Caltrans Delays Major East Bay Project After Local Backlash

By Diego Aguilar-Canabal : thebaycitybeacon – excerpt

The state transportation agency pushed “pause” on a disruptive freeway project after it ran afoul of Emeryville and Oakland.

After major pushback from Emeryville, Oakland, and Alameda County officials, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has delayed a major construction project that would tear down the “MacArthur Maze,” a series of overpasses connecting the I-80, I-580, and I-880 freeways near the eastern entrance to the Bay Bridge. Adding to their frustration, city officials say the purpose of the project isn’t clear, while other capital improvement projects on nearby state highways languish.

Emeryville residents, including Councilmember John Bauters, were alarmed to receive a notice in March of a public hearing at Caltrans District 4 offices that had already taken place in February, where the project’s environmental assessment was laid out. “Caltrans has been working on this project for almost two years and never contacted Alameda County, Oakland, Emeryville or any of the regional boards that oversee transportation or air quality standards about their work on this proposal,” Bauters wrote in response.

Bauters immediately called Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, who also had no prior knowledge of the project. Schaaf, who told KQED she was “furious” over the situation, called officials at the Port of Oakland, who were similarly caught by surprise.

Earlier in the year, Caltrans issued a Draft Environmental Document (DED) as required under California’s environmental laws. The state agency ultimately provided a “Negative Declaration,” meaning the project would have no adverse impacts. But Emeryville and Oakland officials immediately pointed to major traffic issues the project would create, as closing freeway ramps for construction would divert thousands of trucks and commuters onto smaller surface streets…

Caltrans appears to have heard the city loud and clear. The project is now indefinitely delayed….

That was hardly enough for the irate Councilmember Bauters, who insisted that the process should start all over again, if at all… (more)

More dishonesty among the thieves at Caltrans discovered by major city mayors, not aware of plans to tear down major freeway access to the Bay Bridge. Honestly? this sounds like a joke on The Onion, not a serious news headline.
What happened to the idea that government is elected to serve the public at their pleasure? Could it be the cold bureaucratic culture that is running amok in America, that breeds dishonesty, greed and corruption?

How do we stop the growth of this sickness that has taken over our country? Should we start by filing complaints? Do we need new prescriptive legislation that spells out in clear language not only what is required of our civil servants, but, what the consequences may be if they fail to uphold the laws and the letter and intent of the law where public notice and input is concerned?

Embattled SFMTA Chief Ed Reiskin Stepping Down Following Chronic Muni Breakdowns

cbslocal – excerpt (includes video)

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Amid a rising tide of discontent over the state of San Francisco’s public transportation system, transit director Ed Reiskin announced Monday he will be stepping down from his position in August.

In a letter to his staff, Reiskin said he would be leaving the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency when his contract runs out in August…

Supervisor Aaron Peskin told KPIX 5 Saturday he has spoken to several other supervisors about changing SFMTA in such a way that it is more responsive to the public.

“Things happen when you have a complex system, things do break down,” Peskin said. “But it seems that the cascading number of events and the way they’ve handled it with the media and with public officials, has left a lot lacking.”… (more)

I now a lot of our readers are breathing a sigh of relief and anticipating some changes in the near future that may bring a more wholesome honest public transit system that the public may rely on when they need it. We certainly deserve something better for the billion dollars a year.

Technical glitch Friday adds to Muni’s labor woes, crippling light-rail system

By Rachel Swan and Michael Cabanatuan : sfchronicle – excerpt

An equipment glitch in the downtown San Francisco subway tunnel choked Muni service Friday, the latest woe for a transit system that’s reeling from operator shortages, passenger injuries and complaints about its new trains.

What’s been a soap opera week for Muni hit a new dramatic point during the Friday morning rush hour, owing to an overhead wire that came down between Powell and Civic Center stations. Reported at 6:30 a.m., the mishap forced trains to turn back at various locations, leaving commuters to wait.

Officials rushed to provide triage with bus shuttles from West Portal station to downtown, and from Castro to Embarcadero stations. BART provided mutual aid from Balboa Park.

Muni began repairs at about 8:30 a.m., and maintenance work dragged on through the day as bewildered commuters took to social media. By mid-morning the agency tweeted that it had “no ETA” for a fix, but that it hoped the Metro trains would be “up and running before the evening commute.”… (more)

Some of us gave up on this system years ago. More people every day are jumping off the bus. Today is an outstanding meltdown, but, as many people know this is the norm. Citizens expect this every day regardless of how they travel.

While Sacramento politicians are passing stringent zoning and development bills, (SB50 and SB4 passed in committee today) to force more, denser housing next to transit hubs, and developers are designing “transit villages” to stack people on top of transit stations with no parking. The transit systems are crumbling faster than they can pass the bills.

The irony is that the bills claim ten minute wait times for transit pickup. That should eliminate most of San Francisco. You may design a public transit system that is meant to remove traffic and speed travel times for riders, but, if you can’t make the system work, you are wasting everyone’s time and money. That seems to be the biggest talent at SFMTA. Nobody can waste more time and money than SFMTA.

Residents who are fed up with both transportation and housing options are moving out to the suburbs, preferring longer commutes and larger, more spacious homes with yards and other amenities that are being eliminated in the city growth plans.

As more residents and businesses leave, the employers should start to build outside the city. That is the easiest and cheapest way to reduce crowding and traffic. Raising wages in the suburbs would also help many choose to work closer to home.

What It’s Really like Driving a Muni Bus in San Francisco

By Ashleigh Papp : thebolditalic – excerpt

Dealing with all the bullshit as an SFMTA operator

“A guy starts taking his pants off and squatting down. I’m looking in the rearview mirror and telling him, ‘Please do not do that.’ But what does he do…?”

Telesia Telsee, more commonly known as Lisa, closes her eyes and nods silently. She’s been working as a Muni operator since 2001—and she’s witnessed it all.

“I’ve seen a lot of changes over the years,” she said as the KT Muni train beeped and the doors closed.

To better understand what life is actually like as a Muni driver today, Telsee has invited me to tag along on her ride as we shadow another operator. We’re sitting down in a shiny new seat of an LRV4, one of the recently rolled-out “light-rail vehicle” trains of the SFMTA, and just agreed to do the entire KT-Ingleside-Third Street line, which takes about three hours in total. From Bayshore Boulevard and Sunnydale Avenue to San Jose and Geneva Avenues, I watched the morning commuters hop on and off the train, survived a few traffic jams and learned a whole lot about the job…

“A lot of drivers have a schedule that they want to keep, but the rule I was taught was safety first.”

Telsee points out ways to improve the passenger experience in the new trains, such as stickers to help new riders know how to find the stop-request button and clearer language on the emergency-call buttons. Both of these ideas make total sense to me, so when I asked why they weren’t implemented to begin with, she mentioned a disconnect between upper management (who were involved in the designing of the cars) and experienced operators like her. She didn’t harp on it too hard, but as she was pointing out all her ideas, I couldn’t help but notice the chasm between those who sit in the office dictating the way Muni should work, figuratively in the driver’s seat, and those sitting on the road, literally in the driver’s seat(more)

SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin’s Statement on LRV4s

sfmta.com

On behalf of the SFMTA, we want to inform the public of the steps that we are taking to assure the safety and reliability of our new fleet of Muni light rail vehicles.

In light of an incident where a woman got her hand stuck in the train’s rear door, we have been working to conduct additional tests to review the safety of the doors. Yesterday, after performing a number of safety tests on our doors, we found that while all the doors passed safety standards, the single-pane doors at the front and rear were not as sensitive as we believe they should be while operating in service.

The safety of the City’s transportation system will always be the SFMTA’s top priority. The Siemens LRV4 doors were tested extensively prior to entering service to ensure that they comply with American Public Transportation Association (APTA) industry safety standards and were certified for revenue service by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).

Out of an abundance of caution, we immediately put into place a series of measures, which were also reviewed by CPUC staff:… (more)

Safety Expert Says Muni Dragging Incident is About More than Faulty Doors

: streetblog – excerpt

The operator’s main job in the Market Street tunnel is to make sure it is safe to proceed. Either the new trains have serious blind spots or the operator didn’t do that.

Earlier this month, a woman whose finger was caught in the door of a new Muni train was dragged and badly injured at the Embarcadero Station. Recriminations are focusing on the doors, which apparently don’t always properly reset when a small object obstructs them from fully closing.

The city has responded by delaying funds for additional car purchases. According to a statement from SFMTA, they will be locking the rear doors on the new Muni trains so that “…operators can focus on seeing passengers entering and exiting the single doors nearest to them which adds a level of safety vigilance.” The agency also wrote that they “…want to remind customers to avoid holding the doors open in any way.”

But focusing solely on the doors, according to a safety expert and others familiar with transit operations, misses a larger issue…

 “Muni has a broken safety and operational culture if it allows a train operator to drag a woman who has her hand stuck in the door.”…

“Riders deserve to understand what went wrong and what’s being done to prevent it from ever happening again,” said Hyden. “We need Muni to take responsibility and be clear about any changes needed in management, oversight, training, maintenance, procedures, or testing.” (more)

 

State investigating injury of woman whose hand got stuck in Muni train door

“It’s important to remind people not to stick their hand in the door right before it closes,” Rose said. “Not only can you delay the train, but you can also hurt yourself. – Paul Rose.

REALLY?

Predicting when the doors are closing is like predicting an earthquake. I have been on the light rail twice in the last two decades and I almost got caught in a closing door the last time.

SF City Officials don’t seem to be able to control the SFMTA system they created. Maybe the state will take it over, or at least embarrass them into acting on behalf of the public for a change.

New Muni trains delivered with defective doors

By Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez : sfexaminer – excerpt

Rider caught in door, dragged onto tracks and hospitalized due to lack of vital safety mechanism

At least some of Muni’s newest light rail vehicles — part of its more than $1.1 billion future train fleet — appear to have been delivered with doors that clamp down and lock on objects and people, documents obtained by the San Francisco Examiner reveal.

That door defect may have seriously injured a Muni rider last week… (more)

Thankfully we still have a free press. Do we need more proof that the system is broken? This is not good news for the those who approved the fast-tracked purchase of the unpopular Siemens cars. Will use the one tool they have to curtail the SFMTA? Will the Board of Supervisors refuse to sign the SFMTA budget?

A public department that ignores the public it serves is not a well-run department. It appears the SFMTA wants speed and they riders want safety and comfort instead. The public demands better. Speed is not the answer.

Who at City hall stop this insanity? Who will admit to a coverup? Will someone finally fall on their sword and take the blame? How will SFMTA’s director and PR czar spin this one?

Will City Hall finally let the public speak for themselves and consider their wisdom? Thanks to everyone who tried to bring reason to the department that has no ears and uses its power and public funds to silence those who do speak out.

APTA: Public transit ridership down in 2018

By Katie Pyzyk : smartcitiesdive – excerpt

Dive Brief:

  • Americans took 9.9 billion public transit trips in 2018, a 2% decrease from 2017, according to a report from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).
  • Bus ridership fell 1.84%, light rail (streetcars, modern trolleys, heritage trolleys) fell 2.98% and heavy rail (subways and elevated trains) fell 2.6%. Commuter rail was the only mode with a ridership increase at 0.41%.
  • Of the 31 large and small city transit systems included in APTA’s data, 20 experienced year-over-year ridership losses, nine experienced gains and two did not have data available.

Dive Insight:

APTA’s data mirrors other associations’ and federal data that indicate overall decreases in transit ridership the past several years. Data released in the fall from the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual American Community Survey showed that citizens’ commutes became longer and in 2017, nearly 12,000 fewer commuters used public transportation.

A recent KPMG report suggests that transit agencies embrace industry disruptions and cater to customers’ changing tastes — namely, by moving away from fixed-route buses and toward new mobility options, or partnering with private companies who offer such services. It also suggested that transit agencies become more savvy with using rider data to determine where and when people need to travel to devise viable microtransit solutions… (more)

This is looking more and more like rock soup

By Tom Rubin

I’m sure everyone knows the fable about the hungry beggar who begins making rock soup, boiling a pot of water with nothing in it but rocks. When someone asks him what he is doing, she says he is making “rock soup” – and uses a spoon to sample the taste. “Yes, it is coming along nicely – but could use a bit of flavor – like some peas.” So, she brings him some peas, he adds them, and tastes again. “Very nice – but some beans would add quite a bit” – and another on-looker helps out. After several such events, he has a very tasty soup.

Rock soup.

What the transportation powers-that-be are doing is proposing a very complex system of running both high-speed rail and commuter rail on the same set of two rail tracks with a large number of grade crossings, many stations, and not a lot in the way of storage, passing, and cross-over tracks. One of the major problems will be that HSR is proposed to operate with only one stop between San Francisco and San Jose Diridon Station and no stops between Diridon and Gilroy. In order for HSR to be HSR, it must severely minimize the number of stations. But, in order for commuter rail (aka regional rail) like Caltrain to be successful, it must make multiple stops – in fact, between Gilroy and San Francisco, where HSR will have only two stations, Caltrain has 27 stations (not counting three that are only used on weekends and for football games).

When trains are using the same pair of tracks going in the same direction, for a faster train to pass a slower one is not simple and requires careful planning and properly designed track. The original proposal was for four tracks, two for HSR and two for Caltrain and other non-HSR use. There were to be great efforts – and expense – to minimize the number of at-grade crossings. (The Final Caltrain/HSR Blended Grade Crossing and Traffic Analysis identifies 40 at-grade crossings between SF and Sunnyvale Avenue.)

But, the residents along the rail corridor, mainly on the Peninsula, rose up in protest and the plan for four-track operation has been killed, at least for the time being. The improvement of the at-grade crossings is preceding, but these are very costly, can be very difficult to do for many reasons, and will, best case, take many years – and it may not be possible to convert all of them. San Mateo County is currently studying/implementing improvements of the 35 in its territory.

According to the Traffic Analysis, there are six storage/passing tracks in each direction, including two in each direction to be added, between SF and SJ.

The report discusses the modeling of “6/0,” “6/2,” and “6/4” operations – as in six Caltrain and zero, two, or four HSR trains per hour – and, without getting into great detail, operating even ten trains an hour will require a lot of work and will – based on very preliminary analysis subject to much change – for the 6/4 scenario, result in three to five crossings experiencing declines in gate down time (rubber tire traffic delays going down) and the rest will experience more gate down time.

The Traffic Analysis does not go beyond the ten train operating scenario, but, as simple logic would tend to indicate, furthered by the trend that in the Analysis that ten trains create more issues than eight and eight more than six, it is not difficult to include that, without major reductions in the number of grade crossings – AND THESE MUST BE THE “RIGHT” GRADE CROSSINGS – sixteen trains would likely create significantly more rubber tire delays than ten.

Even if all the grade crossings were to be eliminated, it would still be quite challenging to be able to operate sixteen trains per hour without significantly slowing HSR – very possibly to the point where it becomes impossible for HSR to been the Constitutional requirement for two hour and forty minute operation between SF and LA – that is, assuming that this would be possible even if HSR was the only use of this track.

The projection of Caltrain ridership increase – from the current 60,000 daily riders to 161-207,000 – is also questionable, as is the projection for the 40% increase in population within two miles of Caltrain stations by 2040 (and how many of these would have the slightest interest in using Caltrain is another important question).

So, for this to make sense, there has to be a massive increase in population, with a high percentage of the population increase interested in using Caltrain and having a way to use it (as in, how are they going to get to and from the Caltrain stations at both ends of their trips), plus the capacity for access, parking, and station platform capacity at the stations along the line, plus sufficient capacity for passing movements to allow the express HSR, and the limited-stop Caltrain Baby Bullet trains, to pass the every-stop Caltrain trains, and for the HSR trains to pass the Baby Bullet trains, and then for more capacity at the proposed Salesforce Tower terminal, and the money to pay for all this, and to subsidize the HSR service once it begins operation (which is prohibited by the State Constitution), and for the HSR service to be able to meet the 2:40 time requirement, and for the general populace to not object to any and all of this sufficiently to make this politically impossible.

All in all, rock soup.

… except that this recipe does not appear to be very mouth-watering.

Tom Rubin