Miscellaneous

The First Year

Today is Transbay Blog’s first birthday, so this is my attempt to put together the reflective type of post that seems to have become traditional on blog birthdays. To be perfectly honest, when first starting up the blog last August, I never dreamed it would even last this long — I’m usually much better at starting projects than finishing them — so it was quite a surprise to realize recently that a year had already passed. Many of you who have found this site over the past year have decided to stick around (for some reason or another), sharing your thoughts and ideas in comments and emails. 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.

This site first kicked off when three competing entries were presented in the design competition for San Francisco’s proposed Transbay Transit Center and its adjoining signature Tower. Given the high price tag for the Transit Center, it was no surprise when the Cesar Pelli design — less bold architecturally, but the most lucrative — was selected as the competition winner. Since then, this blog has broadened in content, attempting to chronicle the Bay Area’s fight for better transit and smart growth with a variety of topics that are hopefully close enough in spirit to the Transbay project to justify the blog’s name. And although it often seems that some things will never change, there have also been some important milestones. How much progress have we made? In no particular order, here are some highlights from the past year. You be the judge:

— The SFMTA unveiled its draft plans for the Transit Effectiveness Project, which includes increased frequency limited service on “rapid” routes, as well as rerouting lines in a way that reflects tabulated ridership patterns. The plans triggered the whole range of reactions from members of the public, and the remarkably patient TEP staff (hats off to Julie Kirschbaum) collected those comments to incorporate into the revised proposals. TEP will undergo environmental review this year, with recommended changes planned to roll out over a roughly five-year timeline. Turns out, it does take more than 100 days to fix Muni, after all.

— As gas prices in the Bay Area rise towards $5 per gallon and more drivers are shifting modes to transit, Governor Schwarzenegger cut over $1 billion of funding from transit in the upcoming year’s budget, and bickering ensued in the legislature. Not that this is news.

Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) is headed once more for the ballot this November. Despite complaints and misconceptions concerning freight operations on the SMART right of way, organized citizen opposition to the rail line seems quiet so far this year. After falling just a hair short of the required vote to pass in 2006, let’s hope that voters approve the project this year, despite a slowly mobilizing campaign and a trigger-happy Board of Supervisors in Marin County.

— The Bay Bridge was closed for all of the Labor Day 2007 weekend, and then even opened a half-day early. The closure yielded record-breaking ridership levels on BART. Some of us cannot help but to wish that the Bay Bridge would be shut down on more weekends throughout the year.

— AB 2744 — a bill authored by San Rafael Assemblymember Jared Huffman, and sponsored by the Transportation and Land Use Coalition — would have authorized the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to levy a fee on each gallon of gasoline purchased for 25 years and to use that new revenue stream to fund climate change and transportation programs. The bill did not survive the Assembly Transportation Committee, but even taking on this project was a big step for TALC. It is exciting to see TALC working to increase its presence in Sacramento, and hopefully we can expect to see more good ideas from them in the future.

— After enduring two years of nighttime bus shuttles during the Metro tunnel improvement project, Muni Metro riders once again enjoy subway service until past midnight. Readers: what’s your verdict on the new and improved tunnel?

— In the November 2007 election, San Franciscans expressed their wish for better transit instead of more parking by defeating Don Fisher’s destructive parking initiative, Prop H, and supporting the Muni reform charter amendment, Prop A. And yet, it was the Planning Commission who recently decided to go ahead and approve more parking for a new residential tower in Rincon Hill, despite offering only questionable support to justify such a decision.

— In the June 2008 election, San Francisco political lines were once again drawn along Daly v. Newsom lines in the Battle for the Bayview, Prop F v. Prop G. The vote in favor of Prop G signalized a general desire in the City to clean up and redevelop this superfund site, but considerable distrust remains in the community as to how or if Lennar Corp. will follow through. Voters also handily defeated Prop 98’s attempt to eradicate rent control and institute a property rights at-all-costs mentality in California.

— It was no surprise that in July, the California High-Speed Rail Authority certified the final EIR and formally adopted the Pacheco alignment, in which high speed trains would enter and exit the Bay Area from the south; Rod Diridon, et al, are pleased to see that their master plan to divert all expensive, high-profile rail transit improvements to downtown San Jose, at the expense of the rest of the Bay Area, is moving along. The clock is ticking for our state legislators battling over the details of Galgiani’s bill AB 3034, but in November, some version of the bond measure will go to the ballot as Proposition 1. Notwithstanding concerns about the High-Speed Rail Authority’s efficacy in managing this project (in light of issues with the business plan and the Union Pacific right-of-way), Californians — admittedly, only 22% of whom actually know about the bond measure right now — seem to be ready for high-speed rail; a recent Field Poll suggests 56% of voters would now vote in favor of Proposition 1.

— This spring, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission held meetings around the Bay Area to gather public input for its Transportation 2035 Plan. The meetings made a nice show of public process, but it is business as usual at MTC’s MetroCenter headquarters.

— The long environmental review process for San Francisco’s Central Subway project is allegedly starting to wrap up, and the SFMTA Board officially adopted an alignment that will add one new surface station at Brannan, and three new subway stations at Moscone, Union Square/Market Street, and Chinatown. Meanwhile, BART continues to express worries about the Central Subway’s proposed deep excavation underneath Market Street narrowly missing and possibly damaging the existing Powell Street Station, raising yet another engineering and planning oversight in a project that has already been chock full of them.

— So far thankfully unswayed by the political demise of a similar proposal for Manhattan, SFCTA kicked off serious study of implementing congestion pricing in San Francisco, with findings due to be reported later this year. Other major ongoing SFCTA projects include environmental studies for bus rapid transit corridors on Geary Boulevard and Van Ness Avenue.

— San Francisco is declared America’s most walkable city, a declaration at least partially owed to how city limit lines are drawn in San Francisco as opposed to New York. The news reminds us of how much more walkable we can and should make most of the rest of the Bay Area. And on a related note, Market Street in San Francisco has, yet again, been proposed to be closed off to car access, eliciting the usual range of responses.

— Some things just do not change, and NIMBYs will be NIMBYs. In Menlo Park and Atherton, that means fighting tooth and nail to stop high speed trains from “zooming” through towns. In Berkeley, it means adding a measure to the November 2008 ballot that would remove the City Council’s authority to approve dedicated bus lanes for AC Transit’s bus rapid transit project. In Oakland, that means fighting a high-rise tower on Lake Merritt and protesting the College Avenue Safeway’s redesign, which would replace a surface parking lot with a two-story structure fronting directly onto the street. And in San Francisco, it means the Bay Guardian throwing up yet another protest, insisting that high-rise construction is bad in a transit-rich downtown that is already filled with high-rises.

— After eight years of community meetings, negotiating, and bickering, San Francisco’s Market-Octavia Plan was finally adopted, rezoning neighborhoods under and around the old Central Freeway to accommodate thousands of new residents. The Eastern Neighborhoods Plan is another controversial rezoning plan that attempts to strike a balance between creating denser, more active neighborhoods and preserving some land for industrial uses. Eastern Neighborhoods has not yet been adopted; but it is less holistic, focusing more strictly on revising zoning controls and less on how to transform neighborhoods in response to those new controls.

— It is always encouraging to see technology being used to encourage transit use and to make transit easier to navigate for newcomers. Local transit agencies themselves are usually behind the learning curve on this issue, but Google Transit recently expanded its Bay Area transit directions to include Muni and AC Transit, with integrated transfers between all represented Bay Area agencies (five agencies, to date) — surpassing years of work on the Transit 511 Trip Planner in terms of helping people realize the availability of transit options near their destinations. A Google beta feature is being tested for pedestrians, as well.

Anyway — happy birthday, blog. And thanks again, everyone.

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Discussion

14 thoughts on “The First Year

  1. You should know that the Google transit features are built on data explicitly provided by 511.org – they make it available to anyone who asks.

    http://transit.511.org/datafeed/feed_desc.html

    FWIW, I think this is exactly the right thing for them to do: maintain and publish correct, complete schedules so that third party routing and search applications like Google’s can be built. I’ve been working with that data set for a personal project for the past month, and it’s the real deal.

    Posted by Michal Migurski | 5 August 2008, 9:23 am
  2. Hi Michal, thanks for writing. Yes, I’m aware of that, but that doesn’t change the fact that the 511 website was a mess from just about any standpoint (design, etc) until recently — data notwithstanding. I’m not claiming 511 needed to make a tool exactly like Google’s, and I agree with you on the benefits of making the data available to third parties. But they could’ve done much better than they did. The website itself probably dissuaded people from figuring out the transit option if they could avoid it.

    Posted by Eric | 5 August 2008, 9:28 am
  3. Excellent site, btw. I’m thrilled that you’re covering this topic!

    Posted by Michal Migurski | 5 August 2008, 10:26 am
  4. Happy Birthday to the Transaby Blog! Thank you for the great information resource, Eric!

    Posted by Jamie Whitaker | 5 August 2008, 10:42 am
  5. It’s hard for me to believe this site has only been around 1 year – this is one of my absolute favorite Bay Area blogs. Happy Birthday!

    Posted by V Smoothe | 5 August 2008, 10:52 am
  6. 511.org has been very successful at what it was designed to do — namely funnel large amounts of public money into professionally incompetent private pockets.

    Isn’t that what MTC — BART to Millbrae, BART to Santa Clara, Bay Bridge, Caldecott Tunnel , FasTrak(c), TransLink(tm), Central Subway, Pacecho HSR, etc, etc — and our lovely local CMAa are all about, after all?

    It’s not like business as usual would have continued this long if it wasn’t fulfilling a very lucrative purpose.

    So, congratulations BD Spatial (MTC’s very, very, very special 511.org contractors) on a job well done! We very obviously wouldn’t want it any other way.

    Posted by Richard Mlynarik | 5 August 2008, 2:17 pm
  7. Michal, Jamie, and V: thanks a lot, I really appreciate it.

    Richard: you shouldn’t be so optimistic! ;-)

    Posted by Eric | 5 August 2008, 2:31 pm
  8. congrats on the year. lets hope there are many more!

    Posted by The Overhead Wire | 5 August 2008, 11:53 pm
  9. Congrats on the first year, Eric! Seems like just yesterday you were starting it up.

    Posted by Chris | 6 August 2008, 8:39 am
  10. Great work! Your blog is one of the most thoughtful pieces on Bay Area Transportation. If only we could get your level of analysis and detail into the main stream press.

    Posted by Northbayist | 6 August 2008, 10:47 pm
  11. A real hearty site for insightful urbanist perspectives. Here’s to the first year and to many more to come!

    Posted by Tim | 6 August 2008, 11:54 pm
  12. Congratulations on your blogging birthday, Eric! Your prolific and well-researched blog is an inspiration. Also, it’s interesting that so many bloggers are proud transit users. This blog is a touchstone for all of us.

    Posted by dto510 | 7 August 2008, 3:29 pm
  13. Overhead Wire, Chris, Northbayist, Tim, and dto510: Thank you all very much for your nice words.

    Also, it’s interesting that so many bloggers are proud transit users.
    Dto, that’s because bloggers are ahead of their time! Everyone else will catch up sooner or later ;-)

    Posted by Eric | 7 August 2008, 8:14 pm
  14. Happy late birthday Eric! I’ve come to depend on your transit and development analysis so I’m glad this project lasted longer than you expected and hope it lasts for many more years.

    Posted by Becks | 13 August 2008, 8:54 am

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