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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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16th Street train trolley connection

written by andy on

Caltrain electrification is the most significant project for the system in its history, and also one of the transformational transportation projects on the Peninsula and Silicon Valley. This project has taken more than a decade to plan. As Caltrain and parallel highways are becoming more congested, this project is needed more than before to increase corridor capacity, despite the fact that Caltrain may have to reduce service to accommodate construction.

Beyond the basic proposal to string overhead wires and buying electric railcars.  There are also related elements where there’s no consensus, no decision, or no funding to complete, but are complementary to electrification. These include level boarding, high speed rail blended service, downtown extension, and grade separations. These elements, regardless of which stage of planning they are in, generally do not impact with the timetable for electrification.

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San Francisco’s greed, Peninsula pays

written by andy on

There’s a lot going on regarding Caltrain system improvements and high speed rail. When these projects were conceived 20-30 years ago, it just seemed like all they had to do is to put up wires over the tracks and some new tunnels from the existing 4th & King terminal. Now the policy makers will be asked about common platform heights, a new tunnel alignment, and possibly moving a rail yard?

We know that the real estate in the Bay Area is hot right now, and the pressure for more development is strong. The 4th & King site is eyed as the next big development for San Francisco. If it is done right, Caltrain service needs will be addressed as a part of the plan, but there are ideas that will compromise Caltrain’s operational needs, delay critical projects, and will require regional funding to complete. Read the rest of this page »

The next big mistake?

written by andy on

If you ride Muni Metro, you should notice that it is a system that has high platform stations (all underground stops and stops along the T Line) and low platform stations (street level stops west of downtown). The steps change when trains entering and exiting the subway. The dual platform height has been the standard since the Market Street subway was open in around 1980, when old streetcars that ran on the surface of Market Street was rerouted to use the subway. At that time, engineers wanted level boarding in downtown but low floor vehicle was not available. Vehicles with movable steps allows high platforms in downtown and street level boarding in the west side.

For more than 35 years, Muni Metro has had reliability issues. One of the factors contributing to poor reliability is the use of movable steps. Some advocated that Muni should change to low floor vehicles and convert high platforms to low levels. However, Muni is building more high platforms for the Central Subway extension as well as purchasing a 3rd generation of high floor vehicles with movable steps. This time the manufacturer claims that their doors would be more reliable. Let’s see what happens.

For many agencies that built light rail in the 1980s, they also had challenges in meeting accessibility and level boarding. Their first generation vehicles were high floor, but use low level platforms throughout the system for a better pedestrian accessibility and appearance. Many of them, including VTA, chose the path of low floor vehicles.

As Caltrain is pursuing electrification, Caltrain is considering various options for floor heights and door configurations for new electric vehicles. It is doing so because some advocates have expressed desire for level boarding as well as common platform height with high speed rail. It is a complex decision. There are no simple choices. A wrong decision would a ripple affect on train operation elsewhere and impacts to other cities. Read the rest of this page »

Making transit more seamless

written by andy on

Recently SPUR, a regional planning think tank, issued a report in how to make the Bay Area Transit system more integrated and easier to use. The report identifies many deficiencies in the region’s transit in regards to fare and service coordinations. The report also makes numerous recommendations on removing the kinks and improve rider experience.

Does the Bay Area have too many transit agencies?

Many think that it is so, especially considering that in other transit rich regions there tends to be just one or a few transit agencies (Boston, Philadelphia, to name a few). On the other hand, the Bay Area is big and geographically diverse. The transit needs in suburban Livermore for instance are very different that in San Francisco. There are few if any advantages in cost or operational efficiencies for major agency consolidations. Furthermore, local politicians want local tax dollars to stay in the community, even though transit productivity may be far lower than if the same funding is used elsewhere. Read the rest of this page »

Private vs. public transit

written by andy on

Recently there are more private commute transit options being introduced in San Francisco, with most services focused on connecting affluent neighborhoods like the Marina with Downtown SF and SOMA. Opinions differ whether it is a good addition to a variety of transportation options, or a competition against public transit like Muni.
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Vision Zero for Caltrain

written by andy on

A number of fatalities occurred on Caltrain tracks in the last two plus months is approaching to that of the entire 2014. The latest incident on Monday is the 8th of the year while there were only 10 fatalities last year. The trend is alarming.

As this incident is being investigated, preliminary report suggests it is a suicide of a high school student. Suicide is a particularly difficult issue for Caltrain since it cannot reliably be eliminated with standard safety measures such as fencing and grade crossing upgrades, which Caltrain has invested in over the last 15 years and has successfully reduced unintended deaths and injuries.

While some blame the existence of Caltrain as the cause of the suicides, and suggesting solutions such as eliminating the trains, the slow the trains down significantly. I disagree. The train tracks have existed for more than a century and Caltrain has essentially run on the same schedule and same speed for almost 10 years. According to a study done in 2010 on the issue, there is no definite pattern in terms of where and when these incidents occur over a long period of time. Suggesting shutting down Caltrain is as useful as suggesting banning automobiles to eliminate traffic collisions, or banning alcohol to eliminate DUIs. Our highways are congested, people still need to commute, and communities like Palo Alto continue to benefit from the trains. Read the rest of this page »

Offering more frequent midday Caltrain service

written by andy on

Caltrain ridership has reached an all time high and trains are more crowded than ever. With economic recovery ongoing, 101 continues to get congested beyond the traditional peak hours. On Caltrain, not only the peak hour trains are crowded, the ridership is also growing on the shoulder peak trains.

One of the things that irks some Caltrain riders is the fact that Caltrain runs hourly midday service. It wasn’t used to be that way. In year 2000, Caltrain first added hourly service to the midday schedule. It was reverted to hourly service in 2009 in response to the agency’s budget crisis.

1999 Schedule2000 Schedule2005 Schedule2009 Schedule

I do think that it is an appropriate time to restore more service during the midday hours. However, Caltrain is currently rebuilding rail bridges in San Mateo and requires single tracking through the area during the midday hours. This construction is supposed to last until next year.

Below is a schedule I proposed that would do a few things: provide 2 trains per hour midday, allow single tracking through San Mateo, provide faster service to most stops. Read the rest of this page »