» A new stop at West Dublin/Pleasanton could attract new riders and transit-oriented development without requiring further line extensions.
With 104 miles of track and just 43 stations, the San Francisco Bay Area’s BART system may have the most widely-spaced stopping pattern of almost any rapid transit system in the world. One wonders whether those huge inter-station distances reduce ridership by making it too difficult for people to get to and from stops by foot. Washington’s Metro, which was built in essentially the same period, has almost the same track length but twice as many stations — perhaps that is one of the primary reasons that it also has nearly twice as many daily riders?
Today, BART has taken a step forward to remediate the matter, opening a new stop at West Dublin/Pleasanton in the median of I-580, near the freeway’s junction with I-680. It is the first infill station — a stop constructed along an operating rail right-of-way — for the system and fills what had been a 10-mile gap between Castro Valley and Dublin/Pleasanton stations in the far southeast section of the region. The station cost $106 million to build and is expected to attract 4,300 daily users. $20 million of the construction funds were sponsored by Jones Lang Lasalle, a developer that plans 210 housing units, office space, and a hotel within walking distance.
The station was originally planned as a part of the Dublin/Pleasanton Extension, which opened in 1997, but implementation was delayed. The project also added 1,200 parking spaces for the large car-commuting population expected to use the stop. Reverse commuters, however, may also be expected to use the stop: It is within close distance of the Stoneridge Shopping Center and the Safeway Grocery Store headquarters.
Like Washington’s New York Avenue Station, which opened in 2004 — 28 years after the rail line on which it is located was constructed — the West Dublin/Pleasanton Station represents a new way of thinking about the right way to plan transit investments. Though BART continues to focus on suburban extensions — projects to Livermore, San Jose, and Antioch are either under construction or planned — it has plenty of room for infill stations.
These have a number of significant advantages over line extensions. For one, it costs less money to build a new station along an existing corridor than to extend the same line further out. In addition, by adding service to a neighborhood that has been overlooked by initial investments, the new station can encourage new transit-oriented projects in-town instead of encouraging further suburbanization. When done right, these sort of infill projects can bring welcome improvements for neighborhoods that suffer from a dearth of walkable urban areas — and they can be very popular, as has been proven by the new construction around the BART Fruitvale Station in East Oakland.
From an investment perspective, building infill stations could be an appropriate response to limited funding for new transit capital projects, especially since it appears private developers may be interested in helping to chip in for construction costs. There are good reasons to build new transit lines in dense sections of the Bay Area, but especially in the East Bay, there are plenty of opportunities for infill stations to fill the 2 or 3-mile gaps between stations. Though these would marginally slow down services from the far suburbs, they would more than make up for that loss by greatly increasing the number of people living in already developed areas within easy walking distance of rapid transit.
It is too bad, however, that apart from the West Dublin/Pleasanton Station, BART has no infill stations planned. Nor is it alone on this matter: Cities with extensive commuter rail and subway networks in the United States, including New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia, have been more interested on extending their lines out into the suburbs than filling them in. One notable exception is Boston, where four new stations are planned to be added to the Fairmount line to add to the transit options for people living in underserved neighborhoods south of downtown.
Image above: BART’s new West Dublin/Pleasanton Station, from BART