Election results on the Caltrain corridor and beyond

In Bay Area elections, Santa Clara County Measure B passed; San Francisco’s Measures J and K failed, and BART Measure RR passed.  Next steps include attention to implementation in Santa Clara County, circling back in San Francisco, and urging San Mateo County to carry its weight.

On a national level, the election results create extreme uncertainty about the role of the federal government in covering a share of major transportation projects, and grave risks to the planet’s climate trajectory, while putting more responsibility on the state of California.

Measure B – the devil is in the implementation details

Measure B includes $300 Million for Caltrain capacity improvements, $700Million for Caltrain grade separations, $1.5 Billion to bring connect BART to Caltrain, and $500Million for improved bus operations.

Now that the measure passed, close attention to implementation will be needed.  It is now up to the board to determine the order in which projects will be built.  It is up to the board to determine how the bus funding will be used to improve service and reduce the impact of coverage cuts.  It is up to the board, and local cities and advocates to determine whether the “complete streets” requirements will work to make people safer, and all the more so to demand safety with expressway projects that don’t have those requirements.

Funding for the BART project has assumed federal funding as part of the package; the future of federal funding is up in the air. The BART project includes a redundant segment connecting Diridon to Santa Clara, duplicating Caltrain service.  How will that fare in final evaluation?

The ballot measure includes $1.5Billion in funding for expressway and highway capacity increases. New California Environmental Quality Act rules are likely to ask projects that increase driving to mitigate that increase with transit, trip reduction, and active transportation.  Can supporters of sustainable transportation get the new rules enforced?

Regrouping in San Francisco

In San Francisco, Measure J, guiding spending on Muni, BART, Caltrain, ped/bike safety, and homeless services passed, but Measure K which would raise the money that Measure J would divvy up, failed overwhelmingly, with 65% voting no.   San Francisco voters, who typically support transit, may have been confused in the clutter of 24 ballot measures. The campaign organizing started late and was not well funded.  The measures had been approved by the Supervisors with support from both of San Francisco’s competing “progressive” and “moderate” factions, but more money and attention went to other measures on the ballot than to these core functions of local government.  Transit advocates will need to regroup and not take a friendly electorate and politician support for granted.

San Mateo County needs transportation direction

San Mateo County passed Measure K, which is expected to support affordable housing pending decisions by the Board of Supervisors, but sat out the 2016 election for transportation. The upcoming San Mateo County Transportation Plan 2040 is likely to be used to set direction for future ballot measures. But the current draft has a proposed spending plan that is 2/3 for roadways; attention will be needed by supporters of transit and sustainable transportation.

National deep uncertainty

The regional results are clouded by deep uncertainty about the future of transportation and climate policy on a national level.  As a candidate, Donald Trump vowed to pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Accords, while the polar ice caps are at record lows.  Trump has talked about major infrastructure investment, but the scarce information available casts doubt on the benefits for transit.   Rather than direct infrastructure investment, a Trump program might provide tax credits for contractors to build for-profit projects, which would be of dubious value to transit and other infrastructure projects that provide more positive social benefits than direct financial returns.  Not to mention questions about whether a Republican-dominated Congress would further minimize spending on transit, and whether California, which voted overwhelmingly for Trumps opponent, would be excluded from spending.

Meanwhile, California’s governor and lawmakers have vowed to keep moving forward on protecting the climate, immigrants and other minorities, civil liberties, health care, and more.  For supporters of sustainable transportation in California, there are major challenges ahead.

Elsewhere in the US, Seattle passed ST3, providing $54Billion for transit, while Los Angeles passed Measure M, providing $120 billion for transportation including 64% for transit expansion and operations. With support from the federal government dubious, will the Bay Area be able to pull together to fund coordinated regional transit?

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