Autonomous Vehicles Might Drive Cities to Financial Ruin

By Susan Crawford : wired – excerpt

In Ann Arbor, Michigan, last week, 125 mostly white, mostly male, business-card-bearing attendees crowded into a brightly lit ballroom to consider “mobility.” That’s the buzzword for a hazy vision of how tech in all forms—including smartphones, credit cards, and autonomous vehicles— will combine with the remains of traditional public transit to get urbanites where they need to go…

In the US, most automotive research happens within an hour of that ballroom, and attendees knew that development of “level 4” autonomous vehicles—designed to operate in limited locations, but without a human driver intervening—is accelerating…

The session raised profound questions for American cities. Namely, how to follow the money to ensure that autonomous vehicles don’t drive cities to financial ruin. The advent of driverless cars will likely mean that municipalities will have to make do with much, much less. Driverless cars, left to their own devices, will be fundamentally predatory: taking a lot, giving little, and shifting burdens to beleaguered local governments. It would be a good idea to slam on the brakes while cities work through their priorities. Otherwise, we risk creating municipalities that are utterly incapable of assisting almost anyone with anything—a series of sprawling relics where American cities used to be…

It’s all just money. We have it; we just need to allocate it better. That will mean viewing public transit as a crucial element of well-being in America. And, in the meantime, we need to press Pause on aggressive plans to deploy driverless cars in cities across the United States...(more)

 

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How the Koch Brothers Are Killing Public Transit Projects Around the Country

By Hiroko Tabuchi : NYT – excerpt

A team of political activists huddled at a Hardee’s one rainy Saturday, wolfing down a breakfast of biscuits and gravy. Then they descended on Antioch, a quiet Nashville suburb, armed with iPads full of voter data and a fiery script.

The group, the local chapter for Americans for Prosperity, which is financed by the oil billionaires Charles G. and David H. Koch to advance conservative causes, fanned out and began strategically knocking on doors. Their targets: voters most likely to oppose a local plan to build light-rail trains, a traffic-easing tunnel and new bus routes.

“Do you agree that raising the sales tax to the highest rate in the nation must be stopped?” Samuel Nienow, one of the organizers, asked a startled man who answered the door at his ranch-style home in March. “Can we count on you to vote ‘no’ on the transit plan?”.

In cities and counties across the country — including Little Rock, Ark.; Phoenix, Ariz.; southeast Michigan; central Utah; and here in Tennessee — the Koch brothers are fueling a fight against public transit, an offshoot of their longstanding national crusade for lower taxes and smaller government…

In places like Nashville, Koch-financed activists are finding tremendous success…

But the outcome of the May 1 ballot stunned the city: a landslide victory for the anti-transit camp, which attacked the plan as a colossal waste of taxpayers’ money… (more)

comment on the article:

I live in Nashville. I am a liberal, pro-Transit progressive but even I voted against this transit proposal. Why? IT WAS A TERRIBLE PLAN, and not for the reasons Americans For Prosperity said. I think you do a disservice to this complex issue when you give the Koch Bros. credit of its defeat, at least here in Nashville. The reason a large number of people did not support the plan had little to do with Americans For Prosperity’s argument and more to do with the fact that the plan did not serve the people who need transit the most, would spur development in areas already stressed to the max by overdevelopment, and seemed designed to cater to downtown workers and tourists — two groups who have been more than adequately catered to over the years.

 

Bay Area subway and rail costs: Why are they among the highest in the world?

By : curbedsf – excerpt

The process of designing, bidding, and building mega-projects is a costly one, but it doesn’t have to be this way

Shortly before the Bay Area appeared on lists of the worst traffic in the world, the region set an ambitious plan to move millions of daily car trips to public transportation by 2040. But local transit agencies pay some of the highest subway and train construction costs in the world, which will limit the impact of $21 billion the nine counties pledged to expand the transit network.

“If your costs are higher you will build less,” says Alon Levy, a mathematician turned transportation expert (and Curbed contributor). His simple cost-per-mile comparisons of subway projects expose the astronomical costs of building urban rail in the United States.

When the Salesforce Transit Center opens in San Francisco this summer, a new tunnel will be needed to connect it to the current Caltrain terminus in SoMa. The project, known as the Downtown Extension, is estimated to cost $3 billion for each mile of subway, six times more than the average outside the United States.

The Central Subway, a 1.7-mile tunnel that will connect Chinatown to Fourth and Brannan Streets, is a relative bargain at $923 million-per-mile. But elsewhere in the world, new subways cost half as much..

Rail construction costs compared

  • $3 billion per mile: SF Downtown Extension (DTX)
  • $923 million per mile: SF Central Subway
  • $780 million per mile: BART to San Jose
  • $451 million per mille: Tokyo Metro Fukutoshin line
  • $450 million per mile: Paris Line 14 extension
  • $64 million per mile: Barcelona Sants tunnel…

In the Bay Area, an unusually large number of transit agencies, 28 in total, often fail to coordinate routes and schedules. This leads to a slow and clumsy experience that many would-be riders avoid.

Costly turf war in Millbrae

Caltrain has provided service to San Francisco from Millbrae Station for years. But BART added service there as a part of its $1.6 billion expansion to San Francisco International Airport.

“Caltrain and BART are fighting for turf,” says Levy.

In Paris, a single planning organization, the RATP, dictates routes and spending for new infrastructure. Individual transit agencies operate trains and buses, they do not plan or construct their own expansions…. (more)

This sounds like the Charter Amendment concept the SFMTA was working on to split the SFMTA into two distinct agencies. They just failed to finish the job. No reason to mix future plans with a present system that is needed to operate the present system.

A new report from the Regional Plan Association of New York offers a sweeping suggestion: “The entire process of designing, bidding, and building mega-projects needs to be rethought and reformed top-down and bottom-up.”

But if reform is considered, it may have to come through an unusual degree of political leadership. As the Bay Area weathers another round of newspaper layoffs, a new study found that in places where the watchdog role of newspapers diminished, government costs go up.

A new report from the Regional Plan Association of New York offers a sweeping suggestion: “The entire process of designing, bidding, and building mega-projects needs to be rethought and reformed top-down and bottom-up.”

But if reform is considered, it may have to come through an unusual degree of political leadership. As the Bay Area weathers another round of newspaper layoffs, a new study found that in places where the watchdog role of newspapers diminished, government costs go up... (more)

RM3…the Aftermath

Bay Area Transportation Working Group (BATWG)

June 12, 2018

RM3 Approved…..the Aftermath

RM3 was accepted by the voters of the Bay Area on June 5, 2018. This has created a gigantic $4.45 billion slush fund for regional planners to dispense. Considering that the “Yes on RM3” side outspent the “No” side by least 250 to 1 and yet won by a scant 53.9%, the “Yes” side has little to cheer about. Especially since the votes for successive regional transportation funding measures have been dropping.

RM3 Unfair:  As might be expected, non-bridge users voted mostly for RM3 and frequent bridge users voted mostly against it. All else aside, RM3 was patently unfair in terms of who pays and who gets the proceeds of the bridge toll increases.

RM3 Violates California Constitution:  In addition, the RM3 bridge toll increases are being improperly treated as fees (requiring a 50% vote) when they are in fact taxes (requiring a 2/3rd vote).  On November 5, 1997 the Californa voters passed State Proposition 218 which added Article 13C to the California Constitution.  According to Article 13C a bridge toll increase is a fee only “if it is imposed for the exclusive privilege of the payor (driver & passengers)…”  Since the sponsors of RM3 plan to use the bridge toll increases to pay for expensive projects scattered around the Region including in areas where most of the voters virtually never use the bridges, the proceeds of RM3 are clearly not fees.  Since this puts RM3 in direct violation of Article 13C and since the measure passed by 53.9%, not 2/3rds it should be nullified by the Courts.

RM3 Doesn’t Address Regional Transportation Problems:  Another equally fundamental defect in RM3 is that it neither reduces regional traffic congestion nor bolsters the Region’s lagging public transit networks. There are a few worthwhile projects in RM3, but there are also many turkeys.  RM3 loosely defines 35 projects. Here are some highlighted allocations:

  • BART and Muni fleet replacement: $500 million and $140 million (this is needed)
    Caltrain Downtown Extension: $325 million (also needed)
  • Capitol Corridor Upgrade and Dumbarton Rail Crossing: $90million and $130 million (also needed but the allocations are much too small)
  • Ferrys: $300 million (incredibly, 7.3% of RM3 has been allocated to a system that accounts for only 0.05% of Bay Area trips)
  • BART to San Jose: $375 million (needed perhaps, but the anticipated ridership comes no where close to justifying the cost)
  • Fourteen backward-looking, traffic-inducing highway projects: $2,390 million
  • Vaguely defined transit, transit access and trails improvements: 4 projects; $615 million
  • RM3 allocations lavished upon non-bridge using Santa Clara County: $755 million

Conclusions:  Does BATWG think that RM3 will cause the highway backups and the urban congestion to ease? No….we don’t.  Does BATWG think that the increased bridge tolls are taxes and not fees and that therefore RM3 violates the State Constitution?  Yes we do.

For more information about BATWG, go to www.batwgblog.com

Bay Area Transportation Working Group (BATWG) – No on Regional Measure 3

In an economically dynamic region like the Bay Area the ability to get around is paramount.  Yet in recent years the movement of people and goods in this region has been slowing down.  The highway backups have been getting worse and the hours of delay longer.  Urban traffic congestion has been getting ever more constrictive.

In the past 25 years there have been many opportunities to deal effectively with regional gridlock.  These opportunities have been largely ignored.  Instead, billions of dollars of scarce transportation resources have been lavished on backward-looking highway expansions and ill-conceived parochial and pet projects, mostly of small consequence.

For the following reasons BATWG rejects RM3 as being just more of the same.

  • RM3 contains no unifying plan for addressing the region’s main transportation problems; namely, the excessive freeway backups and urban traffic constraints, and the poorly integrated and otherwise defective regional network of public transit lines.
  • Instead of a well thought out regional plan for returning a healthier balance to Bay Area transportation, RM3 is comprised of a slapped-together $4.45 billion dollar hodgepodge of 35 disjointed individual projects.   A handful of these are worthwhile; however the package as a whole falls far short.  In fact RM3 promises to bring nothing but more backups and more congestion.
  • Another problem is caused by the common practice of MTC, the large transportation agencies and local jurisdictions of diverting funds from voter-approved projects to other uses. BATWG’s efforts notwithstanding, the Sponsors of RM3 have steadfastly refused to guarantee that the money raised will be spent on the projects listed in the Voter’s Handbook.
  • And finally, there’s the matter of RM3’s constitutionality.  In order to qualify RM3 for a 50% “do pass” vote, it was necessary for the sponsors of the Measure to define the $3 + in additional bridge tolls to be imposed by RM3 as “fees”.  However under the California Constitution fees are clearly intended to produce benefits for the fee payers.  Since most of the voters who would be receiving the $billions in new highway and transit projects if RM3 passes would notbe fee payers, RM3 comes nowhere close to meeting that standard.  RM3 is therefore about new taxes, not new fees.  And tax measures require a 7% vote, not a 50% vote.  This puts RM3 in direct violation of the California Constitution.

For these reasons BATWG believes that this deceptive, unfair and illegal measure should be voted down.  By refusing to go along with “just more of the same”, the voters would be sending a message demanding something better; namely a straightforward regional plan that addresses and deals with the Region’s most pressing transportation problems.

Download the doc. (RM3 Opposition May 1718)

Update on the Rail Alignment and Benefits (RAB) Study

Date: Tuesday, May 29, 2018
Time: 6:00 – 8:00 p.m.
Location: Herbst Theater Green Room, 401 Van Ness Street
Language & Accessibility: The Herbst Theater is ADA accessible. For language and additional accessibility accommodations, please contact candace.soohoo@sfgov.org or 415-575-9157 at least 72 hours in advance.

Please join us as we summarize the findings from the Rail Alignment and Benefits (RAB) study, including a preliminary preferred alignment for Caltrain and High Speed Rail: the Pennsylvania Avenue DTX + Extended Tunnel. Community members are invited to provide input on the alignment, adjacent land use opportunities, and next steps.

Please RSVP Here  This event is free and open to the public. RSVPs are not mandatory, but helpful to ensure we have enough materials.

In other news…
You may have seen the recent San Francisco Chronical article “New, simpler rail plan for SF’s downtown rail extension” (April 23). While mostly accurate, the article was incorrect in stating that the Study materials have been made public. The study materials have been released to our partner City agencies for their comments and review through a series of technical committee meetings in April and May, but will not be made available to the broader public until just prior to the May 29 meeting.

Got 6 minutes and 40 seconds?
Watch the RAB Pecha Kucha presentation given at SPUR or see the slides here.

The Rail Alignment and Benefits (RAB) Study is analyzing the best ways to bring Caltrain and High Speed Rail to the Salesforce Transit Center while connecting San Francisco’s fastest-growing neighborhoods on the east side of the City. For more information visit our website.

Update on the Rail Alignment and Benefits (RAB) Study, formerly the Railyard Alternatives and I-280 Boulevard Feasibility Study

Subway contractor knew it was using wrong rails

 By Matier and Ross : sfchronicle – excerpt

The Central Subway contractor that installed 3.2 miles of supposedly substandard track on the new line claims it acted “in full compliance” with its contract, despite being told by the city four years ago that it was using the wrong steel and needed to switch it out, city records show…

On Monday, Maria Ayerdi, the former Transbay Joint Powers Authority boss now working for Tutor Perini on the subway project, sent San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin’s office a letter looking for help in resolving the dispute…

The letter included a statement from locally operated Con-Quest pleading its case and saying the cost of having to replace 201 tons of installed rail “will have an enormous impact on our company” and that if the city “succeeds in forcing our company out of business more than 60 employees will lose their jobs.”

The dispute also raises disturbing questions about city oversight of the subway, which stretches from South of Market to Chinatown…(more)

This project was doomed from the start.

RELATED:

City investigated steel track on another project laid by Central Subway contractor

At the SFMTA Board of Directors, a member of the public called on the SFMTA to inspect other trackway laid by Con-Quest.

“I’m wondering if the rail to be laid in the Twin Peaks tunnel meets these specifications in the contract,” said San Franciscan David Pilpel, in public comment to the board and Reiskin. “Was that high strength rail? Standard strength rail? Is that the rail sitting along Junipero Serra for two years, rusting?”….

Outside the SFMTA board meeting, Reiskin said the issue at Central Subway did not call for the agency to inspect Con-Quest’s other repair work… (more)

 

Bay Area transit agencies among several to receive billions in state funds

By: Daniel Montes :ktvu – excerpt

SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) – The California State Transportation Agency on Thursday announced it would give out more than $2.6 billion to 28 transit agencies statewide, including the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency, Caltrain and BART, as well as several other Bay Area agencies.

The grant funding is part of the Transit and Intercity Rail Capacity Program and will go toward expanding rail capacity and reducing congestion, according to CalSTA officials.

In addition to the $2.6 billion, which will be used for the 2018/2019 fiscal year to the 2022/2023 fiscal year, CalSTA will also provide additional funds for some critical projects between the 2023/2024 fiscal year and the 2027/2028 fiscal year, totaling more than $4.3 billion, CalSTA officials said…

“When the legislature stepped up and passed Senate Bill 1 and extended Cap and Trade last year, these are exactly the kinds of public transportation projects I wanted to see fund,” Wiener said, referring to the Road and Repair Accountability Act of 2017… (more)

Can California sustain the inflationary spiral our state legislature is setting us up for? This is not free money. This appears to be the road repair money we were promised would come out of SB1. How much road repair have we seen? All the shiny new buses need better roads too.

Now the MTC wants us to cough up more money into their coffers by passing one of the most inflationary bills every imagined, Regional Measure Three.

Not only would RM3, as it is known, add at least $3 to the bridge tolls on all the state bridges in the 9-county region, if it passes it will trigger immediate costs of living increases as the cost of shipping everything, including food, goes up. In addition to guaranteed inflation, the voters will see the following impacts:

  • Automatic increases based on inflation that the bill is certain to trigger.
  • The bridge tolls will be used to pay down the considerable bond debt the tax payers have already agreed to.
  • Voters will give up their right to control future bridge toll increases.

FOR THESE AND MANY OTHER REASONS, WE SUGGEST YOU OPPOSE RM3.
And Consider voting to Repeal SB 1. This state imposed bill has already had a negative impact on many lives and businesses in the state as diesel gas prices are already soaring. A bill to repeal the gas tax and return the right to decide future increase will probably be on the November 2018 ballot.

New, simpler plan for SF’s downtown rail extension

By Michael Cabanatuan and J.K. Dineen : sfchronicle – excerpt

Cautious optimism for San Francisco’s East Side communities – there is a less disruptive, cheaper alternative plan for the downtown rail extension

San Francisco’s latest vision for South of Market preserves Interstate 280, gets rid of the Caltrain rail yard, and has the commuter rail line’s downtown extension bypass Mission Bay, instead dipping underground a mile before its current station at Fourth and King streets.

A study to be released Monday, after 3½ years of work, significantly revises an idea raised by then-Mayor Ed Lee in 2013 to improve transit connectivity and create a new neighborhood…(more)

The last thing we need is to destroy another neighborhood to create a new one.

 

 

Open letter to SFCTA and SaveMuni Executive Committee.

Although San Francisco has spent billions of dollars on public transit, the high number and locations of Transit Deserts explain public dissatisfaction—particularly for lower-income people in outlying and southern neighborhoods. Inefficient cost/ benefit infrastructure projects, like the short 1.7 mile/ $1.6 billion Central Subway, have taken local funds from the rest of the Muni system—cutting routes and service disproportionately in isolated communities. Not to mention collateral damage to neighborhood businesses and peoples’ livelihoods. Or annual high operating and maintenance costs that cut bus hours. Going forward, we need to give priority to and accelerate cost-effective projects that improve San Francisco’s public transit system as a whole.

Regards,

Howard Wong, AIA, SaveMuni