U.S. Transportation department executive approved grant days before taking job with rail contractor

By Ralph Vartabedian : latimes – excerpt

A top Obama administration executive at the U.S. Department of Transportation approved a $647-million grant for a California rail project in mid-January and less than two weeks later went to work for a Los Angeles-based contractor involved in the project, The Times has learned.

The grant provides a significant part of the money required to install a $2-billion electrical power system on the Bay Area’s Caltrain commuter rail system, allowing the rail to retire its diesel locomotives.

The power equipment will eventually be used by the state’s bullet train from Los Angeles to San Francisco, making it a critical part of the $64-billion program. The California High-Speed Rail Authority has pledged about $713 million to help install the system, according to state records.

The grant was handled by Carolyn Flowers, the acting chief of the Federal Transit Administration.  Flowers announced the grant approval in a letter, dated Jan. 18,  to congressional leaders. The Times obtained a copy of the letter…

Thirteen days later, Flowers went to work for Aecom, a Los Angeles-based engineering firm. The company news release announcing her hiring says she will head its North American transit practice. Aecom provides program management services to Caltrain for the electrification project, according to Caltrain documents. It was formerly a regional consultant to the high-speed rail project as well.

On Friday, the federal transit agency said it had “deferred” a decision on the grant and said it would look at the matter in the next federal budget cycle. The decision may be an early sign of the Trump administration’s view of the bullet train project. The line is already under construction and will need significant federal funding moving forward.

The delay follows a letter from every Republican member of the California House delegation to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, asking that the grant be put off until an audit of the high-speed rail project is completed.
This is exactly what America hates about Washington, D.C… (more)

Don’t they call this the revolving door?

Carolyn Flowers-letter to congress 
Caltrain and High Speed Rail and FTA funding – Revolving Door Shenanigans

Battle of the blueprints: Should I-280 stay or should it go?

By : sfexaminer – excerpt

Some San Francisco residents are roaring over a study to explore tearing down a portion Interstate Highway 280 in Mission Bay, which could clear the way for a Caltrain extension downtown.

But two sets of blueprints obtained by the San Francisco Examiner paint contrasting futures of I-280, including an effort to put the brakes on the proposal decades ago.

One set of blueprints, drawn in 1969, planners say shows evidence that to build a new Caltrain extension, I-280 must come down — no questions asked.

The other set of plans, two decades old, purportedly shows a road not taken — how the Caltrain extension could be built without the need to tear down I-280.

Meanwhile, the latter idea is gaining support. After a packed public meeting last month when local residents of Potrero Hill and The City’s southeast booed and hissed over the proposal, political heavyweight John Burton, the state’s democratic party chair and a former congressman, joined a chorus of voices denouncing the plan.

“Well, I think it’s stupid,” he told the Examiner of the possibility of tearing down I-280. “It’ll clog up Potrero.”

He’s not alone. Former Mayor Art Agnos previously told the Examiner he would personally launch a campaign against the I-280 teardown if it were pursued.

Planners are now preparing for another meeting on March 30 to discuss the possibility of tearing down the freeway, which they argue will “open up” Mission Bay to the community.

Plan 1: Narrow Freeway Must Come Down

Blueprints of I-280 drawn in the 1960s by the Department of Public Works show one glaring issue, planners argue:

I-280 is too narrow to bore a tunnel underneath…

Plan 2: Tunnel a Walkway

When told I-280 must come down, a retired Bay Area engineer had essentially one reply: Nope.

Gerald Cauthen is a retired engineer from consultants Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade & Douglas, Inc., based in San Francisco. While most retirees keep knick knacks from the office, like a favorite paperweight, Cauthen kept blueprints.

Lots of blueprints.


Among them are a set of drawings labeled with the Muni “worm” logo, titled “Phase 1 Design Conceptual Engineering Drawing,” which was last redrawn Nov. 5, 1993.

Cauthen says these plans show another solution to extending Caltrain downtown.

The plans show Caltrain tracks to the Downtown Extension depressed only five feet below the surface, instead of tunneling underground.

To join Mission Bay with the rest of The City, the blueprints feature a construction nowhere else in San Francisco — an underground roadway, and accompanying pedestrian passage.

It’s far better, Cauthen said, than tearing down I-280 and turning the freeway into a boulevard…

Blueprints #1: Shows the narrowness of I-280, which planners argue mean the freeway must come down to tunnel. (Click here to view).

Blueprints #2: Shows unused plans for underground roadway/walkway. (Click here to view).


Phase I Design Conceptual Engineering Drawings

Ed Reiskin, director of transportation at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, said that plan doesn’t pan out.

“Forcing us to create depressed canyons to connect Mission Bay to the rest of The City would be problematic from a land use and transportation standpoint,” Reiskin said on KALW radio, in mid-March…(more)

Activists prod Mayor Lee over Caltrain extension

By Hannah Albarazi : sfbay – excerpt

Environmentalists and transit enthusiasts are urging San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee to prioritize a ballot measure that passed in 1999 that required an extension of the Caltrain line to the Transbay Terminal in downtown San Francisco.

The passage of the 1999 ballot measure, known then as Proposition H, required that Caltrain be extended to the Transbay Terminal and prohibited the city from taking any actions that would conflict with extension.

Alex Doniach, a spokeswoman for the Mission Bay Alliance, a non-profit group that wants to see the Caltrain downtown extension brought to fruition, and also stands unwaveringly against the proposed Golden State Warriors stadium, said San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee should honor the original Downtown Rail Extension (DTX) agreement.

Transit enthusiasts from groups such as the Train Riders Association of California, Bay Rail Alliance, Friends of Caltrain, Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund, and the Coalition of San Francisco neighbors, among others, gathered outside City Hall today to urge the mayor not to postpone the DTX project any longer..

The 1999 measure, however, did not set a strict timeline for construction of the project, resulting in years of postponement by elected officials….

A public hearing by the city’s Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure Commission is scheduled for 1 p.m. on June 30 in Room 416 in City Hall at which time comments from members of the public regarding the Draft SEIR on the construction of the arena will be heard… (more)

Here lies one of the problems with using the ballot to govern. So many details must go into a piece of legislation to make it enforceable, and , as we are finding out, enforcement is largely lacking unless the administration makes it happen.

So, be careful who you put in office in administrative posts.

And, as Scoop Nisker said, “If you don’t like the news…”

How Transbay Transit Center deal’s collapse would alter S.F.

By John Coté and J.K. Dineen : sfgate – excerpt

San Francisco could be left with a very expensive bus station or a new skyline minus a few towers depending on how threatened lawsuits over the city’s plan to fund a new downtown transit hub billed as the “Grand Central station of the West” play out.

The plan was thrown into flux Tuesday, when the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the creation of a community benefit district with a tax structure opposed by a number of developers, some with projects already under construction.

The most damaging impact of any lawsuit — two or three are being considered — is expected to be to the $2.6billion plan to extend the rail tracks from the Caltrain station at Fourth and King streets to the new $1.9billion Transbay Transit Center under construction along Mission Street.

“What’s really threatened is not Transbay, it’s the Caltrain extension,” said Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of the urban think tank SPUR. “There is no point to having built the Transbay terminal if we don’t get Caltrain there. … The good news, if you could call it that, is that there is still time to work it out.”…

The special tax zone, known as a Mello-Roos district, was conceived during the economic boom of 2006 and 2007, but it wasn’t until 2012 that the city proposed a tax rate for the district: 0.55 percent of assessed value, or, at the time $3.33 per square foot….  (more)

Parking permits program appealed: San Mateo streets may be included to deter Caltrain commuters

By Samantha Weigel : Daily Journal – excerpt

A group of residents are disagreeing over whether their San Mateo neighborhood should be included in a permit program that would deter Caltrain commuters from using their street as a free parking lot.

The city’s Public Works Commission will hear an appeal Wednesday night from those who do not want Otay Avenue and San Miguel Way included in the Bay Meadows Residential Parking Permit Program.

A group of residents approached the city in December concerned by commuters using their neighborhood to avoid paying to park at the Hillsdale Caltrain Station parking lot, according to a city staff report.

In June, the director of Public Works approved including Otay Avenue between Pacific Boulevard and Curtiss Street, and San Miguel Way between Otay Avenue and Curtiss Street, into the decades-old parking program, according to the report… (more)

Making parking near transit hubs difficult or expensive is not working for anyone. Commuters need parking near transit hubs and the faster public transit agencies solve the problem the sooner motorists will start taking public transit.

Tearing down 280

This from SaveMuniSF

Here’s is an introduction to another oncoming land use/transportation use mess, predictably cooked up by SPUR, the Mayor’s office and the DCP. It comes on top of – or perhaps as part of – the Mayoral Task Force’s so-called transportation “plan” for San Francisco.

As you look through this, consider the possibility that the objective of SF’s planning tri-partite to knock DTX out of the New Starts running so Central Subway Phase III can be inserted in its place.

As noted in the daily rags, the latest SPUR/Gillian Gilette/DCP plan is to remove the northern end of I-280 and replace it with a beautifully-landscaped surface arterial (something on the order of the perpetually-congested Octavia extension of 101). One of the problems with this grandiose scheme is that it would dump freeway traffic onto a new surface arterial somewhere in the vicinity of 16th Street, thereby pre-empting the space now occupied by the Caltrain main line tracks.

If it were necessary to underground or otherwise change the trackage between the existing tunnel under Potrero Hill and Second and King, it would add at least $1 billion to the cost of DTX and at least 8 years to the schedule.
In the process this momentous change would overturn decisions that were studied, debated in public meetings, environmentally-cleared and approved by many agencies over a decade ago. As indicated, these late coming proposed changes risk losing DTX, especially now with George Miller gone and Nancy Pelosi significantly weakened.

Here’s the beginning of what’s wrong with idea:

First, it will dump northbound I-280 traffic onto SF surface streets much farther south.

Second, the new arterial would occupy the space now occupied by the Caltrain tracks, meaning that the tracks would have to be either expensively relocated or even more expensively undergrounded.

Third, there’s no money for removing the freeway, much less for building the surface-level replacement streets, much less for paying for relocating or undergrounding the railroad. (No doubt Metcalf has some vague idea in his head of paying for all this via the large-scale commercial development he envisions will come to that part of San Francisco. Unfortunately it is a virtual certainty that any such future proceeds would be eaten up paying for the new roadways, bicycle paths, tree linings, medians, parklets and other amenities deemed necessary to support the gleaming new development.

Most damaging of all is the signal such a program would send. The message would read that San Francisco now has other interests and consequently desires to delay DTX for a decade or more. If the city possessing the Downtown Terminal isn’t interested in bringing in the commuter trains, then who exactly from the outside would be?

As if the above weren’t bad enough they also want to move Caltrain’s vital 4th and King rail storage and staging area to some distant location, presumably south of San Francisco. This would significantly push up Caltrain’s operating costs, to the point where it would no longer make much sense for Caltrain to serve San Francisco County. There are two practical ways of handling Caltrain train storage and staging needs, neither one of which would require relocation and neither of which would blight Fourth Street or Mission Bay.

SPUR/CCSF’s arrival on the scene 15 years late with development proposals that threaten to overturn long standing DTX plans is no joke. Given the vigorous competition between States and cities for badly needed New Starts funding, this “playing around” with issues threatens to put DTX out of the running for New Starts funding which would mean no DTX for many decades. And that would be a big loss for San Francisco.

Inequality and Mass Transit in the Bay Area

Ellen Cushing : East Bay Express – excerpt

Inspired by the New Yorker’s recent interactive feature on income inequality as mapped by the city’s subway system, a couple of local developers, Michael Belfrage and Dan Grover, made their own version by plotting BART, MUNI, and CalTrain stops against the median income for the census tract in which they’re cointained… (more, including the chart)

Index of interactive charts

S.F. Central Subway subject of suit

By Michael Cabanatuan : sfgate.com – excerpt

A day before federal transportation officials are expected to give $942.2 million to the controversial Central Subway, opponents of the project on Wednesday filed suit to stop construction of a station with a Union Square entrance.
The lawsuit, filed by subway critics Save Muni, is the latest, and so far most aggressive, effort to stall or kill construction of the 1.7-mile subway from Caltrain to Chinatown. The suit contends that the Municipal Transportation Agency’s plans to build an entrance to the Union Square/Market Street station in the square violated a City Charter prohibition of nonrecreational uses in city parks. It seeks to force the Municipal Transportation Agency to move the station or put its location to a public vote… (more)

Suit filed against S.F. Central Subway project
Lawsuit aims to derail controversial San Francisco Central Subway line
SF Receives $942M For Central Subway Amid Lawsuit By Opponents

Poll: Caltrain Set To Add More Commute Trains. Will You Ride Now?

By Laura Dudnick and Dave Colby : GilroyPatch – excerpt

Caltrain is adding two new trains and restoring four more in response to a record increase in ridership this year.
I love riding the train…
But recently, it’s become difficult. Parking can be a pain, with spots in my Caltrain lot often harder to find than a clean dog in a flea storm. Once parked, getting on board has become a new experience, akin to the images I see of rush hour train commuters in New York City and the East.
And, after squeezing onto the train, if I find a seat for the 50-minute journey, I feel lucky.
Now, it appears I am not alone in my Caltrain consternation…
What do you think? Will you be on board for Caltrain travel now that there should be some overcrowding relief? Will the additional trains be enough? Is there a solution to the filled parking lots in the morning?..

Looks like the park and ride issue is still looming large for commuters.

Trains, planes and automobiles: Talking transit with Zusha Elinson

By : baycitizen.org – excerpt

MM: What’s the most interesting part of reporting on public transit agencies?

ZE: Everyone uses transportation every day, whether it’s Muni or BART or CalTrain, or the car they drive to work. It’s a simple yet extremely important part of our infrastructure…

ZE: Public transit agencies oversee some of the largest budgets and most important activities, but very few people pay attention to what the agencies are actually doing, and there’s little oversight. That means there are often very interesting stories and very questionable actions taken by public officials that go unnoticed.

MM: Are you seeing any positive changes with some of the agencies you cover?

ZE: In fact, we are seeing very positive changes with BART following our stories about their bacteria-infested seats. They are in the process of changing their old seats with new, easy to clean ones in 100 of the cars. Also, since the tragic shooting of Charles Hill, BART police have instituted several reforms after extensive coverage of the incident.

Source: The Bay Citizen (http://s.tt/1e59N)

Source: The Bay Citizen (http://s.tt/1e59N)