31 May 2013

Bad Bolts & BART Accidents = Build 2nd Transbay Tube

What with today's BART Transbay Tube Maintenance Train Tossup and the ongoing Bay Bridge Bolt Bust, it calls to mind that we really need a third viable option for crossing the bay from Oakland to San Francisco. Our region's economy and vitality relies on these two work horses of transportation. However, they are at virtual capacity and if anything goes wrong, the whole region goes into a traffic tailspin.

Image: The Look of Rapid Transit (1962) via Eric Fischer

Image: Bay Area News Group/Laura A. Oda
In the last few years, several events have caused the Bay Bridge or BART to shut down or severely reduce capacity and create traffic hell. Remember the falling steel brace in 2009 that caused a 6-day emergency closure of the bridge? That caused BART to break its one-day ridership records at the time.  Likewise, remember the three alarm fire near West Oakland BART station that shut down the tube during the morning commute. That same day, a major motorcycle accident closed all westbound lanes of the Bay Bridge for several hours.

Image: Dee Dee Jay Hector via SFist

So we have had several incidences of the bridge closing, or the tube closing, and in one instance BOTH!

THIS IS NOT GOOD. We must be better and call for and build a much more resilient system with multiple redundancies. A Second Transbay Tube must be built. So many issues are calling out to have a second tube built:
  • general population growth requires more Transbay capacity
  • crowded BART trains with increasing ridership
  • the threat of an earthquake shutting down the tube or the bridge
  • the ominous though that the new bolt busting Bay Bridge west span is inadequate for the seismic task

21 May 2013

Guerrilla Advertising: Farm Edition

Walking down an urban street, we are often drawn to storefront windows, the greenery and shade of trees, and the vibrancy of having a busy sidewalk mixed with cars and bikes passing by. We also sometimes notice ads wrapped on light posts or graffiti (condoned art graffiti or guerrilla graffiti) on walls and windows.

In one particular case, at 657 Valencia St., sandwiched between the Elbo Room and Curry Up Now!, ads covering the boarded up building promote a less conventional thing:a family rice farm in Northern California. Lundberg Family Farm, south of Chico, espouses its farm practices in the "ad" noting that it uses Non-GMO (Genentically Modified Organisms) seeds and farming "in parternship with nature by using ecological farming techniques that care for the soil, wildlife, air and water." As stated by Jessica Lundberg,

"We feel that the consumer has the right to know if they are consuming genetically modified food."

The farm's blog has a very well written piece titled, "A Farmer's Rebuttal to the Arguments Against GMO Labeling",  which goes point by point through the false arguments made by the Proposition 37 which would have required all food made with GMOs be labeled.

  • Conflicts with Science
  • Full of loopholes
  • Higher grocery bill
  • Hurts farmers
Essentially Lundberg Farms debunks all of the claims that GMOs are safe (much like Rachel Carson did the same debunking "safe" pesticides. In addition, the notion that labeling hurts farmers is countered with the fact that many foods are labeled for other things, such as saying where they're from (California vs. Chile) or that they're organic. I.e. labeling is a normal thing that would never hurt farmers and would not create a higher cost.

The style of the posters uses hand written looking fonts, and is written in a light and fun tone, with the names of the farmers above their heads, or a description of "Mo the Llama" who guards the sheep from wild dogs and coyotes.

Although I couldn't tell for sure what the farm was trying to promote or sell, I was highly drawn to the style of the poster ads, and that they seemed to have a more traditional approach to farming (non-GMO seeds, possibly organic, etc.). I only found out that they are a rice farm by looking them up online... but maybe that was what they wanted all along. The message of the ads also presented the farm as a family farm that produced high quality safe products while also caring for the environment and helping out neighborhoods in need.

11 May 2013

(Ped) Tunnel Vision

Making a transfer between rail lines can be frustrating, but it can also be a valuable bridge to getting to your destination. Without the bridge, you're stuck. But with the bridge, even if it's an 900 foot tunnel, you're much more likely to take a train, especially considering traffic on the highways and streets.
Detroit's Airport McNamara Tunnel (800 feet)  moving sidewalk. Image: Wikipedia.org
With the Downtown Train Extension Tunnel (DTX), Caltrain and, later, High Speed Rail will reach the Transbay Center, giving San Francisco and the Bay Area the opportunity of a unified rail network for the entire Bay Area that is interlinked with major hubs/transfer points in Downtown San Francisco, Downtown Oakland and eventually in Downtown San Jose with the Silicon Valley BART extension.

However, without a 1 1/2 block (900 foot) tunnel, there is no effective connection between Caltrain and BART. As an analogy, imagine driving on I-80 to Nevada. However, when you near the border after Truckee, the four-lane highway narrows to a two-lane highway and has a series of stop signs as you cross into Nevada. Shortly after crossing the border I-80 returns to ease and comfort of a less congested four-lane superhighway. Would you drive to Reno under those conditions? Building the pedestrian link from the Transbay Center to BART and Muni Metro is the key to the Bay Area's integrated and interconnected transportation system in San Francisco.

We also have an opportunity to provide better access to Caltrain from more of San Francisco if the Downtown Extension Tunnel (DTX) is realigned down 7th Street and Mission Street with a Mission Street Station. We will talk more about this and its connectivity and transfer benefits later.

Rendering of possible pedestrian tunnel linking the Transbay Center to a BART/Muni Metro station on Market Street. Image: TJPA

Why build a pedestrian tunnel?

Under the original plans for the new Transbay Transit Center, a pedestrian tunnel would link the underground rail station at Transbay to either Embarcadero, Montgomery St or both stations. The Plan explains the need for good transfers, not only to the new Transbay Center, but also between BART and Muni:

"While the Transbay Terminal is only 1½ blocks from the BART station, it is far enough to make transfers an inconvenience, particularly to those with disabilities or unfamiliarity with San Francisco transit systems. Even the transfer between BART and Muni within the station is often frustrating to riders. With no direct connection from one platform to the other, riders must go from the BART platform level, all the way up to the Concourse, through two faregates and then back down to the Muni level (or vice-versa)."
(emphasis added)

Why should we have a tunnel? The quote above answers this. Added to that, without the tunnel, many fewer folks would make a transfer from BART to Caltrain, or Muni Metro to AC Transit buses. The tunnel would also benefit other transit service to Transbay including Greyhound, WestCat, Amtrak, Golden Gate Transit and SamTrans.

The goals of such a tunnel, as stated by the TJPA, are:
• Provide a direct connection for passengers transferring between BART/Muni Metro and the Transbay Center
• Provide a sheltered and direct connection
• Reduce overall travel time during passenger transfers
• Accommodate the needs of elderly and disabled passengers
• Provide a safe passage under Mission Street and reduce congestion on neighborhood streets and sidewalks 

I would rewrite the first bullet or add:
• Provide a critical link in the regional transportation network through a direct connection between BART/Muni Metro and Caltrain/CAHSR.  

The original Transbay Terminal FEIS called for the tunnel to reach Embarcadero Station via Fremont Street, but it could also run under Beale Street. Likewise, a tunnel to Montgomery St. Station could go under First Street, zigzag through Ecker Place or via Second Street. Similarly, the BART Embarcadero Station Access Plan of 2002 recommends linking Embarcadero Station with the lower level of the new Transbay Center.

The challenge so far has not so much been the idea of the tunnel, but who will pay for it. Under the Transbay Center's Phase 1, the tunnel is not funded, and instead considered for Phase 2 which is not yet fully funded.

So who should pay for it? All groups that would benefit from it! BART owns and operates Embarcadero Station with Muni running trains there. The Transbay Center is being planned by the Transbay Joint Powers Authority (TJPA) with transit operations run there by Caltrain,  AC Transit, Golden Gate Transit, Muni, Greyhound, and future California High Speed Rail. Of course all of this is happening in the City of San Francisco. From a scan of the internet, it appears that none of the parties are funding such a tunnel, even though most would gain from the easy transfer that would likely boost ridership. In other words, unless a large pile of money comes from the Federal government or elsewhere, everyone is saying, "I'm not going to pay for this since it's up to the others to pay for it." That's the way it appears, at least.
Image: TJPA

To tunnel to Embarcadero or to tunnel to Montgomery.

Where should the tunnel go? The TJPA reported on the feasibility of a pedestrian connection tunnel in 2007. Four alternatives were examined:
  • Beale Street (Alternative 1)
  • Fremont Street (Alternative 2)
  • First Street (Alternative 3)
  • Ecker Place (Alternative 4)