Thursday, February 28, 2008

Rough Night on CalTrain

From the Merc:
Amtrak train hits pedestrian in San Jose By Leslie Griffy
Mercury News
Article Launched: 02/28/2008 03:33:27 PM PST

An Amtrak train struck a pedestrian near the intersection of Coleman and Hedding streets in San Jose this afternoon, a spokeswoman said.

It is unclear how badly the pedestrian is injured, said Amtrak spokeswoman Verne Graham. She confirmed that a report came in that the 538 Capitol Corridor train heading to Sacramento from San Jose hit someone at around 3:05 p.m.

The crash closes one of Caltrain's main lines and will likely cause delays for commuters, Caltrain spokesman Jonah Weinberg said.

The commuter line from San Jose to San Francisco was already experiencing delays today because a Union Pacific freighter derailed Wednesday night in San Francisco, he said.

I missed this double-whammy, since my family was visiting my office to sell Girl Scout cookies, and we drove home.

Had I been planning to get home the usual way, at least thanks to the Twitter-based rider alert system I knew about the problem. It might've been a good night to take the VTA's 522 express bus. Anyway, this twitter thing really works--if you ride CalTrain, you really ought to get it (there's another one for BART).

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

More CalTrain Sign Ideas

An anonymous commenter on my last post on CalTrain's electronic signs's notes:

I would be much happier if, when a train pulled up, the sign told you what train it was. It's easy to miss the little numbers at the front and when trains are late, you still may want to make sure you catch an express rather than a local.


Pretty much, it'd be the equivalent of BART's station signs telling you which terminal a train is going to, just in CalTrain's case you'd be finding out which stops a train was making.

Also: it would be very handy if the signs would give a heads up about how many bike cars there are going to be. With a little advanced warning about a second bike car, us CalTrain bike riders would happily divvy ourselves up into two parts of the platform.

It would get us all on the train, and everyone underway, a bit faster than the current system of conductors coming out to tell us about a second bike car--usually not until most of us are already loaded, so there's really no time savings for the last few stragglers to huff it halfway down the length of the train.

Of course, none of this has to be done with fancy-schmancy electronic platform signs--actual physical signs hung in the windows of the train would do the trick too!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Chron Article Follows the Day of a Muni Driver

This is worth a read.

Muni drivers get a lot of heat, but responsibility flows upwards--most of the troubles with Muni are bad management, imho (and that includes the fact that, if there are bad apples amongst drivers, it's management's problem to get rid of them!), and if Muni is poorly managed, then that's really the Mayor and City Council's fault for not getting involved--and if they're not up to the job, then SF residents have nobody but themselves to blame for electing them!

This seems like a good time to post a belated, and anonymous, "thank you" to a J Church driver who, after we alighted from his train on an outing a few weeks ago, and were almost run down by some idiot, jumped down to the street to personally harangue him!

An Infill Victory in Mountain View

After several years of wrangling the city of Mountain View has finally given approval for redevelopment of the long-vacant HP site across the street from San Antonio CalTrain.

To blend in with the surroundings, the perimeter will be a ring of single-family homes.

Not that this made the project that much more palatable to neighbors, who objected to larger, multi-family buildings being built anywhere in their vicinity, even if not literally in, or even adjacent to, their back yards.

Nevertheless, the project is finally moving forward, if somewhat trimmed (450 units instead of 630).

It will be a "mixed-use" development, that will include some retail, hopefully making it somewhat of a "walkable community".

For this project to move forward is somewhat gratifying to me, since I actually showed up at a Mountain View city council meeting to speak about this, and wrote a letter to the Mountain View Voice (which they printed), led to starting this blog.

Monday, February 25, 2008

An Alternative to a Yellow Bike Tag

Most of us use these:

The idea is you flag where you go to/from, so everybody loads up their bike in a logical order for unloading.

The other day I saw someone with an interesting alternative on their bike:

An good solution if you travel patterns are more complicated than just going back and forth between two stops--also you could spin it to choose a destination at random!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

A Simple Improvement to CalTrain Signs

If you're a regular rider, you've probably spend many a minute staring at CalTrain's electronic signs relaying the current date, thinking something like "who cares, tell me what time it is so that I know how soon my train is coming!"

Just lately they've improved this,

by putting the date and time on at the same time.

Maybe next we can get Muni to drop the worthless "destination" phase from their LRV's sign cycle (you know, N Judah....Destination...Mission Bay... (repeat).

A Tongue in Cheek look at Amtrak Security

Can be found in this article on Something Awful (I do read things online besides transit blogs).

..."While it wasn't publicized heavily by Amtrak, one of the unofficial benefits to riding one of these damn trains was the lack of security"...

Upcoming Meetings: Citizens vs Sycophants

TransitCamp will be holding a meeting in Palo Alto this weekend:

Our focus is on encouraging more people to use public transit. Certainly that doesn't exclude infrastructure, but I don't think a bunch of web geeks should be focusing on that. We discussed the following three areas in which the '2.0' crowd can contribute to the conversation:

  • technology
  • culture
  • education

Sounds intriguing!

Meanwhile, VTAWatch reports on a suspiciously hurried meetings the VTA is holding around Santa Clara county, ostensibly for public outreach about their Valley Transportation Plan 2035, but which have been so little publicized as to cast doubt on the VTA's actual interest in the public's opinion.

Read VTAWatch's article here which lists meeting times and locations.

If you believe, as I do, that the VTA should reconsider their "damn-the-torpedoes" dedication to the huge and underfunded BART extension, and look at alternatives like CalTrain Metro East, it might be good to show up and tell them so!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Spotted: $4/Gal Gas

In San Mateo, by my wife.

Getting a little bit wet biking doesn't seem so bad now!

Not Quite Spring Yet

I got a bit wet and chilly on the ride in this morning. (What kind of !#@($&!% schedules a meeting at 9:30 am in a software company, anyway?)

There's worse things than biking in the rain, though. Like driving (rimshot!).

But it bugs me that I just cleaned up my bike and now it's gotten muddy all over again.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

More Chicanery!

I'm forwarding this alert from the Transportation and Land Use Coalition:

Action Alert!

Dear TALC Activists,

Please call your state legislators TODAY and register your opposition to the latest redirection of public transit funds!

In response to a directive from the Governor?s office to come up with over $3 billion in cuts to the current year budget, the Senate Budget Committee voted last night to reallocate $409 million in Public Transportation Account and the Assembly Budget Committee is expected to pass similar legislation this morning.

The 2007-08 budget redirected nearly $1.3 billion in dedicated public transit funding, which TALC and our allies fought throughout the budget process. The California Transit Association sued the state over the redirected funds. A few weeks ago, the Court voided $409 million of the 2007-08 funding raid.

But, instead of returning these funds to the Public Transportation Account, the Senate and Assembly are deleting the original $409 million transfer, the one the Court ruled illegal, and creating a NEW $409 million transfer of PTA dollars to the General Fund.

The full legislature will vote tomorrow--Friday, February 15th-- to approve these amendments to the current year budget. That?s why we?re asking you to call your legislators today and urge them to vote No on the $409 million transit funding cut bill.

We know that public transportation is key to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, reducing traffic congestion, and providing access to jobs, school, and other opportunities. On this Valentine's Day, please ask your representatives to show their love.

Call today and let your legislators know that you oppose the cuts to public transit funding!

Find your legislators' phone numbers at:


Politicians would never dare give the shaft so thoroughly to any social, economic, regional, ethnic, cultural, gender-identity, or whatever, group as they do to transit riders. Once again, we get no respect!

This sort of crap is the reason I long ago left the Democrats for the Greens. Why stay loyal to a party that betrays you whenever it's expedient?

Well, I fired off an angry message to Ira Ruskin. I got this automated response via the "Ruskin Report":

Chair of the Budget Subcommittee on Natural Resources, Assemblymember Ruskin began the critical process of holding hearings on the Governor’s budget proposals that pertain to environmental protection and natural resources, with two hearings in the last two weeks of January. More will follow. These hearings are in response to the Governor’s proposed budget for the mid-term deficit and the budget year (2008).

“As the non-partisan analysis by the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) states,” said Mr. Ruskin, “across the board cuts, as the Governor has proposed, are not the appropriate way to address a budget shortfall. Much like a household budget, programs must be prioritized.

“As I’m sure people will agree, it is premature to talk about cutting one program, for example, closing parks as the Governor has proposed, in order to save others. My committee is studying the Governor’s budget and working to find the best possible solutions. We are developing a suite of options to examine as part of the overall budget,” Ruskin stated.

From his record, Ruskin appears to be one of the good guys. In my message I challenged him to get his party to stop abusing us transit riders.

Let's keep up the pressure!

MTC Transportation Awards Nominations

The MTC has a program to award individuals and organizations that have made contributions to Bay Area transportation. You can make nominations here:

I'm nominating the Market St Ry for starters.

Monday, February 11, 2008

HSR Debate Heats Up

Last Wednesday the East Bay Express printed several letters:

Gerald Cauthen of Oakland writes to refute the myth that the Altamont route would be more expensive or slower than the Pacheco.

A Mr 295bus of Redwood City (used my actual name in the letter, just not going to reveal my "secret identity" here) argues that the CASHRA's choice of the Pacheco route over Altamont for political reasons shows that they cannot be trusted with this project.

Michael Mahoney of San Francisco writes to warn Central Valley communities that they will regret inviting HSR to serve their towns because it's noisy, but is mostly concerned with the sprawl that will come to the valley if HSR puts places like Bakersfield in "commuting distance" to big cities.

Art Lewellan of Portland, Oregon points out that the HSR project could be built much more cheaply if we accepted slightly slower travel times and used conventional diesel trains, at least at first. He points out that the real environmental benefits of rail travel is not emissions reduction as much as encouraging responsible growth and revitalization of city centers, which have languished in Central Valley towns for decades.

Steve Lowe of Oakland argues that $40 billion would be better spent on revitalizing and expanding regional transportation systems, like BART.

Martin Engel of Menlo Park writes at length with numerous criticisms of the HSR project (BATN notes Mr Engel has a trackside condo and has pursued a one-man jihad to preserve his personal space from any more trains running by). Some of his points are valid, but he rambles on long enough I'm just not going to bother recapping it...

It's good that this "sleeper project" is starting to get some attention.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Spider on the Embarcadero

My company held it's annual "all hands" offsite at Ft Mason this year. They provided charter busses from our Mountain View office, but a few of us took CalTrain. My boss (another avid biker) and I rode the rest of the way along the Embarcadero. We were somewhat startled by this:

I was pretty sure I hadn't seen this before. I think I'd remember a giant spider! Apparently it was installed last November.

Art can be scary!

Saturday, February 02, 2008

The Triumph of the Perverse

There's a funny thing about transit: ideas seem to gain traction inversely to their practicality.

The LA City Council has just formed a new commission to build a MagLev from Long Beach to Ontario via downtown LA.

The scheme assumes no public outlay, and so will probably come to nothing, but consider:

  • San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Jose are all set on building new subways, all three the brainchildren of mayors, and all three projects in states of financial uncertainty. Meanwhile, easily-implemented transportation ideas like improvements to commuter rail get scant attention and less funding.
  • We have a state high speed rail authority, formed to incubate a dream of bullet trains zipping from one end of the state to the other, but meanwhile our regional trains are fragmented, stuck behind freight trains, and get scant attention from politicians, the public, and the press--even their successes, such as booming ridership of the Capitol Corridor, are practically secret for all anyone hears about them.
  • The cheapest and most quickly implemented of all possible transportation improvements, Bus Rapid Transit, elicits nothing but contempt. We hear firestorms of protest for merchants terrified of loosing parking places, and an incredible amount of incoherent ranting from NIMBY nutjobs simply opposed to change on principle. The benefits of transit riders, as usual, don't seem to merit much attention, and the lesson for public agencies is clear: trying to be thrifty and practical will get you no love--dreaming big is better than actually getting things done.
Although I am loath to link to the Reason Foundation, this article makes interesting points about the inherent failures of politically driven infrastructure investments.

For somewhat more balanced reading on the same point, I recommend the Transit Sleuth.