Thursday, August 20, 2009

SamTrans Service Cuts

Declining revenues for transit are hitting SamTrans and forcing service reductions on some routes, and outright cancellation of others.

The board, to their credit, is taking a fairly good approach to deciding where to cut, basing decisions primarily on what routes have the lowest ridership, but taking into account what alternatives those ex-riders will have, and trying to leave as few folks absolutely stranded as possible.

I note that in their worst-case scenario, there will be no more 295.

An overview of the proposed cuts and a schedule of community meetings can be found at

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Grade Crossings: Letter to the Daily News

Printed in the 6/5 edition: Tragedies show need for grade separations at rail crossings

Dear Editor: A few more troubled teens have taken their lives on the Caltrain tracks, and ironically, the solution to this plague — complete grade separation — is being fought by the railway’s neighbors. Like the perpetually postponed Golden Gate Bridge suicide barrier, the issue is aesthetic: the California High Speed Rail Authority proposes to el­evate the tracks but neighbors want them buried in a tunnel.

The result may well turn into a stalemate, delaying grade separation for decades, or killing the project entirely.

If we value human life (and more prosaically, if we want more reliable train service and to spend our tax dollars effectively) we should try to defuse this conflict and make grade separation a reality as soon as we can. In cities such as Palo Alto, many former grade crossings — San Antonio, California, Embarcadero, University — have already been replaced with overpasses and underpasses. The rest can be divided into major streets that also need grade separation, and minor crossings that can just be closed.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Transit Riders Organize in OC

Kudos to my friend Steven Chan, who is organizing transit rallies while in med school.

Friday, May 29, 2009

How CalTrain Could Increase Revenue: Station Cats

It worked in Japan! A commuter/light-rail railway appointed a calico named Tama as stationmaster for one stop, and ridership jumped 17%!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Creatively Pruning Weekend Service

We've made many weekend jaunts on CalTrain, and would certainly hate to loose weekend service.

That being said, the service leaved a lot to be desired. Just running one train an hour makes impromptu trips a couple stops up and down the line kind of tricky (let's face it, if we didn't just like trains, a SamTrans bus poking along El Camino, slow-as-heck but running every 15 mins or so, would probably be a more rational choice). But stopping at every station, with CalTrain's usual long dwell times, makes it painfully slow for trips longer than a couple of miles.

CalTrain is facing a budget crisis and considering dropping weekend service altogether (even though I've seen plenty of packed weekend trains--but I suppose it makes some sense to axe one part of their service altogether rather than let the whole go to pot). I wonder, though, if CalTrain might be able to prune their weekend service in ways that would save money and at the same time leave a service that was still useful to some riders--maybe evn more useful than their current service?

Let's take a look at the current weekend schedule. Trains depart from both ends, on the hour, making all stops, taking 96 mins to make the whole run. Obviously, an hour into that run, two more trains are departing from their respective termini--so there's a total of four trains on the line for most of the day.

The number of simultaneous trains, and their crews, are the key to CalTrain's costs. Suppose we could reduce that. Here's a few scenarios:

  • Bullets Only: Prune the schedule to a handful of stops, until the run can be made in under an hour--so only two trains need to be on the line, cutting costs in half. This abandons local service, but leaves a much more appealing express service--a half hour or less, say, from some midline stop like PA or RWC to 4th & King.
  • Semi-Bullets, 90 min Schedule: Another way to run the system with just two simultaneous trains--reduce frequency to every 90 mins, but serve all major stops, and provide a reasonably good travel times between them.
  • Northern Peninsula Only: Let's face it, this is the area where people actually care about CalTrain. So what if San Mateo county were to kick down a few bucks and pay for weekend service that particularly fit our needs? Run from SF down to RWC, then head back. Be slightly selective about stops (probably express between SF & Millbrae) and you might be able to make the run in under half an hour, so theoretically the whole service could be operated with just one train.

Taking the kids to the mall

Friday, May 15, 2009

Bike Shopping (for Wini)

Ever since we moved, Wini has gotten much more interested in biking. The new neighborhood is pretty bike-friendly, and full of other kids out riding.

One of our favorite outings is to go downtown to Yumi Yogurt.

(Wini has no problem balancing the practicalities of dressing for riding a bike with style--she must be reading the RidingPretty blog.)

For her 9th birthday (!) she received a certificate "valid for one new (geared) bike" which we redeemed last weekend at Talbot's; she went for a Lustre 2:

Tonight we made a family trip up to San Mateo by train to pick it up. Not quite Nathan's first train ride, but only #3 or #4 (here's his first). The new bike's a sweet ride! Plus Wini got to bring it home on the bike car (granted my back's a little sore from lugging two bikes at once). Tomorrow we can start working on shifting.

Some Train-Accessible Events this Weekend

The San Mateo History Museum, in the Old Courthouse building in Redwood City, is hosting an Immigrant Day Festival on Saturday, the 16th. Performances in courthouse square, food tasting in the rotunda.

On a trip to San Mateo, we passed a "new used bookstore", the "B St Bookstore", (on B St, duh--between CalTrain and Talbot's Toyland), having it's grand opening Saturday. Looks promising.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Should Public Officials Run Public Transit?

I read this via BATN:

Published Friday, May 8, 2009, by the Daily Post (Palo Alto)

Bike ban suggested

Caltrain board member Jim Hartnett said yesterday that the agency should consider banning bikes after a bicycle advocate called on the agency to continue making more room for riders.

"I am concerned that we are never going to meet (the demand)," said Hartnett, a Redwood City council member [BATN: who will not be seeking re-election due to term-limits]. "We have to consider whether or not we should continue to provide that service."

Later in the meeting, Executive Director Michael Scanlon said that the board should consider charging a fee for bikes to board Caltrain.

On Feb. 5 Caltrain approved a plan to increase bike capacity on its trains by removing some seats on its bike cars.

First of all, after many years of bikers' complaints about bike capacity, CalTrain has only just now made a tiny allowance for more riders... so to complain that the railway may never be able to meet bikers demand for space is pretty pissy considering that is has not actually tried to meet it.

Second of all... WFT? You're complaining that people want to ride your trains? How annoying. Why limit your annoyance to bikers. Even "normal" passengers make constant demands for more trains, faster trains, and better service. They're never satisfied.

It'd be nice to be treated like a customer for once, instead of some kind of freeloader!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Save the Ringwood Ave Bike/Ped Bridge

This bridge is a useful connection between parts of Menlo Park split by the 101:

View Larger Map

CalTrans, as usual, wants to add lanes to the 101. In the process, they need to demolish the current bridge. But they are happy to build a new, better (wider, so hopefully more bike-friendly) one.

This would be pretty much a non-issue except that a group of (brazenly racist) NIMBY's from the more affluent neighborhood west of the 101 petitioned the Menlo Park city council to not replace the bridge, since it provides access for criminals (though nobody can cite an actual crime committed by a user of the bridge) and brings down property values. The council sensibly rejected this. Now another group from the same neighborhood, apparently ones who don't keep up on local news quite so well, have suddenly heard about the project and making the same request.

The bridge is well used, among others by students of Menlo/Atherton High School who happen to live on the unfashionable east side of Menlo Park. Members of this community are understandable annoyed at both the injury of losing pedestrian access to the rest of the city, and the insult of being classified as undesirables who should be kept out, and have started a Save Our Bridge petition.

The bridge is a useful link for making bike trips along the Baylands, and if you do or think you might use it for that reason, I urge you to sign this petition (people who live or work around (not necesarily in) Menlo Park are especially encouraged to).

Monday, April 13, 2009

No Tunnels!

This is the scenery that passengers of BART's SFO/peninsula extension could be enjoying. These are images of the abandoned SP San Bruno branch line (hotlinked from, the original entrance into SF, which the BART line was built under--denying passengers what might've been one of the most scenic rides in the BART system, instead condeming them to a dark and eardrum-assaulting passage.

The explanation, beyond brazen goldbricking, is the usual NIMBY opposition to having to hear, or even being forced to look at, trains going by. Or rather, in this case, opposition by proxies of the actual neighbors of the right-of-way, since most of them (the line passes by the cemeteries of Colma) are no longer voters. That's right--as a transit rider, you rank below dead people, at least when it comes to enjoying scenery!

A few months ago (before the vote for HSR last fall, actually) Palo Altans began campaigning to get CalTrain's tracks through their city buried in a tunnel. They theorize that the ambiance of Alma St, which parallels the tracks, is being brought down by passing trains. Never mind that Alma is not much more than a four-lane expressway/traffic sewer. It's going to take a lot more than hiding the trains to make it a nice place to take an evening stroll!

With the passage of the HSR measure, there's been a lot more talk of tunneling up and down the line, instigated by the need for complete grade separation before bullet trains can whizz up and and down the peninsula, and the fact that the High Speed Rail authority has proposed to accomplish this by elevating the line.

I personally think the simplest solution is to keep the tracks at grade, and deal with cross-streets one at a time. After all, in PA, University Ave, Embarcadero Rd, Oregon Expwy, and San Antonio Rd have already been over and underpassed, leaving, by my count, only four actual grade crossings left: Alma, Churchill, Meadow, and Charlston. Churchill and Meadow could probably just be closed, being close to Embarcadero and Charlston, respectively, leaving only two crossings to be separated. Surely that's a simpler and cheaper solution than either elevating of burying the line.

Anyway, to get back to my main point: burying transit in tunnels, besides the horrendous expense, seriously degrades the experience of rides. Fight for your view!

Friday, April 03, 2009

Tumbleweeds on the Cowcatcher

Next thing you know, we'll be held up by train robbers!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

I Don't Get It

How meta--an ad for advertising:

But I don't get it. The first half seems to allude to the Trix commercials of my youth. The second reminds me of an old joke involving the Lone Ranger that is unfit for a family-oriented blog.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Phil (Amazing Race) Keoghan Biking Cross-Country

Story here.

Keoghan will set off from Los Angeles on March 28 and end in New York on May 9 the day before the Amazing Race season finale airs on CBS, the network said Wednesday.

He always struck me as being genuinely qualified to host The Race somehow. Ride on!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Crude but Effective

And that's fine...

... but how many years of nagging to it take to get CalTrain to just take the simple measure of putting these signs on their trains?

A Side Benefit of the Bike Commute

With just five hours of sleep, because I was up til 1 generating speech recognition accuracy reports (and massaging the data to keep the numbers up--can't stop now or it'll look like we're getting worse), and up at 6 to take my kid to Chorus (which it turned out didn't have a rehearsal this morning, so we went to Peets

for a latte, hot chocolate, and coffee cake), it's nice to know that, whereas if I were driving I'd be seriously in danger of getting in a wreck because I fell asleep at the wheel, you really can't fall asleep while riding a bike!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Flight Pattern Map--How About a Commute Pattern Map?

This diagram, a visualization all the aircraft flights over the US in one day, is pretty cool.

Now image if you could analagously see the the daily travel patterns of all the people in a metro region, like the Bay Area.

The data would be harder to get. I bet cell phone providers have it, though.

It would be a huge help in planning future transit lines. Do we really know where everyone is trying to get to and from?

Friday, February 20, 2009

12:29 1:29 2:39 and 3:26 WTF?

Yeah, that's when northbound trains leave Mountain View. I thought I knew the pattern and missed the 3:29 3:26. Why does CalTrain's schedule have to be so complicated?

While I was waiting for the 4:03 I took this picture of poppies growing by the VTA tracks.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Bought a House

We've been wanting to for a long time, and have recently had the new incentive that we're just not going to fit in our current rental now. But what finally got us to jump is, first of all, things (finally) getting a bit more affordable, but also our recent discovery of Redwood City's "alphabet neighborhood", which has an unusual combination of suburban niceness, (relative) affordability, and convenient access to transit. It's a pretty quick bike ride, and a quite doable walk to Sequoia Station, and unlike a lot of ostensibly much posher parts of RWC, you (or your kids) don't have to go through any sketchy areas to get there.

We haven't yet adopted the free-range kids philosophy, but this location will make us feel comfortable turning our daughter (and eventually, son) loose on the world a little sooner than a lot of others would, and put interesting things to do within reach... She already knows how to get to Great America, after all.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Transit-Accessible Florists

In Mountain View I recommend Floratique, across from CalTrain,

both for the flowers and some darn tasty chocolate!

Monday, February 02, 2009

How does our State want to Spend it's Stimulus Money?

According to a Friends of The Earth report (they advocate spending it on transit first, and of what is spent on roads, emphasizing repairs over new construction), we're not the best (Massachusetts) but not the stupidest (Florida--who'd a thunk!) either:


The California DOTs request, while not as ideal as Massachusetts, shows that Californias government is thinking about investing smartly. Californias DOT wants 60 percent of stimulus transportation funding to go to roads, and only around 37 percent for public transportation. However, Californias roads and bridges are in great need of repair, and it is encouraging that Californias DOT request allocated nearly 70 percent of the funding for roads towards repair. Already, 13 percent of Californias bridges are considered to be structurally deficient and 18 percent of the states roads are in poor condition; these figures are among the highest of the 19 states analyzed. Californias transportation sector causes the largest percentage of global warming pollution out of all states, with 58 percent of global warming pollution in the state resulting from transportation. To combat this, further investment in public transportation should be considered, even though 10 percent of Californians already use alternative transportation modes in their daily commutes.

Now would be a good time, of course, to make noise and get these ratios improved (or at least, apply enough pressure to keep that 37% from mysteriously shrinking).

Monday, January 26, 2009

I Will Write Anna Eshoo Today

Time is running out if you want to tell your congressperson to fight to get transit operating funds (present in original draft, since dropped in the usual wheeling and dealing) back into the economic stimulus package.

If you have forgotten who represents you, go to and type in your zipcode (you may need your +4 extension, but if so but they link to a USPS page that will look that up for you based on your street address.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Driving Sux

It was raining, and I had a meeting I didn't want to show up wet for, so I decided to drive to the station.

I figured that if I can get down there in 15 mins by bike, I should be able to drive it in 15 mins, too, right? But I didnt' consider:

  • Having to slow down for road construction, instead of scooting by with a wave onthe shoulder.
  • Having to wait for a green light to turn right because some bozo got in the turn lane and decided to go straight.
  • Having to wait through two cycles to turn left, because traffic was backed up to far to get into the left turn lane.
  • Having to find a parking place.
  • Paying for parking.
  • Realizing that the parking ticket machine is not next to the sign saying "pay for parking".

I made the train but the last point was the last straw, and all I could do was watch it stop and get going again.

I can't believe people put up with this crap every day.

Next time I'm packing a change of clothes and I'm just going to get wet riding my bike and not mind.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Santa Clara Station Improvements Funded

The VTA is kicking down some $$ to pay for improvements to Santa Clara station.

This will provide separate outside platforms for NB and SB trains, and a tunnel to connect them, so that passengers will no longer have to cross active tracks to reach NB trains.

This should allow ACE and Capitol Corridor trains to make stops at Santa Clara, which they current pass by.

This project was long held up by the belief that it could be rolled into the construction of the Santa Clara BART station, but fortunately enough reality seems to have set in to get this small project rolling now, rather than waiting another decade or two.

Ideally, the new tunnel could provide a way to get between the station and the area to the NE of the tracks, which currently can only be done by taking a roundabout, mile-or-so-long walk to use an overpass, or trespassing (which CalTrain strenuously insists you should never do, but not to the extent of putting up a fence).

If they provided access to that side, the VTA's #10 Airport Shuttle bus could loop over there instead of at the front of the station, and probably save about 10 minutes each way, too.

Here's a Google Maps Satellite view of the area, if you're curious.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Commuting Again

Parental leave is all used up, and I'm back on the job.

I jumped back on the saddle and got back into the train/bike commute on the first day... and it started to rain.

It was a chilly morning in Mountain View but the Cafe Maison guys were out as usual.

I noticed CalTrain has a new schedule--printed in black and white only--budgets must be tight!

The SF Bike Coalition Bikes-on-Board campaign had distributed flyers on trains pointing out the economic advantages of bike/train commuting--pointing out that the subsidy for a commuter taking a bike on CalTrain, and theoretically taking up the equivalent of two seats, is still lower than what it costs to subsidize station parking places, or commuter shuttle busses from station to workplace. Cool!

Meanwhile, my employer, Microsoft, has started offering CalTrain Go Passes to all Bay Area employees--I now have a shiny "GO" sticker on my ID card that lets me ride anywhere, anytime. Awesome!

And just so you know, my new son Nathan is showing an interest in trains, large and small.