Friday, September 30, 2011

Riding with Dennis Herrera

Today Mayoral Candidate Dennis Herrera showed up for SF2G.

Herrera showed up, shook a hand or two and said "All right! Let's get some coffee". He's clearly a very high energy guy and 6:30 AM didn't really bother him. Scott asked him a general question about vision/cycling and he discussed that he is really positive on car-free Market Street. He mostly referred to bikes, which is important, to me the faster transit portion is more important but he was playing to his impression of the audience.

"If you had a time machine, and went back to when Rob Anderson sued the city, what would you do differently". He gave no meaningful answer

I asked about the Central Subway, saying "If you become Mayor, what then". The answer was also a little off pivot but basically I would say he is against the status quo of the project, as has been clear. He pivots first to "I supported it when it was 600 Million but 1.6 Billion! Come on!" I think this is standard politico but my position is that there isn't much difference between 9 figures and 10 figures - either way it's a lot of money and the project should be done properly. The cost increases to me are just a very good opener to allow one to point out the problems in design.

His concept of the design flaws matches mine, and he understands the demographic in Chinatown does not match the transit system they are being delivered (They use the 30 like a 2 block shuttle bus!). Mike Sonn lives in North Beach and for a variety of reasons would really prefer Stockton to go car free - and soon rather than a subway 10 years from now - Herrera seemed to agree (why I didn't audiotape this whole thing I have no idea, so I could have a better description).

He is very high energy and engaging, chatty, friendly. And he acquitted himself fine on the bike.

Chavez was crap as always but we made it. Delivered Herrera to 3rd Street while Dave Blizard pointed out how crappy Chavez is and got a good picture that shows what we are up against on that street. Crosby mentioned that Pennslyvania is quite frankly worse than Chavez and I have to agree. "You're riding between trucks headed to the interstate and others headed North, and you're in the canyon pothole of doom" was sort of how Scott described it.

It was good to get another politico out in a small group and get to chat.

The ride was nice, relaxed pace which was just what I needed.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Central Subway Rant to Board of Supervisors

David Chiu just introduced a resolution in support of the Central Subway which was joined in sponsorship by Kim, Campos, Chu, Avalos. I got a little fired up and shipped this one off.
Supervisors -

I am dismayed to hear your commentary regarding the Central Subway in the Board of Supervisors today. Certainly it has become a political football as we all know.

Full disclosure - in my opinon, there are better options for rider service than digging a tunnel. However, I think a well designed tunnel has a lot of benefit that might scale to larger solutions, so I cannot oppose the idea of such a tunnel.

However, if this subway does get built I feel it is imperative to move the Union Square station to connect directly at Powell. If we spend "over a Billion" dollars on this project, we must do it properly, otherwise it will not draw the support that will get us the money to extend the system further.

The transit dependent citizens of Chinatown - and transit dependent citizens of other neighborhoods - will be done a huge disservice if the subway goes in as it is designed. Every Saturday AM I ride the BART from the outer neighborhoods towards the East Bay. It is absolutely packed with senior citizens from Daly City who are headed to Chinatown, and whom transfer to the 30 at Powell Street Station. The reverse trip is also very common. Those people deserve a legitimate connection from BART and MUNI Metro to the Central Subway - not a series of escalators and a long walk to Union Square. The Central Subway supporters claim that the Union Square/Powell connection does exist, but as a reference the "combined" station will resemble the "Chatelet" station in Paris, which is used as a connection primarly by confused tourists who have yet to realize that the connection is worse than going above ground and walking to your destination.

This echos Supervisor Chu's call for outer neighborhood connectivity - the current design reduces that connectivity! The average age of the riders I see on those trains is well over 60. In theory the 30 Stockton will still exist, but the operations funding needed to run the Central Subway will reduce the ability to run that line at frequency.

Additionally, residents from upstream on the MUNI Metro line wishing to get to Caltrain will have their connectivity decreased. This is a route I used on a daily basis for months while I could not ride my bike due to a broken wrist. The transfer as designed is not attractive to residents of the Castro trying to get to Caltrain and will not draw new riders. And as I previously mentioned to Supervisor Wiener - the location of the Caltrain transfer station at Brannan Street drops riders off the Central Subway 2 blocks from Caltrain on the wrong side of a high speed arterial - Brannan - creating a proposition for pedestrians to either gamble with jaywalking or missing their train.

I do find it a bit unseemly that this project has clearly may have been siezed upon as a wedge issue to attack Mayor Lee in the Mayor's race. The issues that the Grand Jury has brought to the surface have been clear to transit riders for a very long time, why has City Attorney Herrera only now decided to speak up? Politics? Probably. But as a transit rider and transit advocate we sometimes have to take the few opportunities we get - I have shown up at a number of MTA meetings in the past and noted the problems with the project, knowing that I was mostly wasting my breath. The Grand Jury report and now this Mayor's election has opened Pandora's box, and the ridership wants to see what is inside.

As designed, this project benefits the people who will build it, not the people who need to RIDE the correct solution.

Reference - BART to SFO with a Caltrain connection, unused by Peninsula residents because the poor design has left the Peninsula residents without a direct connection from Caltrain to the Airport via BART, a connection they had before with a humble bus line. Surely for the billions spent on that project those riders expected they deserved to have service improvements compared to their jitney.

Thank You

John Murphy - San Francisco

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Letter to Caltrain

Here is a letter I sent to Caltrain. I am asking (perhaps it is not clear) for Caltrain to eliminate the painful process of purchasing 8 ride tickets by giving the equivalent discount to all Clipper users. You get the same 15% discount whether you ride 8 times, or just once. And you never have to worry about expiring 8 ride tickets. If you agree, let them know.

If you agree - let them know, use this handy email link to send a message to Caltrain customer service, copying the Caltrain board and staff at the same time.

UPDATE: - Response from Caltrain

John – your letter to the Caltrain Board of Directors and Citizens Advisory Committee was referred to me for response. (Please note that Astrid Lindell is no longer with the agency.)

Your suggestion is very timely because I have been working with staff from our Finance and Rail departments to discuss the impacts of possibly eliminating the 8-ride Ticket. We are still evaluating the positives and negatives and hope to have a recommendation in the coming months. However, if we proceed with recommending its elimination, we would seek customer and community input before holding a public hearing.

Thank you for continuing to want to improve Caltrain.



Here is the original letter
Dear Caltrain Board, Staff, Citizen's Advisory Committee, MTC Board Member Wiener -

I am writing to implore you to revisit your fare structure which is currently failing both your ridership and your organization. When Caltrain adopted the Clipper Card, Caltrain decided to go through the process of keeping the "8 ride ticket" portion of their fare structure. The 8 ride ticket has been a good method of rewarding riders who are frequent riders but not riding enough to justify monthly passes. The form of the ticket was a function of Caltrain's paper ticketing system. With an electronic fare system, the 8 ride ticket made far less sense, yet Caltrain has tried - and failed - to put a square peg into a round hole.

My opinion, and that of much of your very informed ridership is that the 8 ride ticket should be eliminated, and replaced with a 15 percent discount applied to all riders who pay for single rides with their Clipper Card. The 15 percent discount is the same discount current given to riders who buy 8 ride tickets. This strategy is the same as that implemented by Golden Gate Transit, which also had paper fare books but chose to eliminate that when they went to Clipper, offering a discount to all riders paying with Clipper. As a rider of Golden Gate Transit I can attest that their transition has been far smoother than Caltrain's.

While on its face, this sounds like a proposal for a fare decrease in a time of fare increases, this is a short sighted viewpoint. The troubles caused by the electronic 8 ride tickets have cost Caltrain money and tarnished the agency's reputation. I fully believe the savings to be had by those infrequent riders who manage to get a Clipper Card will be overwhelmed by increased ridership from infrequent riders who now have access to a discounted fare, and amongst your more loyal riders.

I offer the following anecdote. In August, I took a vacation and chose not to purchase a monthly pass. Instead I bought multiple different 8 ride tickets to cover the different types of trip I might take in a typical month. At the end of the month, I intended to purchase a September pass, but was left with several assorted rides left on my Clipper Card - rides which would expire in 30 days time, and could only be transferred by giving my Clipper Card which included my BART High Value ticket to someone else, also requiring me to get a new Clipper Card. So I decided to stick with 8 ride tickets. Like many other riders who use 8 ride tickets, I am discincented to ride the train - each time I ride the train I have to pay, unlike when I have a monthly pass. Caltrain loses money.

The final insult came when I decided to attend the Caltrain JPB meeting last month to address this issue in Public Comment. I arrived at the train station in San Francisco, and "tagged on" my Clipper Card and boarded the train. Arriving in San Carlos, I realized that if I "tagged off" in San Carlos, I would be taking a ride for which I had no 8 ride ticket. I would be charged cash, which would deplete my cash balance. Without a cash balance on my card, I would not be able to use any of the pre-paid rides on my Clipper Card, meaning I would be forced to pay cash for a full fare ticket from the machine instead of using the discounted ride I already paid for. In disgust, I stayed on the train but made my complaints heard to all who would listen on the train.

There are many operational incentives for switching to a single ride only with Clipper Discount. There are many more anecdotal incidents like my own, all of which result in calls to Clipper Customer Service which is a cash drain on the MTC. There are currently "Add-Value" Clipper Machines at MUNI, GGT, and BART stations. Caltrain does not have them - as a computer programmer I would wager a large sum of money that this is because someone is being paid a lot of money to produce special machines for Caltrain that sell 8 ride tickets. Without 8 rides, Caltrain could simply use the same stock machines as BART does - with a reasonable requirement that Monthly passholders purchase passes online or at Walgreens. And the single ride discount would incent those now buying paper tickets to adopt Clipper, which is a goal of the MTC. This might get those customers to ride more - replacing the revenue lost by giving them a discount. And with more riders using Clipper, fare enforcement would be greatly simplified for your conductors.

I urge you to adopt this strategy. Should the change produce a drop in revenue in practice, the answer is simple. Increase the fare for single rides, while leaving the Monthly Pass at the same price. This would convert a lot of riders who "do the math" to using Monthly Passes instead of 8 rides - and once they have a pass they become even more loyal to your service.

Thank You

John Murphy

San Francisco

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Bike Share vs. "Car Share"

Via BikePortland Commissioner Fritz: No to bike share until "dangerous" bicycling subsides we read about a City Commissioner in Portland who is against a bike sharing program there because it will produce - more bicyclists! Isn't that the point?

But she thinks that this would cause all sorts of trouble.

I may support a bike sharing program downtown when I see bike riders using downtown streets and sidewalks in a safe manner. Daily, I see cyclists in the Light rail and bus lanes in front of my office. I see cyclists riding on the sidewalks, endangering and harassing pedestrians.
I see cyclists running red lights and making illegal turns off the bus mall. And these are presumably experienced cyclists. I believe a bike rental program downtown would only add to these unsafe behaviors.

I'm trying to sort out the theory here. Until the people who *don't* need a bike share satisfy her, she wants to prevent anyone else from picking up a bike.

Part of her theory is that the people who don't normally ride (and thus own a bike) would be more likely to be troublemakers than people who do. Got it. They aren't experienced operating a bike, so we don't want to encourage it.

I wonder how the same gut reaction isn't applied to flying into say - SFO - from say - rural Kentucky - and renting a car. While the rules of the road are nominally similar across the US, California does have some different rules, for example you are not very likely to see someone in Kentucky splitting lanes on their motorcycle in heavy freeway traffic. And San Francisco can be a somewhat daunting place to drive for "locals" coming up from the Peninsula, let alone someone from Tinytown Kentucky.

Taken to the next level - let's say the person renting the car is from say, Germany - where the rules of the road are different. Apparently they aren't used to big signs - three of them - that say "NO RIGHT TURN". Especially if they are written in a language other than their primary language. Why do we allow drivers inexperienced with our roads to rent cars here? Why is there a presumption that they will behave with a dangerous piece of equipment but we don't give that same presumption to someone who wants to ride 10 blocks across Portland? Frankly I'd prefer someone who is clueless to be on a bike.

I know from where I speak. The first time I rented a car in France, it took me roughly 3 city blocks to run a red light. I had pulled up to an intersection, looked up to where I would expect a stoplight to be, saw none (in France the lights are on the closer side of the intersection), decided that I had the right of way since there was no traffic control device telling me I didn't and entered the intersection, right in front of a French Gendarme. I pulled over, he came over to my right window, at which point I spent about 2 minutes trying to figure out how to open the window of our rental car. He made the point about the red light and said something about the fine being 5000 Francs. That was about $700 dollars if I recall, but I had no clue, so I started to grab my wallet so I could pay the fine. The Gendarme said "This is a present this time, but do not run the red light". I thanked him and we sat there for several minutes familiarizing ourselves with the vehicle before once again terrorizing the French roads.

The rest of that trip was mostly uneventful, save for a time we stole a tank of gasoline. I was so used to paying at the pump with a credit card and then driving off, I filled the tank and never went in to pay. To this day I wonder if there is a warrant out for me in Grenoble.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Highway 9.

This AM I did a pretty cool ride, I went up Kings Mountain, down West 84, up West Old La Honda, then up Skyline to Highway 9. As I turned left onto Highway 9, I did a quick check to see if there were any cars headed my way - this is a fast descent and I knew I could keep near the speed limit but I was in no mood to be tailgated by someone a bit too antsy. It was all clear and I headed down.

I am not the fastest descender but I managed to average 30.5 MPH on the 6.9 mile section as shown on my GPS.

As I was going down the hill, I noticed a car behind me. This gets a little dicey on Highway 9 as there are now rumble strips on the yellow line, which has altered the dynamics of someone trying to pass. I drifted to the left in the lane, wanting to prevent a pass until we hit a straight section at which point I drifted to the right and slowed down, indicating that I was yielding to the driver, who then rocketed by me with another car on his tail.

Shortly after this I noticed a sign that said "SPEED LIMIT 30 MPH". I took a quick glance down at my speedometer. I was going 37 MPH.

The two cars that had passed me had disappeared down the hill in front of me.

I was almost halfway down the hill when they passed me, and I averaged over the speed limit for the entire hill. They were obviously nowhere to be seen once I hit Saratoga.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Supervisor and Mayoral Candidate John Avalos shows up to SF2G

John Avalos and his campaign guy Nate showed up at O'Dark 30 and joined us for a good ride for a Friday SF2G

John Avalos represent! @AvalosSF #sf2g #sfbc on Twitpic

Read John Avalos' plan for a world-class biking city

We took 26th to Bryant to the "Underpass of Broken Bottles and Dreams" to Cesar Chavez. I had scouted out the UBBD yesterday, maybe Ed Lee knew Supervisor Avalos was headed that way this AM and cleared it out - no shopping carts, not even a single homeless guy, and the dead rat that was adorning the path yesterday had disappeared. The lack of these amenities left the bike path ... still completely undignified. So it was good to show him this crap.

Then we took Chavez and he got to see it in its full glory - 4 lanes of not much traffic yet we still got buzzed by a truck or two.

I pointed out the "sidewalks" which will not be widened thanks to the cancellation of the original planned project. Sun Tsu could not have done it better - if you want to wage war on one group, figure out how to pit another group against them. In this case, the ongoing ability for people who hate bike lanes because it messes up their car centric lifestyle to suddenly become "pedestrian advocates" and pit pedestrians against cyclists. Sure, there aren't many pedestrians walking on Chavez. Perhaps because there are NO SIDEWALKS. Anyway, this was very useful - Avalos frankly had no idea about the project or it's "cancellation/postponement/modification" - "Wait, who did this? The *current* Mayor?" I pointed out the access to Caltrain via Chavez for Noe/Glen/Bernal/Mission.

Then we had a pretty cool ride down 3rd Street. Another rider remarked to me that he used to ride on 3rd a lot when he worked at Mission Bay, and he said "Wow this is so much better than it used to be". I had to agree. And now they have a Fresh and Easy down there. That has to be an upgrade. Right turn on Paul, left on San Bruno and up the one hill for the day, on which Supervisor Av alos did his best Mark Cavendish impression. We gathered at the little park thing at Blanken and Bayshore, took pictures, handed out literature, and pointed John to the Bayshore Caltrain station where he could get his "Bike On Board" to get back to 4th/King by 7:45 AM to make a breakfast he had downtown.

"Does Clipper work on Caltrain". "Yes, there is a blue box, tag your card on it. Then do NOT forget to TAG OFF as if you were on BART, when you get off". "OK, great meeting you". "Great meeting you too! DO NOT FORGET TO TAG OFF or you will be charged for a ticket to Gilroy".

I tried in vain to put an Avalos spoke card into my wheels, my wheels are tied and soldered so it was impossible.

We said goodbye and headed South down the Peninsula on a glorious Bay Area Morning.


John Avalos: @murphstahoe forgot to tag off