Updating BART to Silicon Valley – what has changed since 2000?

The many decades long vision of a ring of rail around San Francisco Bay may be fulfilled in the foreseeable future.  The project to bring BART to Silicon Valley is moving forward, with environmental review beginning now, and funding for the project being sought in a 2016 transportation ballot measure.

The project was originally funded in a ballot measure in 2000. Many things have changed in the last 15 years, and since VTA (which is managing the project) did earlier phases of environmental review.  The environmental review process needs to study project options that are relevant in today’s world, and analyze the benefits and impacts based on current conditions and expected trends.

VTA-BART is soliciting comments and questions with a deadline of March 2.  This page has instructions on where to send comments. They are holding three meetings on February 12, 17, and 19 where you can provide questions for VTA to study.

In order for VTA (and voters) to make good decisions about the project, there are key questions to ask about how this project would be most valuable in today’s world.   Read on, and add your own questions .

Bart to Siicon Valley

San Jose General Plan – Urban Villages

Since the plan was first conceived, San Jose conducted a major update of its General Plan, Envision 2040 that was adopted in 2011. The General Plan included ambitious goals to evolve the sprawling city, focusing jobs and housing growth in “Urban Villages”, and greatly reducing the share of driving.

  • San Jose has recently completed a plan for the Diridon Station Area, which depends on service by BART and Caltrain to achieve its transportation goals.

  • The Alum Rock area was the focus of the city’s first Urban Village plans, created in a process that was strongly supported by local residents.

Caltrain ridership increase and electrification.  

Since the BART-Silicon Valley was funded in 2000, Caltrain ridership has well over doubled. The introduction of the Baby Bullet in 2004, which made the train faster than driving, helped drive a rapid and continuing increase in ridership.

Caltrain electrification has been funded, with contributions from local and regional stakeholders, and the project is scheduled to be complete in 2020/2021,  before BART will reach San Jose.

Caltrain electrification is expected to result in even faster, more frequent service, including service to the currently lightly-served Santa Clara station, and Caltrain will be better able to support close schedule connections with BART service at Diridon.

California High Speed Rail.  

Since the BART Silicon VAlley plan was conceived and last studied, the California High Speed Rail project has been funded; the first segment has broken ground; and a plan for a “blended system” with Caltrain has been adopted to serve San Jose to San Francisco.

With High Speed Rail added into the mix, the Diridon Station will be even more of a major regional transit hub.  Connections to San Jose International Airport, which were considered from the Santa Clara station years ago, may be better suited for Diridon.

Platform compatibility between High Speed Rail and Caltrain, may create opportunities for designs for the Diridon Station that provide better transit connections, and have more economic development value for the city

Transbay and the Downtown Extension

The Transbay Terminal is under construction in San Francisco, and is planned to serve Caltrain and High Speed Rail. The Downtown Extension project to connect Caltrain from it’s current stopping point at 4th and King to the Transbay terminal is not yet fully funded, but a funding plan includes contributions from High Speed Rail and major new buildings that are currently being build around the station.   When complete, the Downtown Extension will provide a one-seat ride between San Francisco’s financial district and downtown San Jose.

Given all of these changes, here are some questions that are relevant for the Environmental Impact Report:

  1. Assume it is possible to create a 5-minute transfer from BART to Caltrain at Diridon.    What will be the difference in ridership, if those riders are provided a one seat ride to Santa Clara, rather than if they need to make a 5 minute transfer at Diridon.

  2. What would the impact be on Santa Clara station ridership, if Caltrain can provide four trains per hour at peak?

  3. How many more jobs are accessible to low-income residents in the Alum Rock area, within a 45 minute transit commute, if a station is added at Alum Rock.

  4. The cumulative section of the EIR should include the Downtown Extension to Transbay.  For a passenger starting at Diridon station, how long will it take for them to get to Montgomery BART station at a peak travel time if they head “left” via Caltrain, or “right” via BART

  5. Study alternative locations for train storage and maintenance and train reversal for the BART Silicon Valley extension if the Santa Clara extension is not built in this phase

  6. If the Santa Clara extension will not be built in this phase, study alternative locations for an additional station that do not duplicate existing backbone rail service.
  7. With platform compatibility between Caltrain and High Speed Rail, it may be possible to create a more compact, cost-effective station that leaves more land for economic development.  Is it possible to add additional transit facilities or buildings above the BART terminus?

  8. The City of San Jose has initiated a study evaluating alternatives to provide an SJC connection from Diridon Station. In a cumulative scenario including high speed rail, compare the ridership between SJC and Diridon, and ridership between SJC and Santa Clara.

What other questions do you have for BART-VTA to explore about the project in today’s world?