14 December 2006

When is BART not BART?

Answer: When it's being pitched by VTA.

The still-languishing BART-to-San Jose project got a bit of a reprieve today, as the
VTA board approved $135 million in additional design and engineering costs associated with the project. Dissenting Santa Clara Supervisor Liz Kniss put out a rather pointed question:

"Are we concerned at all about starting BART without knowing where it's going?"
This is extremely important, as it gets to the heart of the matter. There is still uncertainty as to how far BART will travel into Santa Clara County, if at all. There's talk of having BART terminate in Milpitas at the Great Mall, or in San Jose at the old Flea Market, which is 2.5 miles (crow flies) northeast of Downtown San Jose. The mode may not even be BART, as light rail could be used for most of the route up to Warm Springs, where it would meet BART's new southern terminus. The most expensive part of the entire 16.1-mile project is the controversial 4.8 mile downtown subway, which would burrow under the most heavily-used thoroughfare, Santa Clara Street.
There are numerous alternatives in VTA's 2001 MIS Report. In addition to the aforementioned concepts, there are possibilities for enhanced commuter rail along the ACE/Amtrak corridor, a separate busway along the planned BART corridor, or even a strange situation in which BART technology would be used throughout, but users would transfer at Warm Springs to San Jose-bound trains.

Personally, I'm warming up to the idea of light rail coming up from the Valley and meeting BART at Warm Springs. It would capture two-thirds of the projected riders taking the BART alternative, but it would cost less than half as much ($1.5 billion for LRT vs. $3.7 billion for BART in 2001 dollars - now $4.7 billion). There would be dedicated routes from Mountain View and Downtown San Jose, with simple transfers from East and South San Jose, and Campbell. Plus with VTA's fare structure, it'd be quite inexpensive to ride. That's a double-edged sword since it's bad for "farebox recovery" but good for ridership numbers.

If you're from the East Bay, you might be asking how this affects you. It all comes down to feasibility. The rising costs of the BART extension make it more difficult to justify with each passing day. VTA already had to abort an earlier attempt to get federal funding because of insufficient ridership projections, and now there's talk that they're inflating the numbers to make it work. If you're only using BART to go to A's games, all you want is the extension to Warm Springs and a solid transfer method to get you the rest of the way. If you're a commuter, the BART extension isn't a perfect anyway since it sidesteps many of the heavy employment centers in the Golden Triangle and takes a circuitous route to downtown San Jose, likely requiring a transfer in Milpitas.

For those of you in the South Bay, what do you think of a light rail alternative as opposed to BART from San Jose/Milpitas? If you could take a 30-45 minute, $2 ride to Fremont from Mountain View or San Jose and then a short shuttle from there to Cisco Field, would you take that instead of your car?


Anonymous said...

This is the first mention of VTA and BART working together to connect the Bay Area. I think its an awesome idea. It will be a lot cheaper to build an above ground for one or two stops in Fremont than building all the way to SJ and underground.

I think it would also be a waste of VTA light rail which is already built up and serves the South Bay just fine.

Anonymous said...

i would be in favor of the light rail option if they could somehow bypass the downtown route.lightrail is soooooooooo slow through dt sj. its a joke. too many stops we really need 5 stops in dtsj?

Anonymous said...

It makes more sense and it is more cost efficient to have VTA and BART
work together to connect the Bay Area. I can't believ this hasn't come up before.

Anonymous said...

Not sticking to BART is so shortsighted. We need to think 20-30 years down the road. While Light-rail works fine as an intra-city transit option (ala buses), it's not an option for commuter rail across county lines. I'd prefer BART with it's current proposed route through dt SJ, but if this is to costly, perhaps the VTA should consider a new route; one that doesn't require the "Big Dig" of the SC street subway. Route BART along an alignment similar to the "Caltrain metro east" concept (see for details). Thank you.

Marine Layer said...

If we're really looking at 20-30 years down the road, BART probably isn't the answer. ABAG predicts that the Bay Area will grow to over 9 million by 2035, with San Jose ballooning to more than 1.3 million residents. Unless BART is actually going to ring the Bay and service all of Santa Clara County, it's not going to be effective for the Valley.

I like the Caltrain Metro East route a lot, and I like the idea of electrified heavy rail instead of BART, which is highly proprietary. I spent much of the summer in Sydney, Australia, which has a fairly extensive rail system similar to what the BayRail folks are looking for. The train ran frequently, efficiently, and projects were underway to further expand the backbone system to make it efficient. That said, BART on CME would be a waste. I'd rather see CME reserved for a high speed rail route, though I'm not holding my breath on HSR.

Bleacher Dave said...

I'd catch the light rail (or BART) to games in a heartbeat.

I'd like to see BART come to SJ. Any sort of transfer is a hassle.

BART to SJ would open up a transit option to week night Warriors games, and connect SJ to the Financial District. Cal Train works for Giants games, but not to Market St.

Anonymous said...

I live in Milpitas within walking distance of the Great Mall/Main transit center. I'm just not sold on BART because of its high cost per mile. I believe Santa Clara county is just not dense enough to support that type of system. I too would like to see some sort of heavy/commuter rail option.

Regarding light rail, it's just too slow. It's not just the speed, but all the intersections it has to pass through at-grade. When I go to downtown SJ I always take the 180 express bus instead because it's faster.

If they were going to build light rail to Fremont I would like to see more grade separations at major intersection, plus some type of express service that bypasses the smaller stations.

Another good solution would be an express bus that hits downtown SJ, the Great Mall transit center, then the new stadium. VTA already runs similar lines to Fremont BART and Great America. Make a dedicated bus lane on 880 which would be cheaper then BART. Or if you wanted to use surface streets give it the ability to change lights to green like the Rapid 522 does on El Camino.

murf said...

Interesting idea. It would be slower than BART, and essentially would forever kill the dream of having an efficient circum-bay transit system. I'm not ready to let go of that dream quite yet.

On a side note, it would be a bit of a headache administratively. The City of Fremont would have to become a voting member of the VTA, which would likely require a re-write of the VTA charter. Yes, buses cross county lines, but the management of permanent infrastructure such as light rail tracks requires formal cooperation.

The only other option would be to create an umbrella cross-county JBP that oversees the VTA decision process. I don't know how that would work out for preserving good-natured relationships among local pols, but my guess is badly.

treedonkey said...

Unless they speed up light rail AND traffic gets worse, I would not take public transit as a habit. It takes only 15 minutes to drive to Pacific Commons (20-25 at rush hour) from downtown SJ, but the light rail takes about an hour just to get to Milpitas. Also, even with high gas prices the cost to drive is not much more than $2 to drive (that's not even counting carpooling).

Anonymous said...

>> Cal Train works for Giants games, but not to Market St.<<

Ahhh, the x-fer at Milbrae is really pretty painless. Of course, it would have been even better if Milbrae-SFO were part of the (free) AirTrain system and BART just went straight to San Bruno and beyond. But I digress.

To answer the original question: if the VTA and a bus is involved, we'd just drive. But a drive to a remote or off-site lot with shuttle service might be O.K.