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written by andy on

Once you’ve been in the advocacy and transportation business for so many years, it is hard not to have an opinion. So this is my home for now and thank you for reading.

Because of my involvement in various committees and groups, it is important to note that the opinion expressed here does not necessarily represent the opinion of the groups and committees that I belonged to, as well as the Transit Unlimited Wiki.

-Andy

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UK’s honest attempt at bike shuttle

written by andy on

These days, many major transportation structure like tunnels and bridges have bicycle and pedestrian paths built in to provide access to active transportation modes, whether it is for transportation or recreational purposes. But in previous decades, planners didn’t include them because they weren’t considered to be serious transportation.

While it is relatively inexpensive to include bike/ped path to new construction, it is rather cost prohibitive to add a path alongside an existing structure. It is estimated to cost up to $300 million to put a path on the western span of the Bay Bridge.

Either as an alternative to building a path, or as an interim measure until the path is built, could there be a dedicated bike shuttle service to bridge the gap? As the case of the Bay Bridge, Caltrans already operates a peak hour van with a bike trailer that carries 14 bicycles and riders. It runs 4 peak trips so the peak capacity is total of 56 bikes, far less than what Caltrain could carry on a single train on the Peninsula.

In the 1960s, Dartford Tunnel was opened east of London. It didn’t provide a bike path but there was a desire to provide bicycle access through the tunnel with a shuttle. The transportation authority procured special buses and platforms to shuttle bikes for free.

Dartford Tunnel Cycle Bus

The design of the buses was unique and bizarre. The lower deck comprised two cycle racks capable of taking 23 bicycles, accessible from either side of the bus. At the rear of the bus was a large space to accommodate tricycles, tandems, perambulators and sidecars. The upper deck of the bus provided seating for 33 passengers and was accessible via a series of steps built into the side of the bus. The cost of the whole fleet was a little over £12,000, and they were heralded as the first of this type of bus in the world.

Because the level of the bike rack and steps to the door are well above the ground, platforms (loading docks) were built to provide level access.

Despite the incredible level of investment provided, usage remained low (both sides of the crossings are suburbs). The buses were eventually replaced by SUVs equipped with bike racks. Today cyclists can request for a pick up at the entrance and service is provided on demand. Interestingly, when they added a second parallel tube and a parallel bridge to increase corridor capacity in the 80s and 90s, neither structures have bike paths.

If Caltrans had provided this level of investment and capacity for the Bay Bridge, I think it would be very well utilized. It would also attract cyclists who wouldn’t have used the bike path (if built) because of the distance and grade involved.

Caltrans could consider using double deck buses with interior racks on the lower level, stacked the same way as on Caltrain. They could consider very tall single level coaches with bike racks located where the baggage area normally is supposed to be. They could use a shuttle size bus and high capacity bike trailers. Some can take up to 24 bikes.

It seems like that we should consider these ideas seriously.

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An invisible rail to rail transfer

written by andy on

BART’s only standard gauge line between Pittsburg and Antioch is set to open sometime in May of this year. Given my long time advocacy (2 decades!) for standard rail over BART this is the only BART extension that I look forward to.

For many decades, there’s been a struggle between expanding BART versus expanding a standard gauge rail line like Caltrain in the Bay Area. BART’s hardware is unique and designed to work as an urban metro system (and also carries a high price tag). Caltrain’s hardware is off-the-shelf and designed for the suburban/regional environment. The expansions in question, whether it is to SFO or San Jose, is largely suburban and regional.

Some think that BART’s wide gauge custom design ought to be the only standard for regional transit in the Bay Area, as envisioned in the 1950s. They’ve been pushing BART around the Bay and BART replacing Caltrain. They think that other rail technologies somehow wouldn’t be capable to do what BART does. They would tell you that if you want trains every 15 minutes all day on the Peninsula, replace Caltrain by extending BART.

On the other hand many regions in the United States and beyond have trains that have different physical characteristics but operated by the same agency and even under the same brand. They often feature integrated fares and coordinated scheduling. In Los Angeles and Boston, lines that have color designations include urban metro lines, light rail lines, and bus routes (with dedicated bus ways). Systems in Seattle, Denver, and Salt Lake City operate the commuter rail and light rail. In case of Denver, the commuter rail and light rail are both electric, operate at high frequency, and share the same regional zone fare structure. So basically the branding of the train doesn’t require that they all have the same physical characteristics. If a Caltrain or a SMART train has BART logos and operate as frequent as BART, then they’re BART.

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Transit.wiki 10th anniversary

written by andy on

About 10 years ago, Transit Unlimited Wiki was born.

In 2008:

While the Bay Area has many transportation alternatives, it is often hard to figure out what options there are and how to use them. It can be especially confusing for new and infrequent riders and visitors on vacation or business. The goal of this project is to fill in the gaps left by the official transit web sites and online transit trip planners with the information and knowledge experienced riders have picked up along the way.

After 10 years, things have changed quite a bit.

  1. Trip planning and mapping technologies have advanced. Transit schedules now have a industry standard format.
  2. More transit agencies offer real time information. We support real time departure information on the wiki for agencies that offer open API access.
  3. We expanded beyond the Bay Area. In 2009 we expand coverage in Sacramento and Southern California. We are covering all the way to Chicago.
  4. Mobile devices are common today. We have a mobile version of the wiki.
  5. Transit agencies are using social media for service alerts and announcements. We integrate and embed these information whenever available to provide a one-stop shop.
  6. Complementary services like bike sharing is available in more locations.
  7. Agencies and cities are testing app-enabled ride services.
  8. Cities are building rail-like bus rapid transit lines with dedicated facilities.
  9. Saw significant reduction on transit due to the Great Recession, and seeing recovery in service as the economy improves.

We still have a lot more work to do. Eventually I want to see the wiki to cover coast to coast, from the Mexican border to the Canadian border. Besides the major cities, there’s transit in the rural areas (intercity and dial-a-ride) throughout the country.

I believe that this is the only wiki dedicated to transit service information available today. There were attempts for wikis to provide transit information. There are also wikis today that cover transit agencies in different aspects (professional planners, fleet details). I think part of this wiki’s success is the use of the Semantic MediaWiki extension, which allows the information to be entered once on a page and then queried many times in other pages. That’s how we could provide the same level of detail for transit service on some strip mall in a city, and provide interactive maps for a bus route, a region, a city, or a county. Our strength is still our agency-independence format and coverage, as well as a human touch beyond machine readable information formats like GTFS.

One of the most popular wikis for transit information is Wikipedia. The help of enthusiastic editors can allow transit information to be available in high details. However because of Wikipedia’s broad and general mission, as well as standard for notability and 3rd party reference, such information and level of detail may not always be appreciated. I believe that Transit.wiki and Wikipedia have separate roles even covering the same transit agency, route, or infrastructure. Transit.wiki focuses on being a user guide and directory, and Wikipedia focuses on background, history, and controversies.

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Reversing the dangerous trend of train-auto collisions on Caltrain

written by andy on

Recently there’s a dangerous trend where car drivers intrude onto the rail right of way. In many cases, the car simply got stuck on the track and trains were held while waiting for the tow truck to remove the vehicle. In other cases, the train hit the unoccupied vehicle. Either way, trains were delayed and rides got frustrated.


(Photo by Manborag via KRON4)

Below are the known incidents that involved vehicles entering the rail right of way in the past 8 years. This is a partial list since there are other non-collision intrusion events that are not reported in the news or through Twitter.

Certain patterns have emerged with these incidents:

  • Most of them do not result in injuries or deaths because the vehicle occupants were able to escape before the collision.
  • Most of them occurred during night or early morning hours when visibility is limited, which is especially problematic during winter months as daylights are much shorter than during summer months.
  • They occur at crossings immediately adjacent to street intersections, where distance is at most a few cars’ length.
  • Many of them turned right and entered the right of way when they tried to follow the GPS direction (that they should turn right after crossing the tracks) and were otherwise not familiar with the area (being from out of town).
  • Most frequently occurred at Broadway in Burlingame, and at Meadow and Charleston in south Palo Alto.

It is imperative for Caltrain to cut down the number of these collisions, as they are all preventable. These events not only cause serious service disruptions to train riders and others on the roads, they may result in fire (which occurred in the two February 2018 incidents).

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East Bay Coast Line Passenger Rail?

written by andy on

For almost 20 years, I have been looking at the issues with passenger rail between the East Bay, San Jose, and on the Peninsula. In the late 90s, before the focus towards extending BART south of Fremont, there were various ideas of building a rail connection via commuter trains.

There were 3 existing rail corridors available at that time. All of the plans include a connection with BART in the Union City area and take one of the 3 alignments to San Jose.

Despite the fact that the BART extension got approved, there’s still a proposal to connect the Capitol Corridor and Dumbarton trains at Union City. In order to do so, Capitol Corridor trains would have to reroute to a track next to BART and build a tunnel under the BART track at the south end. However it would not facilitate a direction between ACE and BART in the area. There’s an idea to build a BART station at the location where the tracks cross but it is neither supported by BART and the City of Fremont.

Considering the fact that it is no longer necessary for commuter rail to fill the rail gap between Fremont and San Jose (since BART will be extended), we should review plans of how to increase Capitol Corridor service and operate Dumbarton Rail in the East Bay.

A few facts:

Fremont continues to be unsupportive towards commuter rail. Back in late 90s, they were against commuter rail because it was presented as an alternative to extending BART, which was their top priority. Now they’ve an issue of the city acting as a pass through for long distance commuters and being a bedroom community for Peninsula/South Bay workers.

Capitol Corridor proposes a realignment of its trains to the Coast Line north of Newark to decrease travel time. Such realignment and speed improvement would require a dedicated corridor.

State Rail Plan calls for improvement for rail between Oakland and San Jose.

ACE drops plan to rail capacity expansions in the Niles Canyon area due to opposition from Fremont and others fearing additional freight trains. ACE needed additional capacity to divert freight trains to make room for more passenger trains.

A proposal below is to run the Dumbarton trains, rather than to Union City BART station as in nearly all the proposals studied, to Oakland Coliseum via the Coast Line. The Coast Line would have additional local stops. Capitol Corridor can provide express service on the Coast Line.

  • This plan avoids having commuter trains run through the core of Fremont.
  • It would have stops in Newark and Union City, which are more supportive of commuter rail.
  • It would provide rail service west of I-880. The current BART route is along the hills east of I-880.
  • Having Dumbarton rail connecting with BART in Union City requires riders further north to take BART and perhaps park at BART stations. While BART trains have room, the parking is not. If Dumbarton Rail runs on the Coast Line riders along that segment would have direct access and be able to park without competing space with BART riders heading to SF.
  • SF commuters living west of I-880 in Hayward and San Lorenzo can take Dumbarton Rail from stops along the Coast Line to Coliseum and transfer to BART, instead of driving or taking a bus to BART.
  • If for capacity reason that Dumbarton trains cannot share tracks with Caltrain on the Peninsula, running along the Coast Line would avoid a possible triple transfer.
  • Passenger rail on the Coast Line is compatible with a 2nd Transbay Tube.
  • It would leverage whatever improvements that are needed for a better Capitol Corridor service, especially if it is something on the scale of public ownership of the route. This is consistent with the vision laid out in the State’s Rail Plan.
  • A transfer station would be built at Newark Junction to allow transfers between ACE and Dumbarton Rail. Unless the tracks in Niles Canyon are improved (or a new corridor through tunneling), ACE service is restricted to 4 round trips a day. So the idea of direct service from the Tri-Valley and the Central Valley is not feasible without support from the Alameda County, particularly Fremont. Under this scenario, selected transbay trains would stop there with timed connection, which occurs about hourly. More frequent service would operate across the Bay and up to Oakland via the Coast Line.

Introducing transit service change repository

written by andy on

transit.wiki or transitunlimited.org has been up for almost 10 years highlighting transit routes and locations served by transit. Originally the wiki covered the San Francisco Bay Area agencies but it has been expanded to cover the entire western US. My hope is that it would cover the entire US someday.

One of the challenges with expansion is the need to keep to date with transit information as service changes over time. I try very hard to keep information current for major transit agencies, but there needs to be better tools to keep up.

Many transit agencies perform service changes at regular intervals up to 3 or 4 times a year. Due to federal laws and labor agreements, planners propose changes a few months ahead, conduct public hearings, perform federally mandated analyses, seek board approvals, and implement these changes at regularly scheduled driver sign-ups.

It is a lot of work, but the agencies do not present service change information the same way. Some of them put the information on a blog style web site and keep it permanently. Many put them on a single service change page where the information will be replaced for the next change. Some of them put in PDFs as part of a news release. Often times the information is hard to find once the change is implemented. You have to go to the Internet Archive to look for it.

We have good repositories for schedule and route info in GTFS format, with such sites as transitfeeds.com. You can not only find the current info but past data from years past.

While you can check and see the changes by comparing information between versions, it is not as easy as to check the service change materials. Also the service change materials often present why they are changing routes and schedules.

The wiki has expanded to become a repository for the changes. Pages can be added to the wiki to include the source material from the agency about the service changes. Once it is saved, it stays.

https://www.transit.wiki/About:AC_Transit

There’s also a calendar that highlights the past and upcoming service changes among all the agencies.

https://www.transit.wiki/Service_change_calendar

This help keeps me informed with changes that may need updates on the wiki, such as route changes, new routes, and route discontinuations.

For you, this information can provide insights of why things changed, may that be due to ridership or changes in funding.

VTA tells stadiums: pay up or else

written by andy on

This is what VTA telling Sharks fan this season:

VTA will no longer offer direct service to or from Santa Teresa light rail station to San Fernando and Diridon Station for special events and games at SAP. In June the VTA Board of Directors adopted a Special Events Policy for event venues to reimburse VTA for services requested beyond its regular service. SAP has chosen not to request the additional service for Sharks games. There is still direct service to and from Winchester, although no extra trains post event.

This is part of an ongoing pattern for the last 17 years: Want more taxes but don’t want to spend the money on services.

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Comments on Dumbarton Transportation Corridor Study

written by andy on

In August, SamTrans released a Facebook funded study of the Dumbarton Transportation Corridor. This study was a follow up to the rail project on the same corridor which was canceled due to lack of funding.

This study proposes various improvements on the highway corridor to speed up high occupancy vehicle traffic and buses, as well as to develop the rail corridor for bus and rail service.

My hope for this study is to have something that can be delivered within 5 years. In the past, there have been many studies for major improvements along the bridge corridors, but didn’t go forward because of the high costs involved. Below are my comments on the study. There are some elements that I agree with, yet there are other elements that the planners ought to consider.

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Transit agencies and TNCs

written by andy on

This is a response to comments made by SamTrans board members at its board meeting in April. Considering the suburban environment and the desire for more transportation options, there seems to be an interest by transit agencies in leveraging Transportatation Networking Companies. While I support the concept of having more transportation choices, I am also concerned about the business models of these companies and their compatibility with those at transit agencies. If we have a better understanding about our choices, we can get the benefits of the TNCs but without having the rest of the TNC business models that may not work so well.

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Response to Jarrett Walker study of Silicon Valley Transit

written by andy on

Late last year, VTA hired a star transit consultant Jarrett Walker (also is one of the founders of BayRail Alliance, when it was known as Peninsula Rail 2000) to review the bus network at VTA in hopes to increase transit ridership. Recently Walker released a report and challenged conventional wisdoms. This blog briefly summarized the report’s findings so I won’t cover it here. The following are more of my reviews.

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