Battle of the blueprints: Should I-280 stay or should it go?

By Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez : sfexaminer – excerpt

Some San Francisco residents are roaring over a study to explore tearing down a portion Interstate Highway 280 in Mission Bay, which could clear the way for a Caltrain extension downtown.

But two sets of blueprints obtained by the San Francisco Examiner paint contrasting futures of I-280, including an effort to put the brakes on the proposal decades ago.

One set of blueprints, drawn in 1969, planners say shows evidence that to build a new Caltrain extension, I-280 must come down — no questions asked.

The other set of plans, two decades old, purportedly shows a road not taken — how the Caltrain extension could be built without the need to tear down I-280.

Meanwhile, the latter idea is gaining support. After a packed public meeting last month when local residents of Potrero Hill and The City’s southeast booed and hissed over the proposal, political heavyweight John Burton, the state’s democratic party chair and a former congressman, joined a chorus of voices denouncing the plan.

“Well, I think it’s stupid,” he told the Examiner of the possibility of tearing down I-280. “It’ll clog up Potrero.”

He’s not alone. Former Mayor Art Agnos previously told the Examiner he would personally launch a campaign against the I-280 teardown if it were pursued.

Planners are now preparing for another meeting on March 30 to discuss the possibility of tearing down the freeway, which they argue will “open up” Mission Bay to the community.

Plan 1: Narrow Freeway Must Come Down

Blueprints of I-280 drawn in the 1960s by the Department of Public Works show one glaring issue, planners argue:

I-280 is too narrow to bore a tunnel underneath…

Plan 2: Tunnel a Walkway

When told I-280 must come down, a retired Bay Area engineer had essentially one reply: Nope.

Gerald Cauthen is a retired engineer from consultants Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade & Douglas, Inc., based in San Francisco. While most retirees keep knick knacks from the office, like a favorite paperweight, Cauthen kept blueprints.

Lots of blueprints.


Among them are a set of drawings labeled with the Muni “worm” logo, titled “Phase 1 Design Conceptual Engineering Drawing,” which was last redrawn Nov. 5, 1993.

Cauthen says these plans show another solution to extending Caltrain downtown.

The plans show Caltrain tracks to the Downtown Extension depressed only five feet below the surface, instead of tunneling underground.

To join Mission Bay with the rest of The City, the blueprints feature a construction nowhere else in San Francisco — an underground roadway, and accompanying pedestrian passage.

It’s far better, Cauthen said, than tearing down I-280 and turning the freeway into a boulevard…

Blueprints #1: Shows the narrowness of I-280, which planners argue mean the freeway must come down to tunnel. (Click here to view).

Blueprints #2: Shows unused plans for underground roadway/walkway. (Click here to view).


Phase I Design Conceptual Engineering Drawings

Ed Reiskin, director of transportation at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, said that plan doesn’t pan out.

“Forcing us to create depressed canyons to connect Mission Bay to the rest of The City would be problematic from a land use and transportation standpoint,” Reiskin said on KALW radio, in mid-March…(more)

California Lawmakers to Scrutinize New Bullet-Train Plans

By Alison Noon and Julliet Williams : AP : abcnews – excerpt

California lawmakers expressed dissatisfaction Monday with a plan to change the direction of a $64 billion high-speed railway, with one Assemblyman concerned he could travel through Star Trek’s fictional teleportation device before the train would arrive in his district.

Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, said during a joint hearing of the Assembly transportation and select rail committees that he’s frustrated by the train’s delayed timeline. Previous blueprints would have run the first high-speed trains between Merced and the San Fernando Valley by 2022; the latest plan delays that service by seven years.

“It makes me feel like I’m going to be with Captain Kirk on the transporter before I’m going to be on high speed rail,” Gray said.

High Speed Rail Authority Chairman Dan Richard and Chief Executive Officer Jeff Morales apologized to Gray for failing to notify officials in his Merced district of the major change in the business plan to build the rail northbound before going south. Gray encouraged them to tell lawmakers how they can help speed the project.

Lawmakers so far have played only a limited role in high-speed rail…

The new plan calls for building the first 250-mile segment from the rural town of Shafter to San Jose at a cost of nearly $21 billion. The first leg would begin operating in 2025 — three years later and 50 miles shorter than the original planned route that would have sent trains to the San Fernando Valley.

Project backers are touting it as the first plan to build a fully operable line using only available funding. But a briefing prepared for lawmakers ahead of Monday’s meeting notes: “The funding outlined by the authority is far from guaranteed and associated risks remain high.”(more)

This is why we must spend millions on new studies to tear-down 280 and realign the partially electrified rail line into San Francisco? So someone somewhere can demand cash for a questionable future so-called high-speed rail train? Be prepared to ask many questions tonight.


Has BART’s cutting-edge 1972 technology design come back to haunt it?

By Matthias Gafni : bayareanewsgroup – excerpt

In 1972, President Richard Nixon sat in a brand-new BART car and took a quick trip from San Leandro to Lake Merritt. He commented on how the train reminded him of NASA.

He wasn’t far off. The consultants who designed the gleaming new rapid transit system did, in fact, use principles developed for the aerospace industry rather than tried-and-true rail standards.

Cars were lighter, more aerodynamic and controlled almost entirely by an automated computer system. As Fortune magazine put it, the move was like going straight from a DC-3 to the 747 aircraft.

But did BART’s ingenuity decades ago doom it for shutdowns such as the ones that have crippled the system in recent weeks? Or is the agency’s problem typical of a 44-year-old system with infrastructure nearing or exceeding its life expectancy?


Experts say it’s likely a bit of both. The Space Age innovations have made it more challenging for the transit agency to maintain the BART system from the beginning. Plus, the aging system was designed to move 100,000 people per week and now carries 430,000 a day, so the loss of even a single car gets magnified with crowded commutes, delays and bus bridges.

On March 16, 50 cars suffered electrical shorts as they drove over a section of North Concord track because of a power surge that remains a mystery. The problem has led to a bus bridge, train shuttles between North Concord and Pittsburg, delays and crowded trains. BART uses almost 90 percent of its total fleet of cars on a daily basis, a high number in the industry, which leaves it little room for breakdowns.

“Back when BART was created, (the designers) were absolutely determined to establish a new product, and they intended to export it around the world,” said Rod Diridon, emeritus executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute in San Jose. “They may have gotten a little ahead of themselves using new technology. Although it worked, it was extremely complex for the time period, and they never did export the equipment because it was so difficult for other countries to install and maintain.”

Rather than stick to the standard rail track width of 4 feet, 8.5 inches, BART engineers debuted a 5-foot, 6-inch width track, a gauge that remains to this day almost exclusive to the system. Industry experts say the unique track width necessitates custom-made wheel sets, brake assemblies and track repair vehicles. The agency also debuted a flat-edge rail, while other systems tilt slightly inward. That BART design requires more maintenance and is noisier, experts say.

Those one-of-a-kind systems lead to a dearth of readily available replacement parts. Maintenance crews often scavenge parts from old, out-of-service cars to avoid lengthy waits for orders to come in; sometimes mechanics are forced to manufacture the equipment themselves.

Crews faced that familiar challenge when the latest electrical surges fried some $1,000 thyristors, rare propulsion control parts, which usually take 22 weeks to order. BART crews have cannibalized other cars and found a faster supplier, but the part will be slightly different due to the rush job…(more)

It’s Time to Shift Road Funding to Counties

By John Moorlach : capoliticalreview – excerpt

Last week, yet another high-profile scandal involving mismanagement rocked the California Department of Transportation – Caldrons, and yesterday I  introduced Senate Bill 1141, which would launch a pilot program shifting road funds and maintenance duties from Caltrans to county governments.

Caltrans is one of the worst managed, most inefficient government agencies in the nation.  Just look at the metrics. Californians pay among the highest gas taxes and the highest per-mile road maintenance, yet we also have the nation’s fifth worst roads.  Those are clear signs that Caltrans is dysfunctional and wasting taxpayer money.  If Caltrans was a private company, it would have been out of business long ago.

SB 1141 would launch a pilot program that allows two California counties to handle their own road maintenance needs, and to receive the road funding that typically would have been administered by Caltrans for those maintenance needs… (more)


California High Speed Rail Authority Forfeits Cap and Trade Money Assemblyman Hadley bill redirects funds to local transit

by Stephen Frank : capoliticalreview – excerpt

California High Speed Rail Authority Forfeits Cap and Trade Money
Assemblyman Hadley bill redirects funds to local transit
Assemblyman David Hadley,  3/23/16

Lost in the recent announcement that the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) is shifting its initial route to northern California was the fact that this route is ineligible for $600 million in cap and trade funds. In the 2014 budgetary process, the legislature designated cap and trade funds to the High Speed Rail project on the basis that it would provide pollution relief to underserved communities in the Los Angeles Basin. The new route now excludes these underserved communities and removes the entire basis for High Speed Rail receiving these cap and trade funds.

Today, Assemblyman David Hadley (R-Torrance) announced the introduction of Assembly Bill 1717, which will redirect those forfeited cap and trade dollars to fund local transit projects that directly benefit disadvantaged communities.

“The High Speed Rail Authority’s decision to build the northern California route breaks the promise made to Southern California taxpayers. My legislation will ensure that cap and trade dollars go to the disadvantaged communities they are meant to help,” said Assemblyman Hadley.

In 2014, the legislature passed Senate Bill 862, which provided that 25 percent of all cap and trade dollars must go toward benefiting low income Californians. With 60 percent of the state’s disadvantaged communities in Southern California, the change in route for the High Speed Rail effectively makes this requirement impossible to meet… (more)


BART gets real on social media; now it’s Muni’s turn

By : sfexaminer -excerpt

BART’s brutal honesty about its budget shortfalls went viral across the country last week, and now it’s Muni’s turn to step into the social media spotlight.

BART suffered electrical troubles last Wednesday in the East Bay, which sent 50 malfunctioning trains out of service and spawned the usual social media anger.

This time, though, BART tweeted something unexpected to its critics: honesty.

“BART was built to transport far fewer people, and much of our system has reached the end of its useful life. This is our reality,” the agency tweeted to its detractors and 135,000 followers.

The direct tone from a public agency spawned coverage from The New York Times, which called it “extreme candor.” A headline from national blog Gawker proclaimed, “Wow – Finally Some Honesty From Government.”

Now, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency may have a lofty new bar to live up to, in terms of government frankness…

Among the new budget proposals are offering a 25-cent discount to those who use Clipper Cards instead of cash, redefining youth for certain Muni discounts from 17 to 18, raising fares on seniors and those with disabilities who receive discounts, and increasing the cost of monthly passes that include BART access by five dollars.

One set of costs is not changeable — the “automatic indexed” fare increases.

In 2017 and 2018, Muni will increase most fares, which, by law, rise with inflation. Adult fast passes with BART access will jump from $83 this year to $89 by 2018, according to the SFMTA…(more)

3rd Annual Panel Discussion: Bay Area Growth and Transportation

Event to be held at the following time, date, and location:

Sunday, April 10, 2016 from 1:30 PM to 3:30 PM (PDT)

Noe Valley Library Cummunity Room
451 Jersey Street
San Francisco, CA 94114

Panel Discussion, featuring two distinguishing panelists:


Thomas Rubin, Consultant, with over four decades of experience in government surface transportation and finance.


Gerald Cauthen, Transportation engineer, founding member of Bay Area Transportation Working Group and Save Muni.

Hosted by the Libertarian Party of San Francisco

This event is free, and everyone is welcome. Bring your questions for Q&A!

Share this event on Facebook and Twitter

We hope you can make it!

Aubrey Freedman

Report: With Eye on Self-Driving Cars, Uber Buys 100,000 Mercedes

Posted By Chris Roberts : sfweekly – excerpt

The word out of Germany today is San Francisco-headquartered Uber is buying 100,000 Mercedes-Benz S-Class sedans — not for the world’s largest and most obnoxious rap video (“I got 99 problems/but an employee ain’t one”), but in order to prepare for the not-too-distant future where taxis — and Uber drivers — are eliminated with self-driving Uber vehicles.

The news first broke via a German publication, Manager Magazin, which noted that both Uber and Daimler (the parent company of the German luxury auto of choice) have been investing “heavily” in autonomous technology: Uber hired away most of Carnegie Mellon University’s robotics team, and Mercedes has an S-Class that’s able to navigate traffic by itself, Engadget notes.

For Uber — notorious for treating its workers poorly, as if they were excess, unwanted baggage only here by way of necessity — the end goal seems clear: a sentient fleet of Ubers, sans drivers (the company already has one, after all).

And while the original report, sourced from anonymous sources, is now being refuted by anonymous sources, apparently Mercedes wasn’t the only automaker Uber approached.

Tesla was another. No matter who supplied them, “[Uber] wanted autonomous cars,” an anonymous source told Reuters. “It seemed like they were shopping around.”…(more)

SFMTA to study Central Subway extension to Fisherman’s Wharf

By Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez : sfexaminer – excerpt

San Francisco’s newest — and still under construction — subway may soon see an extension from Chinatown to Fisherman’s Wharf.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency recently allocated $1.2 million in its budget to study extending the T-Third Central Subway from its terminus in North Beach all the way to Fisherman’s Wharf.

Some are calling the study a major first step by the SFMTA that shows a clear sign of moving toward a new subway than ever before.

The San Francisco County Transportation Authority previously conducted a feasibility study with the SFMTA, said SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin.

“[The new study] would go a level deeper,” he told the San Francisco Examiner. “This would do more community work and more technical work, to tee it up into preliminary engineering into environmental impact and analysis.”

Reiskin affirmed his support of the project while clarifying that nothing is set in stone.

“It doesn’t guarantee we get a subway built,” he said. “I sure hope they will see this project come to fruition. If you look at the very long term in The City, it makes all the sense of the world.”

The study is one of many items in the SFMTA’s newly proposed multibillion dollar budget for fiscal year 2017-18, which will be debated at town hall meetings throughout March. The SFMTA Board of Directors is set to vote on the budget in April…(more)

7 Key Bay Area Transportation Projects Likely to Lose Funding

Michael Cabanatuan : mcclatchy – excerpt

Seven Bay Area transportation projects that could untangle congested interchanges, make East Bay BART stations brighter and more comfortable, create better routes for bicyclists and smooth the drive for commuters may be delayed for years, regional transportation officials decided Wednesday.

A committee of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission reluctantly identified a $71.3 million collection of projects to lose financing for at least five years to cope with a massive cut in state funding blamed on plummeting gas tax revenues and a lethargic Legislature that has failed to heed the governor’s call for a transportation funding fix.

The state Transportation Commission in January slashed $754 million from its five-year budget for projects. The Bay Area’s share of the cuts is projected to be $80 million to $96 million, a huge hit that leaves the region unable to keep pace with its growth and go-go economy. More cuts could be coming. Kenneth Kao, an MTC planner, said the agency will work with state officials to make any cuts above the $71 million.

The list of projects tentatively scratched, putting off their funding until at least 2021, includes:

  • A new interchange where Interstate 680 meets Highway 4 in Contra Costa County. The interchange would replace an outdated and overwhelmed cloverleaf design that’s snarled with commuters forced to weave in and out of traffic.
  • Improvements to the Highway 101/Highway 92 interchange, another traditional cloverleaf that routinely backs up traffic in San Mateo.
  • Brighter, more colorful and more spacious BART stations in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. BART plans to upgrade its 1970s-era stations with brighter colors, new lighting, wider concourses and waiting areas and easier access. Station remodeling plans are in progress at the 19th Street Oakland, downtown Berkeley, El Cerrito Del Norte and Concord stations.
  • Enhanced access from Oakland to the bike path on the Bay Bridge’s east span. A series of trails and lanes is planned to make it safer and easier for bicyclists to pedal to the popular bridge trail.
  • A new bicycle and pedestrian bridge over Highway 101 at Adobe Creek in Palo Alto, replacing an underpass that’s flooded as much as half of the year.
  • A plan to create Jepson Parkway, a north-south thoroughfare between Fairfield and Vacaville, by connecting and widening existing narrow roads.
  • Rehabilitation of Airport Boulevard From Highway 29 to the Napa County Airport in southern Napa County. Work would include repairs, repaving and new bike lanes…

Members of the MTC’s programming committee reluctantly approved the list of cuts, which still needs to be ratified by the full commission — but not before expressing their frustration…(more)

Could it be time to listen to the requests from the state’s taxpayers for a change?