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.
In the 1950’s and 1960’s traffic engineers ran wild with plans for urban freeways in the United States. The general consensus was that freeways had no downsides and were not visual blights, pollution emitters, and neighborhood dividers. Even as the public mood changed against freeways in the 1970’s and 1980’s, State Departments of Transportation continued to try to follow through with their grandiose plans for urban freeways.
This map shows plans for urban freeways in the San Francisco Bay Area. I was inspired to create this map when I saw several proposed freeway maps created by Caltrans from 1945 to 1986. These maps made me think of the vast changes in the geography of the area that these freeways would have created. CA 93 along San Pablo Dam Road would have ramped up suburban development around Tilden Regional Park, a Bay Area wilderness treasure, and CA 77, CA 13 and CA 61 would tear through the urban fabric of Oakland. Note that most of the freeways proposed in San Francisco were defeated early, in 1959, by the Freeway Revolts. I hope this map makes you think about the massive changes new freeways can make in undeveloped areas and inspire you to oppose the continuation of the 20th century pattern of wilderness-freeway-sprawl.
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.
Carpool lanes, like many other forms of transportation investment, appear to make highways and driving more green, making expansion of automobile facilities politically acceptable. This “diet Coke” concept, that slightly improving the environmental impact of driving is “green” transport policy, has been taken to new extremes in California, where gigantic, elaborate systems of Carpool (or HOV) lanes now dot the landscape. In Los Angeles, the El Monte Busway, a parallel 2-lane freeway to the I-10 Freeway between Union Station and El Monte, was the first fixed-guideway transit investment in Los Angeles history, installed by the Southern California Rapid Transit District in 1974. This facility was originally for buses only, a scheme that allowed the two lanes to carry more passengers more quickly than the parallel 10-lane freeway. Disastrously, a few years after its opening, the El Monte Busway was opened to HOV traffic, here meaning any motor vehicle with 3 or more passengers in it during peak hours and 2 or more passengers otherwise. This change cut the busway’s capacity and reduced speeds, making transit less desirable.
So what is the deal with Carpool lanes anyway? Do they work? What is even their intended purpose?
All of these are legitimate questions. Carpool lanes are intended, generally, to alleviate congestion on the “normal” lanes of a freeway and provide an incentive for solo drivers to ride with more people in the car, theoretically increasing person throughput on a corridor. This purpose is often lost in practice, and carpool lane construction is simply a way of “greenwashing” highway capacity increases. Just as with any other expansion of capacity, carpool lane installation eventually increases traffic congestion due to induced demand, the research-proven principle that if you build it, they will come.
Now do they work? Can a carpool lane facility, especially one as elaborate as the Harbor Transitway in the photograph above, increase the average occupancy of automobiles in a corridor? In one word, no. The installation of carpool lanes along a freeway has been shown to increase carpooling by four percent. Such a tiny number of carpoolers would suggest that any money spent on highway expansion should be spent on general capacity improvements, rather than dedicated carpool infrastructure (offramps, grade separations, interchange ramps) that exist, especially in Los Angeles and Orange Counties in California. Like many issues in transportation the continued construction of HOV/Carpool lanes is purely political.
Many special interest groups love highway expansion. These include truck drivers, construction workers’ unions, construction firms and engineering firms. Politicians have a precedent of spending most transportation money on highways, and the lobbying from these groups encourages them to continue. The decision to install carpool infrastructure instead of general highway expansion is often made because it makes projects look more environmentally conscious. It also helps Environmental Impact Statements receive public approval. In everyone’s mind a carpool lane must help the environment, right? The four percent number conclusively proves that this is not the case. Carpool lanes are a waste.
So what to do with current carpool lane infrastructure? Use it in a more efficient manner: convert most or all of California’s High Occupancy Vehicle lanes into Bus-Only Lanes, all day, every day. In this post, I vocally complained about moving at five miles per hour in the HOV lane on Interstate 80 coming back from work one day last summer. This HOV lane, from Hercules to the San Francisco Bay Bridge is actually HOV-3, meaning your vehicle must have 3 occupants to use it. Because of lax enforcement and the sheer volume of cars, this lane moves just as slowly as the “regular” freeway lanes.
Converting this, and all other, HOV lanes to bus-only operation could dramatically increase bus capacity across California. AC Transit’s Transbay Bus Lines would operate more quickly, allowing for an increase in service, and travel times would dramatically decrease, especially during the evening peak. All across California, express bus service could flourish, taking advantage of the near-rediculous carpool infrastructure already in place along many freeways.
Sadly, for this idea to become reality, I would have to wake up on another planet, one where there is NOT a God-ordained right to drive an automobile, as it often seems is the case here in the United States of America. The crisis in operating funds for transit agencies would also prevent this fantasy from becoming reality. Like most of my reflections at the end of these articles, the solution to transportation investment is a large change in priorities, with the government moving as many people as it can, not cars.
Like many other things, California was the birthplace of modern rail transit in the United States. BART in the San Francisco Bay Area was the first complete, publicly built, rapid transit system in the United States and represented a paradigm shift in the mentality of transit planners. BART ran from the Outer East Bay (Fremont and Concord) to San Francisco and Oakland’s Downtowns. The line to San Francisco is a branch, and the system is rooted in Oakland. This stands in stark contrast to the New York City Subway or Chicago L, which serve the center city extensively and end in the inner suburbs. These cities have heavy rail, diesel commuter systems which use existing freight tracks without grade separation.
The Bay Area got BART instead of a traditional commuter rail system because of politics. President Lyndon B. Johnson was supporting his Great Society idea, injecting a large amount of public spending for grand, shiny projects like heavy rail systems. Diesel locomotives, or even traditional electric locomotives used on the Northeast Corridor, simply were not as cool. Now, the problem when the “cool” factor gets into transit planning is cost. BART continues to expand at the insane cost of 200+ million dollars per mile. More significantly, BART is the only heavy rail (subway) technology that is feasible to build in Northern California due potential to connect to the current network. BART’s trains are over 700 feet long, with far too many seats and too few doors for urban service.
Los Angeles has a heavy rail service also, but it is entirely different than BART. Los Angeles’ Subway, the Red and Purple Lines, only serve the City of Los Angeles and they travel the most dense areas in all of Los Angeles County. This distinction is easy to see in ridership per mile, where Los Angeles has about 9,000 riders per mile, while BART has 4,000. Train lengths in the LA Subway are 450 feet, and cars have three doors and far fewer seats than a BART train. This is the type of true subway both Los Angeles and San Francisco Need.
The purpose of this article is to compare and contrast two streets in two big, dense cities, that both need heavy rail subway lines under them. Also, I will go into the reasons why one of these subways will be built in the next ten years, and the other won’t.
These two streets are Geary and Wilshire Boulevards in San Francisco and Los Angeles, respectively. Both streets carry the two busiest bus lines in the United States, the 38-38L in San Francisco and the 20-720-920 in Los Angeles. These lines carry over 60,000 passengers a day, a huge amount for a bus line. Metro cannot physically run more buses on Wilshire during peak hour because of intense bunching. Both of these transportation corridors are East-West with parallel bus service also carrying over 100,000 passengers a day on the 1-2-5-31 in San Francisco and the 2-4-14-16-316-704-714 in Los Angeles. Obviously transit demand in these corridors is huge.
The legacy of BART and the Red Line have dictated the progress on high capacity transit alternatives on Wilshire and Geary. Both Metro and SFMTA are implementing exclusive bus lanes on these streets. In neither situation are exclusive lanes sufficient. Underground, high frequency, heavy rail transit is sorely needed in both situations. Since Los Angeles began with a legitimate urban subway system, instead of a suburb-centric heavy rail system, extension along Wilshire Boulevard is (relatively) cheap and feasible. Under Measure R’s schedule, the Westside Subway Extension will reach Westwood by 2036, although with the 30/10 plan, the entire project may be complete 15 years earlier.
This situation leaves us with Geary Boulevard in desperate need of heavy rail transit. The organization of the BART District, with equal power shared across Alameda, Contra Costa and San Francisco Counties, essentially requires equal geographic distribution of BART dollars and extensions. When Contra Costa County got the extension from Concord to Pittsburg/Bay Point, Alameda County got the extension from Bay Fair to Dublin/Pleasanton. San Francisco essentially gained nothing during this time, but that is due to Proposition K, San Francisco’s transportation sales tax, not including any funding for BART extensions. In a new round of extending BART, Alameda County is getting the Warm Springs Extension, and potentially BART to Livermore, while Contra Costa County is getting eBART. Again, San Francisco County is doing its own thing with the Central Subway, Van Ness and Geary BRT and the Transbay Transit Center Program receiving the bulk of the funding.
The essence of the issue with a Geary Boulevard subway is it requires a New Transbay Tube, a mega project on the scale of East Side Access and Access to the Region’s Core Projects in New York City, with a cost that could exceed 6 billion dollars. The issue for BART and the Bay Area is finding a sustainable funding model for this huge project, in my opinion a three way split between San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa, so that San Francisco has a platform on which to build its new heavy rail service to the Richmond District.
Maybe, after enough pushing, BART will become more of an urban network, with higher stop frequency in Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco, and large transit villages outside the urban core.
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.
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.
The San Francisco Bay Area is an interesting transportation case study because of its geography. Several mountain ranges and a large body of water present challenges in building new infrastructure and often create bottlenecks on bridges and tunnels. Such a situation increases the attractiveness of high capacity transit. Luckily, the Bay Area has BART, the first of the modern heavy rail systems built in the United States. In areas where BART parallels a congested bottleneck freeway, such as the Transbay Tube and Berkeley Hills Tunnel, ridership is high. Unfortunately, because BART was the first of its kind, a modern system designed to be compatible with driving, BART does not work as well as other systems of the same age, especially the Washington Metro in DC. In this post, I’d like to address the reasons why BART does not work well as an urban transit system and how in 20 years with a large investment BART can grow into a true Metro system for the San Francisco Bay Area.
Two main issues plague BART’s ascension to a great rail transit system. The first is a lack of political backing for transit oriented development (TOD) near BART stations. The second is the actual design of the system, especially the large distances between stations and choices of right of way for several lines. For the purpose of this article, I am going to refer to the lines by color even though BART lines are commonly named by their terminus.
Transit Oriented Development is essential to the success of any rail transit project. The availability of frequent, quick service to employment centers allows dense housing and retail development within 1/4 of a mile of a rail station, while drastically reducing the amount of parking needed. BART has two TOD projects that have already opened, Fruitvale Village in Oakland and a project at the Pleasant Hill Station. Both are mostly housing, ignoring the need for grocery stores, dry cleaners and other essential services, and are not as high density as TOD in other parts of the country. BART has no excuse to not further promote TOD around its stations. BART owns surface parking around many of its stations and could easily sell the land to developers to build large, dense projects. Local government has been getting in the way of this density. A classic NIMBY (not in my backyard) argument against density increases is that density increases crime, traffic and noise. All three are mitigated by proximity to frequent rail transit. Stations like North Berkeley and Orinda being surrounded by single family detached homes and surface parking are detrimental for ridership numbers and waste the investment of rail transit. BART must encourage local governments to allow more dense development and provide land for developers on which to build.
More importantly, the design of BART’s first 104 miles is conducive to suburb to downtown commuting and largely ignores the needs of urban riders in San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley. Long distances between station, especially in Oakland, and the routing of four routes onto a single San Francisco subway line limit ridership and utility to the huge pool of potential riders in the most urban areas of the Bay Area. One immediate solution is the construction of infill stations. On the map above, I have detailed several infill stations that could attract a large number of riders. On the Red Line I suggest building an station at Solano Avenue in Albany and a station at 58th Street in North Oakland. For the Green Line I’ve added infill stations at 15th Avenue in Oakland, at 54th Avenue in Oakland, and at 98th Avenue in Oakland. All three will serve people without access to an automobile and dramatically increase ridership along this portion of BART. On the Yellow I included an infill station at Oak Grove Road in Concord and a station at 30th Street and Mission Street in San Francisco. Feasibility studies have already been conducted on this 30th/Mission Station and construction could start soon if the 700 million dollar cost was allocated. Also, studies have stated that a 30th/Mission Station would be an ideal short turn station for the Green Line, hence its termination there on my map.
Part of the issue with BART is capacity in the Transbay Tube. BART’s automatic train control (ATC) can only handle a frequency of 27 trains per hour (a train every 2 minutes and 13 seconds). BART already runs this frequency during the peak hour in the peak direction. This limitation also reduces frequency on outer branches of the system to 4 trains per hour (a train every 15 minutes), even during rush hour when demand is highest. This limitation will become a huge issue if opportunities for TOD are explored further and reverse peak and suburb to suburb commuting become more common on BART. I propose a dramatic, expensive, but necessary solution. Build a second Transbay Tube.
A second tube could include Oakland Wye (the main switch between BART lines) bypass track segments that serve important destinations in the East Bay. The Red Line could split immediately after MacArthur Station to an underground Emeryville Station then follow the Union Pacific right of way to the new tube’s portal. The Blue Line could split after the new San Antonio Station and travel along the Union Pacific right of way, dipping into subway for a Jack London Square Station, then emerging to join the Red Line and cross under the bay. Once in San Francisco, this line would stop at the new Transbay Transit center then follow Geary Boulevard all the way out to the Richmond District. This corridor’s bus ridership easily merits heavy rail transit with over 200,000 bus riders on and near Geary. This Geary route conforms with the general consensus of transportation planners regarding the routing of a second BART line through San Francisco. Around 18th Avenue, the Red Line would diverge from Geary Boulevard and travel south under 19th Avenue, serving the Sunset District and San Francisco State University. Just before the Daly City Station, the Red Line would rejoin the Yellow Line and continue along its current route through San Mateo County to Millbrae Station. A beachside terminal for the Blue Line would allow a shorter route for the line and complete the entire length of Geary Boulevard, from bay to breakers. Such a proposal is dramatic not only because of its cost (likely 8 billion dollars or more) but because I estimate that over 300,000 riders would use this new tube and urban subway, nearly doubling BART’s ridership.
Finally, I have added three suburban extensions of current lines on my map. The Green Line extension to San Jose is already under construction to Warm Springs and Santa Clara County has sales tax revenue to cover the rest of the line. An extension of the Blue Line to Livermore is under serious study right now, and I’ve included alternative 2a from the planning process, BART along I-580 then a short cut and cover subway to Downtown Livermore where a new intermodal terminal with ACE commuter rail service would be built. The Red Line extension on my map has not yet been studied nor is funded in any way, but completes a deficiency in the BART network by connecting Northwest Contra Costa County to the rest of the Bay Area. These suburban extensions would fill out BART and, with adequate policy, encourage transit oriented development around stations. The increased frequency of trains on outer branches due to the second Transbay Tube would allow for more opportunities in density growth around these new stations.
The San Francisco Bay Area is lucky to have BART, but a large injection of capital and a change in priority could change the system from a commuter rail-like operation to a true urban rapid transit system. If you want a more geographically accurate map of my 2030 BART plan look at the bottom of the article. Again, stay tuned for my post on the politics of transportation in Los Angeles.
AC Transit is a major bus operator in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties in California. It is now the largest bus-only transit agency in the United States, serving over 200,000 riders per day, many of whom are transit dependent. Despite these credentials, AC Transit is not often discussed in national transit circles like Seattle’s King Metro or WMATA’s Metro Bus because it is separate from BART, the rail transit agency serving the region. Nonetheless, AC Transit is an interesting and surprisingly large agency with a major Bus Rapid Transit project in planning. On March 30th, AC Transit cut service hours by around 10 percent to compensate for a loss of state funds and lower sales tax revenue. These service cuts were targeted, consolidating routes into loops and eliminating the least productive routes. Even after these cuts and a recent fare increase a further cut in service is scheduled for August.
Unlike the recent March service cut, which managed to increase efficiency without cutting major services, this new cut coming in August will be painful, affecting even the most used routes. Three different plans are on the table. One is cutting nearly all weekend service, another is eliminating service after 10PM and the third option is cutting all service by 10 percent. Some combination of these three options may also be adopted. On the map, I have highlighted routes likely to be deleted or reduced significantly based on ridership.
As seen on my map, these potential service cuts are massive. They will vastly reduce mobility for those in the East Bay who lack an automobile and aren’t near a BART station. AC Transit’s main corridors, which account for the highest ridership numbers, will mostly maintain their current level of service but most other service will but cut or dramatically scaled back. These feeder routes may not sustain much ridership, but they serve the people who need bus service the most, low income people in the Richmond-Berkeley-Oakland area who can’t afford to drive.
You’ll notice that Berkeley is one of the main cities in AC Transit’s service area. Being born in Berkeley and growing up there has helped me see the irony and hypocrisy of many of its residents. In Berkeley, a Toyota Prius is a must because it’s saving the environment, right? Not so. A Toyota Prius is like diet soda. Slightly better, but still bad. If residents of Berkeley want to tout their environmentalism and progressive ideals, they must advocate on behalf of AC Transit and save the agency with new revenue sources. Also, Berkeley’s City Council must approve of AC Transit’s plan to build a Bus Rapid Transit system on the route of the 1R route. This BRT line would improve service and cut costs because BRT lines offer more reliable service, therefore less service hours per rider.
Sadly many transit agencies in the United States are in dire financial situations like AC Transit. Priorities for transportation in America have been skewed for an entire generation and continue to be wildly biased toward the use of the automobile, a device whose use wastes energy and promotes growth patterns that are neither sustainable nor pleasant. Something needs to change, and soon.