Monday, December 15, 2008

I'm on Facebook

Here's my page.

I'll happily add any fellow transit/bike enthusiast as a friend!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Beware Post-Election Announcements

Did Santa Clara County voters know that a vote for Measure B was a vote against all transit improvements in the South Bay (CalTrain electrification, light rail extensions, even BRT) except BART?

Probably, not considering that Yes-on-B/SVLG explicitly said it was not. Yet this is what the VTA says B's (apparent) passage means (now that it can safely say so, after the election).

In other news, the CAHSR's Quentin Kopp now (again, safely post-election) thinks it'd be ok to build an HSR terminal at 4th & King, and skip the (joint HSR/CalTrain) tunnel to downtown SF. Can I have my vote back? Getting the downtown extension built was one my main reasons for supporting this thing.

Should I have paid more attention to my own doubts about this project?

Doesn't ending HSR a half-hour bus ride away from downtown SF kind of undermine the benefits of getting there from LA in two and a half hours?

It's ironic that the public was much better served when transit was in the hands of people openly motivated by avarice, like "Borax" Smith, Henry Huntington, and E. H. Harriman (as a historical side-note: CalTrain's bayshore route is part of Harriman's legacy, and if he had lived a few years longer, it might have been electrified and extended to downtown a century ago!), than those of "public servants" like we have today.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Subsidies for Folding Bikes

This is one thing CalTrain could do to address its bike capacity problems and make everybody happy. And if LA Metro can do it--and get a grant from the state to pay for it--why isn't CalTrain jumping on this?

More "trouble on the line" today. I'm turning off twitter updates to my phone until I either get a data plan so I don't have to pay $0.30 per SMS, or at least til I'm actually commuting again.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Toys for Tots Train this Weekend

Check CalTrain's webpage to see when it's coming to a station near you.

Pick up some toys to donate (for cheap but un-crappy toys, I like IKEA--how about a Lillabo?), and bring your little one(s) down to the station to meet Santa!

CalTrain Blows it, Offers Free Rides

I'm sitting comfortably at home watching this on Twitter.

Looks like the new signalling system put in during the CTX rebuild (4 years ago) had a meltdown this morning, disrupting service so badly that CalTrain is offering free rides today and tomorrow (Friday) as an apology.

From CalTrain.Com:

Customer ALERT: The computer problem which caused today’s train delays has been repaired. Train delays are expected to continue through the afternoon, as crews work to restore service. As a gesture of apology, all rides on Caltrain will be free until 1:30 a.m., Dec. 5. In addition, Caltrain tickets will be honored on VTA Routes 22 and 522 (which serve Caltrain stations) and on all SamTrans buses for the remainder of the day.

Update: I overstated this: "As a gesture of apology, all Caltrain rides were free from 1 p.m. to the end of the service day. We regret the delay and will continue to work to provide the service our customers expect."


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Taking a Break

Not much to say here at the moment, since I'm:

  • Not commuting while I'm on leave.
  • Too happy to rant about anything!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Yes on Q (SMART), No on B (SJ BART)

These two projects make quite a contrast.

SMART is cost-effective, conventional rail technology, a project with a solid financial plan, and honest ridership projections. Perhaps too honest, since the upfront description of what the project can and can't do has given fodder to adversaries.

With SMART the north bay has a chance to channel their future growth into some something tolerable, and turn exurbia into something other than a nightmare of long-distance car commuting.

And besides this, their is the fact that SMART will enable my family to conveniently reach Snoopy's Home Ice in Santa Rose via transit.

The BART-to-SJ project is ridiculously expensive (a 16-mile subway through the suburbs, dug underneath an existing railway right-of-way?), claims laughably high ridership estimates, and is so fiscally reckless as to endanger every other transit project in the south bay. Yet it's popular with Silicon Valleyites who are wowed by technology but have no understanding or real interest in using public transit.

Vote this turkey down and force the VTA to get their financial house in order, and connect the South Bay to the East Bay with something that's affordable and will actually work.

After Some Consideration, Yes on 1A

Long-time readers will know that some issues with the CA HSR project--principally that it's being run by crooks and idiots, has chosen a poor route for political means, that money would be better invested in local transit, etc.

I am also concerned about the project's business plan that assumes at least $10bn of private investment to get the system built, and am afraid of this turning into another zombie project like BART-to-San Jose, something that never gets built but by being enshrined as the will of the voters keeps affordable and practical things from ever getting built (I'd have preferred a less ambitious plan that to make getting to LA by train time-competitive with driving, but was certain to actually happen).

But there are some crucial differences between the original Proposition 1 and the last-minute-revised 1A that make me a little more willing to give this a chance--particularly the provision that bond funds could be invested in improvements to useful segments of the line. The SJ-SF corridor is specifically mentioned.

So at the very least, if this passes, we can hope and lobby for electrification and grade separation of CalTrain, and extension to the Transbay Terminal, as an early benefit, even if bullet trains to SoCal are decades away.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Set Your Clocks--And Buy a Bike Light!

Time changes always catch me off guard--Friday I'm heading home in comfortable late afternoon, next Monday it's dark and I've neglected to bring any lights. Not this year!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Would it Take this Long to Clear a Wreck on the Freeway?

Doing a thorough investigation of train/car collisions is important, obviously. On the other hand, passengers do need to get to work, and it doesn't seem like it should take an entire morning to sort these things out.

From the CalTrain Twitter Feed.

NB285 slightly delayed passing milbrae for no reason T19:27 6:27 PM Oct 28th

NB285 running about 10 minutes late. T19:30 6:30 PM Oct 28th

NPR says all NB and SB trains suspended at San Mateo T06:11 about 8 hours ago

Any more info? Rumor has it truck collided w/Caltrain and there are fatalities... T06:38 about 8 hours ago

Caltrain accident near 9th ave in San Mateo. Trains stopped in both direction. T06:40 about 8 hours ago

NBC shows the accident and even cars can't cross the tracks near the accident. No stated ETA yet T06:43 about 8 hours ago

Trains stopped in both directions: SB 102 @ Burlingame, SB 104 @ Belmont and NB 103 @ Millbrae. No ETA to restore service. T06:45 about 8 hours ago

KRON TV reports a fatality T06:47 about 8 hours ago

hit the truck at 9th and didn't come to a stop until 5th T06:54 about 8 hours ago

Caltrain hit a truck and killed the driver. No other fatalities reported. T07:03 about 7 hours ago

No SB trains leaving 4th St SF. Conductor says next train will arrive in at least 40 mins T07:12 about 7 hours ago

210 SB did leave SF at 7 am currently at south city and holding. 2 bike cars T07:19 about 7 hours ago

Fox 2 reporting police trying to clear tracks within 45 min, but vehicle and investigators still on tracks. T07:37 about 7 hours ago

at 7:43 still no trains arriving or departing SF T07:44 about 7 hours ago

Someone posted a pic - search twitter for 'avoid caltrain' T07:46 about 7 hours ago

The truck has been removed from the tracks, but NBC says the investigation is going to continue (no specified amt of time). T07:59 about 6 hours ago

A train arrived at SF 4th & King. Word is it will be a local train. T07:59 about 6 hours ago

Camera crew 4th St SF T08:00 about 6 hours ago

Confirmed. Next SB train leaving SF will be local. No word about others. T08:11 about 6 hours ago

A SB local train left SF at 8:18am T08:19 about 6 hours ago

Slight correction: the SB train that left SF is local to Milbrae. Unsure if local after. Will update. T08:22 about 6 hours ago

Can someone confirm stoppages in both directions at San Mateo? T08:24 about 6 hours ago

SB104 operating between San Mateo and San Francisco - SB206 and SB208 operating local service between Millbrae and San Francisco T08:26 about 6 hours ago

NB207 and NB211 operating between Palo Alto and Redwood City - NB305 and NB309 have turned and are operating south to San Jose as loc T ... ... about 6 hours ago

NB305 and NB309 have turned and are operating south to San Jose as locals T08:28 about 6 hours ago

As of 8:15-SB trains returning to SF: #104, #106, 208 - NB trains returning to SJ: #305, #309 T08:35 about 6 hours ago

trains still not moving past accident T08:37 about 6 hours ago

Both NB and SB tracks still closed at scene. Delays expected to continue thru morning commute. T08:39 about 6 hours ago

SB train going slow around San Bruno. Likely will be delayed an additional 15 minutes due to train stacking around accident. T08:40 about 6 hours ago

Just saw the first NB train pass at San Bruno. T08:41 about 6 hours ago

SB230 will leave SF on time making all scheduled stops. T08:44 about 6 hours ago

Closeup: and KCRA story: T08:50 about 6 hours ago

The SB train w/o a number will continue as local from Milbrae. Left at 8:51am T08:51 about 6 hours ago

As of 8:45, SB track opened at reduced speed. NB track remains closed. #230 and #231 left on schedule. T08:55 about 6 hours ago

NB #231 left RWC at 9:15. T09:21 about 5 hours ago

As of 9:15, both tracks are opened. Trains are operating at reduced speed thru the area. T09:22 about 5 hours ago

Trains won't be back on schedule until about noon. T09:26 about 5 hours ago

SB 134 left SF at 9:33 T09:35 about 5 hours ago

NB241 departed Tamien on time. Back to normal schedule? T10:40 about 4 hours ago

Official word: Trains won't be back on schedule until about noon. T10:42 about 4 hours ago

Halloween Treats from SamTrans and CalTrain

They will be passed out at stations and stops during Friday morning's commute.

Halloween in Silicon Valley

Thursday, October 23, 2008

SFBC: Email CalTrain Whenever you get Bumped

The SF Bike Coalition's CalTrain Bikes On Board campaign suggests: email CalTrain every time you get bumped.

Here are recommended addresses:

The above are wrapped up in a combo <mailto/> link so you can just click to send something to all of them if you have your browser integrated with email.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Halloween Train

The Society for the Preservation of Carter Railroad Resources is running their Halloween Train at Ardenwood Historic Farm again this year.

We didn't get a ride last year because they were sold out. Tickets are sold in advance at The Book End, a bookstore in Fremont. Time for another Dumbarton bike ride?

Friday, October 10, 2008

CalTrain Studies Crashworthiness

The Federal Railway Administration sets safety standards for the nation's railway network. Their safety standards for passenger equipment emphasize crash survival through strength. The result is that US passenger equipment weights 2x3 times more than that used in other parts of the world, increasing energy consumption, and making off-the-shelf equipment from other parts of the world prohibited.

CalTrain, which would like to evolve from diesel-powered mainline-style trains to electrical multiple unit trains (i.e., a slightly scaled up version of BART) has studied the effectiveness of US and European safety standards, and concluded that the FRA's "build trains like tanks" mentality is probably not making passengers any safer; I'll excerpt a summary table:

Impact Object Speed Probability European CEM FRA-Compliant
Automobile All High Negligible Negligible
Truck 30 Low Serious Serious
Truck 50 Low Serious Catastrophic
Truck 70 Low Serious Catastrophic
Steel Coil 20 Very Low Marginal Serious

Collisions between passenger trains and freight trains are another matter--but could be avoided entirely by restricting freights to late night hours after CalTrain has finished running (this has been done elsewhere where light rail operates on freight lines), on the main SF/SJ part of the line. This would mean operating trains south to Gilroy with different equipment, but probably there isn't enough traffic to justify electrification of the south end of the line anyway.

Thanks to Peter Ehrlich for forwarding this report to the SFMuniHistory list.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

A More Interesting Reason to Commute

A bike to/from tag seen on CalTrain:

The Nerve!

The Yes-on-B (the Santa Clara County sales tax to pay for (some of) the operating costs of the proposed (and searching for adequate construction funding) BART extension) folks (basically the SVLG are leaving flyers on CalTrain trains.

Among their claims is that proposition B will not take away funding for CalTrain electrification.

This is not technically a lie. But it is the case that the VTA's monomaniacal obsession with BART is leading them to steal promised funding from any and all sources, including $$ promised from the 2000 Measure A sales tax for CalTrain electrification.

Defeating B is the best way to force them to abandon BART, build something they can actually afford (just run ACE trains back and forth to Fremont all day instead of letting them sit around Diridon Station !@#!) and keep their other promises.

For much more complete arguments see

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Senator Feinstein on Rail Safety

You can read her testimony to a CA state hearing on rail safety on the LA Times Bottleneck blog.

The good news is that government, a commuter rail operator, and freight railways are collaborating to install safety measures.

It's also downright astounding to see a politician showing understanding of technical details of transit infrastructure.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

CalTrain's Funding Problems in a Nutshell

A letter in the Oct 6th Murky News:

My husband and I are in our 60's and anticipate a time when we will no longer want to or be able to drive to San Francisco for the theater, symphony, shopping or even to the airport. In his article outlining why he will oppose the BART tax Scott Herhold (Page 1B, Oct. 5) gives many good reasons why other forms of transportation will get the job done more efficiently and with less capital outlay. However, there is one flaw in Mr. Herhold's argument. The bullet train currently only runs during the commute hours. It does not run in the late morning, early afternoon, at night or on the weekends. Therefore, during non-commute hours it will take significantly longer to get to San Francisco than it would on BART. If Caltrain would add bullet train runs on weekends and during non-commute hours, I would consider voting "no" on measure B. Otherwise, I still think it makes more sense to circle the bay with BART.

Susan Gutterman, San Jose

So since CalTrain is underfunded and can't provide the service you want... give money to BART instead?

CalTrain seems perpetually stuck in a vicious circle of being underfunded, operating a somewhat scrappy service, and therefore not being taken seriously, putting it last on the list for better funding!

Yeah, it's just one letter from one individual, but I think it's pretty representative of the views of so-called transportation experts in the Bay Area too.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Train Clips Truck

I biked all the way to work today. Here's why.

I need the exercise, but still...

This truck was pretty flimsy, by the look of the accident scene. The only injuries were to the truck driver, and minor.

It'd be nice to get rid of all grade crossings along CalTrain. But until the day we have funding for that, what if we banned semitrucks from grade crossings? There's enough over- and underpasses that it doesn't seem like it'd be too big an inconvenience.

Friday, October 03, 2008

CalTrain's Self-Inflicted Publicity Crapstorm over Bikes

As the unloved stepchild of Bay Area transit, CalTrain doesn't get much attention in the press, except for the occasional page 3 article when they run over somebody.

So the level of attention they've been getting lately, over their inability to make room for bikes, came as a surprise. I've seen stories in the Chronicle, and the issue has even made TV and radio news.

Not too mention that local papers' letters-to-the-editor pages have been filled to bursting with complained from habitually bumped bikers, many of whom are public resolving to give up and go back to driving.

All this seems to have finally gotten some attention from the CalTrain board, who will now finally look at adding more bike capacity to trains (but couldn't they have reached this conclusion a year ago?)

Kudos to angry bikers who showed up at CalTrain's meeting yesterday and helped sway their opinion, some with visual aids.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Did Anyone Ask the Students?

After months of negotiation, Norfolk VA's abuilding light rail system has agreed to move a planned station farther from Norfolk State University:

The new NSU location will be on the west side of Brambleton and not the east side. It costs more because it will extend over Brambleton Avenue, requiring heavier-duty material and more complicated construction, HRT Vice President Jayne Whitney said. The station could not be moved beyond Brambleton because of a bend in the track, she said.

NSU officials requested the change because they feared for students' security with a mass-transit stop so close to campus. Michael Townes, HRT CEO and president, said the request was accommodated because "they're a partner in this project."


However, the new site poses a different kind of safety worry, said Corey Hill, chief of public transportation for the state.

Students will now have to cross busy Brambleton Avenue to get to class. Hill said he fears they will dash across six lanes of traffic instead of walking a block to the nearest intersection.

In a similar vein, in Minneapolis, the University of Minnesota has been fighting tooth and nail to keep a Hiawatha LRT extension off of a street that runs through their campus.

It shouldn't come as any surprise to anyone who's been to college that university administrators really don't care about the convenience of students.

But it is disheartening that transit systems can be so skewed by their demands. As usual, actual transit users get no respect, even from the people who plan transit systems.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Imagine What We Could Do With $700 Billion

Imagine if we just let the individuals and banks who made bad investments suffer the consequences of their mistakes, stopped throwing good (public) money after bad (private), and invested $700bn in public works.

Naturally, I'd advocate:

  • Transit
  • Low interest loans for transit-friendly development

Imagine the jobs that would be created, and what it would do for our economy!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Crapped on Again!

For the third year in a row, our state government has worked out its budget problems at the expense of public transit riders.

I swear, in American society, crackhead transgender welfare queens get more respect than we do. We seriously need to work on getting some respect.

Here's an idea: did you know that there is a campaign to recall Gov Schwarzenegger? Sure, it was started by people who no connection to or interest in public transit (the prison guard union, who are pissed about getting a paycut).

But suppose we started collecting signatures. Suppose we started going around with clipboards, at stations, on trains and busses--and encouraged transit passengers to use this as an opportunity to vent.

In terms of removing our crappy governor, the campaign might be a non-starter--but it would have the a powerful psychological effect on state leadership: transit passengers are getting organized, and politicians need to start giving us some respect.

Monday, September 15, 2008

CalTrain Violated an Unwritten Rule!

That rule being that, even if there isn't room to get your bike on an express, there's always plenty on the slow-as-heck locals. Not tonight--the 5:03 NB @ Mountain View was a Bombardier set with one bike car, with room to take two bikes, out of five of us waiting (I was the last to arrive).

The next train wasn't til 5:37. I biked up to El Camino and waited for a 522 Rapid, which after 10 or so minutes, arrived. The rapid is definitely faster than the regular 22, but given that the 5:37 is an express, I probably should have just gotten out my current literary diversion and waited at the station.

I met up with my family in Menlo Park, where we went to dinner at Jason's Cafe, which has recently replaced Brix. Add this place to the list recommended transit-accessible eateries (from MP CalTrain, walk around the Foster's Freeze).

Wash Me!

I guess nobody really needs to look out of these engine-room windows on CalTrain's locomotives, but somebody was up there to notice the dirt!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Accident Avoidance

Is there a reasonable compromise between a the safety of 100% grade-separated, passenger-only railway system like BART, and the affordability and practicality of a commuter rail system like LA's MetroLink, where passenger trains can, and unfortunately every couple of years do, collide with freight trains?

The most recent accident seems to be the result of error on the MetroLink engineer's part.

Clearly we need more foolproof ways of keeping trains safe that relying on humans to see signals. The technology to do this is not new. Many transit systems (like the Key Route) had ways of stopping trains automatically in the first half of the 20th century.

It seems like some sort of device to stop trains (or at least sound an alarm) based on GPS and/or wireless connections to central dispatching could be added to existing locomotive fleets cheaply and easily.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Our Latest Transportation Mode

We just got our daughter a skateboard.

One thing about getting around the neighborhood at a kid's pace is, you find interesting things. Like a leaf bug!

Or a rolly-polly:

And friendly cats. Sometimes taking off your helmet helps make friends.

Destination: Rite-Aid:

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Emotional and Politically Correct

The SJ Merc printed a letter of mine more or less along the lines of my post here about the schoolgirl killed while biking home from school. I was a little surprised to see a "rebuttal" in the form of another letter the next day.

How sad that in a time of tragedy people let their emotions override their good judgment. Such is the case when Nicholas Kibre (Letters, June 15) somehow blames the driver of an SUV for a fatality involving a bicycle. Kibre doesn't blame the driver for what may have been a failure to yield to the bicyclist during a left hand turn. No, he goes for the politically correct jugular and blames the driver for purchasing an SUV. Although, I saw no mention that the driver either purchased or owned the Ford Bronco in question. There was no mention in Kibre's letter about the unfortunate young girl not wearing a helmet as required by law which was probably more of a factor than the type of vehicle she collided with. Instead of putting additional blame on the city of San Jose for delays in implementing traffic measures it would seem more appropriate to encourage authorities to increase the education and enforcement of helmet laws.

Jack Azevedo

Santa Clara

I suppose this guy has me on the the poin that the driver may not have actually owned the Ford Bronco. Maybe she stole it! That changes everything!

I stand by my point--using (however you get ahold of it) a vehicle that is known to endanger other people is a choice, and therefore, is a greater moral failing even than the fateful, but assumedly totally accidental, failure to see the victim.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Trolleybusses - End of the Line in Edmonton

I personally think trolleybusses are on the verge of a huge renaissance. As the world runs out of oil, fuel costs for diesel busses are going to start exceeding the costs of building and maintaining overhead wires (assuming there isn't some sudden increase in the efficiency of batteries or practicality of fuel cells).

So it's ironic that the city of Edmonton, Alberta, is choosing this particular moment to junk their trolleybus system. The transit agency claims the wires need renewal, at a cost of $100 million, which is money that could be better spend on light rail projects (but there are no actual promises to actually spend $100 million on light rail). They also claim that new hybrid diesel busses provide the same ecological benefit as trolleybusses, which is a stretch.

Another advantage of trolleybusses not often discussed is psychological--I think ETB's have a light version of "magic" that attracts people to streetcars--the fact that money has been invested in obvious infrastructure makes the line feel important and permanent, and somehow more attractive than "just a regular old bus".

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Bumped Last Night, Spare the Air Day Tomorrow

Last night I had to work later than usual. I never have trouble getting on my usual, earlier, train, but hitting rush hour things didn't go so swimmingly. My intended train was 10 mins late, and was made up of Bombardier cars and had only one bike car, so only a handful of the huge crowd of waiting bikers got on. The next one had more room, but served a different set of stops, not including where I wanted to get off (in this case RWC), so all told, I ended up getting where I wanted to go at least 30 mins later than I intended. Grrr!

These problems seem to be getting worse and worse, it's just that my own commute patterns usually let me avoid it.

Bikers have been giving CalTrain plenty of suggestions (read Sub20OLH's, for example), but they seem to just want to add more bike racks to keep us off the train.

Tomorrow is Spare-the-Air Day, so all BA transit will be free til noon. Expect crowded trains!

Considering that Spare-the-Air transit giveaways have been going on for a few years, at a cost of a couple million dollars per day, I think it's reasonable to ask now if they actually have had any effect in recruiting new, recurring, paying passengers. Is anyone even trying to measure this? Or is this just a "feel good" publicity thing?

A million here and there may not add up to much in the scheme of transit funding, but if StAD isn't actually having any real benefit, I can recommend a few things to spend the money on that would--like even just one single new bike car!

Friday, June 13, 2008

An Accident?

The death of a sixth-grader, hit and killed by an SUV while biking home on the last day of school is a tragedy, but not an unavoidable accident.

The driver of the SUV knew that her oversize vehicle would put others at risk when she bought it. She is not a murderer, but she's not an innocent victim either, despite her tears.

The City of San Jose bears responsibility too, for taking their sweet time implementing traffic calming measures asked for by residents of the Rose Garden neighborhood where this tragedy happened.

Hopefully, the youth of the victim will hold back the usual "safety tips" that law enforcement automatically offers (regardless of the facts of the particular case) every time a biker is killed, that 90% of such accidents are the biker's fault.

This, incidentally, is the City Rose Garden that gives the neighborhood its name.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Human Powered Mass Transit

I'm forwarding this from my company's internal bike list:

Looks like fun!

If You Want Better Trains, Should You Vote Against HSR?

HSR has been in the news lately, mostly negatively.

  • The Union Pacific has written a letter to the CAHSRA insisting that they don't want to share any of their right-of-way with high-speed-rail. Apparently they've been mentioning this all along, without any acknowledgment, and finally decided to put it in writing. The CAHSRA has pooh-pooh'ed this as just a negotiating tactic. Still, if the UP were just trying to hold out for more money, I think they'd probably do this after the project were officially in the works, and money was committed, rather than now, when it's likely to derail it.
  • There is a big question where the funding will come from. We may get a chance to vote on $10bn of bonds for this project in November, with a promise that the Feds and private investors picking up the rest. I can see the Federal government matching any state contribution, but that still leaves $20bn, which it seems like a stretch to believe private investors will pony up (Would they actually recover that investment? Would HSR actually generate a $20bn profit (or any) over any reasonable timeframe?).

Train and transit boosters tend to brush these concerns off--just vote for it, sell the bonds, and eventually it'll get built. I'm just not happy making this sort of leap of faith. A few things to consider:

  • Is the CASHRA really competent or honest enough to build this railway? The fact that they are asking us to vote on a plan where 75% of the funding is uncertain, and there is no certain place to even lay the tracks, leads me to doubt this (There are other reasons).
  • Things really could go horribly wrong. We could end up with a statewide version of BART-to-SFO (an overbuilt, underpeforming line that saps funding from better projects) or BART-to-SJ (a zombie railway that doesn't get built, but prevents cheap and practical transportation options from getting built, because compromising on what you actually can build is "betraying the trust of the voters").

I have written earlier about the Triumph of the Perverse--expensive, impractical projects are politically popular, but practical and doable ones languish.

For a recent example: there is an effort to double-track the railway between LA and San Diego, used by Amtrak, Metrolink, and Coaster. It's a pretty busy corridor, and double tracking would improve reliability, and make a higher level of service possible (probably something analogous to CalTrain). San Diego transportation folks went to Sacramento looking for funding, but were met by profound disinterest...

Before 2000, the VTA had plans to run frequent commuter trains between the East Bay and San Jose, actually had funding lined up, but scuttled the project because building BART was just so much more cool. Others have pointed out the ironic fact had the 2000 Measure A "BART Tax" failed, we would actually have had decent transit service in this corridor since about 2003!

So I wonder: if I want to see improvements to California's passenger rail network, should I vote against high-speed rail in November?

Monday, June 09, 2008

I'm in ur town Bikin ur str33ts

So Woodside, thought you could scare me out of your town? Ha!

Here's where I got the ticket, btw. I was actually on that path by the side of the road, and turned right onto this side street. I'm not even sure I was breaking the law. What do you think?

Ironically, a week or two later, a cop stopped me on the Palo Alto/Mountain View border for running a red--now it's not as bad as it sounds, because it was a T intersection and I was going across the top of the T, but still, I figured they had me way more dead-to-rights than the time in Woodside. But being polite and friendly got me off with a warning. Go figure. Maybe he was just impressed I'd biked all the way from Redwood City. Well, I'll try not to do that again, either.

The ride up Woodside (Road) to Woodside (Town) is getting to be easier. It feels a lot safer going up than down, though; people just drive too damn fast going down that hill (I suppose me included). I like to head north on Cañada Road, past Cañada College (or call it "Canada College" if it amuses you), and head back to RWC via Jefferson, which is pretty quiet up here, and sneaks through a low point in the hills (going up Farm Hill past the College would give you a good view, but it's a bigger climb--something to try next time).

It's pretty idyllic back there. If you're loaded, a mini-ranch in Woodside does seem like a classy way to blow a chunk of it on a home--better than those poser wanna-be aristocrats down in Atherton!


But what's with this?

Something dangerous in there? To paraphrase Monty Python--"What, behind the Pony?"

This is Upper Emerald Lake, a country club, I guess. Join up, pay lots of money, and fish or go swimming in a very exclusive duck pond!

Transit and Social Networking

I've been getting a lot of SMS's from the CalTrain Twitter Feed lately.

There's been a little bit too much information sometimes, I suppose as new posters sign up and try to be a little too helpful. A train being late by < 5 mins is not news, people!

The last couple of days the system seems to be earning its salt, though. There was a fatality around San Antonio on Friday, and the feed was a-twitter reports of delays and the painfully slow process of getting trains running again. I had the good fortune to not be working that day (Accidents seem to happen a lot on my days off. I don't know what this means. Perhaps CalTrain should pay me to keep riding?). This morning the line was snarled by a broken down train in Mountain View (I think they need to hire Thomas to keep this railway moving), and armed with foreknowledge, I W@H'ed in the morning, and rode in to the office without incident on a completely punctual noon train.

So a few musings--can we improve the usefulness of social networking, and perhaps make it more officially sanctioned, and more easily available to non-cogniscenti riders?

Suppose Twitter (or whatever) messages actually showed up on the electronic signs in stations. That'd be cool. Of course, it'd be an open invitation for spam and pranks (and maybe more benign misuse like happy birthday messages and marriage proposals...). Perhaps the system could be made somewhat self-regulating, Yelp-style, if power users could provide "was this message useful to you?" style feedback, and only posts from the most highly rated contributors made it to public signs.

It would take a pretty gutsy transit agency to go for this, because if service sucks, it'd just be giving digruntled passengers a place to vent--"@!#!$ trains are late AGAIN". An agency would be ill-advised to try this unless it was confident that it had its riders respect--which is really that hard to earn, actually, if you just start with a little respect for them! Btw, I've lost track of how to post messages to the CalTrain Twitter feed via the web, I'm never did know how to do it via SMS. There really aren't clear instructions on the feed's homepage. Anyone know?

Friday, June 06, 2008

Transit of the Future???

If you use GMail, the ads that pop up in the margins, sort of thematically linked to what you're talking about, can be interesting, or at least amusing. While arranging to meet extended family in Berkeley, I was offered a link to a site to "Meet Goth Guys"; and I'm always getting links to baking-related sites when my wife and I talk about our cat, Nutmeg.

Anyway, while perusing transit related emails, popped up. It seems to be an attempt to marketize some ideas for high-speed cable tramways that were revealed at the Russian booth at a World's Fair.

I'm passing this along for entertainment purposes only (though I do think cable tramways deserve to be taken more seriously as a transit medium).

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Enter and Exit Doors on CalTrain Bike Cars

You may have noticed these new signs on CalTrain's Bombardier bike cars, specifying one door for getting on with bikes and one for getting off.

Sounds like it might speed loading and unloading, but does it? Getting a bike from one end of the car to the other, in the narrow aisle between seats, is pretty tricky--especially on a crowded moving train!

I think conductors have decided this is a bad idea since they never seem to enforce it.

It might actually work if the cars' interior layout were rearranged a bit--make one side of the lower level just for bikes, and the other just for seats. I hear that other operators that use these cars (like ACE) do have different layouts, though I haven't seen this myself (but they still impose the stupid 16 bike limit, which is apparently mandated by the feds).

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Miss a Train, Catch a Bus

It's a pretty simple idea, but it's surprising how little it occurs to CalTrain riders to do it, or to transit agencies to encourage it.

I got my schedules mixed up today, and was standing on the SB platform at Menlo Park this morning at 10:35, and it slowly dawned on me that there's an 8:35 and a 9:35, but no 10:35--the next train wasn't til 11:00.

So I set off by bike in the general direction of work, got to Palo Alto, and it occurred to me to try the VTA's 522 Rapid, which goes all the way down El Camino (then swings east across San Jose), the same route as the 22, but with fewer stops, and busses equipped to get traffic signal priority.

I have a two-zone CalTrain pass, which lets me ride VTA and SamTrans busses free.

My bus was actually a regular bus in the VTA's usual paint job.

My bus left at 10:54. I got to work at 11:30, and that 0:36 included a stop to pick up a Nicoise salad at the Mountain View Trader Joe's. So the overall trip time is pretty good compared with my estimated arrival of ~11:20 had I waited around for the train.

Now I admit that the bus alternative may not appeal much to hotshot dot-com commuters who ride CalTrain from Portrero Hill down to jobs in Mountain View, but I think there's a lot of other travel patterns where if people were more aware the busses that VTA and SamTrans run up and down El Camino, and thought of them as a complementary service to CalTrain, in more or less the same corridor--instead of just "welfare transit for people who don't have cars", they might actually give them a try. For weekend outings up and down the peninsula, for example, timing the start of a trip to hit one of CalTrain's hourly runs is not so bad, but having to check your watch and make sure to punctually leave whatever leisure activity you're pursing to get home is annoying. Why not take the train there and the bus back? Or if one of CalTrain's "unfortunate incidents" interrupts your evening commute, and your trip isn't too long, why not head over to a bus stop? It might be quicker than waiting three hours while the emergency response folks hold up the line writing reports and cleaning up.

Transit agencies could do a lot to encourage this sort of thinking just by actually letting riders know it's possible. Somewhere on their schedule, CalTrain should at least mention what busses complement their service, and mention the "two-zone pass = bus pass" perk a bit more prominently. It would also be nice to expand the priviledge to regular tickets, or even, to accept local agencies' passes within their jurisdiction.

All of these agencies do belong to us, after all--it shouldn't be too much to ask that they work together!

Monday, June 02, 2008

Go Giants!

Perhaps I've never been a baseball fan just because I've never had the luck of seeing a really good game in person.

Yesterday, we rode up to PacBell SBC AT&T Park on CalTrain, met my parents (who came via Muni), saw the Giants vs the Padres, and I kinda see what the fuss is about.

The early innings zipped along, time-wise, but were low-scoring. The Giants scored a run somewhere around the fifth inning, and looked on their way to winning a fairly uninspiring game, but then things heated up, with the game tied after the ninth, the Padres pulling ahead in the top of the the tenth, and the Giants making a comeback and winning 4-3.

Thus ends my first and probably last attempt at sportswriting.

Getting back on theme--CalTrain annoyingly ran a four-car train on the northbound run arriving just before the game, and needless to say, it was pretty crowded. It was a gallery-car train (Why do they never run the new Bomb-sets on weekends? Probably just so they can wear on the old equipment faster and replace it with new cars...); we sat down on the twisty stairs to the second level, and this turned out to be a good strategy--if anyone gets off from that particular section of the upper level, you're basically guaranteed their seat.

The trip back was more fun because we got a post-game special, which expressed from SF to San Carlos, and got us back to our car at Atherton in 35 minutes. I bet it took my parents longer on Muni to get home, just going across town, on Muni.

Go CalTrain!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

WiFi on BART--Why Not CalTrain?

BART is negotiating with Wi-Fi Rail to provide system-wide wireless internet.

Wi-Fi Rail is going to cover the whole $20 million cost, and recover it with user fees and advertising (I don't know if this means that you will have to pay to use it and still see ads, or if there will be a choice between paying to use it or getting ads.

A few years ago, CalTrain looked into onboard WiFi but dropped the idea because it was going to cost too much (to them). I don't think offers of free installation were forthcoming at that point. Perhaps they should contact the WiFi Rail people.

It would also be nice to see different transit agencies joining up to negotiate these things jointly (there are lots of things like ad contracts, cleaning, power, where negotiating as a group could probably get everybody a better deal).

Accidentally Scared our Janitor

At my work, the entryway I use has a porch area made of smooth cement. I like to approach at speed, turn to the side at the last moment, and skid to a stop. I didn't notice, but our facilties-cleanup-guy was right behind the glass doors today, windexing... I told him work is dull, so I like to get some excitement in first!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Spring at the Mountain View Transit Center

There are cherry blossoms (or were when I took the picture, it's been a few weeks):

And California poppies growing the ballast of the VTA tracks:

A few days after I took this one, they were gone. Hey, that's not a weed, that's our state flower! Oh, well.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


A week or two ago I biked to work via Alameda/Junipero Sera/Foothill. Somewhere along the back of Stanford, I saw a couple of lizards by the side of the road.

While I took this guy's picture, his buddy made a break for it across the road, and got squished by a car :(

So I yelled and waved my arms and chased this one back into the bushes.

Folks who live up in Portola Valley, Woodside, the hills of PA, MP and RWC zip along these roads, driving up to live in the "country" because they love nature, right?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Sacramento Light Rail Ridership up 43%

Since last year (!). They did open a new line (to Folsom), which helps boost statistics, but overall they must be doing something essentially right too. LRT ridership is now higher than bus ridership.

Random picture of Sacto LR I took a few years ago

Just goes to show that rail transit really can work, even in a city that developed through decades of auto-oriented sprawl.

So VTA, what's your excuse?

I expect a big part of Sacto LR's success is that routes are fairly straight, reasonably fast (transit doesn't have to run at bullet-train speeds, or even be faster than driving--just don't make it painfully, insultingly slow), and building lines to run where people actually want to go.

Pretty basic stuff, but you'd be surprised how often transit "professionals" overlook these factors!

For more insight into the capitol city scene, I recommend reading these blogs:

Bike-to-Work Day

is tomorrow.

I think I'll try biking all the way in.

The VTA is going to have an "energizer station" for bikers set up at the Mountain View station, from 6:30 to 9:30. Score some freebies!

Guess I'll be missing that, since I don't usually get out of the house that early (w@h, as we say...).

Have fun, and expect CalTrain bike cars to be a little extra-crowded (those of you in the habit of working standard work ours might want to think about shifting to a "slacker schedule" for a day, if your job lets you get away with it!).

Monday, May 12, 2008

Out for Dinner in San Mateo

The other night my wife went out with some friends, so I gave my daughter a heads up that if homework was done by the time I got home, we could go out too, and it got done in record time.

I thought my plans would be moot due to an unusual but thankfully non-fatal bike/train incident messing up CalTrain that evening, but trains were quickly back on schedule.

We headed up to San Mateo. I had a silly notion to go to that Mexican place with the ads starring the dorky kid, but we ended up at North Beach Pizza, where I got Chicken Marsala and my daughter got plain old spaghetti. I've linked to Yelp, but here's our review:

Citizen's Advisory Committees

There is an opening on the CalTrain CAC. Applications are due by Wednesday at 5 PM.

I've applied for this in the past (as well as the SamTrans board), never gotten on... perhaps they've read this blog and are wary of angry rants.

Probably what I should really be aiming for is getting more involved in an unofficial way (but in real life, rather than the internet). The CalTrain CAC announcement mentions that meetings are open to the public. I oughta show up some time.

In related news, I was pleased to read this announcement from Peter Ehrlich in his SFMuniHistory Yahoo group:

Perhaps now is the time for me to announce that I've received an appointment by the SF County Transportation Commission (that's the Board of Supes wearing a different hat) to the Citizen's Advisory Panel for Geary BRT. I was chosen to fill one of the At-Large seats. Supervisor Bevan Dufty liked my background and experience as a transit operator, and I think I can draw on that experience to help design this project.


Peter is a retired F Line motorman. Members of the Market St Ry will have seen examples of Peter's excellent photography in their newsletter; he is also a knowledgeable transit historian.

It's nice to see experience getting the appreciation it deserves (not really that common in the transit field, unfortuntely).

Saturday, May 10, 2008

In the Interest of Full Disclosure

We bought a new car. Well, new to us, anyway! (Which puts us in a much nicer class of car than we'd ever buy new; it's an Audi.)

The day after we bought it, I drove it to work to show it off to my friends. On the way home I was reminded of the fact that I don't commute by bike and train for idealistic reasons alone--traffic sucks! Since then I've been been back on the bike and CalTrain like usual. It's also more fun to meet up with my family after work that way--if I come by car, I have to drive it home by myself.

Our previous "unenlightened tranport" was a minivan, which had the advantage that when I meet up with my familty somewhere, it was easy to load up a bike. I've been keeping a bike rack in the truck of the new car, but it takes up a lot of room that really needs to be used for groceries and ice skates. I guess I'll be shopping for a bike rack that compacts better (and hopefully goes on more quickly).

Friday, May 09, 2008

Trader Joe's Needs More Parking

See, every spot's taken!

At the Menlo Park store on a nice day

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

A Well-Applied Internet Meme

Happy National Train Day!

AmTrak has declared May 10th National Train Day.

There are events scheduled at train stations around the country. Doesn't sound like anything around here will top what they've got planned for NY, Chicago, or LA, but there'll be stuff going on at several BA stations, including Emeryville, Martinez, and San Francisco (I think this means the AmTrak bus stop by the Ferry Building, not the CalTrain station--which is kinda lame, but might make it obscure enought to increase your chance of scoring freebies!).

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

BART Debate in the Merc

Gary Richards, aka "Mr Roadshow", recently printed a batch of letters pro and con the BART/SJ project in his column, including one by yours truly. It got edited down a bit... here's what I actually wrote:

Who but the VTA would be upset that they "only" have $8.7 billion?

The VTA warns us that sacrifices will be necessary to bring BART to San Jose--first dropping all other transportation projects from the agenda, and then passing another sales tax.

Suppose we drop BART for something we can actually afford (run ACE trains on a half-hourly schedule?--and note that improvements to ACE are actually authorized by the 2000 Measure A language)--all of the sudden, $8.7 billion starts to sound like a lot of money again, with funds left over for new light rail, rapid bus, CalTrain electrification, etc.

Here's a newsflash to the VTA: us voters liked BART when you said we could afford it. We don't want to pay another tax, and we don't want a BART extension that ends in Milpitas (a nice way of committing us to another tax down the road, so that we can finish what we've started--we're not falling for that one!). Before you ask us for more money, how about trying to do something useful with what we've already given you?

Some of the other writers has interesting things to say, too! :)

It's good to see some actual public discussion of this issue, and the Merc printing more than the BARTista line fed to it by the SVLG.

Thanks to Richard Masoner of Cyclelicio.US for pointing this article out to me.

For further reading on BART-to-SJ, I recommend VTAWatch, who puts it better than me.

Am I Wrong?

A week ago Saturday the Daily News published a letter of mine about the proposed redevelopment of the Redwood City saltworks.

Dear Editor: Over the next few months, we can expect to hear a lot about "preserving open space" from the anti-growth crowd in Redwood City, who oppose any new development of our saltworks. I find their "green cred" somewhat suspect, not just because a lot of them live quite nicely on former open space themselves in Emerald Hills (which once was grasslands, oaks and redwood forest), and put their share of CO2 into the atmosphere getting up there, but because their "housing not high-rises" campaign of 2004, which had the net effect of preserving a row of auto dealerships and a boat-storage lot, exposed their true concerns: preserving "their" city from the threat of new residents moving here in large numbers.

To more open-minded Redwood City residents, I'd like to point out the saltworks are not public property, and short of a huge infusion of public cash, restoring it all is not an option. The options we do have are to let it continue to be a saltworks, or accept something along the lines of the 50-50 proposal of the saltworks owners (50 percent developed, 50 percent restored and made available for recreation). I think it's a good deal, and we should take it.

I've gotten some flack over this from some folks whose opinion I respect, who ask why I'm supporting a project that:

  1. Fills in the bay.
  2. Enriches large corporations.
  3. Is still vague.
  4. Is not transit-oriented.

I can accept (1) as a reasonable argument, though I think I've made my position clear--the saltworks aren't really a natural space any more, and getting half a wetlands is better than none. As to (2), my political roots are pretty far left, and I'm sympathetic--but it just seems orthogonal to the issue at hand. Regarding (3), perhaps I am hasty in endorsing this project, but others are equally hasty in condemning it.

Naturally I take (4) a more seriously. So is this project transit oriented? Admittedly, it's a ways from CalTrain. Here's a map, with some additions of mine.

The developers are happy to point out that the area is close to the planned Redwood City Ferry terminal, but prospects for that project are dimming (and probably it's a dumb idea).

My $0.02 is that this area is ripe for some sort of local Bus Rapid Transit line to connect it to the core of Redwood City and Sequoia Station. This should be done already to better connect to the Seaport Office complex (those big towers out next to the cement plant). Done right, it would only be about a 10-15 min ride.

How well this would actually work out depends on the extent to which new development was actually organized around it, and its degree of pedestrian-friendliness.

A few musings...

  • Our housing problems are worse than our transportation problems (well, for me, anyway--my commute's fine, but I worry about the rent!). This doesn't mean we should sign off on any new development (I'm pretty solidly against SJ's expansion into Coyote valley), but
  • If people move to a new RWC neighborhood and drive a couple miles to work, that's still better than if they live in Fremont, Livermore or Stockton, and drive a couple dozen.
  • Cynically speaking, anything that adds to the overall density of the region will make traffic worse, and transit more appealing.
  • There is a difference between transit-hopeless development (look on the fringes of any metro region for this) and potentially transit-accessible (transit-salvageable?) development (I think there's hope for Redwood Shores and Foster City).

One thing I would truly love to hear from opponents of the Saltworks project is an admission that Redwood City needs more housing--and a suggestion of a better place to put it. I don't mean this rhetorically!!! I think there really are other places around town ripe for redevelopment. Our KMart is pretty deserted--tear it down, build some apartments/condos/townhomes, whatever, and make room for a couple hundred new Redwood City families... but hey, it's not my job to think up alternatives to turning the Saltworks into housing--people who are against this project should be doing that!

We need to move beyond "veto politics" to actively looking for solutions to problems, and for a change, getting people to be for something.

What do you think?

It sucks, but the "Proposition Q" project that RWC voters defeated in 2004 was all around a better project--it was denser, closer to the city's core, and was set on land already lost to development (and nothing anyone would miss).

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

What's the Opposite of SMART?

Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, or SMART, is a proposed commuter (DMU) line linking Cloverdale, in the far north of Sonoma County, with Larkspur in Marin, via the dormant tracks of the Northwestern Pacific Railway.

In the November 2006 election, a sales tax to support it barely missed the 2/3 supermajority needed to pass it. It sailed through in Sonoma county, but floundered in Marin, due to concerted opposition by train-haters in Novato, suspect environmentalists concerned that trains might disturb wildlife, and the usual assortment of exurban NIMBY cranks.

I wrote an analysis of the SMART initiative's future prospects here.

SMART will be back on the ballot this November, and I'm optimistic about its prospects, since a presidential election usually gets the right sort of people (from my perspective!) to the polls, and two years of sitting in traffic on the 101 have probably changed a few minds (reconstruction of the 101/580 interchange in San Rafael, and its resulting traffic snarls, has hopefully reinforced the futility of highway improvements).

To their credit the SMART board and SMART backers have gone on the offensive to counter some of the arguments and disinformation that defeated their 2006 initiative. I recommend a look at their new website, which not only has good information about SMART, but a nice analysis of what makes different transportation modes cost-effective (anyone who still likes BART-to-SJ should really read this!).

Great! But how can those of us outside of the North Bay help out? I have an idea--playing off of SMART's acronym, I'm launching an acronym contest of my own.

Come up with an unflattering acronym for people who oppose SMART.

Imagine filling in the blank in the slogan: "Don't be (a) ... get SMART!"

Here's some suggestions to kick it off:

  • Stuck in Traffic Unable to Picture Innovative Directions
  • Dependent on Oil Poser Environmentalist
  • De-Urbanized Marin Bitches (perhaps not my most productive idea)

Think up stuff, post your ideas as comments!

In the spirit of open-source development, everyone should feel free to cannibalize from previous suggestions and improve on them.

Petaluma Depot

Monday, April 28, 2008


This article from the Chron was both amusing and sad.

Pray-in at S.F. Gas Station asks God to lower prices

David R. Baker, Chronicle Staff Writer
Saturday, April 26, 2008

Rocky Twyman has a radical solution for surging gasoline prices: prayer.

Twyman - a community organizer, church choir director and public relations consultant from the Washington, D.C., suburbs - staged a pray-in at a San Francisco Chevron station on Friday, asking God for cheaper gas. He did the same thing in the nation's Capitol on Wednesday, with volunteers from a soup kitchen joining in. Today he will lead members of an Oakland church in prayer.

Yes, it's come to that.

"God is the only one we can turn to at this point," said Twyman, 59. "Our leaders don't seem to be able to do anything about it. The prices keep soaring and soaring."

Gas prices have been driven relentlessly higher this year by the bull market for crude oil, gasoline's main ingredient. A gallon of regular now costs $3.89, on average, in California, while the national average has hit $3.58.

To solve the problem, Twyman isn't begging the Lord for any specific act of intervention. He is not asking God to make OPEC pump more oil. Nor is he praying for all the speculative investors to be purged from the New York Mercantile Exchange, where crude oil is traded.

Instead, he says anyone who wants to follow his example should keep it simple.

"God, deliver us from these high gas prices," Twyman said. "That's all they have to say."

Consumer advocates who have been howling about gasoline prices for months say they understand his frustration, even if they haven't tried his tactics.

"Given the complete inertia and silence of this White House on a crisis that has people feeling just hopeless, prayer is probably as good as anything," said Judy Dugan, research director with the nonprofit group Consumer Watchdog. "Frankly, I wish them luck."

Her organization has a list of proposals to help tame gas prices. Federal officials could stop adding oil for the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve and start selling some instead, for example. That would boost supplies in the market and drive down the price. Officials also could tighten oversight of crude oil trading.

"This is government's job - it shouldn't be God's job - but government is in gridlock or ignoring it," Dugan said.

Some of Consumer Watchdog's ideas may finally be gaining support. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, on Thursday asked President Bush to stop filling the strategic oil reserve. And on Friday, she called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether the oil market is being manipulated.

Twyman, 59, has a history of taking on interesting causes, some whimsical, some deadly serious. Three years ago, he led a petition drive to have Oprah Winfrey nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. It didn't work, obviously, but he says he had a great time with it.

His real passion, however, has been persuading African Americans to become bone marrow donors. A friend of his who had just adopted a child died from leukemia in 1995 without ever finding a donor, and Twyman threw himself into the cause.

For years, racial and ethnic minorities have been underrepresented on the national donor registry, a problem because people in need of a transplant have a greater chance of finding a match with donors of the same race or ethnic group. Twyman estimates that his bone marrow drives, many of them organized through churches, have netted 14,000 potential donors. The drives also brought him an Above & Beyond award from the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.

Twyman knows his approach to gasoline prices may sound simplistic. He's quick to point out that anyone praying for cheaper fuel also has an obligation to do something more active about the problem.

"People have to walk more, leave those cars at home, and carpool, man," he said. "We have to become more practical."

He's also hoping that if enough people start praying at the pump, politicians who might actually be able to do something about the problem will listen.

But he says his prayer for gas-price relief from God is sincere.

"I've seen him work miracles in my life," Twyman said. "He told us that all we need to do is ask and believe. He can do it, and he will do it, but we have to ask him to do it."

Before I go totally sarcastic here, Mr Twyman's work on organ and tissue donation seems like a genuinely good thing, and I'll give him some credit for acknowledging that ordinary people can take some responsibility for their transportation problems.

Ok, now that I've gotten that out of the way...

I'd like to give Mr Twyman the good news: God has already solved my transportation problems for me--by giving me a pair of working legs!

True, my job is a little farther from my house than I'd care to walk, but combine those legs with a bike, add a train-ride, and problem solved.

The Lord helps those who help themselves, I guess!

Seriously, though, just how many ways is this pray-in stupid? Twyman seems to think:

  • God exists and works miracles.
  • God wants you to drive.
  • God gives a crap about gas prices.
  • Saving a few bucks is an appropriate use of prayer.
  • Politicians can control gas prices.
Sometimes it's really hard to believe that us Americans are descended from people who stowed away in ships, drove wagon trains, fought Indians, snuck over borders, built railroads, and/or survived and struggled against terrible oppression! "OMG, gas is expensive, please Mr President, or Jesus, or somebody! Help me, I can't afford to drive my car!" WTF!?!?

To a shorter, and less vitriolic version of this post that I emailed to the Chronicle, Mr Baker responded:


Let's just say I'm very, very happy I can take Muni Metro to work, no matter how unreliable Metro may be. Still beats traffic, parking and filling up.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Time to Place your Last Bets

The San Mateo council has approved the redevelopment of the Bay Meadows site into a mixed-used, transit oriented, somewhat-dense urban area.

This is generally a good thing. And I am pretty darn certain that the groups in opposition to this project have nearly zero interest in horse-racing, and consist of the usual assortment of selfish NIMBY's cranks.

As for me, I have actually been to the races once. It was fun (I won $100 on a $5 bet, by total luck, I can assure you), and I'm going to make sure to get out there with my family one more time before it closes. And it looks like we're going to have to do it pretty soon, because apparently things are shutting down for good in just a couple of weeks.

What's sad is that this doesn't really have to be an either-or situation. If you look at a Google maps satellite view of the Bay Meadows site,

you see that half of the property is actually taken up by parking. Suppose we just start assuming that everyone who wants to bet on horses gets there by train--we could keep the racetrack, and still open up several acres for development. Suppose also we threw in the San Mateo County "fairgrounds", the parcel to the NW of Bay Meadows--currently just a couple of big convention-hall buildings with their own sea of parking. The convention hall function could remain, but the halls could be built with housing or businesses above, or like the Mascone Center, there could be a park on top.

When we talk about the cars, the main evils we think of are pollution and traffic, but there are other downsides to car-dependence--the perceived need for parking is a kind of tax--it at least doubles the amount of land that a business or institution requires, and squeezes some of them out of our region entirely, including ones--like horse racing--that it might be fun to keep around.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


All too often, public agencies' solution to any problem is based around spending money. For example, about ten years ago, the VTA decided that it's light rail fleet should be low-floor, to improve accessibility (before that, wheelchair lifts were used, like on CalTrain). So they bought an entirely new fleet, even though their original LRVs were less than half-way through their service life.

So it's kind of refreshing to see a transit agency improvise occasionally, and come up with clever solutions. Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) is solving the same problem VTA had in a novel way--by splicing low-floor sections into existing articulated LRVs, increasing overall capacity in the process as well. Here's an article in Metro Magazine.

From Metro Magazine

VTA's foolishness was a boon to a few other transit systems, who saw an opportunity to increase capacity by buying some perfectly good used trains at bargain prices. Some ex-VTA cars are now enjoying a second career in Salt Lake City (others are on the property in Sacramento, but haven't actually been pressed into service yet).

In the late 90's, CalTrain picked up some used equipment (some 2nd hand from Chicago Metra, some with a much longer and interesting history) to add capacity during the dot-com boom. They unloaded all of this after the arrival of the new Bombardier cars. Too bad, since the trains are getting pretty crowded again lately!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Not Easy being a Biker in Woodside--Even if you Live There!

According to a Menlo Park Almanac story (can't find it on their web site), the Woodside council has approved reducing the community bike committee from seven members to six, because it's proving hard to find seven bikers in town to fill it--or even enough to show up and have a quorum if the official committee size stays at seven.

According to the article, it's hard to recruit to the committee because identifying yourself as a biker in Woodside gets you ostracized from dinner parties, and because the Town Council pretty consistently snubs their recommendations (for bike lanes, pot-hole repair, designating safe routes for kids to bike to school, etc) anyway.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Marin is Evil

From the Independent Journal:

Larkspur has real reason to fear rail-ferry link

By Dick Spotswood

One issue bedeviling the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District is the poor connection between the proposed commuter line's south end and the Larkspur Ferry Terminal.

Plans for the Sonoma-to-Marin passenger train would locate its southern-most station next to the Marin Airporter parking lot behind Larkspur Landing's theater. That site requires either a brisk walk or a shuttle bus to cover the quarter mile from the end of track across busy Sir Francis Drake Boulevard to the ferry.

While workable, the connection is less than ideal. This mediocre connectivity isn't a result of SMART's bad planning. The rail agency is well aware that a seamless train-ferry link would be ideal for trans-bay commuters. Rather, the gap is solely because of Larkspur, which continues to refuse SMART permission to cross Sir Francis Drake Boulevard to access Golden Gate Ferry's terminal.

Larkspur's negative stance is due in good part to the philosophical opposition to SMART by veteran council members Ron Arlas and Joan Lundstrom, who firmly oppose the idea of North Bay rail transit. Yet Larkspur's professional staff also cites legitimate fears that a SMART-ferry connection would trigger onerous housing requirements by the Association of Bay Area Governments. That's enough to unite the city's five-member council to disallow a proper intermodal connection.

One provision of ABAG's famously complex "Regional Housing Needs Allocation Methodology" is designed to maximize residential development, both affordable and market rate, adjacent to multi-modal transit terminals. ABAG does so by assigning jurisdictions with these transit facilities a "double weighting." In Larkspur's case, if the rail-ferry connection were built, the regional agency requires the city to plan for 600 additional housing units, rather than 382 units if the connection isn't built.

In theory, it makes sense to encourage housing near transit facilities so that working residents are less dependent on single- passenger autos. Unfortunately, as implemented by ABAG, it's another instance of the ever-present law of unintended consequences.

Larkspur, faced with unattainable housing mandates, followed its parochial best interest by denying needed permission for the joint rail-ferry station. Stopping the train short of the ferry does two things. First, it puts the kibosh on the multi-modal facility that may trigger ABAG's mandates. Second, the quarter-mile rail-ferry connection might be just enough of an obstacle to kill SMART at the polls.

That's hardly the result ABAG envisioned. Given ABAG's inflexible cookie-cutter planning requirements, what else could Larkspur do? The city already has a fine record on affordable housing. It simply doesn't have the space without grievously altering its character to authorize additional homes to satisfy an abstract planning notion that doesn't fit this small town.

How much better if ABAG admitted that occasionally its best-laid plans cause unacceptable consequences. The regional agency needs to promptly modify procedures to allow flexibility to suspend their rules to meet real world facts on the ground. Then Larkspur should reciprocate by giving the OK to a joint rail-ferry station that benefits the entire North Bay.

Here's a somewhat more radical suggestion: local government, especially in hoity-toidy places like Marin (and quote a lot of San Mateo county, to be sure!) have places such a high value on ambiance, and shown such total disregard to the housing and transportation needs of the community at large, that they have lost the moral authority to do their own planning. So take it away from them.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Odd Combination

Seen forgotten (or temporarily walked-away-from?) at Menlo Park CalTrain:

I'm curious what sort of person reads gritty detective novels, thoughtful books about the Vietnam war

"They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die. Grief, terror, love, longing--these were intangibles, but the intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity, they had tangible weight. They carried shameful memories. They carried the common secret of cowardice.... Men killed, and died, because they were embarrassed not to."
(I'm lifting this from the Amazon review page)... and drinks Strawberry Quick!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Lunch in Silicon Valley

I had to run down to Sunnyvale today. I'm having lunch at Le Boulanger on Mathilda, which has free Wifi.

It's darn crowded here. It seems to be an old-school Silicon Valley crowd. The guys next to me are talking about frame rates and registers. I'm guessing they work on cell phones.

Now they're switching over to aerodynamics and heat guns. I think this is more a topic of general interest than professional.

It's a bit refreshing compared to the the dot-com/business chatter you overhear going out for lunch up the road in Mountain View.

I swear I'm keeping half of this sandwich for later.

(I got here by CalTrain and bike, thus qualifying this anecdote for posting on this blog).

Monday, April 07, 2008

Don't Blink!

On a grim note, someone used CalTrain to end their life this morning. At least thanks to the rider-run CalTrain Twitter Feed I knew what was up before I left the house, and was able to avoid the hassle of a disrupted train service and bike the whole way.

The most direct route takes me across Stanford, where I passed this statue of a weeping angel.

If you are a fan of Doctor Who, this may creep you out a bit and remind of you a bit of this episode.

There is an interesting history to this statue. I'm going on scattered memory here, but I believe it was originally a memorial to the Stanfords' son, who died young, and for whom the university is named (that's why it's Leland Stanford Junior University). It was originally under a dome, which collapsed in the 1906 earthquake. It was decided to leave it without the dome, letting it in part become a memorial to victims of the earthquake.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Cal Ave Improvements

If your commute takes you through Cal Ave station on CalTrain, you've probably noticed some work going on.

The basic objective of the project is to provide a true northbound platform, so that NB passengers won't have to walk over the southbound tracks to get on a train.

This is both for safety (someone might step out to catch a NB train and not notice an approaching SB one) and for scheduling convenience. A SB train can't pass through while an NB train is in the station (or really, for the reason of the safety concern I just mentioned--any time an NB train is in sight). This is called the "hold out rule". The NB platform will be accessed via a pedestrian tunnel, currently being dug at the south end of the platform.

Anyway, a lot of this you can probably guess from just looking at the site, but some details are not obvious. What will things look like when it's all done? Will the new NB platform connect with the existing pedestrian tunnel that crosses under both the tracks and Central Expressway/Alma? It would be a pain for anyone living in the neighborhood over there, who wanted to catch a northbound train, to have to use two tunnels.

CalTrain's publicly available factsheet is pretty bare-bones, so I asked for more information via their web site's contact form, and got a helpful response from a CalTrain staff member.

Turns out there's a more detailed factsheet about this project, which isn't linked to from the main site. And it's got pictures!

I can't tell from the project description or drawings whether it'll be possible to get to the NB platform from the existing tunnel under Alma. But it does look like gate-protected crossing of the tracks will still be allowed. I had been expecting the redesign to eliminate direct crossing of the tracks entirely, in the name of safety, and am glad to see that CalTrain is wiling to strike a reasonable balance between safety and convenience. (Besides, even in the suburbs, tunnels are creepy at night).

All in all, it seems like a fairly well planned project. I still have one one question, though--if all this work is costing $13 million, why is the (apparently) much simpler rehab of the Burlingame station taking $20 million?

Monday, March 31, 2008

Petition Against the Mortgage Bailout

A central theme of this blog is that things should work. Transit should be about getting people where they need to go, and housing should be about giving people a place to live--rather than an "investment".

So I'm urging all my readers to sign this petition against the proposed mortgage bailout:

Let people who made foolish investments take a hit, learn a little, move on, and let the housing market be more truly a market.

Let's face it, American society is pretty brutal. If you loose a job and/or have serious health problems, you're SOL. We don't even do a very good job of looking out for the health and education of other people's kids. Does owning property suddenly mean you deserve do be coddled?

Besides, the government never bailed out my 401k when it went down. So bite me!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

A New Forum: TransitRant.Com

I picked up a flyer on the train this morning. It just launched, looks hopeful. Check it out at TransitRan.Com.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Commuting Irregularities

Yesterday morning I pedaled as fast as I could to Sequoia Station to make my train, only to find out everything was running 20-30 mins late. Which would have been ok, because pretty soon the train previous to the one I'd intended to catch came along--but the crew told us there wasn't any more room for bikes. Assumedly this is due to the familiar fact that when transit runs late, vehicles bunch, and you get crowding. Seems like if the trains are late, they could cut us some slack to make it up.

But along came the next train (really, I don't even know what train it's supposed to be at this point), and I was not optimistic about getting on, because it was a Bombardier (the new trains, theoretically much nicer than the old, but which annoyingly aren't able to, or allowed to, take as many bikes).

It was full, but this crew was more amenable, and allowed a couple of us to stash our wheels in this space (the picture is from another, calmer, day):

Where there is actually plenty of room for a whole other stack of bikes, but where CalTrain has elected to provide neither racks nor seats, and just lets the space go to waste.

I pointed out to the conductor how conveniently everything fitted, and asked why they couldn't just put another bike rack in in the first place. His response was something to the effect of "we just run'em, dont design'em," but added "they don't even listen when we tell them which trains need extra bike cars."

Transit operators are a great source of useful information that transit providers almost never tap--I've read some pretty good critiques of vehicles by drivers over on SFMuniHistory (I wouldn't have guessed, but in retrospect it makes sense, that one of the most important features of a bus or streetcar is how fast you can open and close the doors). Not to mention (ahem!) us riders!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

CalTrain Station Revamps: Burlingame

If you've been through Burlingame lately, especially on a weekend when the work is being done, you may have noticed that the station is getting a bit of work done.

CalTrain has a web page describing the project.

The main objectives of this rebuild are:

  • Replace the between-the-tracks northbound platform with a safer outside platform that will allow passengers to board without standing on the southbound tracks.
  • Move platforms, close a minor street, so that trains no longer block traffic when stopped.
  • General aesthetic improvements.

These are all good things, though the price tag of $20 million seems a bit steep. On the other hand, I was passing through a few weeks ago on a Sunday,

and maybe this is all more complicated than I realized. Where's the tracks?

Everything was apparently all put back together in time for Monday morning's commute.

Still, that's a big chunk of change, and we're not talking about anything fancy like grade separation or a pedestrian tunnel here. That better be some kick-ass landscaping!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Another Reason to Hate Cars

This was almost a sad story, but had a happy ending, but then--meh.

We've been a one-cat family for a few years, since our senior cat, a siamese, passed on. We think our formerly junior cat, a calico, is probably lonely for cat-friendship.

Lately, a black cat from the neighborhood has been sneaking into our house for food. Our cat hasn't exactly made friends, but usually observed without interfering--even though she'll fight off other intruders. So maybe they have an understanding, at least.

Then on Thursday, my wife saw a run-over black cat on Selby Lane, a street bordering Redwood City and Atherton. Selby is a quasi-official speedway; sure it's residential street, but traffic engineers have planned nearby intersections to route traffic to it; it's clearly the way you're supposed to cut through this neighborhood (say, to get from the 280 to the 101 south), and people go through fast.

And for a day or two we didn't see "our" black cat, and were pretty convinced we weren't going to any more. Then it just showed up, and started munching our cat's food (with tacit approval, I guess), like usual. Whew!

We hadn't mentioned any of this worry to our daughter, but I decided to tell her why I was so relieve to see the black cat that time.

She pointed out we should still be sad because some other cat died.

On the other hand, she told me there are pawprints all over our car that are definitely not our cat's, so she must be having cat parties when we're not around.

Oh well. Moving on from cats: along Selby Lane you can find Selby Lane Elementary School. Geographically, it should be pulling students from parts of RWC and some the poshest parts of adjoining Atherton. I guess in hopes that this environment would boost their education, the RWC School District sends kids from the poorest parts of town. A lot of them arrive by bus in the morning, and walk home in the afternoon--along Selby Lane, a miniature expressway with no sidewalks!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Hopefully I'm more Visible than That!

How observant are you? Do the test!

Personally I try not to wear black when I'm riding!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Not to Pick on these Folks, But...

Redwood City Cool Families is a group of local moms who I think mean well, but have a tendency to piss me off.

Here is their latest:

Summer travel season is almost here, and spring break is upon us. Everything you do is a little more challenging when you travel, including recycling and saving energy. Here are a few tips to help you reduce the green house gases you generate when you travel. Remember, transportation and home heating/cooling are the biggest contributors to your carbon footprint.

Tip #1: Choose an efficient car: If you travel by car, start by choosing the most energy efficient vehicle that is safe and appropriate for your trip. Follow our previous tips, and make sure the tires have appropriate air pressure.

Tip #2: Turn off home air conditioning or heat: If your whole family is leaving the house: Turn off heat & air conditioning entirely if possible; or adjust it to a lower setting to protect pipes from freezing or to make sure pets stay healthy. Turn water heater to "Vacation" or lowest setting; and Unplug appliances, such as TVs, computers and TV set-top boxes - they use power even when they are turned off.

Tip #3: Pack light: Especially if you are flying, don't over pack. It takes a lot of fuel to move the extra weight across the miles.

Tip #4: Try camping! Consider staying closer to home for your vacation destination. There are so many amazing places to visit in California, check out someplace nearby that you've always been meaning to visit. Camping can be a terrific, eco-friendly vacation.

Tip #5: Reduce power use in your hotel: If you stay in a hotel:

  • Ask housekeeping not to replace your sheets and towels every day; this reduces energy AND water usage.
  • Turn off the lights, air conditioner or heater, and the electronics in your room while you're out.
  • Turn off the water when you brush your teeth, and take shorter showers.
  • Bring your own toiletries, or, if you use what the hotel provides, take leftover items home with you.

Cool Families is a Redwood City-based group of parents concerned about global warming and climate change. The group composes and sends out "Cool Tips," which members forward to local groups, friends and family. Small actions together effect big changes. Everything you do right now, today either positively or negatively impacts the global warming problem. Do make environment- friendly choices in your daily life. Do persuade others to do the same.

Is something missing here? There are plenty of fun places to go without a car, dammit! Here's some actually useful information.

  • CalTrain weekend edition (still waiting for the Spring Edition, though).
  • BART has a printed "destination guide", which I can't find online, but just google for "places to go on BART" and you'll find plenty.
  • AmTrak Capitol Corridor: Click on a station name on this map to see a list of nearby attractions.
  • Yelp knows where all the CalTrain and BART stations are--find one in a town you want to visit, and then search for nearby restaurants/shopping/whatever.

Or just stay tuned. The weather's getting better, and I'll try to ramp down the political rants on the blog, and report on more fun things to do via transit.

There are plenty of transit-accessible destinations around our region and state. And if you get there by train, it'll be more fun, and do a lot more to "reduce your carbon footprint", than driving around in a car full of smelly people who skimped on their showers!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

A Brush with the Law--!@%#*$ Woodside

This episode seems insignificant in comparison with other events this weekend, but it's still worth blogging, I suppose.

Saturday, while my family were off at skating lessons, I decided to up the ante of my usual rides and take on a serious hill. I made it to Woodside, and headed north on Cañada Road. After a mile or so, I decided to head up a random side street, and was surprised to see blue lights behind me.

Yeah, I got a ticket for failing to stop at a stop sign. Which, I suppose, I really did fail to do--albeit, while making a right turn.

The officer eyed me suspiciously, asked for my license, and asked "there's not going to be any surprises when I run this, are there?" I admit I was fairly unshaven, but didn't think I had a fugitive-from-justice vibe or anything. I kept my cool, and by the end I think maybe he felt a little sheepish over the whole thing. He said I would need to pay a fine, but because I was cooperative, the ticket was one that wouldn't go on my record. Or do bike tickets ever go on your driving record? Maybe he was trying to seem magnanimous for something that's just the law anyway. I don't know.

I would chalk all this up to the need to fill quotas, except that the officer said they'd gotten a lot of complaints in the area, and sure enough, while all this was going down, a local driving by leaned out his window to give an encouraging word to the policeman, and something to the effect that "you can catch a lot of them right here!"

Woodsiders' antipathy to bikers is well known (scares the horses? or maybe they just don't like sharing their little patch of the forest). Seems they've enlisted the county sheriff to the cause of harassing us.

They'll be first against the wall when the revolution comes.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

POP with Attitude

Don't ride a bus or tram in Tallinn, Estonia, without a ticket. the city is considering 10-day jail sentences for fare evaders!

I should be less bitter about the fine I paid for riding CalTrain w/o a valid ticket (just one stop past my zone!) a few years ago.

Writers to the Tallinn newspaper Eesti Paevaleht seem to think this is going a bit to far. One jokes--"if that doesn't work, we'll just cut the fare-cheats' hands off!"

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Posting from the Library, Cause I Missed my Train--Musings on Schedules

It's my own fault--after enjoying a leisurely breakfast with my lovely wife at Main St Cafe, and then deciding to ride with her to the ice rink and bike to the station from there, instead of heading directly (and responsibly) to work, I missed the train by a few minutes, and now I'm posting from the Menlo Park library, where they have free WiFi.

(Actually I'm outside of the library, because they don't open til noon on tuesdays--and I've already seen half a dozen people turn back disappointedly in the ten minutes I've been here. Anyway, the signal strength is not great, but I'm getting through, and there's a decent shady spot where I can see my screen ok).

It's a bit of a wait til the next train, and this has me thinking about something I've mused over before--why should you have to adjust your schedule to fit the train's? Why can't they just run trains often enough that you can just show up when you want, and expect one to come along in a few minutes?

This is not just an issue for slackers like me. For a lot of people with regular, non-dot-com jobs, this makes or breaks transit as a practical means of getting to work at all. If you're supposed to clock in a 9:00 am, a train that gets you there at 8:40 means you're wasting 20 minutes of your day, and if you take a train that gets you there at 9:20 too many times in a row, you're fired!

CalTrain operates lots of trains, but with all their specialized schedule types--locals, expresses and baby bullets, and mixed express/locals--maybe they're spreading themselves too thin. There are two big plusses to this approach--there are both fast trains for people going long distances, and closely spaced stops for people making shorter jaunts. Most transit systems only provide one type of service or another, with "commuter rail" (think Metrolink, ACE, Capitol Corridor) on one extreme and typical light rail systems on the other. Some systems, like BART, go for speed in the burbs and closely spaced stops in the city, a reasonable compromise.

CalTrain tries to offer both types of service throughout it's entire length, which is a good objective, but service frequency--and the railway's usefulness--suffers for it.

Well, I've killed enough time to head back to the station now!