01 June 2016

Expanding our Rail Network while Saving it from the Seas

Sea Level Rise - East Bay Transportation

Sea Level Rise and Climate Change. Most of us in the Bay Area seem to believe it's happening, know we need to reduce carbon emissions and get ready for rising seas. Unfortunately, apart from a few examples, we're not doing much in the way of truly physically getting ready for rising seas.

The Bay Area's transportation infrastructure is significantly threatened by sea level rise. All three major airports are at or near sea level. Much of our freeway system is close to the sea (I-80, Hwy 101, I-880), the Port of Oakland, and many pieces of our rail and transit system are under threat. Virtually all of this infrastructure was built before sea level rise was known or understood.

However, we must get ready for the coming higher storm surges and sea rise, to protect our infrastructure - for without our transportation system, we cannot function as an economy or an interconnected regional society.

One way to ensure that our infrastructure is safer would be to create redundancies where creating duplicate infrastructure is needed anyway. In the case of mass transit, the Bay Area clearly needs more capacity and service. How can we make sure that our 100 year investment in a new rail crossing won't be squandered by preparing for likely sea level rise. (You don't put on your seat belt in a car because you think you'll have an car crash - but you do want to be safer if it does happen. With a 100 year investment you better not place it where you know it will be flooded someday.)

Building a Second Transbay Crossing is one of those redundancies we need. Today's trains are already at capacity, many reports have called for a second transbay crossing, and it would help give us a backup tunnel to repair the first one, and offer late night service.

Rough shoreline of 8 foot sea level rise from San Leandro north to Berkeley. 
Source image: Surging Seas http://sealevel.climatecentral.org/


Rail Segments at Risk of Flooding

Focusing our attention on rail and on Oakland and Berkeley, we find that with sea level rise, several segments of both BART and the freight/Amtrak infrastructure are at risk. Although predictions have said sea level may only rise 6" to 2 feet in the next 70 years, some have said it may go as high as 6 to 8 FEET. Seeing that that the infrastructure should last 100 or more years, it is a lot safer to build assuming seas will rise on the higher end of the range.  If we roll the dice and hope for 4 feet, but get 6 feet sea rise we have squandered BILLIONS of dollars.


BART
Although BART is elevated in many sections, it also goes underground and at ground level in a few spots. BART is at grade when it passes I-880 between Lake Merritt and Fruitvale. In addition it is momentarily at grade where it enters the Transbay Tube at the Port of Oakland. Although elevated in segments, areas that may flood would still affect the train as the columns holding up the aerial tracks were not build to withstand water inundation and wave action.  The tracks near Oakland Coliseum are in a zone that would be flooded if storm surges rose 8 feet even though the tracks would be above the water.

Image: Jamison Wieser


CAPITAL CORRIDOR
Much of the Capitol Corridor follows the shoreline - at sea level - all the way from Martinez to San Jose, with a few spots in Richmond and between San Leandro and Fremont where it is less vulnerable. In Berkeley and Oakland, the corridor is at risk from 8 feet sea rise north of Berkeley Station at University, from Emeryville station south all the way to 23rd Ave, and from High Street to just south of Hegenberger Road. These are very long segments, with lots of business, homes, infrastructure and industry surrounding the rail.

30 April 2016

Naming a train station should not be writing a novel

I've lived in a number of cities with subway or metro systems. Stations most often have a basic name that fits one of the following criteria where the station is:
  • neighborhood name
  • significant nearby landmark or regional facility
  • cross streets. 
When I lived in Paris, my station was Breguet Sabin because rue Breguet and rue Sabin met at the metro station entrance. However, sometimes, the station name gets a bit long winded, especially when it includes very long names or more than two street or place names. In the past 20 years, BART has been changing a few station names into "novel" names. Let's take a look at some station names some "proposed" #novelstationnames .

When I lived in New York City, my stop was named 116th St/Columbia University. The stop was located at the intersection of 116th St and Broadway and was immediately adjacent to the university, which is a major destination for students, faculty, staff, as well as folks visiting the campus on business. Broadway wasn't part of the name because the 1-Line follows Broadway with many stops on it. It wouldn't be very helpful if every stop included Broadway in the name. (Imagine saying, I'll meet you at the 72 St-Broadway station, then we can take it to the meeting at 86th St-Broadway station, then go to a have lunch at a place near the 125th St-Broadway station.

Source: http://avecunaccent.canalblog.com/archives/2011/10/22/22388112.html

Source: http://subwaynut.com/california/bart/pleasant_hill/p3.php

Finally, in my 14 years in San Francisco, I've used almost every station to get to and from for work or home.So I know the stations and neighborhoods pretty well. Powell St station is at Powell St. Makes sense. However it is near a major destination, Union Square, and south of Market, there is no Powell St station. Should it really be called Powell St/5th St, or Fifth St/Powell or Powell St/5th St/Union Square/Moscone... which it seems would be what BART would name it if they created the station today.

In all seriousness, I think we should have short station names that are easy to say, and easy to read, yet help a new traveler get their bearings of where the station is. I think the New York City Subway has it best when they name a station the cross street (e.g. Eighth Street), but has a secondary name in smaller font on the station walls. This secondary name, (e.g. New York City) should not show up in the station map, but it should show up in a station web site. Below are a few examples for the Bay Area.

Powell St
Union Square
 
Downtown Berkeley
University of California

66th St Station with secondary name "Lincoln Center". Source: Wikipedia
Below are a few "suggestions" of some "informative" "novel" station names that might be confused with an epic poem, or a brochure for the latest suburban sprawl neighborhood like the The Palms at East Saint Francis Wood. Some comments are interspersed in the names

East Bay - Coastal
Richmond  (8 characters)
Richmond Civic Center/Amtrak Intermodal (39 characters). Could also be Richmond / MacDonald

El Cerrito Del Norte  (20 characters)

already a long name, but understandable that with two El Cerrito stations they need to be distinguished. How about - El Cerrito Cutting San Pablo (28 characters)

El Cerrito Plaza  (16 characters)
El Cerrito Plaza/Albany Hill (28 characters)

North Berkeley  (14 characters)
Ironically North Berkeley station is really in Central Berkeley. Maybe a few more compass points in the name will help the epic quality of this suburban underground station built in a streetcar suburb.
North Berkeley/South Albany/Westbrae (36 characters)

A full list of all BART station alternative names is after the break.

30 March 2016

The Mission Bay Tetris Rubiks Cube Rail Freeway Challenge

Tonight the San Francisco Planning Department will present its very preliminary overview of the Railyard I-280 Boulevard Alternatives Study. I encourage you to attend if you missed the first meeting. And if you are for better rail, better pedestrian connections, and if you have concerns, or just want to support, please go and be vocal. Don’t let one voice smother the other voices in the room or in the conversation, even if we don’t all agree on something.

Where: Potrero Hill Neighborhood House, 953 DeHaro Street
When: TONIGHT, March 30, 2016 from 6-8pm

Source: San Francisco Planning Department
The Railyard I-280 Boulevard Study is a mouthful to say and not easy to explain in a short sentence. But I’ll give it a try: The study is looking at local and transportation networks in and around Mission Bay to build a better rail tunnel to Downtown San Francisco, create safer access in and out of Mission Bay by removing rail and freeway barriers in this growing neighborhood. In addition the study looks to consider opening up land to new housing, parks and office space.

Although much of the media attention and the resistance to this study has focused on the removal or “tearback” of 1 mile of I-280, most of the study is really about the rail tunnel and the chance to better connect Mission Bay, for both pedestrians, but even cars, into the rest of San Francisco. So if you read reports about this project and they don’t mention rail or a tunnel know that the article is only focusing on the folks screaming the loudest, and not looking at the whole picture. In fact, most of the ideas proposed in the report can be mix and matched – included or left out.

San Francisco was once a great industrial and ship building city with many factories, railyards, warehouses and drydocks, including Mission Bay. Railroad tracks once coursed through much of the eastern neighborhoods of San Francisco on its streets and onto its piers. In the 21st Century, some of these areas, have become new residential and employment neighborhoods with smatterings of warehouse and industrial uses remaining.  Most of the railroad tracks are paved over or ripped out. Now the T-Third line rolls down Third Street, and voters approved to bring rail to the heart of downtown San Francisco’s Transbay Center; currently under construction, the rail tunnel not yet funded.

With these changes comes the need to ensure that these new neighborhoods are well connected into San Francisco’s grid and not separated, as they once were when they were industrial. Likewise, reviewing the plans and financing of a new rail tunnel to Downtown is necessary to move the project forward.

San Francisco’s Planning Department is addressing these changes in and around the Mission Bay neighborhood with the Railyard I-280 Boulevard Feasibility Study. The study is looking at the three-dimensional landscape of Mission Bay with its streets and rail on the ground, freeways and building rising into the air, while water pipes and future trains run underground. The report asks how to best move people, cars, bikes, buses and trains safely and efficiently through the area while also better connecting the new neighborhood into the city through removing the historic barriers separating this former industrial from its neighbors.  

The study is also examining how to improve both local and regional connections while also seeking opportunities for new housing, open space and jobs, all the while consider the benefits and impacts of each component and the overall plan.

 


History
Before going into the details of the new RAB study, let’s review the recent planning and transportation history of the area. 

1999
San Francisco voters passed Proposition H to “extend the Caltrain line to a new or rebuilt regional transit station in San Francisco to be located on the site of the Transbay Terminal at First and Mission Streets.”
The initiative also called for the City to pursue electrification of the entire Caltrain line, and to consider adding new stations in Bayview/Hunters Point and Visitacion Valley.
The tunnel, called the Downtown Extension (DTX), will connect the center of Downtown San Francisco with the 4th & King Station as well as all Caltrain stations at points southward.
2009
Studies began to examine how the Caltrain Railyard might be redeveloped either through a deck or by removing the railyard altogether.
2012
The city determined that the CA-HSR plan for San Francisco would require a street underpass/trench to grade separate street users from frequent trains, and create a very inhospitable environment for pedestrians, cyclists, and more. The underpass is also needed so cars can flow between neighborhoods without a crossing gate being down half the time for trains.

2012
The city, in light of the grade separation challenges along 7th St, began reconsidering where a Caltrain tunnel could be built, in part to address the 16th St crossing, but also help reconnect neighborhoods and potentially straighten the tunnel to improve operations.

2014
RAB study announced
2015
HSR announces first phase of operations will be to the Bay Area between Bakersfield and San Jose.
2016
RAB first public meeting



01 February 2016

The edge between crazy and brilliant ideas: the case for reconnecting SoMa by tearing down I-80

Sometimes great ideas arrive a little bit too late for their time. But sometimes that great idea can spark an actional step forward. What if we built a new freeway linking I-280 to I-80 through SoMa, and then tore down I-80 further west to open up SoMa and reconnect it like it once was before the 1950s. Removing the great dividing line that is I-80 through SoMa could rekindle a neighborhood, but the devil is it would take dividing another part. Would it be worth it?
Green parcels open up new land, while the orange lines show where a SoMa Link connects I-80 to I-280. Image: Screen cap from GavVerma drove video.
SoMa Link Proposal. Image base map: My Maps by Google

This 1970s rendering of a Yerba Buena Sports Arena would have had the arena in the place of Moscone South along Howard between 3rd and 4th streets. Image: Eric Fischer

The edge between what gets built and what is a curious unbuilt proposal is a thin line. Moscone Center may have included an arena while the BART system may have never happened without narrowly passing with the 60% required vote.

The future of Mission Bay's I-280, the Downtown Rail Extension (DTX), and the Fourth and King railyard are the focus of with Railyard Alternatives and I-280 Boulevard Study (RAB). I've covered the DTX alignment alternatives before, and a bit about a future HSR railyard. However, I'd like to focus on the removal of freeways this time. The study, and several other folks have proposed removing the freeway north of 16th St, or even Cesar Chavez, which means taking down 0.85 miles or 2 miles of the freeway, and converting much of it into a boulevard. Much of the benefit of removing the freeway would be to connect the growing Mission Bay and Design District (Potrero Flats) neighborhoods with new street connections.

View of Brannan and 5th Street where freeway could pass. The iconic red Coca Cola billboard sign would not be affected. Image: Sean Whitney "Pinterest Development at 505 Brannan" via Vimeo
But what if we might bet better off tearing down a different freeway, and keeping the I-280. Instead, what if two bigger neighborhoods were reconnected while maintaining freeway access from the Bay Bridge to points south in San Francisco and beyond into the Peninsula? Wouldn't a freeway removal that maintains regional connectivity, but also benefits more local residents, affecting a wider population, and with greater development potential be the better choice? Let's examine a proposal that may just do that.

First I'll lay out the proposal, address the "that's crazy and stupid", and finally go into the great opportunities, obstacles, and benefits.

The proposal

The SoMa Link Proposal
  • Remove the 1950s section of I-80 between the Fifth Street exit/entrance to the Central Freeway. 
  • Maintain access between Highway 101 and I-80 and the Bay Bridge, by connecting I-280 to I-80 at Fifth Street. 
  • Redevelop the vacated I-80 parcels to:
    • Pay for the 280-80 link
    • Fund creation of new parks
    • Develop a majority of parcels through sale and lease of vacated land
As shown in the map below, by removing 0.85 miles of I-80 in SoMa you would gain 27.5 acres of land. To achieve this, I-280 would be extended 0.40 miles from its current terminus at Sixth and Townsend to I-80 at Fifth and Bryant. A little over 7 acres of land would need to be acquired for the new freeway connection. Effectively the SoMa link would net a minimum 20 acres of land with only adding 2,100 feet of new freeway.

Note, the connecting of I-280 to I-80 was proposed before back in the 1974. This alternative for connecting the two highways would have gone down Sixth Street in what appears to possibly be a double decker freeway.
Image: Eric Fischer

That's crazy!
The SoMa Link proposal has many compelling elements, but let's look at some of its drawbacks and parse them out. There are several.

We Don't Build Freeways in San Francisco - We Tear Them Down
Well yes, it does seem a bit wild to build new freeway to eliminate freeway. However there is precedent with the Central Freeway removal, which was torn down from Fell and Laguna all the way back to Van Ness and Division (0.65 miles), but was rebuilt for 0.35 miles to reach Market Street and enable Octavia Boulevard and Patricia's Green park. Similarly, Providence, RI tore down and relocated a portion of I-195 and opened up 20 acres to new downtown development. We'd be gaining in the big picture.

30 November 2015

Aaron Peskin: a mannered cartoon spokesperson?

A few months ago - in fact nearly one and a half years ago I saw a BART station ad with a hip looking cartoony spokesman looking guy. He looked very familiar - very familiar in a local San Francisco politician in City Hall kind of way.

You guessed it - I thought it looked like Aaron Peskin... with his shirt open, and with a more stylized mustache. Looked a bit in the spirit of the old Ask Jeeves butler. (I actually had a friend once who posed for a Jeeves ad. Sadly that was back in 2001, and it's hard to find old ads from 2001 on the internet.)

At the time I saw the ads, Peskin wasn't on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors - now he is. I investigated the ad and learned the cartoony fellow is known as "Mr. Manners", a sort of mascot for the Bridgemen, which is a great gay/bi/trans men community group that gives back to the community in many ways.

Image: Ask.com

31 October 2015

Observing European Cities: Norwich

I recently made a visit to the UK and France - principally to visit family and friends. However, I couldn't help but notice many of the changes their cities are undergoing, and also how their streets and transit systems have similarities and differences from ours. Below are a few observations I made in Norwich, England, the first city I visited:

Streets and Parking Lots

Bus Gate (a sort of Transit Neckdown): One Lane - two directions - bus only/taxi only
Here's a location where buses go in both directions, but the street crossing with a neckdown goes to a single lane for two reasons:
  1. Pedestrians are given the highest priority with the shortest walking distance at the crosswalk, a long neckdown, and a raised roadway at the level of the sidewalk (or pavement in UK speak).
  2. By having the one-lane neckdown, motorists can see that this is the entrance to a bus-only taxi-only zone and must turn into the parking lot (left in top photo), or turn around.
Pedestrian crossing street at raised crosswalk that's also a bus gate for two-way bus traffic.
Before the bus gate the street looked like a normal two-way English street near the city center, as shown in the Google Streetview below, still available online.

Now the street entering the city center has normal vehicular traffic required to turn right into the parking lot on the right. Buses, as shown in the next two images, must go through the "bus gate" that is also a raised crosswalk. The buses going inbound yield to outbound buses.
Pedestrian crossing at neckdown on Theatre Street seen from double decker bus entering central Norwich. Image: Brian Stokle

01 September 2015

For your consideration... AC Transit Bus Stop Locations

Where would you put bus stops for my proposed AC Transit Transbay bus service to Caltrain's 4th & King Station and other possible stops? As I mentioned previously, having Transbay buses serving SoMa, Civic Center, 4th & King Caltrain, and points south would reduce some strain on BART's system, and encourage transit ridership.

Most interestingly, a Transbay bus route from the East Bay to Caltrain's 4th & King station could show the real need for the Caltrain Downtown Extension. A bus would show that folks really do want to take AC Transit to Caltrain, and ultimately one day, have Caltrain serve the East Bay via a 2nd Transbay Rail Tunnel that would connect them with Peninsula and Silicon Valley jobs.

There are many opportunities and challenges to consider on a new bus route.
  • Potential, but mostly unknown ridership
  • Which bus route(s) should go to these San Francisco locations?
  • Route time
  • Bus parking
  • Traffic congestion (AM & PM are very different)
  • Bus stop location opportunities and constraints

5th Street - Caltrain only
Exit: Fifth Street
Stop: Townsend St (between 5th and 4th)
Entrance: Harrison and Essex via 3rd St


5th Street - Caltrain and UCSF Medical Center Mission Bay
Exit: Fifth Street
Stop 1: King St (between 4th and 5th)
Stop 2: Mariposa St at 4th St
Stop 3: Third St at Townsend (optional)
Entrance: Harrison and Essex via 3rd St


SoMa Long
Exit: Fremont St
Stop #1: 2nd St at South Park
Stop #2: Caltrain Station (Townsend at 4th St)
Stop #3: Showplace (Brannan at 7th St)
Entrance: Bryant and 8th St

31 July 2015

Golden Gate and SamTrans do it? Why not AC Transit?

All buses converge on San Francisco's Transbay Terminal, all buses from other counties that is. SF Muni buses can go wherever they want to - it's their county right?
An AC Transit BA bus and Muni 108 Treasure Island leave the old Transbay Terminal a the same time.
Image: munidave via flickr.com
But you, the bus rider, the customer, simply want to get to your destination, whether to work, to visit a friend, or to enjoy a ball game or a night out. If you come into San Francisco from San Mateo County, or Marin County, you can take SamTrans and Golden Gate Transit buses respectively. If you're coming in from the East Bay, most folks take an AC Transit bus. Sure there's BART, and ferries, but many folks do not live near a BART station, so a long distance bus does the job.



Golden Gate Transit and SamTrans weave their way through the city's streets along Van Ness, Mission, and Potrero streets, dropping off folks as they enter. The Transbay Terminal (currently the Temporary Transbay Terminal) in downtown San Francisco is their final destination, and their first pick up point. They then pick up people along their route through San Francisco as they leave. This allows for some of customers to get to destinations other than downtown with a once seat ride, or a single transfer.

AC Transit does not offer this option. If you're going to San Francisco from Alameda or Contra Costa counties, and you're on an AC Transit bus, you get off at the Transbay Terminal. If you're going beyond Downtown San Francisco, you're required to make a transfer to a Muni bus or Muni Metro, or BART (if you're lucky). Note that when the new Transbay Transit Center opens to buses in 2017, bus routes and operations will be very similar to today's operations.

Let's consider some destinations in San Francisco that an East Bay AC Transit Transbay bus rider might want to get to, and how they'd get there after arriving at the Transbay Center.
  • Downtown: walk
  • Civic Center: transfer to 5 Fulton and 5R Fulton Rapid
  • Mission Bay: walk to Embarcadero at Folsom St, then transfer to N-Judah or T-Third
  • Haight Ashbury: transfer to 7 Haight/Noriega
  • Fisherman's Wharf: Walk to Market St, then transfer to F-Market
  • SF State: Walk to Embarcadero Staton, then transfer to M-Oceanview.
The bus transfer makes sense in most cases. The majority of AC Transit Transbay Riders are likely going to Downtown San Francisco, so a special AC Transit bus to the Haight may not make sense due to low demand. However, what about high demand locations in San Francisco that are not within walking distance of the Transbay Center? An AC Transit route to a high demand location might be better served by an AC Transit route to avoid transfers and possibly induce more transit ridership (and reduce vehicular traffic on the Bay Bridge).

In addition, some AC Transit Transbay riders, may not even have San Francisco as a destination, but rather somewhere in San Mateo County - which they would reach via Caltrain. In this instance, a rider must walk 2-3 blocks from the Transbay Center to the Folsom St. Muni Metro Station. Board an N-Judah or T-Third, and then transfer again at the 4th & King Caltrain station to board a Caltrain train. For example, if you live in Alameda, but work in Downtown San Mateo, you must transfer twice, and pay three times. 

I propose that some AC Transit Transbay buses go to a handful of high demand San Francisco destinations other than the Transbay Center. The 4th & King Caltrain Station, Civic Center, Mission Bay, and even parts of SoMa far away from BART. Buses serving these new SF destinations could be extensions of existing routes - stopping at the Transbay Center first, and then moving on to another area in San Francisco, or they could be completely new routes.

In fact, this exact idea has already been proposed. The Bay Crossing Study Update of 2012 proposed adding AC Transit service to 4th & King Caltrain. (see PDF link, Page 36)

"Passengers utilizing AC Transit to cross the Bay Bridge must transfer to another transit service to reach their destination, unless within walking distance. The forced transfer is a deterrent for potential AC Transit passengers.

AC Transit buses could be routed to destinations beyond the Transbay Terminal, including Caltrain’s 4th and King Station, Mission Bay and other hubs, particularly those offset from BART. The buses could then return to the Transbay Terminal, or return directly to the Bay Bridge."

San Francisco Bay Crossings Study Update, Presentation 2012. Source: Bay Area Toll Authority/MTC
If the Bay Area Toll Authority recommended this idea in 2012, then why has it not gained traction. Is it funding (for drivers and/or vehicles)? Politics as in Muni won't let AC Transit do it, or AC Transit isn't interested? or something else?