This morning, at a press conference held at the Lake Merritt BART station in Oakland, officials from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission revealed a regional transit plan for the Bay Area. Just days after announcing revisions to Transportation 2035, the current regional plan for the nine Bay Area counties, the Commission announced that it will now discard certain features of that plan. Planners now offer a replacement plan that will put the Bay Area on a different path, including transit infrastructure that will serve the region for decades to come. What was it that prompted MTC to develop a new plan?
“We realized the error of our ways,” admitted Steve Heminger, Executive Director of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.* “The climate change crisis demands that we take a truly new direction. If the Bay Area is to preserve its natural beauty and curb worsening air quality, it must grow in a way that reduces dependence on the personal automobile. Likewise, maintaining our position as a competitive region at the forefront of the state and the nation means getting more people off congested freeways and onto transit, in order to recoup millions of hours of productivity lost each year to traffic congestion. To get people out of their cars, we will need to invest in high-quality, cost-effective transit throughout the region. But the best strategy is to maximize space for new jobs in existing urban centers, rather than in far-flung office parks. So, in particular, we must dramatically improve and expand transit options in the dense urban core, which our former RTP largely neglected. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission is proud to unveil a new plan that corrects this deficiency in a bold and revolutionary way.”*
The plan is indeed bold; and, surprisingly, the plan now strongly disfavors some projects that it previously appeared to support, including the controversial BART extension to San Jose.
“The Metropolitan Transportation Commission has carried out further study of many projects that were part of the old RTP. We have come to believe that some extraordinarily expensive projects were buoyed by optimistic ridership models. We are especially concerned about the BART extension to San Jose. It has never been clear when all the money to build this entire extension would become available. The date has been repeatedly postponed, and while we wait, more pressing improvements around the region are put on hold. We will cooperate with VTA and the Joint Powers Board to develop an alternate plan for the South Bay that can be built quickly and at a reasonable cost. The plan will include a high-quality rail link between Fremont and San Jose, as well as Dumbarton Rail. We believe that although a new BART subway in San Jose might cost as much money to build as a new subway in San Francisco, the latter would be far more well-used than the former, and thus would take more cars off the road. Extensions into deep suburbia can only take us so far. The Commission must do its part to ensure that regional dollars are well-spent,” Heminger added.*
MTC then described its plan to reinvest in the urban core. Noting that in the long-term, the increasingly pinched capacity of BART’s current Transbay Tube will be insufficient to accommodate demand in the Bay Area’s busiest transit corridor, MTC has placed a second tube as the centerpiece of its plan. The new four-track tube would accommodate BART, high-speed rail, and conventional gauge commuter rail service, directly connecting San Francisco to the Bay Area’s other commuter rail systems. Commissioner Spering noted that in the long-term, the Capitol Corridor will add new trackage, electrify, and provide more robust service. Once electrified, trains from Sacramento will be routed directly to 1st and Mission via the additional tube. “The route would not be part of the state’s high-speed rail network,” explained spokesman Randy Rentschler, ” but the Capitol Corridor routing from Sacramento is more direct than HSR’s Pacheco Pass alignment, so we expect that the service will be quite popular.”*
MTC spokesman John Goodwin then elaborated on the North Bay’s SMART train: “As SMART service becomes more popular, we will study electrification and a two-phase extension. The first phase would extend service across the Richmond-San Rafael span to Richmond Station, where SMART would connect to BART and Amtrak. The second extension, if the ridership demand exists, would extend service along the Capitol Corridor, where SMART would also use the Transbay Tube, connecting the North Bay to high-speed rail and the Financial District. This would finally achieve the long-delayed dream of connecting San Francisco and the North Bay via rail.”*
|The MTC report* included draft maps for the
East Bay (link) and San Francisco (link).
“A second tube will not only increase core capacity, it will dramatically improve the effectiveness of our regional rail network. It will bring in trains from Sacramento; it will furnish a direct connection between the Peninsula and the East Bay; and it will bring Oakland into the state’s high speed rail network,” added Heminger. “But it will also require billions of dollars that are not currently available. Engineering and piecing together the necessary funding will be time-consuming, so MTC has put planning for a second tube at the top of the list of regional priorities.”* Goodwin continued, explaining that the new tube presents the opportunity to build a second San Francisco BART line with track connections to the existing subway. “The new line will expand BART’s coverage to include South of Market, Van Ness, and the Richmond District. Stations will be built in Alameda and at Jack London Square, and a fourth track will be constructed in downtown Oakland. MTC also plans to fund infill stations along existing BART lines. The infill stations, combined with the new San Francisco line, will double the number of BART stations in the urban core, making it much easier for transit-dependent riders to use BART as a true metro system.”* The accompanying MTC report* included two maps, one of the East Bay, and another of San Francisco.
Commissioner Bates had the final word, explaining that MTC planned to increase its investment in AC Transit and the inner East Bay. One goal is to create a more robust and dependable transbay bus system by increasing frequency, and by dedicating one lane in each direction on the Bay Bridge for exclusive use by buses. The dedicated lane makes sense in both the short-term and the long-term — adding capacity, removing cars off city streets, and reducing the parking crunch at BART stations by furnishing more East Bay neighborhoods with direct transit access to San Francisco. In addition to providing funds to augment transbay bus service, MTC expressed interest in creating a network of high-quality routes that would provide reliable local service. “Ultimately, we’d like to make transit a more attractive option in Oakland and Berkeley by improving the quality of service on major corridors. We want reliable service, with vehicles coming every 5-10 minutes on major routes. We also want fixed guideway transit to spur increased density on these corridors,” said Bates. “That means maximizing dedicated right of way for transit, and building rapid bus and streetcar lines that will attract new riders. And it means investing more money than we have previously in the urban core.”*
* None of these people actually said any of these things, nor was there a report — April Fools.