Category Archives: BART

Infrastructure Solutions for the Eastshore Freeway Corridor

This is the first post in a two post series about maximizing mobility along the Eastshore Freeway Corridor in the Eastern San Francisco Bay Area. In this first post, I will concentrate on the infrastructure improvements that could alleviate congestion and lack of mobility in the area. In the second post I will focus on service improvements that will help achieve these goals. 

The Eastshore Freeway Corridor in the Eastern San Francisco Bay Area is plagued by chronic congestion. Unlike most freeways, the I-80/580 Eastshore Freeway is congested for elongated periods – generally 11am to 8pm on weekdays and 9am to 8pm on weekends. Southbound is generally more congested than northbound, although northbound during the PM peak is the most severe congestion on the roadway. At 10 lanes wide, the Eastshore Freeway cannot feasibly be widened and the current approach to managing transportation in the corridor is not effective as evidenced by 9+ hours of congestion every day. The current drive to improve freeway congestion in the corridor is well-intentioned and will substantially reduce congestion for a very low cost using ITS (intelligent transportation systems). While this approach to improving mobility has its merits, the sheer density and demand in this corridor requires a big-picture, large investment focus in addition to intermediate steps such as the the current Integrated Corridor Mobility Project.

Based on the environmental documents for the I-80 Integrated Corridor Mobility Project, almost 30% of traffic along I-80 West in the AM peak is traveling to and from Emeryville and Berkeley.  Most transit service currently serves the Downtown San Francisco and Downtown Oakland destinations along this corridor. Here I would like to present a radical re-imagining of mobility in the corridor to address this 30% (almost 80,000 AADT) of travelers whose origins and destinations lie within West Berkeley and Emeryville. This new look will address both local travelers and those entering the area from outside North Alameda County. First, local solutions.

Bounded by San Pablo Avenue and the Eastshore Freeway, this study area has existing, frequent, AC Transit bus transit service on San Pablo Avenue from north to south, and University Avenue fron east to west. In Emeryville, a municipally-operated shuttle, Emery-Go-Round, connects major employment destinations with MacArthur BART approximately 2 miles away. In addition, AC Transit operates routes 26 and 49, both of which pass through the area but run infrequently and do not directly serve high travel demand destinations. Amtrak operates the Capitol Corridor intercity train service that stops in West Berkeley and Emeryville, but peak frequency is one train per hour. Railroad right of way in the area is plentiful – existing condition is generally 3-4 tracks with between 10 and 30 lateral feet of additional right of way available.

To best provide local mobility along this corridor three solutions seem the most cost effective and realistic. First is constructing a true bus rapid transit line along San Pablo Avenue so AC Transit can provide more effective north-south service in the corridor. Current plans for a BRT corridor along International Boulevard in Oakland provide a great model for San Pablo – dedicated inner lanes over the corridor, signal prioritization and distinct, rail-like stations. Another shorter BRT corridor east-west along University Avenue would complement the San Pablo and Telegraph BRT services well, tying them together and connecting Downtown Berkeley and the dense University corridor to West Berkeley and Emeryville. Again, dedicated median lanes with rail-like stations would maximize ridership and transit effectiveness. The third and most significant proposed infrastructure investment in this study area is the implementation of a Bus Rapid Transit “Super-Loop” in the style of San Diego MTD’s SuperLoop service in La Jolla. Fully dedicated lanes and stations would begin at MacArthur BART and continue on a loop Emeryville, including a stop at the Watergate office tower complex. The short length of this corridor could allow for very frequent service, and prioritization would ensure speedy travel times. This type of transit service is exactly what sustains a transit oriented community, and it could help re-orient Emeryville towards transit instead of the current automobile-dependent model of its development.

Longer trips that begin outside the study area could also be greatly aided with the strategic addition of cost-effective infrastructure. Current express bus service generally caters to “traditional” commuters traveling to San Francisco in the AM peak and returning to the East Bay in the PM peak. AC Transit has, however, attempted to address the reverse commute to Emeryville and West Berkeley with the Z Transbay Line. This line is slow, runs infrequently and does not effectively serve many of the high travel demand destinations in the area. The BRT Super-Loop mentioned earlier would be key in a re-orientation of express bus service in the area. With HOV lane connections to the super loop from I-80 near Ashby Avenue and I-580 near MacArthur Boulevard, express bus service could rapidly and effectively serve travelers from as far away as Vallejo and Castro Valley. Current express bus services simply bypasses the area on the freeway – missing out on nearly 30% of the travel market that originates or is destined to West Berkeley and Emeryville. Some bus service that currently serves Downtown San Francisco from various East Bay destinations could be rerouted around the Super-Loop with a surprisingly small amount of delay (likely around 10 minutes), massively increasing viability of Transbay services that have seen a decline in ridership in recent years due to job fragmentation across the area.

A longer-term solution to mobility along the corridor lies in the vastly underused railway right-of-way currently used by Amtrak. The under construction eBART line in Eastern Contra Costa County and SPRINTER line in Northern San Diego County have set precedents for diesel multiple unit light rail service in California. As a first stage towards eventual electrification, DMU service could easily and cheaply be provided along the Amtrak right of way. Stations spaced between 0.75 and 1 mile apart along the corridor could support transit oriented development yet still allow for quick regional service. In fact, this DMU would be best utilized if it were extended outside the project area along the Amtrak right-of-way to Jack London Square or the Colosseum in Oakland, and to Richmond or further north in the other direction. Such a project would fulfill the requirements of the currently proposed wBART extension north of Richmond and also improve utilization of the existing corridor without requiring any new right-of-way. Even better, this line could connect to a future Transbay Tube, as suggested by Yonah Freemark over the the Transport Politic.

Many exciting options exist for serving this largely neglected portion of the Bay Area with transit. Improving mobility in the Eastshore Freeway Corridor is already underway with the ICM project, and it can only get better from here.

BART’s Future Washington Metro-Style

This is a map I composed my Senior Year in high school, cleaned up and updated for posting on here. It details the potential future configuration of rapid transit in the Bay Area, including running Caltrain as a rapid transit service with an integrated fare structure. The graphic style invokes the classic Washington Metro map, where uniformity takes precedence over geographical accuracy and scale. A metro map, after all, is intended to help you get around the metro system, not drive around the area. I hope you will find this map as enjoyable to view as it was for me to create.

A True Rapid Transit Plan for San Francisco

Considering the huge amount of time it took me to create this map, I only have a few words to go with it:

The main ideas on this map are:

1. Geary/19th Avenue BART Line including a Second Transbay Tube

2. Folsom/Van Ness BART Line also connecting to the Second Transbay Tube

3. Replacing the N-Judah Muni Metro line between 19th Avenue and the Market Street Subway with tunneled LRT

4. Los Angeles-style busways on San Francisco freeways, including mid-freeway stops as noted

5. A north-south LRT line in the Sunset

6. A bus terminal and transit hub for the Golden Gate Bridge at Van Ness and Geary

7. Extension of the F-Market and E-Embarcadero lines to the Palace of Fine Arts

8. Extension of the T-Third Street line to North Beach and Fisherman’s Wharf

9. Infill stations at 30th/Mission and Oakdale

Rail Transit to Airports: Fair or Not?

Rail transit connections to airports are exceedingly popular in American Metropolitan Areas. Right now, a massive extension of the Washington Metro System is scheduled to reach the far-off Dulles Airport, and BART in the San Francisco Bay Area is preparing to build its controversial Oakland Airport Connector.

Billions and billions of dollars have gone to building extensions to airports, or designing new rail transit lines to connect to airports, like the BART to SFO Extension and Minneapolis’ Hiawatha Line, respectively.

The reason airport connections for rail transit are so popular is, yet again, purely political. Social fairness, or even cost-effectiveness, are generally not high priorities on airport extensions. Yes, it is nice to take the train to and from the airport instead of needing to park a car, but looking at the demographics and ridership numbers for airport stations tells an entirely different story. The cost of flying makes the average transit rider to airports much more affluent and white, and the vast majority of airport stations do not attract large numbers of riders, especially compared to stations in proximity to intercity rail stations.

The BART SFO Airport Extension is an especially ridiculous project due to the fare policies of the district. A large surcharge is added to all trips to the airport, effectively preventing airport employees from taking transit to work. The situation is so skewed that the airport began running a shuttle between Millbrae Station, the closest BART station with no surcharge, and the airport, so employees could avoid the surcharge.

With low ridership and disproportionately rich riders, airport extensions should not be a priority for rail transit in the United States. Instead, like I say in nearly every post,  rail investment in high-density urban area should be the focus of intercity rail transit going forward. Well-planned urban subway lines, like Los Angeles’ Red Line and the urban portions of the Washington Metro System, are effective at attracting a huge number of riders, and vastly changing land use patterns. The Westside Subway Extension in Los Angeles and many BART extensions I’ve previously suggested are far better uses of taxpayer money than, for example, the complicated and expensive extension of the Green Line (or Crenshaw Corridor) to LAX, the Oakland Airport Connector, or the BART connection to San Jose International Airport at the Santa Clara Station. Miami Metrorail’s airport extension also falls under this umbrella of ineffective transit investment, especially considering how underused the rest of that city’s metro system is.

Urban rail transit is the best use of limited transit capital funds, not suburban extensions and especially not airport extensions. End of story.

The Failures of Cost Effectiveness

In my last two posts, I have discussed large-scale modifications of Los Angeles’ Light Rail System, namely large subway segments replacing existing surface tracks for the purpose of increasing capacity by removing two critical bottlenecks on the system: the connection between the Gold Line and the Regional Connector and the divergence at the intersection of Washington Blvd and Flower St. This post will further reveal my position on capital funding of transit projects, and why heavy investment in rail infrastructure expensive and politically difficult, yet far more beneficial in the long term.

Cost effectiveness is a hot term in transit funding these days. The Federal Transit Administration makes an objective review of all projects vying for New Starts funding based on cost effectiveness. This evaluation broadly looks at three things: cost of the project, ridership projections and solvency of the agency sponsoring the project. Ridership is looked at in terms of gross riders, new transit riders and passengers who switch transit modes. Sponsoring agencies get high scores if they lack budget deficits, and have operations money to pay for the New Starts project if built. In this formula, riders who switch from driving to transit are disproportionately valuable for the cost effectiveness score.

This cost effectiveness rating is helpful in weeding out some really awful projects from New Starts money, like the Orange Line Metrorail in Miami, but critically doesn’t account for land use changes and long-term economic impact of large-scale transit projects.

The most modern examples of high cost transit projects in the United States are, of course, the three large heavy rail systems build in the early 1970’s in San Francisco, Washington D.C. and Atlanta. The Washington Metro, widely considered the best of the three, has made an incredible impact on the DC Area in the last 40 years. Downtown Washington has remained a center, and inner suburbs like Bethesda, Silver Spring and the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor have vastly grown in density and livability. Many of the practices followed by the planners of the Washington Metro contributed to this success. These included expensive subways in areas of limited density, like Rosslyn-Ballston, an entire network planned, with construction in phases, and a general vision for the future. A newer extension to Dulles Airport abandons many of these principles, especially the lack of a subway through the Tyson’s Corner area. The reason a tunnel through Tyson’s will not be a part of the extension is the FTA New Starts cost effectiveness requirement, which would have classified the project as “medium” instead of “medium-high”, potentially eliminating 900 million dollars of Federal funding.

In 40 years, Tyson’s Corner could be an entirely different place, with far more density, due to a large investment in rail transit now. Paying a little bit more now could facilitate a huge amount of future economic growth. Situations like the original Washington Metro System and BART in Northern California show the massive growth high-investment rail transit can attract after 40+ years of existence. These situations encourage the high-cost subway alternatives for light rail capacity growth in Los Angeles, which will massively increase total network capacity, permitting the very high frequency rail transit that attracts development. In 40 years, Los Angeles could be an entirely different place, with dense corridors surrounding high capacity rail transit lines. If we concentrate on the upfront costs of projects and neglect the long term benefit of higher investment in infrastructure, we will miss out on a whole new generation of transportation systems in the United States. A dollar now, invested in high-quality infrastructure, will be 10 or more dollars in the future in economic benefit. We just have to overcome political squabbling and funding gaps. An easy solution is to redirect Federal highway subsidies, but that is a story for another time.

Please, chime in. This article is just the beginning of my thoughts and I would like to hear those of my readers.

BART to Livermore: A Costly Proposition

BART opened in 1972, completed its entire base system in 1976 and only began to expand nearly twenty years later in 1994. In 1994 the extensions to Pittsburg/Bay Point and Colma began to open. The former is an 8 mile extension from Concord, the center of Central Contra Costa County to outer Pittsburg, a sprawling suburb. To give you an idea of the surroundings of the stations on this extension, check out this picture:

That’s right: the station is in the middle of a freeway, surrounded by oceans of surface parking and low-density or no-density parcels, many of which aren’t even developed. This extension does serve 15,000 passengers a day, but it is exactly the kind of passengers a rapid transit system like BART is not designed to serve. These passengers mostly make the one-hour journey to San Francisco in the morning and return in the evening, driving to and from the station. BART is currently planning to extend its system further east into the sprawl of far Eastern Contra Costa County, but that’s a topic for a different post.

The point of mentioning the Pittsburg/Bay Point extension is to provide a considerable contrast for the recently announced locally preferred alternative (LPA) for the upcoming BART extension to Livermore, another outer suburb.

BART to Livermore’s LPA makes no cost compromises and has been designed with high ridership as the first priority. Trains will whisk by traffic on 580 at 70 miles per hour until the Portola Avenue exit in Livermore. From there, a cut and cover subway under Portola Avenue will take trains to an intermodal station with the Altamont Commuter Express system. Trains will emerge from the subway and share their terminal station, Vasco Road, with ACE.

Preliminary ridership estimates are in the 30,000-40,000 range, fairly impressive for an extension into essentially the exurbs. Cost, however, is projected at over three billion dollars, over three times as much as the Dublin/Pleasanton Extension which brought BART to the Amador Valley.

Cost aside, BART has avoided its past habit to turn stations into seas of parking with no development in sight by placing the two stations on this extension far (relatively) from the freeway and in currently urbanized areas. Other alternatives for this extension called for a station at Greenville Road, miles from Livermore’s current urban growth boundary.

Now about the cost:

In the grand scheme of government spending, or the GDP of the United States or California, 3 billion dollars is chump change. When it comes to transportation funding, however, three billion is huge. BART has yet to commit any funding at all for this extension, except a small trickle for engineering studies. The Federal Transit Administration, despite its recent pattern of funding huge projects (East Side Access, ARC Tunnel, Transbay Transit Center), is unlikely to provide much funding for a project of questionable short term cost effectiveness.

I say short term cost effectiveness because this project’s capital cost per rider is very high, and these ridership estimates are questionably high (50,000+ riders in an area with only 120,000 residents??) Of more significance is the basis of this project, just like every BART project since the Embarcadero Infill Station was built in 1976: extend BART out further, and further into the suburbs and exurbs.

The bottom line is that the 3 billion for BART to Livermore would be a brilliant down payment for a second Transbay Tube, or a heavy rail line under Geary Boulevard, or even infill stations on current lines in key locations like Solano Avenue (Albany), 58th Street, San Antonio, Melrose and Temescal (Oakland), 30th Street/Mission (San Francisco) and Oak Grove (Concord). These stations would increase ridership, allow for a dramatic increase in transit oriented development and make BART a more effective system for the areas it already serves. 3 billion dollars could likely construct all of these stations with funds to spare for BART’s sorely needed fleet replacement program.

In the end, yes, BART to Livermore is a better thought-out project than previous suburban extensions, namely Pittsburg/Bay Point. But, 3 billion dollars in the scarce climate of transportation capital funding should be put to better use. To reiterate, the priorities and organization of BART forces a suburban focus upon the system, at a negative benefit to most riders. Disbanding BART, MTC, and many of the other agencies that have botched Bay Area transit priorites for the last twenty years and building up a new, consolidated agency, like bamta (see this post) could put the Bay Area on the right track. Just look at New York’s MTA. They may not be a pristine example of a well run transit agency, but they ensure that funding is fairly distributed between the urban and suburban areas they serve. If only the Bay Area realized that a focus on our vibrant urban areas could improve life for all, and money down the toilet for exurban extensions of BART is just that: money wasted.

The Bay Bridge’s New “Congestion” Tolls

A New Era in Bay Area Tolling, from the MTC.

Airlines charge more for tickets when demand is highest, baseball tickets are more expensive when the Yankees come to town and even rail fares (Washington Metro) are higher during peak hours. By charging more, these entities are giving consumers an economic incentive to consume their goods and services when demand is lower, spreading out usage and improving overall efficiency of their operations. Why then does is terrify Bay Area drivers that the Bay Bridge is instituting a form of this very same system? My response would be: it must be because of the MTC’s half baked implementation of congestion tolls.

Starting at 5am on July 1st, tolls increased to six dollars during peak hours, 5am-10am and 3pm-7pm. At other times on weekdays the toll is four dollars and on weekends toll is four dollars. Fine. Great. Unfortunantely, by giving drivers specific times that the toll will increase and decrease, the new system creates new, perverse incentives to change the time you drive to 10am or 2:45pm. Plus, isn’t the idea of congestion pricing to reduce congestion? The Bay Bridge is not most congested on weekday rush hours. During that time over 100,000 people take transit either on the bridge itself on in the Transbay Tube, vastly reducing car volumes. No, the most terrible time to be on the Bay Bridge is the weekend, which this toll increase and “congestion” pricing doesn’t really address. Systems like the I-15 HOT Lane in Southern California are prime examples of how congestion pricing should really be done.

In the I-15 HOT Lane in Northern San Diego County, congestion is constantly monitored by a central computer. Roadbed loops detect vehicle speed and volume. With this data, the computer automatically sets tolls ranging from 1.50 to 9 dollars. This toll is linked to an algorithm that ensures that traffic in the facility is moving at at least 45 miles per hour. To keep traffic moving that fast, it raises tolls during peak demand, and therefore reduces congestion. Why not implement something similar for the Bay Bridge? Vehicles just end up waiting at the metering lights past the toll plaza anyway. If the Bay Area Toll Authority introduced true congestion tolls, traffic volumes would massively decrease, transit usage would go up, and toll revenue would skyrocket. No one loses in this situation. Transit riders continue with their status quo, but drivers suddenly no longer have to deal with traffic congestion. Yes, they may have to pay much more to cross the bridge, but hey, in Staten Island they pay 12 dollars to cross the Verranzo Narrows Bridge. So quit complaining. Time in this case is money.

The system would work like this. MTC/BATA would have a website with minute to minute updates on the current toll. Your family is going to see a movie in San Francisco and you are debating driving or taking BART. You look on the website and see that the toll for the Bay Bridge is 15 dollars and decide to take BART. Those who MUST drive to the city get a freely-moving freeway and those who have alternatives, like this family, choose the most effecient alternative. Hell, some of this extra toll revenue could be funneled into lower prices for AC Transit Transbay Buses or BART Transbay Service, making transit truly competitive with driving.

Realigning the economic incentives of transportation to reflect land use and climate change concerns is good for all of society in the long run. Unfortunately, current trends in transportation have led to an archaic, perverse incentive system which inherently encourages inefficient, sprawling development, and transportation by the least efficient mode possible: the single occupancy automobile. Congestion pricing on a single bridge will not immedietely change these sad realities, but over time the equalization of prices in transportation could revolutionize American urban form and life for the better.

As a final note, I neglected posting to Wilshire/Vermont for about two weeks in order to become oriented with my new job as an Intern for the Transbay Transit Center Project. I hope you will forgive me. For the foreseeable future, posts will be up on Tuesdays and Thursdays each week. I can only manage two posts a week for now; when I get back to school it will again increase to three on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Thanks for reading.

San Francisco’s Transbay Transit Center: A New Approach

Cross Section of the Transbay Transit Center, courtesy of

San Francisco’s Transbay Transit Center is an ambitious project consisting of a train and bus terminal, several gigantic high rise buildings and an elevated park above the terminal. The Center will replace the current Transbay Terminal bus facility, a relic of streetcar service across the Bay Bridge. The current facility has low ceilings, low capacity and is seismically unsound. It is also unable to accept underground train platforms.

With the understanding that a new transit center is needed, several options were explored regarding the train box under the station. In the original plan for the center, the bus platforms were to be built first, opening in 2015, with the train platforms and subterranean mezzanine being built later, under the functioning transit center. Such a plan contains the obvious fallacy that building a massive train station under an operating building is massively expensive, especially when the building was not conceived in the first place to accept such underground facilities. This argument was one of the main reasons why a new transit center is being built in the first place.

A stroke of fate has enabled the designers of the Transbay Transit Center to change their approach from top-down to bottom-up. High speed rail money from the Federal Railroad Administration and the California High Speed Rail Authority (CAHSRA) is paying the 400 million dollar cost of installing the train box at the same time as the rest of the transit center. 400 million may be difficult to stomach for a train station, but given the status of infrastructure spending in the United States, leaving the train box for later would likely have been its death knell. Estimates for the future cost of a train box under the completed transit center were nearly double the cost. I applaud the Transbay Joint Powers Authority (TJPA) and its consultants for bringing together this funding and ensuring that the transit center will fulfill its potential.

The inclusion of the train box at the beginning of the project brings many issues with its design to the forefront of discussions on the transit center. The CAHSRA has required platform space to run trains at five minute frequencies. This requirement is ridiculous. Not even Japan’s Shinkansen High Speed Rail Service, the busiest in the world, runs at such frequencies. As you can see in the image above, this mandate by CAHSRA robs platform space and tracks from Caltrain. The current train box arrangement would only allocate Caltrain two tracks and one island platform, limiting capacity into the Transbay Transit Center to less than current peak hour headways on the line. Any future service increases to cope with the inevitable increase in ridership due to electrification and direct service to Downtown San Francisco could only run as far as the current 4th & King terminal due to capacity constraints at the Transbay Transit Center platforms. This artificial constraint would defeat much of the purpose of the Caltrain Downtown Extension Project to connect Caltrain to the Transbay Transit Center. The train box will fit six tracks and three island platforms. Instead of a 4/2 split in favor of CAHSRA, the spilt should be the oposite with Caltrain being allowed use of 4 tracks. The demand and frequency for Caltrain’s local service along the peninsula will be much higher at all times of day, hence it should have more track space.

Another concern I have with the current design of the Transbay Transit Center is the lack of coordinated planning between the TJPA and BART about a possible future BART station in or adjacent to the complex. The need for a second Transbay Tube is widely recognized and a station at the Transbay Transit Center would be ideal, permitting a direct connection between high speed rail, Caltrain and BART. Provisions for a BART station could include simple, low-cost fixtures like entrance bellmouths, locations for fare gates and a larger mezzanine to accommodate future BART riders to the transit center. Like the train box, these (relatively) inexpensive inclusions to the project would eliminate future costs and integrate a future rapid transit station into the transit center.

My final concern about the current iteration of the Transbay Transit Center project is the slow speed at which construction on adjacent development is proceeding. Over six high rise buildings are planned as part of the project and much of the revenue TJPA is counting on is from the sale of currently vacant land owned by the authority to developers. Many of these towers were supposed to have begun construction in 2009 or earlier this year. Obviously current economic conditions have depressed property values and made large real estate developments less attractive. Fortunately, the towers near the Transbay Transit Center are transit oriented development in its purest form, with no limits on density or height. Hopefully developers will acknowledge this fact and gamble that the market for housing in urban areas will rebound, otherwise a large chunk of TJPA’s revenue will be lost.

With a nod to the future the Transbay Transit Center has refocused its priorities and now will be built in a more cost effective and timely manner. Hopefully this forward looking strategy will be further adopted, designing the terminal to be BART-ready for the time when the second transbay tube will be built. Regardless of this outcome, the Transbay Transit Center will be one of the most exciting transit stations in the world, connecting all parts of the Bay Area to the rest of California and providing the massive, Grand Central Terminal-style transit station that the Bay Area has always lacked.

Transit Oriented Development and an Albany BART Station

Future BART infill stations must be in locations where development is already dense or opportunities exist for transit oriented development. An Albany Infill BART Station fulfills both of these requirements. Such a station, in correlation with a rigorous policy of dense development, would create a livable, walkable community in central Albany. This new outlook on infill BART stations, combining  transit and land use decisions, would be a huge change for BART and would set a great example for future BART stations.

Albany is unique in its relationship to the BART system. It is a small, relatively dense town that BART passes through without stopping on an elevated guideway. North Berkeley and El Cerrito Plaza Stations are fairly close to Albany’s borders but from central Albany and Solano Avenue, either station is a 20 minute walk. Solano Avenue represents a significant draw for BART patrons due to its pedestrian scale and variety of boutique shops and hosts frequent AC Transit bus service from Line 18. These two considerations already make Albany an attractive location for an infill station. If the City of Albany puts together a package of zoning changes, developer incentives, and a removal of the parking requirement around the future BART station the package would be complete and an infill station would be worth its cost, likely around 150 million dollars.

The development changes I have highlighted on the map above are mostly centered around increasing residential density, while retaining mixed use growth patterns around Solano Avenue and immediately adjacent to the two station entrances. Essential life services like dry cleaning, grocery and childcare should be included in the development. Other retail and some office space could easily be included on the relatively tall buildings noted in pink. Albany could add over 2,000 units of housing in the area of this new station with the density and height limits I propose here.

Also important is station access for pedestrians. Nearly all of the City of Albany is within a 10 minute walk of this proposed station, parking is not included at all in my vision of this project, and bus service will be provided at Solano and Masonic Avenue, nearly 200 feet from the entrances, so pedestrians and cyclists are the only customers designers need to consider when completing a plan for the Albany Station. In the triangular strip of land around the north entrance to the station, a large pedestrian plaza could be encircled by the high density development I call for there. This entrance would open up to Key Route Boulevard where bicycle parking facilities could be included on the wide median and new bike lanes could be striped all the way to El Cerrito. Sidewalks on Key Route, Masonic and Solano could be widened to 15-20 feet in order to handle increased foot traffic.

Obviously the construction of 7 to 10 story towers in a neighborhood of largely single occupancy homes will stir up controversy. Residents will worry about increased traffic congestion, building shadows and demolition of homes to make way for more dense development. Arlington County, Virginia’s Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor is an ideal example of how to integrate high density, high rise development into a neighborhood of detached homes. Like on my map, Arlington’s tallest buildings are within 500 feet of Washington Metro station exits. From there, buildings dramatically decrease in height until 1500-2000 feet away from a station entrance, low rise homes are again the predominant building class. For the Albany Station, I have included a similar pattern, limiting very tall buildings to Solano Avenue and a revamped Key Route Boulevard. Surrounding these tall buildings would be smaller 3-4 story residential buildings followed immediately by a return to the single occupancy home building stock. Such a development pattern would better integrate the new development into the city’s urban fabric and give Albany’s brand new skyline a more unified look and feel. Traffic congestion will be a non-issue for this new station due to a lack of parking and dramatically reduced (or eliminated) parking requirements for new development around the station. That said, Albany must carry out improvements in pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure if this station is built.

Done right, Albany BART could become the center of a new downtown for Albany. Thousands of new residents and a large increase in commercial space, all within a five minute walk of rapid transit service to San Francisco, will help Albany’s tax revenue to continue to grow and allow the city of 18,000 to occupy a more prominent role in the San Francisco Bay Area. I hope to see serious consideration of an Albany BART station in my lifetime, along with an equally serious proposal to accompany the station with very dense development. It also wouldn’t hurt to finally have a hometown BART station for me.

New Urban Metro Lines for the Bay Area’s Dense Core

In my last post I discussed a new future for the San Francisco Bay Area’s BART System, using current lines and a new subway in San Francisco to turn BART into a more urban rapid transit system. These ideas were less drastic than the one I will propose here.

BART has failed the Bay Area if one were to think of it as a metro system standard in other parts of the world. Stops are widely spaced and dense areas are bypassed using freeway medians or railroad right of ways. To remedy this situation, the Bay Area could build a new set of urban subway lines unlike any currently existing BART lines. Taking as inspiration the Metro Red and Purple Lines in Los Angeles, two new BART lines in the inner East Bay, one along MacArthur Boulevard in Oakaland and another along Broadway and College Avenue to Berkeley, could dramatically improve mobility in the densest parts of the East Bay and reduce traffic and crowding on AC Transit’s busiest bus routes. Unlike previous BART lines, stops would be spaced every 3/4 of a mile or less to cater to riders who will walk, not drive, to stations. These two lines would join together onto the new Transbay Tube I proposed in my last post then diverge again after the large station at the Transbay Terminal. From there, a third trunk line in San Francisco would carry trains from these new East Bay branches. To capture the most ridership, I chose Folsom Street in the South of Market neighborhood and then a sharp turn north onto Van Ness Avenue continuing to Fisherman’s Wharf.

Together with my previous post on a second transbay tube, this Urban BART project would allow riders from the densest parts of both sides of the bay to connect to each other quickly and without transfers. A new track connection between the old tube and the new could facilitate the introduction of many new service patterns and give BART flexibility to short turn trains from all branches of the system for rush hour services. As shown on my google map, I believe a renewed BART system with a second Transbay Tube, several infill station and three new urban subway lines could approach or surpass the daily ridership of the Washington Metro to become the US’ second busiest heavy rail transit system. On the Geary and Van Ness Lines in San Francisco, over 250,000 riders use parallel bus corridors every day on San Francisco’s Muni. Along the College Avenue and MacArthur Lines, AC Transit’s buses carry over 50,000 riders per day. The demand for high capacity rail transit exists in the corridors I’ve highlighted in this Urban BART proposal, and the two corridors in the East Bay provide great opportunities for transit oriented development around the many new stations. This new Urban BART service will facilitate a transit lifestyle, not just a transit commute, because of its increased frequency and pedestrian-scaled station spacing. Indeed these new lines, along with infill stations on current BART lines, will dramatically increase the utility of a system that is already mostly built. With this investment, especially in the second Transbay Tube, the Bay Area will finally realize the full potential of its BART System.

Politically these two massive BART projects (Urban BART and the second Transbay Tube) are potential disasters at best. All previous extensions of BART, excluding BART to SFO Airport, were built to placate residents of Alameda and Contra Costa Counties who paid the BART sales tax but did not have local BART service. This political reason was why the unproductive Dublin/Pleasanton and Pittsburg/Bay Point extensions were built in the first place. In order for these multi billion dollar projects to have a chance of seeing the light of day, politics must be dropped and MTC and all Bay Area transit agencies must put down their arms and accept that a reinvention of BART is in everyone’s best interest. On that note, I will present again my idea for a consolidated Bay Area transit agency, bamta.

BART’s expansion policy has been warped by the system’s focus as essentially a beefed up commuter rail operation. Yes BART has grade separated right of ways with no frieght traffic (freight trains don’t even operate on the same track gauge), but distances between stations of over 5 miles in some locations and frequency no greater than 4 trains per hour on four out of five lines really sounds like Metra in Chicago or New York’s Metro North Railroad. Ridership for BART is similar to these two systems. BART’s suburban extension craze of the 1990’s was a result of politics, as mentioned above, and interestingly the lack of investment in San Francisco by BART is also political. San Francisco owns and operates its own rail system, Muni Metro. As indicated in the name, Muni Metro functions as a subway/metro system for much of its length and connects much of the city to BART and Caltrain regional rail services. San Francisco’s direct control over Muni provides a disincentive for any investment in heavy rail BART in the city. Indeed since BART fully opened in 1976 not a single additional mile of track has been built in San Francisco. Muni Metro has built three large extensions and is in the process of building a subway line through downtown (see this article). If BART and Muni were to be merged into the regional bamta transit agency, this disincentive would disappear. On corridors where ridership merits heavy rail subway technology, such as Geary Boulevard, San Francisco will get the transit service it deserves instead of having to endure the reality of current transit governance.

For a second Transbay Tube and Urban BART to become reality, BART will need to shift its focus from getting people to and from work to being a full time, pedestrian-friendly transit system. For this breakthrough to be feasible a large change in the Bay Area’s transit priorities and governance is likely necessary. Hopefully when the last drops of capacity on the current tube dry up such options will be taken more seriously. For now, I wait.