13 April 2006

Let's talk transit

The typical questions I'm getting now are "Where is the site?" and "How far is it from BART?" I've put together a couple of photos that give a pretty good representation.

First up is wide view of central and south Fremont. The yellow line represents the planned Warm Springs extension. The extension would run 5.4 miles, south from the existing Fremont terminus to Warm Springs. There is also an optional station that could be built in Irvington, roughly halfway between the two ends.

The aerial distance between Warm Springs BART and the Pacific Commons eastern boundary is 1.25 miles. Driving distance is 2.25 miles because there is no straight-line route. The next picture shows potential routes, yellow representing a bus/car route and pink an elevated guideway route for a BART, people mover, light rail, monorail, or aerial tram.

Now let's look at possible infill transit options. The assessment of positives and negatives is based on data I've seen for other transit projects and should be judged as speculative since there are no formally studied cost estimates. It also assumes that the Warm Springs Extension will be built, which is no certainty yet. BART could be extended west to the Pacific Commons site, but it could cost at least $200 million per mile. Because of the cost I will leave a BART extension off the list of solutions in the poll.
  • Light Rail (LRT) could run on either surface streets in the area or on an elevated guideway to the area. Cost: $40-70 million per mile. Estimated one-way trip time from WSX BART: 5-7 minutes.

    Positives: Use of existing street infrastructure, familiarity, proven technology.

    Negatives: If street-based, would be the slowest system due to train sharing the road with cars. Some impact on businesses in affected area as roads are fitted with rails.

  • Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) are buses an "express" variant of the a bus route, with high-tech features (GPS) and fewer stops. Cost: $5-10 million per mile. This would involve separate lanes for buses either along the median or along the curb. Estimated one-way trip time from WSX BART: 8-10 minutes.

    Positives: Usually will bypass unnecessary stops. Can use existing bus fleets if necessary. Traffic signals can be programmed to detect buses and let them through. Lower infrastructure costs than rail or dedicated guideway options.

    Negatives: May not elicit the same kind of public response as a solution with a dedicated guideway. Shares roads with other traffic.

  • Shuttle bus. Cost: unknown. This option would probably use as much existing infrastructure as possible without building new infrastructure. Estimated one-way trip time from WSX BART: 10-12 minutes.

    Positives: Lowest startup and capital costs. Can accommodate the most stops. Can use existing bus stock, though new buses may need to be ordered as new routes are added. Buses can be easily added to accommodate demand.

    Negatives: Lesser public perception of buses when compared to rail-based service. Can add to short-term congestion before and after games.

  • People movers are used throughout the US in airports for inter-terminal automated transportation. Cost: $30-60 million per mile. Estimated one-way trip time from WSX BART: 5-7 minutes.

    Positives: Less required right-of-way than BART. Lower construction costs when compared to other elevated guideway systems. Often fully automated. Can operate on high frequency headways.

    Negatives: Requires dedicated guideway which may be expensive.

  • Aerial tramway (gondola) Cost: $40-70 million per mile. A project is underway in Portland, OR to ferry passengers between two sites using such as system. Estimated one-way trip time from WSX BART: 5-8 minutes.

    Positives: Possibly lower right-of-way and construction costs than rail options. Less environmental impact than other options. Could have lower maintenance costs. May become a tourist attraction on its own.

    Negatives: May hold an image as less safe than other options because the Bay Area is Earthquake country. Not a mainstream technology that immediately comes to mind as a mass transit solution.

  • Personal or Group Rapid Transit (PRT/GRT). Cost: $30-60 million per mile. PRT uses numerous small, 4-8 person cabs on an elevated guideway. GRT uses larger cars that can hold 30 or more. Can run fully automated. Estimated one-way trip time from WSX BART: 5-7 minutes.

    Positives: Good on-demand potential. Supporters tout low startup costs.

    Negatives: May not be suited for event-based, high-demand usage such as baseball games. Not a widely deployed solution.

For now I've ruled out a pedestrian bridge option because of the 1.25-mile distance between WSX BART and Pacific Commons. The Warm Springs extension could open as early as 2012 should funding materialize. If this funding does not come through, or if the San Jose extension is not funded, the only solution for BART riders would be a bus that runs from the Fremont station. The trip would take 20 minutes. BART carries 15-20% of A's fans on any given game date. I have not included a monorail in this discussion for the time being because its benefits and costs are covered by other options like the people mover.