Monday, October 15, 2007

O'Toole on BART to San Jose

Our old friend Randal O'Toole has written an article on BART to San Jose in the San Jose Business Journal (here's a link to the article on the Cato Institute site).

O'Toole brings out some familiar tactics, such as comparing ridership of BART (one line) vs that of the region's entire freeway system (the more relevent comparison is rush-hour passenger throughput for the specific corridor serverd) and describing it as a service for wealthy white suburbanites (it's amazing how conservatives suddenly discover compassion for the downtrodden when it serves their needs--it's also clear that O'Toole has never actually ridden BART, which carries a pretty representative cross-section of the public, in my experience).

But he does make some important and valid points. I've written a response, which the SJ Business Journal has apparently opted not to print, so I'll post it here:

Randal O'Toole has made a career of attacking rail transit; he sees only waste in even the most successful systems, and writes of the inevitability of automobiles with an almost religious zeal. But whatever his bias, his criticisms of the VTA's plans to build BART to San Jose are basically correct: as long as Silicon Valley remains a vast sea of sprawling office parks, designed for cars and only cars, even a first class transit system will be irrelevent to most commuters.

Yet the only alternative vision, a perpetual program of highway construction and widening, is a proven failure. That's pretty much what we've been doing for the last 50 years, and yet increasing the supply of pavement only seems to bring out more demand. After a $150 million rebuild, the 101/85 interchange remains a bottleneck, and the 101 from San Jose to Gilroy is slowly turning back into the perpetual traffic jam it was before it's capacity was doubled not many years ago.

There is a solution to our transportation problems. It is simple, and obvious enough to anyone who has a regular job and commutes to it, if not to politicians or think-tankers: build new office space conveniently close to existing transit stations (which means a couple blocks walk, not a shuttle-ride away). Think, for a moment, how much transit ridership might grow if San Jose steered commercial development into a couple of new office towers across the street from Diridon Station.

Unless our regional leaders commit to making transit work, by centering new jobs around it, any new project like BART is doomed to be the failure that Mr O'Toole predicts.

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