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The Green Caltrain blog is sponsored by BayRail Alliance, an all-volunteer non-profit organization supporting green rail transit in the Bay Area. This blog and BayRail have no affiliation with Caltrain.


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Mountain View City Council kicks off overhaul of downtown Caltrain station

On Tuesday night, Mountain View City Council is holding a study session Tuesday about the downtown transit center.
Mounta
The topics include how to improve the transit center to support many more transit users – at least 10,000 on Caltrain alone, how to handle the at-grade crossing of the Caltrain tracks at Castro/Rengstorff, and what to do with land currently used for parking lots.
Place quality is a big issue that is not talked about in the staff report.  The transit center overhaul needs to do a great job of the meeting the transportation metrics – efficiently accommodating 10,000 Caltrain passengers, 3,000 VTA passengers, flocks of last mile shuttles, and more, with top-notch support for a smooth and pleasant experience for people walking and bicycling.   At the same time the same time the station overhaul should focus on improving and not detracting from Downtown Mountain View as a pleasant and lively place.
Mountain View has an opportunity to consider major changes to the station area layout to enable a retail/housing extension of downtown, since increased housing is one of the top priorities of the new Council.  Since the Caltrain Joint Powers Board owns the big parking lots, Mountain View can explore partnering with Caltrain to use the lots and use money to help support increased Caltrain capacity.
While transit use is going to increase and the parking is currently oversubscribed, the city should seriously study approaches to reduce parking demand and increase the share of non-parking access to the station. The city can consider emerging services such as LyftLine that can give a shared ride to a people coming from the same neighborhood (Palo Alto and Redwood City are starting to look at this approach), and improve bicycle routes to the station and high-quality bicycle parking at the station.
To pay for improvements,   Mountain View has an opportunity consider public benefit from the major developments proposed by Google, LinkedIn and others in North Bayshore as a substantial funding source, since North Bayshore will depend on the transit center. Mountain View can also include and consider the potential of value capture approaches from buildings at the transit center.
The upcoming Santa Clara County ballot measure is a potential important source of funding. Regarding the SCC ballot measure, Mountain View should not try to rush to meet the Santa Clara county ballot measure deadline to submit a project for the at-grade crossing. Instead, Mountain View can lobby for the approach used in San Mateo County to create a pot of funds for such projects and make the funds available with a competitive grant process. That allows cities the time to create great designs that will provide the best transportation benefits and improve places.
The study session will be held at 6:30 or later, after an earlier study session after the bicycle plan.   Come if you can, or send an email with your thoughts to city.clerk@mountainview.gov

Dumbarton Policy Committee seeks project restart

At Friday’s Dumbarton Policy Committee at Union City City Council, the group of elected officials took steps toward restarting the stalled project, starting with the potential for  service between Redwood City and Menlo Park.   At the next meeting on May 29, staff will bring back a summary of the funding available to jumpstart the project, and the cost to complete the environmental review process.

Redwood City Council Member Diane Howard, who recently rejoined after an earlier Council term, summarized the meeting saying “this is the most refreshing conversation I’ve heard about this project in a long time.”

At the beginning of the meeting, the staff painted a scenario that was not optimistic.   The environmental review had been put on hold since there was not enough funding to complete the project across the bay, and a precondition for federal environmental review is having enough money to qualify for more federal funding. But after some persistent questioning from Chair Carol Dutra Vernaci of Union City and Menlo Park’s Kirsten Keith, staff clarified that California’s environmental review process doesn’t have the same condition; that a Redwood City to Menlo Park project probably wouldn’t need seek federal funding, and that it is possible to approve a smaller subsegment in an environmental review; and therefore the project could use available funding to restart a smaller initial project.

The motion to move ahead was supported by all but one of the policy committee members.  The Fremont representative opposed it.  Supporters including BART board member Tom Blalock. This is significant because most of the funding moved from the Dumbarton project went to the BART Silicon Valley project.

In public comment, Jillian Kilby, a graduate student at Stanford talked about research she has been doing about the potential to create a public-private partnership to fund the project, potentially including employers on the corridor such as Facebook and Google. Kilby  has experience implementing public-private transportation projects in Australia. m

Unlike previous sleepy meetings, the meeting was attended by supportive members of the public from both sides of the Bay.  Policy Advisory Committee members encouraged members of the public to support the project restart at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and  the San Mateo County Transportation Authority.  We’ll post updates with new information and next steps.

Tomorrow – will corridor cities re-start Dumbarton Rail

Friday, February 27 is the first meeting of the Dumbarton Policy Advisory Committee following the passage of Alameda County’s Measure BB, which provided funding that could allow the group to re-start efforts to revive the rail project, which was mostly defunded last year due to lack of funds to complete the project.  The group will consider potential reorganization into a format such as a Joint Powers Board that can be more pro-active in moving the project forward.

Given economic recovery and traffic, there has been substantial interest in getting the project moving again, with particular interest starting in the Redwood City/Menlo Park segment.  Redwood City downtown is seeing substantial development, and Menlo Park is updating its General Plan with a focus on the area near Facebook.

The Citizens’ Advisory Panel, which met last week, discussed the potential to reorganize the Policy Advisory group into an entity that could pursue funding.  At that meeting,  Jillian Kilby, a Stanford Graduate student, reported on research on opportunities for public/private funding to help move the project forward, potentially including employers such as Facebook, Stanford (with a major campus in Redwood City), and Google.

The Dumbarton Policy Advisory Committee will also make a recommendation tomorrow about doing a study with recommendations for bus service expansion.

The meeting is in Union City at 2:30pm, which is a challenge for Peninsula corridor residents. If you have time, this is a good meeting to attend.  If you’re interested in carpooling, leave notes in comments. Or if you’re interested in reviving the project, send a note to April Chan (chana@samtrans.com), and copy the chair and vicechair,  Carol Dutra-Vernaci (CarolD@ci.union-city.ca.us ) and Kirsten Keith (KKeith@menlopark.org).

 

 

Update, Assembly Member Mullin’s 101 corridor bill AB378

How is Assembly Mullin’s bill planning to address congestion on the 101 corridor?  As his staff member notes, the bill is a placeholder; he expects crafting the policy to take another year.  The text of the bill’s introduction has some hints, and Michael Cunningham of Bay Area Council, which encouraged Assembly Member Mullin to introduce the bill, answered questions about the preliminary thinking.  Bold is the blogger’s question, italic is Cunningham’s answer, and the rest of the paragraph is background and commentary.

The bill intro says: “A coordinated agency response that integrates carpool or express lane development and operations, adaptive ramp metering technology and operations, and ridesharing can deliver meaningful commuter relief within a five year period and can serve as a model that other highway corridors in the state can emulate.”

Q. Does this mean that the main goal of the bill is to add new lanes on 101? Would the proponents support TransForm’s “optimized HOT lane” proposal which would instead convert an existing lane into a toll lane, and use the funding to support sustainable transportation?   A. Cunningham says the answer is yes – they are aware of the TransForm approach, and would consider it. TransForm’s high level analysis suggests that this approach would result in more congestion and GHG reduction than adding a new lane. San Mateo County is currently having this option studied, as part of its 101 toll lane study, but it would require a change in state law to allow the lane conversion.

Q. How about enabling public transit to provide cross-county express bus service?  A. Yes, this has been considered and could be part of the policy.   Currently, the big tech companies, Google, Facebook and others, run cross-county express shuttles in part because the public transit system makes creating such routes very difficult. Currently, each county transit agency has a monopoly on its territory, and creating a route that crosses territories (like the DB route, which crosses the Dumbarton Bridge from Alameda to San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties) requires a complex bi-direction or multi-directional negotiation.

Q. How about handling the multi-jurisdictional complexity of a congestion pricing policy?   A. Yes, high occupancy toll lanes use congestion pricing, and the goal of the bill is to bring the 3 counties together.   A few years ago, a congestion pricing proposal for 101 by San Francisco failed following opposition by San Mateo County.  This bill could bring the parties together to create a solution that would work for all

Q. How about a governance structure that could manage multiple transportation modes on the corridor with a mode shift goal.  A. Possibly.  There will be a process to gather ideas and evaluate what to do to achieve the goals of the bill.   The placeholder text (see below) discusses creating “governance structures as may be necessary” for new approaches for solutions crossing all 3 counties.

The opportunity for coordination. Transportation on the 101 corridor that cross multiple counties are currently hard to coordinate and fund. The bill is an opportunity to solve several types of barriers that have gotten in the way of transportation improvements.  The exact policies really aren’t decided in advance, there will be discussions over the coming year about which policies and technologies ought to be implemented.

The risk of congestion relief – “induced demand”.  One big potential problem with the framing of this bill is the framing in terms of “congestion relief” which has too often been a false promise undermined by induced demand.   Historically, this has meant adding vehicle capacity to roadways.  And historically, adding vehicle capacity to roadways has quickly been followed by additional vehicle travel on the roadways, consuming all of the extra capacity, and bringing congestion back to previous levels and worse.    Adding vehicle capacity can also reduce the effectiveness of transit; when 101 was widened down to Gilroy, Caltrain ridership to South Santa Clara County plummeted.

California state environmental policy is moving away from defining transportation quality in terms of congestion relief and improving automotive “level of service”, toward reducing vehicle miles travelled and greenhouse gas emissions.   But state law governing state highways still focuses on “congestion relief.”    For drivers stuck in traffic, “congestion relief” sounds like a welcome goal. The language sounds politically popular, who can argue with “congestion relief?”

The alternative is looking at the corridor as a whole, and looking for alternatives to improve the market share of space-efficient, climate-friendly transportation.   Today, perhaps a half-million drivers use the 101 corridor, and perhaps 10% use Caltrain and private express buses, and a tiny percentage carpool.   There is nobody in charge of a goal to reduce vehicle miles travelled and greenhouse gas emissions on the corridor, across all modes.

The ambitious vision for this bill would be to create an entity with a goal, authority, and funding to reduce vehicle miles and greenhouse gas emissions on the 101 corridor, using different modes and technologies, including familiar technologies that need investment and coordination (trains and buses), and new technologies as they become available (ride-sharing apps, autonomous vehicles).  Could this be done in our infamously fragmented region?

 

Assembly Member Mullin introduces bill to reduce 101 congestion

Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Kevin Mullin of San Mateo announced AB378, a “placeholder bill” with the goal of relieving congestion on the 101 corridor.   While the text of the bill wasn’t posted yet, Mullin’s staff said that the bill was a placeholder that could encompass policies, governance structures, and funding mechanisms to achieve the goal of the bills.  Mullin expects that it will take more than one legislative session to flesh out the details of a bill to achieve the goals.

From a broader perspective, there is currently no entity with the mission to monitor and improve drivealone mode share on the Peninsula’s North/South corridor.   Caltrain has a goal to carry more passengers; but if driving on the Caltrain corridor increases at a faster rate than train ridership, and transit mode share falls on the corridor, this would not be Caltrain’s goal or responsibility.   This bill could potentially create an entity that could own that goal.

There are a number of specific gaps in the corridor’s policies that a state law could help fill.   Apparently (corrections welcome in comments), the region’s public transit services aren’t authorized to provide multi-county express bus service, leaving a large gap in service that is currently filled by private commuter buses run by leading Silicon Valley corporations; and leaving workers with smaller employers slogging through traffic. Caltrain lacks stable funding; a bill could create a district to raise a dedicated funding source.  There are other policies that would require legislative action; for example making it legally possible to implement TransForm’s proposal for optimized high occupancy toll lanes which would convert travel lanes to toll lanes and use funding to reduce driving.

There are plenty of opportunities for congestion relief – and beyond that, reduction in vehicle miles travelled and greenhouse gas emissions – on the corridor.  Hopefully the bill can be used to to address these goals.

 

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