Miscellaneous

The Second Year

As it turns out, Transbay Blog’s second birthday slipped by unnoticed last week. I completely forgot about it at the time and didn’t have the opportunity to write a post until now. It’s certainly been a rather action-packed year, hasn’t it? With the election of Barack Obama, there has been at least some shift in thinking at all levels of government about transit and land use issues, as we now hear words like “high speed rail” and “livable streets” coming from the federal government. It’s a welcome shift, but less welcome is seeing all this stimulus money being spent on new freeways. And so, an observation made in last year’s birthday post,

The road to a more livable, transit-oriented Bay Area can sometimes be as slow as Caltrain’s weekend local service, and as jerky as a packed 38-Geary bus — but thanks for coming along for the ride and making great conversation along the way.

remains as true now as it was then — and not just because we still have weekend Caltrain service. Now, as then, I’d again like to thank you, readers old and new alike, for visiting — whether you read silently, offer your thoughts via comments, send 140-character messages via Twitter, or send emails. It can sometimes be difficult to find the time to post regularly, and I won’t pretend that it hasn’t been tempting to take a very long or even permanent break from it. But it has also been rewarding for me, and I do hope the site has been interesting and stimulating for you.

Looking back at older posts, I noticed that at some point there was a shift in content — away from fantasy transit maps and the “construction progress” photoblogs, and towards more sobering topics like budgets and stimulus funds. This shift was completely unintentional, and it may just be a sign of the times; but do you, as readers, find this material interesting or worthwhile? Is there some other topic you’d like to read more about that has been under-reported? Something you’ve found dull? Something I’ve spent some time on but want to read more about? Feel free to leave your thoughts in comments or write an email. It’s impossible to find time to write about everything; as is, maybe only about one-third of the posts I plan to write end up getting written. But I can certainly keep in mind your ideas as well when selecting future posts.

As I did last year, I thought it would be fitting to recall some highlights from the past year:

  • Aside from the presidential election, transit ballot measures scored big in California last November — Proposition 1A for California High-Speed Rail, Measure Q in the North Bay for SMART, Measure R in Los Angeles, and once Measure B for BART to San Jose finally pulled through, San Jose has lost no time in beginning to plan its own grand train station. Meanwhile, the defeat of Measure KK in Berkeley confirmed that the anti-BRT NIMBY faction in Berkeley really was just a vocal minority after all.
  • The Bay Area has a freshly-updated Regional Transportation Plan, projecting funding through the year 2035. The RTP has been proclaimed to be an agent of change; but while it does it does contain improvements since the last update a few years ago, it is business-as-usual at its core. And several things still do not add up. Why do we continue to construct suburban BART routes that drain regional monies, when it’s not clear where we will find the money to operate and maintain the existing system in the future? Half of our region’s greenhouse gas emissions are due to transportation, and state law calls for serious reductions; so why are we funding new roads that will induce more driving?
  • And speaking of suburban BART routes: cries from urban riders for superior service are falling on deaf ears at BART, which has continued to move forward with its planned panoply of suburban extensions. An ultimately unsuccessful lawsuit challenged a shift in funding that allowed Warm Springs to move forward, while putting the considerably more useful Dumbarton Rail project on the backburner. VTA finally admitted it will be a long time before BART will reach downtown San Jose or Santa Clara, but that it will apply again for federal funding so that it can build BART to Berryessa. Both Warm Springs and Santa Clara County extensions have move forwarded with preliminary construction activity. Meanwhile, the the eBART extension was approved, although declining sales tax revenue has opened a funding gap. Finally, no one is willing to desert that special brand of idiocy known as the Oakland Airport Connector, a long-ailing project rescued this year by federal stimulus dollars.
  • These extensions stands in stark contrast to the reality on the ground, in which cities and transit agencies are constantly reopening budgets to balance them, raising fares and cutting service. It’s also a perverse contrast to the flowing of federal stimulus dollars, which have allowed agencies to buy new buses, but not to hire operators to run those buses. Here in the Bay Area, we certainly have not been immune; most agencies have either cut service, raised fares, or in many cases both.
  • Those city and transit budget shortfalls were due in no small part to the hectic dynamics of California’s never-quite-balanced state budget. Though the state has been raiding funds from the public transportation account for awhile now, the raid was taken to a new level when State Transit Assistance funds, a critical source of transit operations money, were stripped from transit agencies. Transit advocates scored a court victory recently, when the PTA raids were ruled to be illegal, but that issue is still being argued. Which brings us to the bigger point: if California is to maintain and improve the vitality of its cities, as well as combat global warming, we will need to find other, more sustainable, and more carefully guarded sources of funding.
  • Since voters’ approval of the high-speed rail bonds, there has been a fair amount of administrative fuss over the  Bay Area segment of the line. The project-level EIR effort is underway, and planning of the Transbay Transit Center has moved beyond the CHSRA-TJPA tiff. Peninsula NIMBYs may have finally woken up to this new “threat” in their backyards, but despite their complaints, the region is moving forward to seek funds for Peninsula rail investments. Of course, interest in those funds has been high across the nation. Since the Obama administration released its high-speed rail strategic plan, there have been 278 preapplicants from forty states, all for just $8 billion of HSR stimulus funds.
  • TransLink was finally on implemented on BART! Who thought this day would ever come? Caltrain is also about to start its trial in just about a week; once SamTrans and VTA join, most of the region’s major transit operators will be on board.
  • San Francisco took a small step forward on congestion pricing, but it’s anyone bet when it will actually be implemented. Of course, Chuck Nevius had something to say about it.
  • San Francisco is also making progress toward building bus rapid transit on the workhorse Geary corridor, but the opening of revenue service has been postponed to 2015. And that raises another point: given that BRT is a fairly incremental improvement (that really ought to be the baseline service for any major urban corridor), it’s more than a little sad that it will have taken us a decade or more to move from conception to completion of these BRT projects.
  • Cities throughout the Bay Area are, in accordance with State law, amending their Housing Elements and General Plans to accommodate new housing units for the future. Well, most are anyway — and then there’s Pleasanton, whose housing cap has caught the wrath of the Attorney General. Meanwhile, much of the region’s urban core is being rezoned, including the Eastern Neighborhoods in San Francisco, downtown Oakland, and downtown Berkeley. And of course, the Berkeley downtown plan is already being readied for referendum. But there are still some exciting planning efforts to come in Oakland — efforts that will hopefully pave the way for more vitality on Upper Broadway, at Lake Merritt BART, and at the Estuary.
  • California passed SB 375, the much-touted landmark bill that reforms regional planning of transportation, housing, land use, and environmental review all one fell swoop — in some sense codifying the realization that these topics are all closely intertwined in the role they play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Yet the bill may make it too easy to continue plodding along with the planning status quo, and regions across California have been reluctant to accept ambitious greenhouse gas emissions targets. Will this landmark bill actually be the promised herald of change? The jury is still out on that.
  • Progress towards improving Market Street in San Francisco remains slow and incremental, but other improvements in the realm of livable streets in the past year have been a welcome change. The handful of Sunday Streets events in San Francisco can only be called a smashing hit success. Since 17th Street Plaza was unveiled, other neighborhoods have called for pedestrian plazas of their own. Even Palo Alto wants a piece of the action. And after all these years, San Francisco might finally get its bike plan.

And that’s a wrap. Thanks, everyone, for reading, commenting, and engaging.

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Discussion

13 thoughts on “The Second Year

  1. I think we all drifted towards the whole budget/political mess a bit because frankly, the impending doom (that has since come to pass) needed to be explained to people, esp. when the mainstream press was too busy goofing off or reporting about sillliness.

    Posted by gdewar | 10 August 2009, 9:27 am
  2. Happy birthday, TBB! (And keep it up, Eric.)

    Posted by Steve | 10 August 2009, 9:58 am
  3. Eric, your blog is the best of the genre. Keep up the great work.

    Posted by Clem | 10 August 2009, 11:09 am
  4. Happy Birthday! Keep up the great work, Eric.

    Posted by Chris | 10 August 2009, 11:48 am
  5. Keep up the good work.

    Posted by Mikesonn | 10 August 2009, 12:33 pm
  6. Happy belated birthday!

    As far as content goes, my selfish inclination is of course towards more East Bay coverage – I usually just skim posts about Market Street or the SF Bike Plan, while I’ll eagerly dissect every word about Pleasant Valley Safeway or the Berkeley Downtown Plan. Of course, I’m sure you have plenty of San Francisco readers who are exactly the opposite.

    But the posts I appreciate and learn from the most are those addressing broader regional issues (stimulus funding, SB 375, or the Regional Transportation Plan), which tend to get even less media coverage than local transit projects, as depressing as that is to think about. And of course my favorite thing all year was the incredibly in-depth series on BART to San Jose.

    Congratulations on the excellent two years, and keep up the great work!

    Posted by V Smoothe | 10 August 2009, 3:32 pm
  7. Thanks, everyone, and thanks, V, for your thoughts on content. My best guess at this point is that in spite of recent posts on the bike plan and Market Street, future posts may just be headed in the direction you’ve indicated. Not that I don’t like writing about SF, I do — but Streetsblog already does such a good job of exhaustively covering the latest action at the SFMTA. Much better than I could, especially since they have reporters and contributors that can attend and report right away about what went down at midday meetings. Plus, I’ve never really liked reporting “news as it happens” — I sort of prefer chewing over and weighing the merits of government reports.

    Anyway, my guess is that most people reading this site probably also read Streetsblog, so there’s little to be gained from duplicating that content. There have been some more East Bay and regional draft posts brewing, so hopefully those will be unearthed sometime soon. I’ve noticed that the RTP and other regional posts tend to get fewer comments, so thanks for mentioning those. It’s nice to know that those posts aren’t completely boring!

    Posted by Eric | 10 August 2009, 3:55 pm
  8. I also tend to look forward to the regional and East Bay stuff more than SF (I live in SF), just because I tend to learn more with those posts (loved the series on the Delta, for example, as I basically knew nothing about the issues other than the political talking points). That said, I’m a big fan of the SF posts as well, because they tend to be more in-depth than most places.

    Regardless, I very much appreciate the hard work and time that you put into the site – though I might not always comment! :)

    Posted by Chris | 10 August 2009, 8:14 pm
  9. Happy Birthday, Transbay Blog! Excellent job, Eric!

    Posted by Hadar | 10 August 2009, 8:57 pm
  10. Chris, I appreciate your mentioning the Delta series. For those, I had no idea how to judge interest, because they appeared to be well-read from the blog stats, but never received much in the way of comment, and they’re a bit “off topic.” I do want to continue with that (the series is only about 40-50% done). Now though, with this new legislation on the table, there is even more to talk about, and I’m not sure how much of that to post on here, lest it overwhelm transit/land use posts.

    I’m actually tempted to start a separate blog about the Delta, except that it would be tricky to maintain two sites. But the “political talking points” are exactly why that series got started in the first place. Even more than transit, water issues get really political, and the facts kind of just get consumed by rhetoric.

    Posted by Eric | 10 August 2009, 9:22 pm
  11. You’ve put in an huge amount of quality work.
    Thanks.

    Posted by Richard Mlynarik | 11 August 2009, 2:09 am
  12. Eric, happy blog birthday! Congrats. You do such excellent reporting here – you know we’ve always got our eyes trained on your BART and Muni posts!

    Posted by Eugenia | 17 August 2009, 4:22 am

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