Thursday, November 30, 2006

Ridden a Cable Car Lately?

I have to admit, I haven't since the fare went up to $5.

If you'd like to vent a bit about that ticket price, enter's contest to complete the sentence "San Francisco with a $5 cable car fare is a city...".

Send your entry in an email to with the subject "Contest: San Francisco With a $5 Fare".

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

If you Like Talking about this Stuff

Then join the new Trolleys-RemovalAndRebirth email discussion group. Sign up at:

You will find that discussion is both intelligent and civil--quite a rarity on the internet.

The list is run by motorman/scholar/photographer Peter Ehrlich, a.k.a. "Milantram".

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Wow, Someone as Mad as I am!

Published Wednesday, November 22, 2006, by the Redwood City Daily News

NIMBYs weigh in on project

I read an article in the Palo Alto Daily News titled, and I had to laugh.

As with any project which benefits the population at large, "local" residents are singing the tune, "Not in my backyard." It seems like Palo Alto and Menlo Park residents think that they have purchased some kind of inalienable right to remain insulated in their idyllic lives, while the rest of us shoulder the burden of maintaining it.

Expanding public transit directly benefits most Bay Area residents. Except, of course, those who don't commute to work and those who send the domestic help out to do their errands. It indirectly benefits all of us as it reduces the number of cars on the road, thereby improving our air quality, which isn't exactly great.

I live in Redwood City, I know how much of an inconvenience trains can be. Noisy? Yes. A safety issue? For the careless, again, yes. However, with an ever-growing population in the Bay Area, expanding the public transit system is necessary. In this case, the corridor is already in place. If they indeed can get 6,300 riders a day, it's a no-brainer.

Sometimes, you have to take one for the team. Even if you don't consider yourself part of it.

Rob Paul,
Redwood City

I was going to write something to that effect, but don't think I can top that. Rock on, Mr. Paul!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Waxing Poetic

Or maybe waning. Anyway, thank you to for posting my submission (it's listed under "J Church"), and for linking back to this site.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Recommended Reading

This site is not new, but came up in a conversation with another San Francisco expatriate:

My own favorite is:

the 23 will
always, always be the 10
Monterey to me

Me too!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Online Amusements

Check out's sign generator. You can type in messages, and make them appear on a double decker bus, or a BART station sign, or various other amusing places. You can use this for political messages, like

or something hip and pseudo-cryptic

or geographically improbable

or just plain juvenile.

My kid did that one. That's my story and I'm sticking with it.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

No Train Ride to Petaluma Yet

There was good news and bad news in the last election, but to me, the narrow defeat of SMART was a bitter disappointment. My visions of riding train-to-ferry-to-train to kick off a weekend trip to Petaluma will have to be deferred.

Some background: The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit system is envisioned to run commuter trains (a.k.a. diesel light rail) between Cloverdale in northern Sonoma County and the ferry docks at Larkspur in Marin, via Santa Rosa, Petaluma, and Novato, reopening the long-idle Northwestern Pacific Railway Line. It was to be funded by a new 1/4 cent sales tax in the two counties, which required approval of 2/3 of voters in both, and came up short by about 1%. It had solid support in Sonoma county, but was less popular in Marin.

It strikes me as ironic that it only takes 50% of the vote to approve paying for infrastructure by running up billions in debt, while a financially responsible proposal that includes a tax to cover its expenses takes a 2/3, but that's the topsy-turvy world we live in.

Time is on the side of SMART. In a few years, traffic will likely be just enough worse to convince that last percent or two of voters that they need this train. But instead of just waiting for opinions to come around, SMART-proponents should be using this time to take a serious look at the objections that have been raised by detractors, and tailor their proposal to answer them next time around.

Bus Rapid Transit would be cheaper Real BRT, with service that would not get stuck in traffic, would require new bus-only lanes on the 101. This would could easily cost as much as rehabilitating an existing railway line. The BRT alternative should be seriously studied. The advantages of rail should be demonstrated, not assumed.
Trains won't connect well with ferries This is true, and to be honest, something that us boosters knew and hoped to work out after the system was up and runnig. Even though the proposed Larkspur station is only a theoretical five minute walk from the docks, probably 15-20 minutes would have to be allowed for a whole trainload of passengers, of various levels of mobility, to make the connection. If possible, move the station closer to the docks. At the very least, put some thought into streamlining the connection: eliminate any street crossings or steps, make it wide enough for bikers and fast and slow walkers to get around each other safely, and make sure the gangplank to the ferry does not become a bottleneck. Also make sure that ticketing does not slow things down (sell tickes on board, rather than at a gate).
It will only benefit:
  • Long-distance commuters
  • The Well-off
  • People living in Sonoma or northern Marin Counties
But not
  • People commuting shorter distances
  • Working class people who already ride the bus
  • Central and southern Marin
These are fair criticisms, and have their parallels throughout our region. Take a ride on CalTrain, and one on SamTrans, and you'll notice a definite demographic difference between the people who get to ride a train and the ones stuck slogging down El Camino on a bus. SMART should be better integrated into existing transit, for example with free transfers between train and local busses. It should be bundled with other transportation improvements, such as speeding up bus lines (through dedicated lanes, or traffic signal pre-emption), and improving pedestrian friendliness of station neighborhoods. If carefully chosen, additions like this would not up the cost of the overall package too much, but would broaden its appeal--and "synergy" between busses, walking, and trains would boost SMART's ridership.
It will promote growth Indeed, good transit promotes responsible growth, encouraging reuse and revitalization of existing cities over suburban sprawl. But there is a breed of "environmentalist", prevalent in places such as Marin County and Santa Barbara, to whom any growth is bad, not so much for its effects on the Earth but because it might make their own small piece of it more crowded. These people are assholes, and there's no point reasoning with them, but emphasizing the ecological and economic benefits of transit will help undermine them. This is an area where support from the business community would help a lot--not in the usual form of campaign contributions, but by making pledges to put new places of employments near SMART stations instead of paving over farmland.
It will not relieve traffic congestion This is true. Traffic always rises to meet the available supply of pavement. Transit doesn't really solve traffic problems, but it does solve transportation problems, by vastly increasing the overall capacity of the whole system. Be upfront about this, and describe the benefits of transit in simple terms that are actually true: for example, that a single track railway can move as many people as ten lanes of a freeway--and that as more people ride trains, service actually becomes better and more cost effective, whereas more people driving just makes traffic suck even worse.

The SMART board has vowed to take their case to voters again in 2008. Even changing nothing, their chances of a win are good--continued growth and economic upturn are likely to make traffic just that much worse, and a presidential election will probably bring more transit-friendly voters to the polls. Still, it would be a shame if they didn't take the next two years to actually listen to their opponents and make their proposal a little SMARTer.

Monday, November 06, 2006

How Stupid are We?

The California political establishment has asked us to take on $35 billion of new bond debt, without any indication of how this will be paid off, or giving any assurance that it will actually solve any of the problems it's supposed to be spent on. In fact, the only promise we've been given is that they'll be back to ask us for more in a couple of years.

Before you even think about the merits of what these propositions are purported to pay for, do some simple math: How much money are we talking about borrowing, and how many people live in California. Now imagine that your share of this debt, over $1000, was personally yours. This is a bit sobering if, like most of us, you've wrestled with credit card debt sometime in your life. And don't forget, if you're married, that's a cool grand of debt for each of you--not to mention your kids, who'll have to do their part to pay it off, even though they probably won't see any benefit. Certainly, any traffic relief that 1B will pay for will be long erased by the time my 6-year-old daughter will be old enough to drive, but she'll be paying off these 30-year bonds out of taxes from her first couple of jobs.

The claim that we can spend money on capital projects without raising taxes is only true if we take that money from somewhere else, like education, law enforcement, or (ironically) from the operating budgets of transportation systems. Duh!

Now turning to the proposals themselves--beyond being fiscally irresponsible, they are downright insulting. Through numerous means, our state leadership had led us to our current quagmire of un-affordable housing, smog, and nightmare commutes. Commercial and residential zoning policies have made long, solo drives to work the only commuting options available to most Californians. And now we're being asked to pony up to perpetuate this mess.

Even if some good may come from this spending (1B throws a few bones to transit, 1C will give cheap digs to a few needy souls), I'm urging you to vote no on all of this crap, and tell our state government to actually fix what's broken: incent employers to make workplaces accessible without driving, force cities to allow enough housing to meet demand, and make drivers pay for the real cost of highways on a miles-driven basis.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

100 Trapped Passengers... 2,000 Venomous Vipers!

Browsing for movies at Blockbuster, we came across this little bit of cheese:

Don't people usually make knockoffs of good movies?

Anyway, what's really funny here is, if you look closely, you can see it's a CalTrain engine pulling that train!

Here's the IMDB Article for Snakes on a Train.

We've paid good money to see worse...

Oh, MST3K, where are you when we need you?