shortsighted.

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