Sunday, March 1, 2009

Connecting the Dots

Looks like BART to San Jose has hit another snag because of the economy. The ~20 mile extension from the Fremont station all the way to the San Jose airport via downtown has been delayed for a number of years because of funding issues. Last fall the county passed an 1/8th cent sales tax to fix some of this but according to one analysis it won't be enough. I'm not sure if this is really true because the projections show flat sales tax revenues until 2036, which seems to me to be seriously wrong.
Board members used words like "shocked" and "astonished" at the report by consultant Bob Peskin, who analyzed sales tax projections through 2036. Once inflation is factored out, his sales tax projections are essentially a flat line.
But if true, this comes at the same time as a SPUR report that states suburban job growth imperils emissions reductions due to increased driving. As a practical goal, the region should focus growth in the more urban downtowns and urban areas that aren't office parks.
The city, and other urban areas better served by mass transit than suburban business parks, must adjust policies to attract a greater share of office development and employers, concludes "Recentering Work: The Future of Transit-Oriented Jobs in Downtown San Francisco," released by the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association.
So while the BART extension to downtown San Jose might seem like a good idea, its important to note that the round about way in which BART reaches downtown doesn't connect the areas which hold most of Silicon Valley's jobs but rather takes the path of least resistance (ie: existing ROW).

This is a big problem. The line which was conceived many years ago is a continuation of BART and regional authorities poor planning for rapid transit integration with land use. While it might have been state of the art as an idea decades ago, we've learned so much since then about TOD and how connecting destinations strengthens them. No longer will the suburban to urban model work with parking lots catering to the automobile. We need a better analysis of what to do but unfortunately it seems like nothing will stop this move from going through.

The map below shows job density in the valley (From LEHD 2004). Areas with the darkest green are over 20 jobs per acre. But the new BART line (dark blue) touches only the clusters downtown and extension of the VTA light rail line (light purple) go nowhere near the jobs that would attract transit riders.

The VTA Light Rail line hits a lot of the dense job clusters but underperforms because it is seen as slower. I don't know how many people who live in San Francisco have told me that the killer for thier connection to a job in San Jose is the slow round about light rail. This will be the same excuse for BART to light rail on the other side of the Valley.


When we look into these long term Bay Area projects, we need to push planners to think about where people work and where they want to go. It's really important to think about these long term strategies to connect people with jobs and connect jobs to each other. If we're going to be dependent on a knowledge economy here in the bay area, allowing people easy access through transit to amenities and each other is the best way to facilitate energy and emissions reductions. Even if TOD springs up along the new BART line, it won't be as good as connecting the existing clusters of dense jobs with tons of redevelopable parking spaces (see above photo) that might not be needed with rapid transit easily accessible.


Morgan Wick said...

Quit making me feel so sad about this blog's relative unpopularity!

Jarrett Mullen said...

Sometimes I really hate VTA light rail because of the extremely slow speed. With stops spaced every half mile, the system was built for a dense urban environment. Unfortunately, office parks don't really support that kind of stop spacing. If the region was more dense, and had less competition from mega-freeways I'm sure the system would be much more attractive.

With that said, I really like what they did with the Vasona extension. The stops seem well placed, and the 55 mph top speed is a welcome change from the crawl through Downtown San Jose and Sunnyvale.

Brian Goldner said...

"I don't know how many people who live in San Francisco have told me that the killer for thier connection to a job in San Jose is the slow round about light rail."

haha! someone from sf who thinks that light rail in another city is slow! that's great, especially since muni goes about as slow as most local buses in other cities...

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

Depends on what part of the system you live. If you're in the outer sunset yes. If you're in the Duboce Triangle, The Castro or Dolores Heights no.

njh said...

I think they should use the ROW for a high speed light rail link (stations every 5 miles say), linking to the existing system. That means no different rolling stock, more flexibility and the possibility of light rail in the east bay. The existing trams operate at a perfectly reasonable 55mph (which is easily competitive with the freeway in peak hour) and the option would be to bring in some faster units at a later date.

Furthermore, you can mix these with traffic at the ends, you can handle tight corners at the ends, you don't need to retrain the drivers.

The BART to SJ just seems like a really bad idea all around.

arcady said...

The failure of VTA light rail is largely the failure to connect jobs to residents effectively. Yes, it does hit monay job centers, but it doesn't do so well with residences, with by far the biggest number being south of Downtown San Jose. The amazingly slow run through downtown and the long street running on North 1st makes the whole prospect much, much less attractive. If there's one way to make light rail more efficient, it's to interconnect it with Caltrain better, with timed transfers at Tamien and San Jose Diridon to allow riders to transfer from the southern (fast) bits of light rail to Caltrain for a quick ride to jobs in Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View and Palo Alto.

As for what Brian said, yeah Muni might be slow in absolute terms, but a 4 mile ride gets you halfway across the city. A 4 mile ride on VTA barely gets you from Mountain View to the nearest office park. Plain old mileage just isn't a very effective measure when the density of destinations differs so drastically.

M1EK said...

How can a guy who sounds so reasonable in this article then not bat an eye at shared-lane streetcar?