BART, BART to San Jose, Election Coverage, South Bay, Transit Funding, VTA

San Jose Diridon: Grand Central or Bust

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.



5 thoughts on “San Jose Diridon: Grand Central or Bust

  1. Time off eh? :)

    Posted by The Overhead Wire | 24 November 2008, 5:29 pm
  2. Well, this needed a post. Now I’m going back on hiatus. :)

    Posted by Eric | 24 November 2008, 6:08 pm
  3. Eric you are becoming so predictable, from my perspective I read a vitriolic loathing of BART no matter what and irrational blind spot for HSR and trains failures. I am fascinated by your blog as I am by fox news at times, but I also know it’s really not true, quite often.

    “…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,…”

    Do you have to say that they interpreted 67% of the vote (give or take) as “already interpreted”, I don’t blame them at all, does anyone? Why use the word marginal? These were two 8 year landslide massive mandate demands by the public (measure A and measure B). These votes were requests for higher taxes in a recession by roughly 70% of the people despite the efforts of Eric, bay rail alliance who self promote their self serving alternatives (albeit with some reasonable ideas on all accounts). I mean HSR got a far lower percentage of the vote then BART.

    “….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,…”

    Oh really who says? Maybe make it clear that these are just opinions that are not the norm obviously from our landslide votes to the contrary and hardly proven, would BART and VTA agree? The BART extension to San Jose was projected to get 100,000 riders a day. If you half that you get somewhere around 50,000 a day. This 50,000 BART ridership number is nearly double the entire current CalTrain 30,000 ridership a day that is 70 miles long vs. 16 miles for BART to San Jose. That is huge would a CalTrain solution with its lack of high density stops, subways, guaranteed time consuming costly transfers to-from BART in Fremont get the same numbers? Can you prove that a CalTrain alternative would get the safety, average speed, with the same stops, renewable energy, reduced pollution and mostly the ridership of BART. I would definitely say no on all accounts, BART wins hands down. CalTrain would be cheaper I give you that, and if you want to connect with trains to Manteca Caltrain seems good but are trains to Manteca the highest priority now? CalTrain can leverage existing tracks better, but there is nothing that says BART can’t create baby bullets (they are double tracking in Oakland I believe with 4 parralell tracks). BART max speed today is 80mph, but thrid rail tech can get to 100mph which is the CalTrain cantevary max planed I think for HSR in the bay area even. CalTrain runs every 15-30 minutes in SF, and during rush hour arrives at Diriodion or SF station every 15 minutes, so sure the trains could run more often but I don’t buy that they will get the ridership of BART.
    Even the ridership in the much maligned Daily City-Colma-Millbrae extension is a perfect example. The trains are hardly getting the ridership that BART is getting today on the same distance, despite the trains are cheaper and faster if you include the bullet train. However, electric BART wins in pollution and ridership because it goes to high density areas, the trains picked a alignment that was fast but bypased daily city and went the low density route. Today that short BART segment is getting a ridership of 37,000 riders daily (if you include both entry and exits). So what if tis not the projected original that doesn’t matter what matters is it’s a small segment of BART alignment (like BART to SJ) that has higher ridership then the entire 70 mile CalTrain line, with bullet train lines and all).

    Sure if we spent more money on light rail instead of BART maybe it would get the ridership of BART, but maybe not. BART we know works your ideas I encourage and you should continue to advocate them, but not always at the expense of BART which is one of our nation’s leaders (#1 if you classify it as commuter rail).

    My hope for the New Year Eric is that you will present both sides of the argument with equal intelligence and emotion. We all should try and look at things more objectively (including myself), and IMHO I see you slip into the dark side too often, don’t you think?

    I mean come on its not like there a not any third rail subways in the world!! Sheesh LA, Chicago, London, DC, NYC, etc. Subways work! BART gets up to 400,000 riders a day or 10 times CalTrain and light rail.

    Or maybe you tone is to stir controversy and if so then that’s ok, but I say try not to sacrifice the truth too much, explicit or implicit.

    Posted by Pulsar | 3 January 2009, 2:54 pm
  4. Pulsar:

    There is a few week time frame in which to comment on posts; I should have closed the post sooner, but I neglected to do so, which is my bad. So I will post and respond to your comment.

    My post on BART-to-SJ do not pretend to be a completely neutral exposition. They do represent my opinion (this is, after all, my blog) — but they are based very solidly on facts and figures, and they are also based on having followed the BART-to-SJ saga quite closely for several years running. As you (and all) can see, the posts I’ve written on BART-to-SJ are chock full of facts and figures, which you have apparently decided to overlook or ignore. That’s your problem: not mine. As such, you would do well not to come on this blog and then accuse its author of being “irrational,” or worse, of lying, as you do in your comment. Bringing well-reasoned arguments to the table is very good, and is encouraged; slander is not.

    Your comment is very lengthy, and if you read the preceding posts very carefully, you’ll see that I’ve actually already responded to many or most of the points you raise, which are typical ones raised by BART-to-SJ supporters. Nonetheless, I’ll clarify just a few points, in summary:

    I am not anti-BART, nor am I against all BART extensions, which if you’ve read other posts on this blog, you’ve seen. However, I am against BART extensions whose cost is out of line with its utility, as this one is. I am also against poorly-planned projects (as this one also is). There is very little about BART that is “special” in a good way — the things that make it “special” (high cost, incompatible gauge) are bad, not good. The things that we, as riders, see as good about BART, are those features you refer to: frequent service, not diesel, etc. The plain and simple fact is that if we gave Caltrain a fraction of the investment we gave to BART, Caltrain would be electric and would operate on BART-like headways. With frequent enough service, you’d have more riders for sure, and it would be clear that there is nothing special about BART in this regard. It isn’t because BART provides the #1 transit service in the country (far from it), but basically, that people are flocking to the BART brand. For this reason, it does not make any sense to compare Caltrain’s current ridership to BART’s, because they provide fundamentally different types of service; your argument there is a non-starter.

    On ridership projections, I’ve addressed that thoroughly on this blog, here and here. The reason why projections are important is because they clarify cost-benefit. High projections are used to justify the high cost; but in the end, the costs are higher than projected, and the ridership much lower. That means we are potentially taking fewer cars off the roads than if we had applied those funds toward more effective transit solutions that spread funds over multiple corridors. Also, take care how you report ridership statistics: the Millbrae extension has a total station volume of around 34K, including both entries and exits, i.e. two counts per ride. In the first quarter of FY09, according to BART there were 17,012 riders for the 2003 Millbrae extension stations, out of 374,949 daily total riders.

    BART will not run “Baby Bullets,” and it mostly has two tracks almost everywhere, not four. There is insufficient trackage for meaningful express service, and this is one key advantage that Caltrain will always have over BART. Caltrain Baby Bullets perform as well as BART over the same distance, and that would only improve with electrification. Gauge would be compatible with existing services for better connectivity. Trains would also be more comfortable than BART over long distances. And this for a fraction of the price of BART.

    As I said, I’m not against BART in general. It works very well in SF and Oakland as a subway-metro service, where the infrastructure, though expensive, is put to good use. But it’s not a wise use of resources to build the same expensive infrastructure in sparsely-populated Milpitas and Berryessa. There are also major flaws in the planning of this particular project, and the decades-old alignment that was chosen does not reflect the San Jose of today. It’s not a well-planned project, and it will require a massive amount of funding, which I believe would be better applied toward giving Santa Clara County a real transit network that it currently lacks (and which a single BART line would not do enough to augment).

    Posted by Eric | 3 January 2009, 8:25 pm


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