Congress Elections Infrastructure President

The Vote 2012

» A change in power in Washington will affect federal commitment to sustainable transportation, but so will local ballot measures.

The first two years of the Obama Administration, accompanied by Democratic Party control of the U.S. House and Senate, produced significant new investments in transportation projects nationwide. Over $10 billion was distributed to intercity rail projects across the country, new funds were devoted to streetcar and bus rapid transit lines, and the government began an unprecedented period of cooperation between the Department of Transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Since early 2011, however, much of this progress has been stalled thanks to a stingy U.S. House newly controlled by the Republican Party. Their leadership, both in the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Budget Committee, has promoted a significant decrease in funding for alternative transportation. A House committee voted in favor of legislation that would eliminate the guaranteed distribution of gas tax revenues for transit; the full body repeatedly voted against high-speed rail investment; and previous requirements for states and localities to invest in pedestrian-oriented projects have been scoffed at.

Mitt Romney’s decision to select Paul Ryan, head of the House Budget Committee, suggests that, if he were elected, he would pursue a similar significant reduction in spending on transportation. Barack Obama has campaigned, on the other hand, in favor of transferring funds currently being spent on the war in Afghanistan on “nation building at home,” or improved infrastructure in the U.S.

But President Obama’s advocacy of a large transportation bill in 2011 and 2012 was ignored by Congress. Only in the summer of 2012 were Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate able to compromise on a two-year transportation bill that maintained previous levels of investment, largely on the back of deficit spending. There is little evidence that there is any source of new funding for transportation projects that will acquire bipartisan support.

Polls indicate that President Obama is likely to win reelection, Democrats will keep the Senate, and Republicans will keep the House. These conditions will probably prevent the federal government from increasing investment in alternative transportation over the next two years. We’ll likely be at a stalemate.

Fortunately, measures also on the ballot in many cities will play a big role in determining the future of America’s transportation investments. Below is a summary of the major measures up for vote. It is not an exhaustive list, only including transit spending in major metropolitan areas; it does not include proposals to expand investment in highway infrastructure, such as Arkansas’ Issue 1, which would distribute about $1.3 billion to new four-lane roadways across the state. For a full list, see the Center for Transportation Excellence.

Follow me @ttpolitic for live coverage. On another topic, you may also be interested in the op-ed on the home mortgage deduction I co-authored with Professor Lawrence Vale in last Wednesday’s New York Times.

Round-up of local ballot measures (and one mayoral election) that will affect transit projects nationwide. Updated with results 9 AM Wednesday

1. Alameda County (California) Measure B1 : Failed with 65.5% voting in favor (needs 2/3)

This county, across the Bay from San Francisco and incorporating the cities of Oakland and Berkeley, among others, is proposing a 30-year extension of its existing transportation sales tax. The $7.7 billion expected to be collected over the period will be distributed to transportation improvement projects, with about half going to public transportation and 39% to roads. 24% of overall funding will be distributed to transit operations and maintenance and a significant amount diverted to transit capital projects, such as the long-sought-after Dumbarton Rail project, BRT corridors, and infill stations along BART.

About $400 million in tax revenues will be distributed to the BART to Livermore expansion project, which is likely to increase sprawl in the eastern sections of the Bay Area as it improves transit access to the Livermore Lab, for better or worse.

2. Arlington County (Virginia) Bond : Passed

This (increasingly urban) suburb of Washington, D.C. is asking voters to approve a $32 million bond to be spent on transit, roads, bike, and pedestrian projects. About half will be spent on fleet and capital improvements for the region’s Metrorail network. Over the past five decades, the County has been a very responsible custodian of its transportation network and invested in projects that have encouraged transportation alternatives.

3. Clark County (Washington) Sales Tax : Failed

Vancouver, Washington is just adjacent to Portland, Oregon and is expected to welcome an expansion of the latter city’s light rail network in the next few decades thanks to a new crossing over the Columbia River. A 0.1% increase in the existing sales tax will provide funding for light rail and bus rapid transit operations in the Fourth Plain Corridor, which extends from Vancouver’s downtown.

4. Honolulu (Hawaii) Mayor’s Race : Caldwell (pro-rail) Wins

More than any other city in the country, Honolulu’s transit future depends on this mayoral election. The city has a more than $5 billion elevated metro rail line under construction that is expected to carry more than 100,000 riders a day thanks to a corridor that serves most of the city’s major destinations. The project has been under development for a decade, has assurances of federal funding, and has the support of locals thanks to previous approvals of a dedicated tax to pay for the line. Candidate Kirk Caldwell, who has previously served as acting mayor, is supporting the project.

But opponent Ben Cayetano argues the rail line is a waste of money and that funds could be better spent on bus rapid transit corridors that would be less visually intrusive than the rail line. He claims (without much evidence) that the city could reorient federal funding into such a project and serve as many people. He has promised to shut down the line’s construction if he is elected.

5. Houston (Texas) Sales Tax Diversion : Passed (Diversion continues)

Since 2003, a quarter of Houston’s 1% transit sales tax is redistributed to local communities under the General Mobility Program. This effectively allows cities to build roads ith  money that was originally supposed to be directed to bus operations and light rail expansion. The diversion of funds was initially supposed to end in 2014, but voters are being asked whether they want to extend the diversion until 2025.

While transit advocates argue the policy is depriving the city’s public transportation network of desperately needed funds, local mayors argue they need the money to continue their normal operations.

6. Kansas City (Missouri) Streetcar

Kansas City is planning a $100 million streetcar line that will connect destinations downtown. Unlike many other cities, locals here are planning to pay for the project mostly out of local funds. Specifically, about 700 downtown residents are being asked whether they are willing to pay special assessments and a 1¢ sales tax for the privilege of funding the streetcar.

The mail-in ballot is not due back until December 11, so we’ll have to wait a bit longer to hear back about these results.

7. Los Angeles (California) Streetcar

Like Kansas City, L.A. also expects local residents to consider paying a dedicated tax to construct a streetcar line. The mail-in ballot will fund a project that connects with the region’s subway and light rail networks and serves the biggest destinations in downtown L.A. There is some question as to whether the project is duplicative of existing services.

Citing Portland’s experience, many proponents of investments in streetcar lines argue that the systems can play an important role in encouraging economic development and improving property values. The local taxes proposed in L.A. and Kansas City are a test of whether property owners in those cities are willing to bet on that concept.

8. Los Angeles (California) Measure J : Failed with 64.7% voting in favor (needs 2/3)

Fresh off the passage of Measure R in 2008, L.A.’s Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is proposing extending that half-cent sales tax from 2039 (when it was supposed to expire) to 2069. This extension will allow L.A. County to use projected revenues far into the future to pay for transit and highway investment projects today. If passed, the measure will make it possible to complete many of the region’s major mass transit projects, including a subway to UCLA, an airport link, and a downtown connector, far more quickly than originally planned.

9. Memphis (Tennessee) Gas Tax : Failed

This city’s leadership is promoting a unique approach to improving funding for the area’s public transportation system, MATA. By implementing a local tax on gasoline equivalent to 1¢ per gallon sold, the city will be able to raise between $3 to $6 million for transit. Specifically, funds will go to expanding service on 8 bus routes and the downtown trolley.

10. Orange County (North Carolina) Sales Tax : Passed

Last year, voters of Durham County, Orange County’s neighbor to the east, approved a half-cent sales tax, dedicated to funding transit. The two counties, part of the broader Research Triangle region, plan to significantly improve bus services and construct new light and commuter rail lines. If Orange County’s residents approve the tax, about $661 million will be collected over the next thirty years, about $418 million of which will be devoted to a light rail line connecting the University of North Carolina Hospital in Chapel Hill and downtown Durham.

11. Richland County (South Carolina) Sales Tax

This county, whose seat is Columbia, the state’s capital, is asking its voters to consider the imposition of a one-cent sales tax that will fund roads, greenways, and bike lanes. The tax is expected to raise about $1.1 billion over 22 years, of which $301 million, or about one quarter, will be spent on improving bus service on the region’s Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority. About $656 million will be spent on local roads.

12. Virginia Beach (Virginia) Light Rail Advisory Vote : Passed

Fresh off the success of the new light rail line in neighboring Norfolk, Virginia Beach is considering whether to extend that line into the city and perhaps all the way to the waterfront. Citizens are being asked whether they approve of the idea or not, but the city council, advised by this citizen input, will make the final decision on whether to pursue the project or not.

Image at top: Rendering of proposed Kansas City Streetcar, from KC Smart Moves

68 replies on “The Vote 2012”

On the bus the past few days in LA I’ve seen Bus Riders Union people handing out ‘No on J’ flyer (filled with complete lies of course, but that’s to be expected). I’m not optimistic. It needs 66% to pass and I just don’t see that happening with all the lies and misinformation being spread by the BRU.

Well, Hopefully, rail proponenets, wherever transit issues have been defeated, can regoup and figure out how to be the ant-rail, anti-transit people next time. I’m not advocating any kind of decption but they really need to figure out some way to make sure people know the truth so pro-transtit, especially those involving rail, pass handily.

Correction for Houston: The General Mobility Program was implemented in 1988, and has effectively redistributed 2.7 billion dollars of transit tax revenue to local road projects. In a 2003 referendum, voters agreed to revisit the plan in 2014, hence the referendum being on the ballot this year.

I am a car-free resident of Arlington, Va. who voted against the transportation bond because it could be used to fund the Columbia Pike streetcar. There are way too many needs for better buses (both along that corridor and elsewhere) to justify the extra $150M+ for the Pike streetcar (to say nothing of the other line) vs. the functionally superior articulated buses.

Respectfully, the government here is no longer a responsible steward and a message must be sent. Better buses for all, not shiny toys for politicians to show off at faux-Smart growth meetings.

“functionally superior articulated buses”

Care to explain? Because when it comes to buses vs. streetcars, buses have:

-Higher maintenance costs
-Higher fuel costs
-Less capacity
-Less comfortable ride

About the only advantage buses have are lower upfront costs, but that has nothing to do with function.

No, they can’t. They can’t go under low bridges, they can’t go around sharp corners, they can’t naviage certain hills…. perhaps it’s living in places which have all these features which has made me aware, but buses are actually stupidly limited in where they can go.

And even when they can detour, *they usually don’t*. They generally have to get dispatcher authorization to do more than pass a stopped car. I’ve seen traffic completely snarled by a bus which refused to turn left; the road it was supposed to turn right on was blocked by police (which lasted for hours).

Buses’ vaunted ‘flexibility’ proves to be rare or even nonexistent in practice.

This is really situation-specific, but the buses post-Sandy in New York were able to get back up within a day or two (assuming the roads were passable), even in areas with no power. With trams it’d certainly be harder to say, reroute around fallen trees.

Buses can at least change lanes, which trams/streetcars can’t (but which light rail doesn’t need to).

Well, that is true to some extent. Some of the buses in NJ came up fast — some took a really long time to be brought back (fallen trees, downed power lines, etc.)

I really think most of this simply demonstrates that we have a larger road network than our rail network (more than 75% of which has been destroyed over the years).

It’s not that trains are somehow “less flexible”, it’s that there’s less track out there than there are roads.

Now, when you have vehicles which can drive on dirt roads, drive over trees, etc, then you really do have highly flexible vehicles. Most buses are quite picky about where they drive, really.

Much as I love rail, and prefer it for many applications, buses DO have their place. In other posts on this site, I have dissed CTA’s BRT extra lite Jeffery “Jump” yet when traffic on the Outer Drive is light, it actually makes good time even in comparison to the not as fast as they used to be Metra Electric trains. Rail has to be competently operated in order to exploit the inherent advantages. A good counter example is SF Muni which refuses to operate long enough trains to accommodate the ridership.

The locals are still faster to Hyde Park than the bus, even with no traffic on South Lake Shore Drive (which isn’t plagued with heavy traffic like the north half), to South Shore it’s probably a wash, even with transferring at 59th or 57th to an express. The one real advantage of the new bi-levels is they can run faster than the aged, if more comfortable, highliners which can’t run full speed anymore.

I’ve always wondered why no one has suggested replacing the South Chicago branch with light rail with a dedicated transfer to ME at 63rd (I can’t imagine Metra wanting to add another equipment type though, now that the new emu’s are essentially the same body structure as the diesel cars). The row is there and could really improve the streetscape with good design and landscaping.

The South Chicago branch benefits from a grade-separated junction with the mainline. Replacing it with light rail would basically force a transfer for little reason (apart from running EMUs which weigh less). If it weren’t for the FRA regulations, they could run light rail down the tracks straight to Millenium, mixing with the University Park and South Shore trains, but as it is they can’t.

The Blue Island branch, which has to negotiate a flat junction with the mainline and is loaded with grade crossings, is perhaps a better candidate for conversion, but it still serves an function for interchange with the Rock Island lines, so that probably won’t happen either.

Better FRA regulations would alleviate a lot of this.

A few more words about ME v the Jeffery Express. Current ME trains are 3-5 min slower than the “Specials” which served South Shore in IC days–not much slower, BUT less frequent. To be on time for my 1964 9-6 job would require an earlier train and a 20 wait in the PM The Jeffery Express is a couple minutes slower (different timepoints in CTA schedules) but way more frequent. That said, the ROW in 71st St and Exchange Ave could be beautified which would make both streets nicer. In my infrequent visits the Drive does clog up around the Stevenson merge/McCormick Place segment so I do doubt the schedules.

All of the above notwithstanding, IF South Shore ever regains a serious downtown employment cadre, the Gray Line proposal for service restoration still should be implemented. (Which is the cart, which the horse?)

As to “light rail”, NO, as long as the South Shore Line trains must remain FRA compliant, then so must the ME cars. As to Blue Island, the platforms should be integrated to make transfers easier.

South Shore is beginning to gentrify very slowly but the number of white gay couples there is growing (Sandy and Jesse Jr claim they want this, but that is another story) markedly. I think once the housing market comes back it may take off – it’s the only affordable area left on the lakefront with good housing stock and transportation. The gray line will never happen, the money spent on construction (easily several hundred million) would be better used for more frequent service. The ROW needs major aesthetic improvements in SS though – it’s always been horrible along 71st Street.

I’m not as versed in (A) Metra Gray Line + ROW landscape improvements vs. Jeffrey Express BRT as I am for (B) shortening the planned Red Line extension to fund the Metra Gray Line + ROW landscape improvements.

In general, I fall in the (B) camp favoring “good” rail transit over “good” BRT for corridors that have medium-to-high volume daily patronage potential (50,000-75,000+). I particularly dislike BRT implementation, when transit planners know it should have been an LRT or upgraded electric CRT solution.

For example, opening in 2005, Los Angeles Orange Line BRT is already drawing 32,000 daily patrons and full buses, see

In planning stages well before opening, any transit planner could have forecast that the San Fernando Valley corridor used by LA’s Orange Line BRT would soon have capacity problems. If that corridor was instead LRT, it would easily draw 45,000 patrons today, simply because more people, who otherwise drive, prefer rail over bus. LA should have designated two north-south corridors in San Fernando Valley feeding the east-west Orange Line LRT. And once the east-west Orange Line LRT extended to Burbank, then southeast to LA’s Union Station hub for several LRT and HRT lines, it would likely draw 75-80,000 daily patrons. Due to mountains at each end of moderate-patronage north-south BRT corridors, they would be unlikely to need a rail conversion to rail for 50 years.

Yet today, no politician will discuss a conversion from east-west Orange Line BRT to LRT because it would cost a billion dollars inserting rails, catenary and couple grade separations. Its politically expedient to pay for more Orange Line buses and bus drivers than acknowledge a poor transportation mode choice. Yet if planned right from the beginning, costs would be half as much and LA would qualify for more federal transit funding by having another “High Patron Per Mile” LRT line.

What am I missing about the Jeffrey BRT solution that would prevent if from becoming another LA Orange Line BRT issue?

Thomas D and all. The Jeffery BRT plan is not a mistake so much as it is an expensive paint job on an already excellent service. Basicly, it will accomplish transit lane priority only in rush hour, one “queue jump” and a couple of fancy shelters branded as “stations.” In a more rational era, the whole project would have been done out of annual capital project funds and have entailed a half dozen outreach meetings–game over. Instead, because money for transit is so scarce, it is a Federally funded project for which dozens of trees have been shredded. I am not against it so much as aghast at the amount of time/effort to net results likely ratio.

About the E 71st Street Metra Electric ROW. I can’t say it was ever beautiful, but rr tracks are a part of Chicago. OTOH 71st was once a very vibrant commercial street w/ movie theaters, butchers, bakeries, a superb ice cream parlor, and all of the other shops one would expect in a functioning neighborhood. The riots after the assassination of MLK wrecked the place and 40 + years later there are still empty lots. The money being spent on “branding” paintb jobs for the new and improved Jeffery Express might be much better spent on beautifying the ROW on 71st.

Some words about the Gray Line proposal. When the IC electrified the service we call Metra Electric(1926), they built a superb system with multiple tracks and provision for very flexible service patterns. At the time, very frequent base day and evening service made the Electric viable for a trip downtown to shop, see a concert, etc; today service outside AM and PM rush is too skeletal to use for most trips. The Gray Line idea is to restore frequent service AND fare integrate ME service w/CTA. The logic is that the current operations “waste” an excellent transit resource which would be useful to more riders if it ran frequently and did not charge extra. Taking South Shore as an example, offering residents the choice of a train not subject to traffic jams on Lake Shore Drive on a frequency competitive schedule woulde return riders to rail.

The “Red Line extension is more complex. CTA planned the Red Line to go further south before it was built. Now, they hope for Fed money to build down to the area of the Ford plant @c 130th.b The NICTD electric line (which runs on the Metra Electric mainline from 115th to the Millenium Park terminal) already goes right by the area CTA wants to serve. The Gray Line proposal is to modify the NICTD ROW for the stations and use Hegewisch (last point within Illinois) as the southern terminal. Clearly, this could be built out for vastly fewer $$ than a new from the ground up line and up and running within a shorter time frame.

Getting CTA and its richer suburban cousin Metra to cooperate/integrate is the hard task.

Not all hope is lost on Measure J. IIRC, back in 2008 Santa Clara County’s BART sales tax was trailing by a similar amount, but the mail-in ballots flipped it above the 2/3 mark a few days after the election.

With the election outcome, Democrats have stronger hand to revisit the Transportation Bill to move forward. We should be arguing over highway vs. bus vs. rail transit vs HSR, all should be increased. Evened states Texas, Arizona, Georgia, Utah, Missouri and North Carolina have as much to gain as Blue states regarding Transit & HSR.

Its time for my Republican friends to join Indies & Democrats fixing our transportation infrastructure relative to our global economic competitors. Even Red states Texas, Arizona, Georgia, Utah, Missouri and North Carolina have as much to gain as Blue states regarding Transit & HSR.

Thoas D, I really like all that you daid here and agree with you 100 per cent but I rteally wouldn’t hold my breath on any kind of change or compromise because the illusrious John Boehner is NOT a compromiser by any strtch of the imagination. If anything, the Republicans with their TEAParty straightjacket, WILL dig in their heals more than ever.

Despite their cover story, Boehner and his Tea Party allies dread these statistics and scenarios unfolding:

On election night, 60% of exit polls indicated that people believe the Top 2% should pay a higher, fair share of taxes. So even though Republicans retained control of the House via gerrymandering after the 2010 Census, the public wants to extracts more revenue from the Top 2% while preserving Middleclass tax cuts. Obama is using this stat from his bully pulpit, as would any reelected President who major tax position has been validated.

On November 9th, President Obama and Senator Reid preempted House Speaker Boehner by holding a news conference that Democrats are willing to cut a partial deal that extends middleclass and small business tax cuts, while continuing the tougher Revenue and Cuts Fiscal negotiation after January 1st. Widely covered in the media, this positions Obama and the Democrats as the good guys protecting Middleclass tax cuts.

On January 2nd, Fiscal negotiation begins favoring Democrats because corporate chieftains want the stock market and GDP to continue growing. They will increase calls to Republican leadership to compromise they lost the election to a populist President and a more progressive Senate. Furthermore, Corporate chieftains owe no favors to Grover Norquist, and Karl Rove is becoming persona non grata. They would rather have Boehner and Senator McConnell negotiate the tax revenue increase while Republicans still have a tad more media airtime before January 20 inaugurations. It will also be in Republicans’ best interest to cut a compromise deal to obtain more highway investment for their state, before the President and a more progressive Senate push for more education, transit/HSR, and renewable investment favoring urban areas.

On January 21st, 53 Democrat + 2 Indie Senators will have a more progressive slant than their predecessors and a mandate to help the President meet his campaign promises. They will get media airtime that Republican Senators used to enjoy. And once Harry Reid’s Senate passes filibuster reform, Senator McConnell will be defanged, getting less media airtime than Pelosi. Senate Democrats will push President Obama to address Climate Change with Carbon Cap & Trade discussions. Knowing this will happen, Corporate chieftains will DEMAND that compromise before February 1st or heads will role.

My prediction is that Republicans will cut the big deal January 12-19, so that the news cycle focuses more on a stronger President Obama, his new cabinet and incoming progressive Senators change that made compromise fair accompli.

Remember, not all the House Republicans have to surrender. Just enough House Republicans have to defect for the *Democrats* to have a majority to pass legislation in the House.

As long as the Republicans think they have the “sequester” to threaten us with, they won’t negotiate. If the Democrats have the sense to call their bluff and let the sequester happen, then the Republicans have nothing, and some of the rank and file in the new House (which starts its session on January 3) will start defecting. The House is close enough that fewer than 20 Republicans need to defect.

The post-election poll showing that 60% Americans validate the President’s tax position, makes Blue Dog Congressional Democrats unlikely to defect against the President’s fiscal negotiation.

Blue Dogs are particularly unlikely to defect because the negotiation will also revisit use of Defense cuts to fund new Transportation and Education jobs. Every Congressperson needs to deliver more jobs, even Paul Ryan who accepted every stimulus job offered to his district.

Considering the House of Representative point noted by Nathaniel, Senate Democrats and Obama only need to let the sequester happen. By January 2-3, the pressure mounts on 20-25 Congressional Republicans who narrowly won swing districts. Some of them don’t like bowing to Grover Norquist and all of them notice changing voter demography.

Though not be a mandate, the hand President Obama and Senate Democrats play gets successively stronger on January 2-3, January 21 and February 1.

Although I voted for Alameda measure B1 dreading the $400 million waste on extending BART, I am not sad it was defeated. AC Transit will have to try something else. Maybe, we can finally confront the MTC which mostly funds BART and highways.

I think a lot of people in Alameda had the same thought, why would we spend $400 million to get BART from Pleasonton to Livemore (Getting BART down to San Jose makes more sense to me). I also had the impression that Livermore as a whole has never desired it in the first place and preferd to keep it in the 580 median if all fails (which doesn’t make a whole of sense to me either). Live in Contra Costa so my two cents is just that.

There were several problems with Alameda Measure B. Livermore BART extension is not justifiable by population density for 15-20 years; at least one of the BRT alignments made no sense, given it was roughly parallel to BART service; the measure did not sufficiently increase regular bus service.

The only sensible BART expansion within Alameda County this decade is Irvington BART infill station between Fremont BART and Warm Spring BART station because it reduces congestion at Fremont BART station caused by commuters living south of it.

Its well documented that BART should have extended west under Geary Blvd in San Francisco, so I won’t revisit that subject here.

Instead of Contra Costa County extending BART into its low-density eastern suburbs, it needs a northern extension from Richmond BART Station to San Pablo, Hilltop Mall and Tiffany Ridge. That alignment is urbanized and a Tiffany Ridge BART station would offers drivers on headed to Oakland, Walnut Creek, San Francisco, Hayward and Fremont a solid alternative to highly congested I-80, I-580, S-24 and I-880 Freeways.

Equally important, Irvington BART Station infill station and a northern Contra Costa extension would raise BART’s Patronage Per Mile (ridership/miles) to become more competitive with Chicago and Los Angeles for federal transit funding, see:

Fully agree Livermore BART is a joke–the locals who want it in the median make clear their perception of transit for “others”. As to San Jose, no, what should happen is EMUs on the Caitol Corridor on closer headways. Extending BART’s non standard rails any further is a bad plan on all fonts. Besides, given their inability to run closer headways, the Transbay Tube is de facto maxed out in rush hour. Thus extending the rider catchment further out is pointless.

I thought the plan was that people from Tracy would drive to Fremont, take BART to San Jose, transfer to Caltrain to get to Mountain View and then transfer to the shuttle bus to the office….

david vartanoff, I respectfully disagree.

I have a balanced perspective on this subject from riding on Amtrak Capitol Corridor, BART and Caltrain, visited each rail station I reference below and driven on congested I-880 and S-237 Freeways for many years. Put simply, San Jose BART extension gives more Bay Area commuters better transit options and its transit ridership per mile will be higher than any Bay Area transit project outside San Francisco.

A EMU route on Capitol Corridor is fine for Jack London Square, but outside of walking distance for downtown Oakland. That will cripple transit patronage.

A EMU route on Capitol Corridor from Oakland Jack London Square is fine to interconnect ACE commuters at Fremont-Centreville station, but bypasses downtown Fremont and Milpitas. As a result, more drivers would congest I-880 and S-237 Freeways to San Jose ( I was one of them).

A EMU route on Capitol Corridor would not generate sufficient patronage to run at the same frequency as Caltrain and runs the danger of siphoning 5% of BART patronage that already runs from Oakland to Fremont.

Santa Clara voters have already decided that they prefer San Jose BART as their first priority, followed by Caltrain upgrades and Santa Clara Light Rail extensions.

A better use for those East Bay tracks is upgrading Amtrak Capitol Corridor service for 2 hour trip-time (faster than driving) and more frequent service between:

Sacramento-UC Davis-Martinez-Oakland-Fremont-Santa Clara Univ-San Jose

With a few more overpasses and eliminating lightly-used stations in Suisun/Fairfield, Richmond, Berkeley, Emeryville, Oakland Coliseum, Hayward, and Santa Clara/Great America stations, Amtrak Capitol Corridor would attract more Intercity rail patrons who prefer beautiful views of the bay and 79-110 mph between most cities located 20-25 miles apart. At roughly 70 mph average speed, service should be upgraded from 14 daily trains to 24-28 daily trains. Amtrak Capitol Corridor’s shared station with ACE commuter rail at Fremont/Centreville should be retained and enhanced with underpass tracks.

If a future commuter rail extends under the bay from San Francisco Transbay Transit Center, then it should go to Emeryville and Berkeley.

Thomas D, Well, I respectfully disagree, too. Having lived in the East Bay for 42 years and traveled all over the Bay Area for various purposes, I too have seen/been to the locations you reference. Indeed the voters of Santa Clara voted for BART; and the voters of SF stupidly insisted on the BART to SFO misdesign. BART is a mass transit medium which does that task very well in the denser urban segments.

About your idea of closing the Richmond and other stations, when I use Richmond either for CapCorridor or San Joaquin trips it is busy. Great America hosts a fleet of employer shuttles. As to siphoning off 5% of BART Oakland-Fremont ridership, that will free up seats for the Warm Springs

One item I was wrong about, but you were right. Richmond Amtrak station should remain due to its Richmond BART Station connection. The tradeoff is only 3-4 minutes longer trip time using EMUs and a level boarding platform.

I’ll go further and add that I’m not convinced BART should extend north from San Jose Diridon Station (downtown) to Santa Clara U. Station. That station is well served by Caltrain, ACE, Capitol Corridor and San Jose Airport Flyer shuttle. Given the huge BART construction expense per mile, that extension does not make sense. Its far cheaper and just as effective to double the Airport Flyer frequency or build a Light Rail spur from 1st Street to San Jose Airport.

I wonder why BART management did not propose extending BART from San Jose Diridon Station to hugely popular Valley Fair Mall, then westward out fully-developed Stevens Creek Blvd.

David, you talk about a BART to SFO misdesign. What exactly are you talking about and how should it been designed differently? I rode BART into downtown SF from SFO and really saw nothing wrong with it. the only beef I had was why so much of it is underground when it apparently follows an old Southern Pacific right-of-way routing. I always took for granted that the rout would be mostly, if not all, surface if it followed that route.

Buckeyeman, BART should have stopped in Milpitas and the Milpitas BART-Caltrain Station should have been relocated ~200 yards north of its present location. In that manner, SFO Automated People Mover, which circles each of 4 terminals and the rental car center, could have begun its route at Milpitas BART-Caltrain Station.

Although BART going directly into SFO sounds good, it only saves a few minutes for International travelers with carry-on luggage (only a very small percent). Nearly everyone else riding BART to SFO transfers to SFO APM for conveyance to the other 3 terminals anyway. So BART directly into the airport doesn’t save them more than 1-2 minutes compared to transferring at the aforementioned “correctly” Milpitas BART-Caltrain station.

BART and Caltrain interconnection is a political screw-up championed by the SF mayor at that time. You can only transfer between BART and Caltrain at the Milpitas BART-Caltrain station. To reach the station BART management splits the number of trains going directly to the station vs. to SFO.

Also, If coming from SFO and headed southbound on Caltrain, patrons are forced to pay $3 for a 1-mile ride to Milpitas BART-Caltrain station to catch the southbound Caltrain and pay yet another fare.

How BART and Caltrain built separate stations less than a 1/4 mile apart in San Bruno interconnection is also a head-scratcher.

I think having the station in the airport proper is psychologically important, like the bus versus rail question that is always brought up. Having the station in the airport will get people to take the train, rather than taking the people mover to a remote station even if the time difference is only a matter of minutes (though I understand that the numbers to SFO were disappointing – and the reversing out of the terminal is odd planning to say the least.).

Thomas D, I can’t honestly say that I agree with everything you say here but if there’s any statement you make that I DO agree with you on it’s your last paragraph. Any logic to building those two stations that far aprt simply doesn’t exist. Not one iota.

Not to be beating a dead horse here but had San Mateo county not pulled out of BART back in 1961 , there in all likelihood been an SFO BARt people mover connection of some sort. I base this opinion on the fact that Oakland’s airport will be getting just such a thing. Whatever the BART SFO extension’s faults, I still found it to be an extremely good way to get myself downtown back in 2010 from the airport. As far as ridership is concerned, I would hope that that isssue would get addressed ASAP. Anytime a rail line has low ridership, it should be addressed ASAP.

Buckeyeman and all. Indeed BART is generally convenient from SFO …but overpriced. The Bay Area has a sordid history of grossly overpriced but poorly designed transit projects. The Oakland Airport Connector which you mention is a good case. Half a billion $$ are being spent on a cute aerial gondola which will connect from BART to the parking lot–NOT the terminal buildings. The current bus, much like the T bus from Maverick to Logan is quick, easy, and convenient. The gondola will be twice as expensive to ride and have LESS throughput capability. End dead horse battery.

Mr. Vartonoff, I NEVER KNEW anything before about how badly designed this AirBart connection was going to be until reading what you just said. I swear it makes BART SFO look a lot better. Anybody who thinks bad about BART SFO has something a lot worse to complain about, from your description. Yes, BART, in all likelihood, should’ve gone further into the airport butnow at Oakland it looks like the AirBART connector is going to make BARt SFO look mighty appealing.

For those who live in East Bay, like myself, I would say BART/SFO is a very reasonable outcome for the simple fact that you got direct service into the airport from a number of communities, think Walnut Creek or Rockridge neighborhood, or a reasonable transfer say in the East Bay or for a direct downtown San Fran/Oakland connection. The price? better then parking but not as convenient. Especially for the business travelers like me who often come in late from East bound flights. As far as Milbrae, that I agree is a mess and doesn’t do any justice for Caltrain/south bay area residents.

@ Buckeyeman and all. Thomas D has it mostly right. (He says Milpitas–I am sure he means Millbrae) My plan–and I handed a rough diagram to a BART director to no avail–was that there should have been a tri-modal station with the tracks arranged BA-APM-CT CT-APM-BA with the platforms (-) arranged for full roll on, roll off meeting both ADA and CONVENIENCE for travelers w/luggage. As Thomas points out users of 3 out of 4 terminals have to use the circulator anyway, but the BART station is not even on the same level. BART has a perfect history of bad designs, but they provide massive wealth transfers to the contractors.

“With a few more overpasses and eliminating lightly-used stations in Suisun/Fairfield, Richmond, Berkeley, Emeryville, Oakland Coliseum, Hayward, and Santa Clara/Great America stations, Amtrak Capitol Corridor would attract more Intercity rail patrons who prefer beautiful views of the bay and 79-110 mph between most cities located 20-25 miles apart.”

This sentence makes it hard to take seriously your initial comment about how much experience you have with all of these transit systems. If you had experience riding the Capitol Corridor during morning commute times, you would know that eliminating Santa Clara/Great America would be suicide because it is the destination of at least 75% of all passengers who board the train from Richmond on. It is the only intercity train station in Northern Silicon Valley, which is where the jobs are concentrated (NOT in Downtown San Jose).

Richmond and Oakland Coliseum are the only points at which Capitol Corridor connects to BART, so it wouldn’t make any sense to eliminate those either. Emeryville is the 3rd most popular station on the entire line after Sacramento and Davis, and Berkeley is an extremely popular station as well. Seriously, have you ever ridden this train?

It is a very good question to consider what becomes of the Capitol Corridor south of Oakland once BART is up and running to SJ. I agree that they should focus on clearly differentiating their product as the faster “express” option. I would be in favor of eliminating Hayward and Fremont, which truly are underutilized. I ride every day and only see about 5 people get on at each of these, even at peak commute time. Secondly, if it is at all possible, choose a less curvy route than the one currently used, which has several slow curves near Niles. If the rail line hugging the bay that passes through Newark is feasible, it would provide a far more direct route. Once Dumbarton is up and running, Newark could also be the CC/Dumbarton transfer station, and we could forget about Fremont Centreville, which is truly in the middle of nowhere.

Rob, in an early post conceded my mistake eliminating the Richmond Amtrak-BART connection. That was an oversight.

As for questioning my transit experience, ponder this … I’ve lived/worked in the Bay Area from 1982-90 and 1992-2004 (Sunnyvale, Santa Clara, Mt. View, Fremont, Hayward, Redwood City, San Mateo, Daly City, San Francisco) and frequented Oakland, Berkeley, Emeryville, San Jose, Sausalito and Richmond. To see what every station looks like, I have rode on or driven to EVERY single BART and Caltrain station. I commuted from Hayward to San Francisco on BART for a year. I rode Amtrak Capitol Corridor from Hayward to Sacramento with my family.

Next I’ll address the Amtrak Emeryville Station. This small station is only popular because for some crazy reason Amtrak chose to stop there only 5 miles or so from the more logical, larger Oakland ( Jack London Square) Station. Furthermore, Amtrak Emeryville Station is located next to a popular entertainment/shopping district with lots of competition for parking. I know because I’ve circled the parking lot several times before attending concerts.

Now I’ll address the elimination of Amtrak Coliseum. From many times riding BART to the Coliseum or transferring at the BART Coliseum Station to OAK Airport flyer, I have seen the lack of patrons at Amtrak Coliseum Station located just below BART Coliseum Station. I would be shocked if more than 150 people per weekday caught the train from this station to Great America each weekday. If you have data to prove me wrong I welcome it.

Now I’ll address the elimination of Great America/San Clara Station for Amtrak, not ACE. For several years, I drove from Hayward to work near Great America Parkway & Tasman Drive in Santa Clara. At no time would I consider taking Capitol Corridor from Hayward to Great America because the hourly service was too infrequent. Even today there are only a 6:43a and 7:43a morning Amtrak trains that arrive at Tasman Drive before 8:30a. Many Silicon Valley workers, as I used to be, required more train frequency to earn our patronage, so instead we drove the I-880 Freeway torture chamber.

One of the biggest branding problems Amtrak has is the valid criticism that trains outside the Northeast are slow. Until Capitol Corridor runs faster than driving, it will never live up to its patronage potential. So I stand by my central point that Amtrak should eliminate lightly-used Suisun City, Berkeley, Emeryville, Coliseum, Hayward, Great America stations because stopping and starting every 5-15 miles hinders Capitol Corridor to slower speed more suitable for commuter rail, not the 90-110 mph required for decent intercity rail.

Note that I advocate keeping the Amtrak stations near UC Davis and Santa Clara U. because college students catch Amtrak higher than the norm. After those stations however, Capital Corridor would run ~60 miles from UC Davis to Martinez, 20 miles Martinez to Richmond, ~30 miles Oakland to Fremont and ~20 miles Fremont-Santa Clara U Station. Without Suisun City stop, Amtrak Capitol Corridor from UC Davis to Martinez should reach 110 mph for another “Emerging HSR Line” in America. I would have driven to Oakland Station to catch Amtrak Capitol Corridor more frequently for a train that arrives in Sacramento faster the driving. Ditto, if I lived in San Jose headed to Sacramento.

The time I lived northern Fremont, ACE only had 2 trains each way and I worked in Mt. View. So ACE was not an option for me. Nevertheless, I was convinced that an ACE-Amtrak Fremont/Centreville Station makes sense. In fact, that station desperately needs an underpass for Fremont Blvd and more parking. ACE frequency also needs to increase from the current 4 to 6 trains each direction to attract more daily commuters from Stockton, Tracy, Livermore, Pleasanton and Fremont headed to Great America, Santa Clara and San Jose.

Lastly, once BART Milpitas Station opens in 2018, it will connect to Santa Clara VTA Light Rail. Frequent VTA Light Rail trains along its Tasman Drive alignment will service far more Silicon Valley workers than a lightly-used Amtrak Capitol Corridor station, even if Capitol Corridor increased from the current 14 to 20 trains daily. If that BART-VTA Light Rail connection existed when I lived in Hayward and Fremont, I would have been a regular patron.

ThomasD, Thanks for your reply. I realize my comment about experience with transit was a bit snarky so I apologize for that. You clearly have plenty of experience and knowledge of Bay Area transit. Nevertheless, some of your comments still don’t make much sense to me.

For some reason, you continue to claim that Santa Clara Great America is a “lightly used” stop, without offering any evidence. In this reply, all you offer is a critique of the frequency of the train. That’s fine, but every other stop on the line is subject to the same frequency, so I don’t really get the relevance of this comment to the decision of which stations to cut. If frequency is the problem, the solution is to increase the frequency, not axe stops indiscriminately.

Look, in one sense, the entire Capitol Corridor is “lightly used” and doesn’t not live up to it’s potential. On the other hand, considering the line’s stations in comparison to one another, calling Great America “lightly used” is patently absurd. It is the most used stop south of Emeryville by a long mile. Seriously, come check out the station around 4:30 on a weekday. What you’ll find is a packed platform, and a train pulling in practically empty despite having already picked up passengers at SCU and Diridon, which somehow escape your “lightly used” label.

Great America is practically the entire raison d’etre of the CC south of Jack London. This is true now, and it will always be true because jobs in Silicon Valley will always be concentrated in the north. It doesn’t matter if you speed up the trip to Diridon by 30 minutes if the passenger then has to backtrack on an hour-long VTA light rail up to Tasman to get where they’re going.

Rob, we agree that Amtrak Capitol Corridor should be upgraded to EMU and train frequency should be increased. I guess that we’d agree Amtrak CC should be improved for faster speed as well.

But we disagree over the role of Amtrak. I see Amtrak Capitol Corridor as as underperforming intercity rail route. You see it as an underperforming commuter rail route.

Amtrak’s federal mandate is intercity passenger rail. Congress has additional objectives to increase patronage to the point achieving an operating profit when possible. Yet too many Amtrak routes don’t live up to their potential due to commuter rail stops every 5-15 miles and other slow zone factors. By including Berkeley, Emeryville, Coliseum, Hayward and Great America stops, Amtrak CC has too many stops over 5-15 miles. I agree however, that they should be maintained until BART reaches Milpitas Station to connect with VTA Light Rail in 2018.

Since the Obama Administration and Brown Administration, Amtrak CC has potential to become a profitable “110 mph intercity route designated for HSR funding support” by the Federal Railroad Administration and Caltrans. Given that opportunity, Amtrak should strive for an average of 25+ miles between stops to help reach 90-110 mph in more segments for 75-80 mph average speed.

Faster speed = shorter trip times = more $ patrons => profitability.

The mandate and operating objectives, to my point of view, requires eliminating more 5-15 mile stops from Amtrak CC. Based on the 25+ miles between criteria and population growth of Fairfield/Suisun City, my earlier statement to eliminate Suisun City Station, is wrong.

Amtrak patronage potential for Suisun City Station may be substantial. That station sits between Davis (31 miles away) and Martinez (23 miles away). If fast accelerating EMU trains are acquired, the entire route is double-tracked, more sidings added to permit passing of freight trains, safer four-quadrant arm crossing upgrades, and a dozen more overpasses are built in urban areas, Amtrak CC could run at 110 mph in two stretches from Sacramento to Martinez and 79-90 mph in stretches from Martinez to San Jose.

Given fewer stops that consume 3-4 minutes each and less time accelerating/decelerating, Sacramento-San Jose trip time could shrink from 3 hours to a very attractive 2 hours.

San Jose Diridon Station will be a stop on California HSR and Caltrain is planning an extension to Salinas, that will be more potential intercity patrons who can transfer to Amtrak at San Jose. Amtrak CC frequency could safely boost from the current 14 to 24 trains daily.

With those changes, I’d bet that San Jose-Santa Clara-Fremont-Oakland-Richmond-Martinez-Suisun City-Davis-Sacramento route patronage would increase by 2.5X to be solidly profitable. Even better, why not extend that future Amtrak CC route to Salinas and lighten the burden on Highway 101?

“choose a less curvy route than the one currently used, which has several slow curves near Niles. If the rail line hugging the bay that passes through Newark is feasible, it would provide a far more direct route. Once Dumbarton is up and running, Newark could also be the CC/Dumbarton transfer station,”

The less curvy rail route from San Leandro southward is owned by a freight rail company,,+CA&ll=37.727959,-122.175865&spn=0.034011,0.032401&client=safari&oe=UTF-8&hnear=Fremont,+Alameda,+California&gl=us&t=m&z=15

Freight train companies aren’t fond of giving up track capacity for Amtrak and commuter trains. Furthermore, Amtrak already has upgrade problems on tracks that it owns. Looking at the less curvy track on Google satellite, it appears to have more road crossings slow zones than the current Amtrak CC route. In other works the Niles Canyon curve may be a wash speed-wise to the less curvy route.

Given more people are familiar with the current CC route, If Amtrak sticks with it, there is a greater chance of getting locals build more overpasses and street closures crossing tracks.

About AC Transit and the BRT Fiasco. Paraphrasing a former AC BOD member– the East Bay deserves a marquee project. And so, AC has wasted nearly two decades of planning and cajoling to build out an unnecessary boondoggle while their core services deteriorate. As a daily rider, what I see is missed runs and NO line supervision on the very “Rapid” route they plan to tart out. Forcing the expresses into a median setup w/ left hand doors means that waiting for “whatever comes first” is no longer an option. One of the dumber options they have proposed is all rapid/no local–this along a commercial artery rich w/small specialty shops/eateries. What AC needs and has needed ever since Prop 13, is a restoration of the real estate percentage tax they had before. Given that values continue (over the long term) to escalate that would stabilise their finances. Beyond that BART must be forced into accepting AC passes for BART in the same corridors. Having to pay twice to get around might have made sense when transit was private sector but not with buses and subways all government entities.

California supermajority requirements strike again. It really is terrible policy to have these 2/3rds requirements. The LA and Alamada county referenda are necessities — not options — and they do not increase current tax rates. Perhaps it’s time for local authorities to start tolling the freeways to raise the necessary money. But wouldn’t that be ironic — a deflationary policy that costs current users more money being possible with simple majorities of legislatures, while a policy that works largely by dramatically reducing borrowing costs and improving project delivery speeds requires a two-thirds majority of all voters. That’s today’s California for you — anti-tax activism creating an irrational result that costs taxpayers and transport users more money.

Just to update, the Richland county, SC referendum passed 53% to 47%. It took a while to get all the votes counted as we were overrun.

Counting the votes in Columbia SC took less time than making sense of this jargon salad:

“The conversion of compressed natural gas (CNG) as a new fuel source for the CMRTA’s transit fleet will not only be a major investment in the infrastructure for CMRTA‐ helping the system save up to 40% of fuel cost while mitigating its impact on the environment, but it will also create much‐needed infrastructure for the entire region that allows local businesses and governments to use and develop cleaner, American homegrown energy while boosting the economic development potential for the entire region.”

Better English was spoken at the Tower of Babel.

A major investment will save up to 40% on fuel by converting the transit system’s buses to use compressed natural gas. The changeover will provide a CNG infrastructure that can be used by other governments and businesses as well, potentially boosting economic development in the region.

the psychology only applies if your flight is from the terminal where the train stops.

SFO rider stats are skewed by an outrageous fare, infrequent service, and the lousy layout. Not long after the segment opened the local San Mateo County bus system axed their express services which were covered by their monthly passes. There was a really depressing story in the paper about an airport ground worker who ended up with a 1 1/2 hour commute on local buses each way because the BART fare doesn’t work at his wages.

Update: Alameda Measure B1 lost with 66.53%, about 0.13% less than 2/3.

Mixed feelings – Alameda Co. definitely needs the transportation dollars and I voted for it, but there is a definite downside to financing transportation through an increasingly regressive sales tax (already at an extortionate 8.75%). Plus any setback for the wasteful Livermore BART extension is fine by me.

Just curious why this blog isn’t updated very regularly any longer. It used to be a great site. My apologies if this has been addressed already in another setting. I appreciate your writing and miss it.

Asher: Unfortunately, I’m swamped with work, more so that at any time in the four years I’ve been writing and managing The Transport Politic. I really appreciate your readership and I hope to get back to writing sooner rather than later!

Could you have an Open Thread here from time to time? Or weekly?

You’re got follow-up comments on your Twitter feed, but that’s not shared with us antediluvians here who aren’t into Twitter. You could have longer comments here related to your Twitter items at least, if not wide open to other subjects. Most of the time I find nuggets of info or observation in the comments that taken together are almost as good as the posts you write — even if the comments never have any of your worldclass maps.

Maybe at some point you’d need to moderate the comments. I dunno. On some of the forums they can get very picky about keeping to the subject of the given thread. But I’m not sure much is lost of the subject wanders off into insider discussions re the Capitol Corridor, etc. So just screen out the spam and offensive stuff. Anyway, it’s obvious that many readers WANT to comment here, even on posts that are weeks or months old.


Could you solicit a few posts from other experts? In the past we had guest posting from Alon, and I thought they went well. A little something could help us get thru this drought until you can post more of your own work.

I just posted a comment about the China HSR map, where filling in a couple of the dotted lines could make for a quick post with open comments. Not sure if there are any others of these that could be used as a jumping off point, either as was or with minimal time spent updating? The Toronto plans get ever more elaborate and changeable, for instance? Or the really excellent maps of potential HSR from a few years ago, with an open thread on how likely any of that is now during Obama 2.0. Or even just a reposting of an old post that is now relevant again due to lines opening or breaking ground… Can’t remember if you had one about London Overground, but with the 9 December opening of the line between Canada Water and Clapham Junction, the orbital route is now complete. Likewise, openings in Paris and Dallas, among others.

Yes, let’s chew over past posts where there’s been interesting developments.

And here’s a few timely topics: the Amtrak fleet renewal plans. Part A, the Acelas, Part B, the single-level car orders, Part C, other orders in the pipeline, Part D, other future orders.

Part A, just posting the press release about the revamped Acela replacement plan would kick off that discussion.

Part B, the 130-car order (July, 2010) of sleepers, diners, crew cars, and baggage cars will be coming out of the Elmira, NY, assembly plant “Sometime during the first quarter of 2013” — which prolly means on or about March 31. Meanwhile, an option for 70 more of these single level cars is about to get newsy.

Part C, two new Talgo trainsets coming early 2013 to the Cascades; Cali will be getting 42 and a few Midwestern states 88 new generation bilevel cars for their corridors; Cali is refurbishing 20 vintage Comet cars to put three more frequencies on the San Joaquins; 70 new and vastly improved electric locomotives are on order for the NEC; and an order for high-speed diesel locomotives is coming soonish (?).

Part D, the basic fleet renewal plan says Amtrak needs 1,200+ more cars, plus locomotives, over six years or so.

So, upgrade regular Amtrak, or let it rust away? (These posts should really bring out the haters. All aboard Greyhound? Ha ha ha ha.)

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