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- December 13, 2012By Molly Schremmer
In November, BART released conceptual plans for a multi-billion dollar rejuvenation that would introduce a new wave of service called BART Metro. BART expects vast ridership expansion in the next several years, and these changes would allow 50 percent growth — bringing the number of daily riders to an average of 560,000 — by 2025. The plans hinge on the idea that BART is not only a commuter rail that connects the suburbs to the cities, where most rides happen during rush hour, but also an urban-style metro, where large numbers of people are traveling throughout the day. The project seeks to balance improved service effectiveness (especially during mid-day and evening hours) with the need to enhance capacity on a two-track railroad.
How can BART improve its service to its two different groups of customers? The preliminary BART Metro concepts involve a balance of two approaches. The first approach, Phase I, would be to start running shorter train lines with more frequent service connecting stations in the urban core, primarily the stops between the Richmond and Hayward stations in the inner East Bay and extending through the Transbay Tube southeast to Glen Park in San Francisco. The second approach, Phase II, would be to continue the service to more distant suburban destinations with an eye toward future skip-stop or express service to reduce travel times.
Some Phase I projects are already underway. BART is working on replacing its fleet with the Fleet of the Future, with three doors per car for faster on- and off-boarding; Phase I calls for about 200 more cars than are currently on the tracks. The agency also intends to increase peak service on the Pittsburg/Bay Point-SFO line and the Fremont-Daly City line, and to extend service hours during the nights and weekends on the Richmond-Millbrae and Fremont-Daly City lines. In fall 2012, BART extended Richmond-Millbrae service until 8 p.m.
Longer-term concepts focus on shortening some train lines by adding turnbacks, often created by adding a side track that allows the train to reverse directions. For example, turnbacks could be built adjacent to downtown San Francisco stops and the Bayfair station in the East Bay, in order to shuttle more trains back and forth under the bay. During peak commute hours it could work as follows: Destinations like Richmond would have 10 trains an hour with a gap of six minutes between trains, while West Oakland — the jumping-off point for all trains entering the Transbay Tube — would have as many as 27 trains an hour, with a gap of about 2.2 minutes between trains. In the future, on evenings and weekends, the northern part of the Richmond line would see eight trains an hour, with the urban core dropping down to 16. Downtown Oakland and Berkeley stops would also see an increase in trains; for example MacArthur station in north Oakland would receive 21 trains an hour during peak times and 12 during off-peak times. In this way, BART would be molded to more efficiently serve the urban core while not losing its other identity as a commuter rail.
This model can be compared to public rail transit in Paris, where riders are served by two different rail systems: the RER, or Regional Express Network, for regional commutes and the Paris Métro for shorter trips within the urban core. With the BART Metro plan, BART aims to continue filling both roles while improving service through efficiency. While the BART Metro plan increases the number of trains and cars on BART tracks, it would actually decrease the total number of miles traveled by trains annually.
BART hopes to have the changes in Phase I completed by 2025. Longer-term Phase II planning is ongoing; eventually BART riders could see changes such as skip-stop and express route trains traveling to key commuter destinations, coupling of trains on the Dublin/Pleasanton-Daly City and Fremont-Daly City lines, 100 additional cars and planning for a second transbay tube.
SPUR applauds the development of BART Metro. We have advocated for concepts that increase BART service in the urban core for a number of years, and we recommended several of these ideas our reports A Mid-Life Crisis for Regional Rail and the Future of Downtown San Francisco.
View a presentation on BART Metro >>
- April 26, 2011BY STEPHEN TU
Tomorrow, April 27, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) will vote on a final Committed Funds and Projects Policy for Plan Bay Area. This policy mouthful is an important step in defining which regional transportation projects will receive funding and which ones must undergo more thorough analysis. The vote will determine how many transportation projects will be scrutinized for their impact on greenhouse gases, driving, economic growth and other factors. Affected projects in could include highway widening, the Oakland Airport Connector and BART to San Jose.
The issue before the MTC: deciding which projects are so far along that they shouldn’t be analyzed yet again under new criteria. The projects that are not further analyzed are considered “committed” and will be automatically included in the next Regional Transportation Plan. These committed projects will be included in all scenarios projecting the Bay Area’s future growth.
What’s different this year: the next Regional Transportation Plan will be the first one finalized since the passage of Senate Bill 375. That means this plan is supposed to help meet our region’s goal of reducing greenhouse gases from driving by 15 percent per capita. That’s harder to achieve if we don’t evaluate whether or not our investments encourage people to drive.
Wednesday’s vote will set a final policy for how to count a project as committed. In the last Regional Transportation Plan — done in 2009 — 70 projects were designated as committed. This year, if the MTC adopts the recommendation of its Planning Committee, only 14 projects will be considered committed and not analyzed further. Even though the committee made this recommendation in a 5-3 vote, the full Commission has the final say and can select a different approach, which means this is still a very live and important issue.
There are several major options up for consideration. Option 1 (36 projects committed) says projects are committed after they certify their Environmental Impact Report. Option 2 (14 projects committed) says a project is committed only after construction has started. In general, transit advocates like our friends at TransForm favor the later date (i.e., Option 2).
SPUR has endorsed a slightly different — and we think more nuanced — approach to this policy debate. We argued that using just the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) cutoff is inappropriate because many EIRs are old and project cost often skyrocket after they are approved. As the MTC notes in its analysis, after the environmental phase, transit projects typically rise 50 percent in cost and highway projects rise 30 percent.
In a letter to the MTC, we proposed that a project be considered committed if it is either:
1. already under construction or
2. has a certified EIR less than 5 years old and the estimated project costs have not grown by more than 5 percent per year since EIR certification.
We didn’t support Option 2 because it would cast too much uncertainty over projects that have spent many years in preparation and are nearly under construction. This is important to project stakeholders — especially agencies who might otherwise not take on the risk of conducting an EIR without certainty in a project’s funding potential.
If MTC commissioners tomorrow reject the Planning Committee’s recommendation, we hope they will adopt the SPUR proposal. Our approach leaves fewer projects in uncertain status but retains some objective standards to re-evaluate out-of-date and over-budget projects.