|Top: San Jose Diridon Station, courtesy of
MTC. Bottom: New York City’s Grand
Central Terminal, courtesy of NY Links.
Well, it’s official. Santa Clara County Measure B — assessing a 1/8 percent sales tax, the proceeds from which will be applied to operation and maintenance of the BART to San Jose extension — finally passed, with 66.78% of the vote; not enough uncounted ballots remain to turn back the vote. Shortly after the election, when the vote was still under the required 2/3 threshold, SVLG and Measure B supporters had all but conceded, and San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed grudgingly threw his support behind a shortened route (terminating at Milpitas, Berryessa, or Alum Rock, thus postponing the Downtown San Jose subway) while he simultaneously fished for $14 billion of federal bailout money to spend on BART, among other things. But no matter now: the Measure B results are all but certified, though with the tax proceeds not quite in hand; the tax will not be assessed until a federal contribution appears. Will this be the last that we hear of shortened routes and BART taxes? Perhaps not, and a great deal of necessary project funding has yet to materialize. Nonetheless: the Valley Transportation Authority can interpret (in fact, already has interpreted) voter affirmation of the sales tax, however marginally above the 2/3 required for passage, as a clear indication that its plans are moving in the right direction. Never mind, of course, what other more cost-effective expansion projects “moving in the right direction” might jeopardize — to say nothing of existing transit service, whose funds are already tirelessly targeted by the Governor, including very recently for an additional $230 million cut across the State ($83 million in the Bay Area). But since when has BART to San Jose ever been about transit effectiveness? If it wasn’t already clear, the Mercury News made it crystal clear that the primary interest at stake is not transportation, but civic self-esteem. The article rejoices in the fact that San Jose Diridon Station — already served by Caltrain, Amtrak, ACE and VTA, and planned to be served by BART and high-speed rail — is poised to become the Grand Central Station of the West. “We’ll no longer be in the shadow of San Francisco. I’ve waited a long time for it,” proudly proclaimed Ian North in the Merc article. Wait: hasn’t the moniker “Grand Central Station of the West” already been reserved for Transbay — you know, in that other city in the Bay Area? San Jose wants to stretch its wings and fly, by creating a dense, active downtown adjacent to a grand terminal at Diridon. We should not begrudge it that; after all, this website exists, if for no other purpose, than to celebrate exactly that sort of vision. But at what cost to the greater region?
We should at least pause to enjoy a substantial victory — a movement, really — of which Measure B was part. On November 4, voters passed several major and expensive transportation measures — not just Measure B, but also Measure Q in Sonoma and Marin for SMART, Measure R in Los Angeles, and of course Proposition 1A for high-speed rail — and this all in the midst of both a state budget crisis and depressed economic climate. Fuel prices have declined considerably since their summertime high, prompting at least some Angelenos to revert to driving; but the memory of gas prices past encouraged Californians, both in the north and the south, to vote in favor of expanding rail networks throughout the state. And yet, BART to San Jose serves as a special reminder that not all transit projects are created equal, and that those projects that suffer from imperfect planning may even be ill-advised. It was a distinctly local nuance, not easy to communicate to voters — and further lost in the shuffle of both a monumentally important national election, and the positive pro-transit prescience that swept through California. But as we encourage officials to pursue better and brighter projects, it is a nuance of which we should be continually aware. Yes, even with an Obama Administration that understands and values the potentially profound change that widespread investment in high-quality transit would trigger.