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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.


San Francisco passes measures A and B, votes down Measure L

San Francisco voters passed measures A and B to fund Muni, Caltrain, walking, and bicycling, and defeated Measure L which attempted to turn the clock back on SF’s transit-first policy.  The transit funding will help with planning to advance the Downtown Extension to Transbay, pay for Muni equipment upgrades and service improvements, and increases the likelihood that San Francisco will pay its Caltrain bills.

Alameda County passed transportation funding measure BB.  Among a great many investments to transit, active transportation, and roads, there is a small amount allocated that can be used to fund staff to help seek funding to revive Dumbarton Rail.

 

For who support transit and active transportation, congratulations, and for those who voted and volunteered, and organized, thanks!

VTA postpones review of 2-station BART project

Faced with mounting community pushback to the proposal to eliminate the Alum Rock station, the VTA has changed the dates of its community meeting to November 12th a future date not  yet announced, and the VTA board discussion to December 11th.    The meetings will cover a VTA staff proposal to apply for federal funding for a 2-station project (Downtown and Diridon), without the stations earlier proposed for Alum Rock or City of Santa Clara.

Television news covered the community meeting  last week Thursday where local residents organized opposition to the Alum Rock station cut. The East San Jose station had been the centerpiece of an Urban Village plan that the community had worked on for over a decade, which was an inspiration for the urban village strategy in San Jose’s General Plan, fostering future development concentrated in walkable places near transit.

Screen Shot 2014-11-02 at 6.41.46 PM

If you live in San Jose – or if you want to see a great Caltrain/BART connection in San Jose – come to these meetings if you can.

Fast-moving discussions and decisions – BART to San Jose

The VTA board is scheduled to consider the next phase of the project bringing BART to Silicon Valley on Thursday November 6 – just four weeks after VTA staff first presented an updated recommendation about the next phase of the project. (The BART-Silicon Valley project is being managed by VTA).

As reported earlier, VTA staff proposed that the next phase to be implemented should include the Downtown and Diridon stations (connecting to Caltrain at Diridon), but should defer the stations planned for Alum Rock and City of Santa Clara.

Update: according to a clarification from VTA staff, the board will not be taking a vote on November 6.  So, is it the case that VTA staff can move forward with a 2-station project preferred for federal funding an environmental clearance without board approval? We’ll check further and post as we learn more.

In response to the announcement, community members in the Alum Rock area have been expressing concern (see the comments to this blog post). The community had engaged in a planning process for nearly a decade for the area around proposed BART station and BRT line, resulting in a urban village plans with broad community support.

Five Wounds Church - the central landmark in the neighborhood near the proposed Alum Rock Station

Five Wounds Church – the central landmark in the neighborhood near the proposed Alum Rock Station

VTA scheduled a community meeting meeting where staff will present and be available to answer questions about the proposal, the day before the VTA board meeting where the decision is scheduled to be made. The meeting will be held on Wednesday, November 5th at 6:30pm, at Martin Luther King Library 150 E. San Fernando second floor.  This close scheduling will make it difficult for community members to communicate to the board.

To prepare for the public meetings, there is a neighborhood association meeting tomorrow night – Thursday, October 30th at 6:30pm, at McKinley Center, 651 Macredes Ave in San Jose, organized by community members seeking to keep the Alum Rock BART station.

Why these decisions, and why so fast?

The reason given by VTA staff for the proposal to defer the stations at Alum Rock and City of Santa Clara is that the two-station version would have the highest likelihood in qualifying for federal funding.  VTA has published their high level analysis, but not the breakdown of the scoring criteria they estimated.

However, at a BART Environmental Justice Committee meeting after the announcement, the deferring of the Alum Rock station was raised as a potential issue with regard to federal Title VI legislation, which discouraged transit decisions that have “disparate impact” on lower income and/or minority populations.  Title VI concerns could increase the risk to federal funding.

To explain the speed of the decision, the VTA staff made a case that being further along toward receiving federal funding would help pass a November 2016 ballot measure.  This argument is difficult to understand – voters have approved the various phases of BART to San Jose because the project is popular.  There will be a minuscule number of voters who will vote based on their understanding of exactly where the project stands in a multi-step process to fully qualify for federal funding.

The decision to defer the Santa Clara station seems logical, since that station already has Caltrain service connected to Diridon, and the station only has about 800 daily riders.  It seems redundant to offer those riders an extra $800 Million station.   Another reason originally provided for that station a decade ago was an airport connection, however since the evolution of plans for High Speed Rail and the Diridon Station Area, there are more recent proposals to connect to the airport from the major Diridon multi-modal station.

Are you interested in the next phase of the project that will connect Caltrain to BART at Diridon, and in the overall benefits and impacts of the project decisions – here’s where to learn more and weigh in:

Upcoming Meetings

Thursday October 30, 6:30pm
Neighborhood Association Meeting
McKinley Center, 651 Macredes Ave, San Jose

Wednesday, November 5th at 6:30pm
VTA community meeting
Martin Luther King Library, second floor
150 E. San Fernando, San Jose

Thursday November 6, 5:30pm
VTA Board Meeting
Santa Clara County Supervisors Chamber
70 West Hedding, San Jose

Silicon Valley Leadership Group predicts Caltrain ridership doubling again next decade

The goal for the next decade of Caltrain service should be to enable ridership to double once again, said Shiloh Ballard of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, speaking on behalf of CEO Carl Guardino, at at a celebration of the 10th anniversary of Caltrain’s baby bullet service.

When the Baby Bullet launched in 2004, Caltrain had about 24,000 average daily boarding; today, ridership is now over 60,000. Ballard’s prediction of 120,000 riders by 2024 would put Caltrain ridership 15 years ahead of the modest growth predictions in Caltrain’s electrification environmental study, which predicts 110,000 riders by 2040. The underlying trends driving ridership- including generational shifts in transportation preferences and transit-oriented development on the corridor show no signs of stopping.

To achieve this goal, said Ballard, Caltrain will need a package of investments, including longer platforms to support longer trains, all-electric service and level boarding to provide a schedule to smooth out capacity peaks, and grade separations to help support more frequent service.

The Baby Bullet anniversary event marked the launch of a coalition of major employers, including Google, Oracle, LinkedIn, Stanford and the San Francisco 49ers, focused on advocating to gather the resources needed to fund and implement the needed capacity improvements.

Since the Leadership Group plays a key role in raising transportation tax funding in Santa Clara County their resolve will be important in ensuring that the upcoming 2016 tax measure will include provisions to support, not only basic electrification, but a package of add-on improvements to support needed capacity increases.

In addition to Caltrain, Jim Wunderman of the Bay Area Council talked about planning and funding additional transit improvements to support demand on the North/South corridor, including ferry service and carpool lanes. Both Ash Kalra, of San Jose City Council and the Caltrain Board, and Jeff Gee, of Redwood City City Council and the SamTrans board, talked about the need for improved connectivity between Caltrain, SamTrans, VTA, BART and other services. The public and private sector resolve to create high-capacity, integrated transit service is promising. Next steps will be the plans around ballot measures, Cap and Trade, and other sources to fund the improvements needed to support the next decade of ridership growth.

Dumbarton Policy Committee seeks to continue, despite MTC abandonment

On Friday, Dumbarton Rail Policy Advisory Committee – composed of elected officials in the communities that would be served by the project, including Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, Redwood City, Fremont, Union City and Newark – resolved to continue on the project, despite the fact that MTC has recently repurposed the project’s funding, largely for the Silicon Valley BART project. Smaller amounts were divvied up for Caltrain modernization and improving the Dumbarton bus service. The rail project was de-funded after the last Alameda County transit ballot measure failed at the polls, leaving the project without enough funding to move forward. However, there is still a remaining $5Million bridge toll fund stream paying to run AC Transit buses over the Dumbarton bridge.

At the MTC meeting when the funds were being de-allocated, MTC board member and San Mateo County Supervisor Adrienne Tissier reassured concerned project supporters that after the Caltrain electrification EIR was completed this coming winter, that there would be renewed efforts to restart the project. Instead, the MTC decided to remove its representation from the committee.

Despite these blows, Policy Committee members resolved to keep working on the project. In the paper packet for the Policy Committee meeting was a letter from Facebook, whose headquarters are at the base of the Dumbarton Bridge, expressing strong continuing interest in the project. According to Jim Bigelow of Redwood City/Menlo Park Chamber of Commerce, other major employers also support keeping the project alive. In addition, at community meetings gathering input for an update to Menlo Park’s General Plan, there have been frequent recommendations and encouragement to use of the Dumbarton rail corridor to ease travel between Redwood City, Facebook, and the East Bay.

Disused Dumbarton Rail Bridge

The challenge is to find enough resources for staff to look for alternative sources of funds. In response to questioning from Menlo Park Council Member Kirsten Keith, staff representative April Chan admitted that because her primary responsibilities lie with Caltrain and SamTrans, it would be a conflict of interest to look for funds for a different transit project. Policy Committee members discussed the possibility of creating a Joint Powers Authority to raise money to bootstrap the process of seeking implementation funding. According to chair Carol Dutra-Vernaci, Mayor of Union City, if the upcoming November Alameda Measure BB passes, that will at least provide enough money for staff to get started.

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