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).