Sunday, November 1, 2009

Job Centers Should Be Center

As Becks notes, I think its important to start thinking 20 years ago about transbay capacity. Unfortunately we haven't had a real conversation in the region about it. A second tube (I believe with four tracks for commuter rail and BART) is certainly needed to reinforce San Francisco and Oakland as the central job centers of the region. But why waste $10B on a new tube as Rafael from CAHSR blog says in the comments when you could be creating more jobs in the regions other centers.
Instead of demanding the construction of a second BART tube for $10 billion, perhaps we should be asking why everybody and their grandmother absolutely, positively has to work in downtown San Francisco to begin with.
I'm pretty sure San Francisco's CBD only has a certain small share of the region's overall jobs, perhaps 10-15% at most. I'm guessing here but for the most part this is the case in most of the country. But the reality is that since the jobs are clustered so tightly, they demand usage of alternative transport. They also are places of agglomeration and its not an issue of the execs getting a corner office but where face to face meetings and deals happen at lunch. (This is a whole other topic but I don't believe E-working is every going to replace working in an office with other people) There is a reason why the first BART system was built, because leaders of the area wanted to be the Banking Center of the West Coast and needed that critical mass of density and prestige to achieve it.

Another issue here is that of sprawl. There is this belief that the highways and housing policies were what caused the sprawl with the thought that more people could just drive into the central city. But in reality its even more nuanced than that. We've been building these roads out but when we do that we create these job centers and edge cities on the periphery that increase the outward migration pattern. People keep moving out and towards the exact point at which they can have a thirty minute commute or less from their job center. For jobs such as finance or research or science that are transit oriented, this means less people taking transit and more people deciding to drive their cars. I'm fairly confident that less Chevron employees take transit to work these days. It also means less urban office parks with parking lots that increase reliance on SOVs even more. We see this with Pleasanton and the continued movement of people out to Stockton.

If we're truely going to be transit oriented and sustainable in this region, we can't put a cap on the jobs in the center cities and continue to push jobs out to the periphery. If you don't spend that $10B on a second tube and push for more development (residential and employment) in BART's current reach in the inner East and West bay and even more money on an actual urban rapid transit network to connect to the existing bus network, I would argue that you're going to be spending much much more money to try and get people to and from their exurban and suburban job centers let alone the difference in city services (water sewer police fire) that must be supplied to all of these new suburbs and growth.

23 comments:

Peter said...

how much for a tram over the Bay Bridge again? a quick stop at treasure island in the middle.

arcady said...

It's a very important point to remember that sprawl was driven by jobs just as much as by residences! There was definitely a major movement of industry from the city out to the suburbs, and a lot of office space also ended up being built in the suburbs. And while it's possible to commute from a suburb to the center city, it's much more difficult to do so in the other direction, unless the suburb happens to be a tightly clustered one around a train station.

Andrew said...

Though certain types of industry were always on the edges of cities, transport policy & zoning comes into play here.

Anonymous said...

"There is a reason why the first BART system was built, because leaders of the area wanted to be the Banking Center of the West Coast and needed that critical mass of density and prestige to achieve it."

Though why did they allow the Key System to be trashed in the first place?

david vartanoff said...

As last weeks glitch on the Bridge reminded us, we do need more redundant throughput. However, NO further BART wrong guage/incompatible trackage should be built. Any four track tunnel under the bay should be fully cross compatible so that any of the tracks can be used by any of the trains. As to restoring tracks to the Bridge, not doing this is/was criminal in the planning for the new east span.

The edge city/suburb/urban core land use of the Interstate era has been a major climate and social disaster. Facilitating secession by the better off and disinvestment from the urban cores has accelerated both economic decay and the worsening social/educational state of our cities. Beyond encouraging tele commuting, we need to insist on denser office clusters and remove the huge parking lots in favor of more green space or housing.

arcady said...

The Key System was trashed because in its state at the end of its life it was functionally obsolete. The buses that replaced it were almost certainly faster, because the trains had a top speed of about 30 mph. The trains themselves, though they were built in the 30s, had their propulsion systems lifted from 1910's-era streetcars, so they were already 2 generations behind state of the art in the 30s. The only options at the end of the Key System's life were a major overhaul (something like what happened with PATCO) or closure. For various mostly political reasons, they ended up deciding to replace the Key System with BART.

AlexB said...

One good reason for another transbay tunnel is that there is only one. Every major city has at least a couple subways; Chicago, Philly, Boston, even Atlanta. New York has about 20 sets of tracks passing between Jersey or the boroughs to Manhattan. One transbay tube? Are you kidding?

The reason we have singular major job centers is that the size of the center reinforces itself and draws a variety of other activities to it. Market street has a huge number of different types businesses very close to BART stops. It's not just the financial jobs.

arcady said...

The problem with the Bay is that it's a pretty big obstacle, and very expensive to overcome, and it might make sense to make as much as possible of the existing transbay capacity on both the bridge and tunnel. In the case of the bridge, this probably means reinstating the streetcar tracks. I'd propose two tracks replacing two lanes, and having the final configuration be three general lanes in each direction and a pair of reversible lanes, possibly reserved for HOVs/buses. In the case of the Transbay Tube, the limiting factor right now is the speed with which passengers can get off the train at Embarcadero and Montgomery, as well as the lack of convenient places to turn trains around before Daly City. The next generation of BART rolling stock will have more doors, thus allowing for shorter dwell times, and perhaps they could build a turnback track south of Civic Center, and that might let them run 28-30 tph through the tube. Alternatively, they could build a second subway on the SF end, and quad track the section between West Oakland and the Oakland Wye, and maybe be able to push 40 trains per hour through the tube, with very precise dispatching (train timetables with 10-second precision, that sort of thing). It would still be a fairly expensive proposition, but might give a better cost-benefit ratio than building a new BART tube.

Of these options, the bridge train is probably the most cost effective: it can potentially add 50% to passenger capacity of the bridge, while only taking away 20% of the lane space, and might not even be too expensive to build. I suppose that's why it wasn't ever considered: it makes far too much sense.

Anonymous said...

I'm fairly confident that less Chevron employees take transit to work these days. It also means less urban office parks with parking lots that increase reliance on SOVs even more.

This is like nails on a chalkboard - I can't even concentrate on what you're writing about. It's fewer Chevron employees, and fewer urban office parks. Repeat after me, "less" for continuous quantities and "fewer" for discrete ones.

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

Arcady, If we put train tracks on the bridge, that still means that if one line fails, there's only one backup. I'd feel much better with triple redundancy than just an expansion on capacity.

arcady said...

PT, it's pretty much San Francisco's fault for putting itself on a peninsula like that, and being so hard to get to. Even coming by road from the Peninsula, there aren't very many ways to get into the city: 101 and 280 freeways, Bayshore and El Camino. And from the north, it's just the Golden Gate Bridge and a couple ferries. There's just not much redundancy anywhere, because it's simply not cost-effective. This isolation is a big part of why SF ended up as California's second city rather than keeping its early lead. The only way to make building the very expensive redundant links be cost effective is if SF were to become a much bigger center, which would probably require a lot of political and cultural change to allow the city to allow that much new growth.

Jon said...

really makes sense to have a conventional rail tunnel between SF-Oakland for HSR and commuter rail. diesel commuter rail (electric in tunnel) service from SF to sacramento via cap corridor, service from SF to stockton via oakland & livermore. minor detail but throw the california zephyr and san jouquins in the tunnel too.

Too bad downtown oakland and berkeley dont have conventional rail lines running through them, sort of odd when you think about it that the rails in the east bay completely miss the population centers and run along or near the shoreline. regardless commuter rail (extended caltrain) still makes some sense as far as i'm concerned in the easy bay especially to the north to richmond.

these commuter rail lines could be somewhat complementary, somewhat redundant to BART in the east bay.

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

That's a good point Jon. I really think we can shuffle all of those trains through a standard gauge tunnel and open up a lot of possibilities. And you're right about Oakland and Berkeley. Emeryville would benefit a lot from this and Oaklands Jack London isn't in a bad position but there would be an issue with the number of trains coming through that might necessitate tunneling, in which case you might want to curve it more towards downtown imho.

arcady said...

Yes, a commuter rail tunnel from SF to the East Bay might make sense. But how much use will it realistically get? Capitol Corridor plus commuter service is at best a 2-3 tph proposition for a while, and I can see maybe 4 tph from the southern East Bay lines. The other problem is that the potential for through service is rather limited: there's no way heavy rail is going over the Golden Gate, and a tunnel there is infeasible, and there's a fairly limited number of destinations to the south that are not more easily reached by other means: mostly South San Francisco and possibly Redwood Shores. In the other direction, I suppose there would be some traffic to Emeryville. It just doesn't seem like a good idea. But I think this might be one of those proposals that will need to be revisited in 10-15 years.

Jon said...

I wonder if it would be possible to lay track into Downtown Berkeley via the old SP/Key route as a branch line (Stanford/Adeline/Shattuck). I recall that there is excess street width along the corridor. Run short EMU trains (so that they are FRA compliant). These could run more frequently.

I could see Caltrain to Richmond being quite frequent (at standard Caltrain levels of service). I think commuter rail to Richmond would probably require a complete rebuild of the UP line thru Emeryville (at least from what I recall of the route)... grade separate with 4 tracks (2 for freight into Port of Oakland, 2 for passenger rail). Perhaps another line SF-SJ via Oakland, Hayward, although BART pretty closely parallels this corridor, so maybe less frequent service??

MB94128 said...

There are three natural bay crossings for rail - Central (e.g. BART's), San Mateo, and Dumbarton (moribund trestle). The last two have density problems (not enough of it) but the Dumbarton corridor should be reserved for a future version of VTA's LRV. I've long been tempted by the thought of an East-West Link that tied San Mateo and Hayward together. This could tie into the ACE (Altamont Corridor Express) or BART.

BART's problem is that they left out the Van Ness Tail facility that could have held up to three trains. [If there weren't such a provision in the original design then the planners were negligent.] All of us who have ridden BART have experienced slow-downs due to a crippled train trying to get out of downtown S.F.

A new Central Crossing would have a lot of benefits. But using it for BART would be a non-starter. My optimistic WAG is for a price of $50 (FIFTY) billion ($5 * 10**10) not ten billion dollars when you factor in the various connections.

The problem with a std. gage bore isn't the tunnel itself - it's the connection to the Transbay Terminal (TT). I believe the current design has a North-South orientation and is all tail. This would require a large wye somewhere between the TT and Fourth + King (current terminus).

There is a way to sweeten the deal. Why go S.F. - Oakland ? Why not take advantage of the former Alameda NAS for a station and yard space ? Then go on to Oakland and beyond. That gives a major bedroom community more links into the transit web and keeps the bay crossing to a reasonable length.

Adirondacker12800 said...

it can potentially add 50% to passenger capacity of the bridge, while only taking away 20% of the lane space

The Lincoln Tunnel XBL carries 60,000 passengers during the hours it's open. Rail should be able to better than that. So you are looking at doubling the capacity of the bridge by using one lane in each direction for light rail. . . Maybe their first step should be an exclusive bus lane in peak direction....

Matt Fisher said...

Well then, I'd like it more if BART was standard gauge. Instead they get the Indian gauge. I just don't know why they truly went with it.

Matt Fisher said...

I should reply to my own comment. That comment about the rail gauge had something to do with, well, somebody's comment. And if the Key System tracks on the Bridge were replaced by car lanes on the grounds that they were better, well then, why not put the rails back in?

Jon, your suggestion regarding the old Key route would be more appropriate for LRT, IMHO. I don't see this being appropriate for EMUs. Put them on existing rail tracks where they belong, kind of like an S-Bahn type service. BART is in a way like the S-Bahn in where it goes, but it's a true metro unlike the S-Bahn. EMUs would probably have been more appropriate from Concord to Pittsburg/Bay Point or on the branch to Dublin/Pleasanton, but then in some parts it would still require new track (and the latter would be surely the case).

Alon Levy said...

Matt, how is BART more like a metro than the S-Bahn services? It uses old railroad rights of way, with tunnel sections in city centers; it's fully electric and through-routed; it combines commuter rail frequencies in the outer edges with metro frequencies in the core. The only problem with it is that unlike S-Bahn services, it does a shit job of serving urban neighborhoods away from downtown.

Arcady, BART could add a second Transbay Tube built to standard gauge, on a dedicated line separated from the other BART lines. It could market it as a BART metro to the existing system's regional rail. The new line should be primarily urban, going under Geary in San Francisco and serving Oakland and Berkeley in Alameda rather than Richmond and Fremont. With that configuration, a bellmouth to Transbay Terminal could allow commuter trains to use the tube, sharing infrastructure.

arcady said...

Alon, and everyone else, don't forget about loading gauge. Commuter trains around here are double deckers 16 feet high. They wouldn't fit in any tunnel built for a rapid transit line.

Alon Levy said...

First, if we're talking about a new tunnel, then they can build it to a higher loading gauge.

And second, just because they can run double-deckers doesn't mean they need to - they can run EMUs to gain passenger space in the cab car, and then lengthen trains. If the service runs under Geary it will have to be electrified anyway and built to rapid transit specs, including multiple doors per car to improve pedestrian flow. Double-deckers are limited to 3 doors per side and even that's a stretch, with most limited to 2; rapid transit EMUs go up to 6 and many have 4-5.

MB94128 said...

To : Alon Levy et al
Please remember that the S.F.Bay area has balkanized transit. The chances of a merger between two of the majors (e.g. Muni, BART) is lower than the proverbial cetacean fecal matter. A merger or joint powers agreement would be required for a BART line under the Geary corridor. Plus, in San Francisco ANY BART tunneling proposal would cause a firestorm of opposition. San Franciscans have a long memory about BART's rape of Market St. and Mission St. The proposed ending this year / early 2010 of the Fast-Pass-covers-BART-fare-in-SF benefit stirred up more flak than B-24s over Ploesti.

I have seen some blue sky proposals for a rail line along the Geary corridor. The problem is that it would be hideously expensive due to the geography. A special problem would be dealing with the Fillmore underpass. The best I can come up with is to have the station a block or two away and tied into the Japantown Mall. The Masonic underpass is easier to deal with due to a major Muni facility just to the north. That could provide space for both a station and a mini-yard. The terminus is the final sticking point. Ending the line near the end of Geary Blvd. is a waste. Bending the line northwards to the Golden Gate Bridge is a non-starter. Trying for a northern circle route and tying into the Chinatown Extension is also a non-starter due to the extension not going far enough (they should at least be aiming for Fort Mason [near Van Ness Ave,] - a transit center in the Presidio would be better). That leaves one reasonable choice - the Great Highway Connector.

The Great Highway Connector is the western missing piece in Muni's rail systems. It could be a link between the L-Taraval and the N-Judah. If the Duboce Tunnel were closed then the western end of the N-Judah line would be dead. And the requisite shuttle buses would stretch Muni's resources to the breaking point. But if the GHC existed, even as a single track line, then trains could be sent out on the L-Taraval line, bend north on the GHC, and turn east to provide service from the beach to the Cole St. portal. That would reduce the number of shuttle buses to something manageable.

Note - there is a missing piece of trackage on the east side of town. The T-Third line is vulnerable to a range of traffic-related problems in the two short blocks just south of Fourth + King as well as King St. itself. Somehow a bypass link from the south end of the drawbridge on around into the N-Judah's mini-yard got left out of the plans. At least Muni has a secondary railyard on Third Street near 25th St. to supply and store cars.