Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The case for the Fell/Oak bike lanes

There has been some angst over the bike lane additions/improvements to Fell and Oak Street

Here is why I think this project's implementation is very important

On various blogs when this topic would come up, some cyclist would inevitably chime in and say that they prefer to use Page and Hayes to Fell and Oak. Some debate would get stirred up as to the fact that Fell and Oak are flatter than Page/Hayes, Page and Hayes would be great if we could bollard them up and make them local traffic only, but that won't happen, etc...

An interesting artifact of this discussion is that some community members who are virulently anti-cyclist and have probably not ridden a bike in decades, have suddenly become experts in the field and would posit that Page/Hayes are a better route for cyclists and thus the Fell/Oak project should be scrapped. This isn't because they actually know that it's better, they've just translated some comment from someone who prefers Page/Hayes for some reason and decided that this person is clearly an expert. Not based on the merits, but because it fits their narrative of keeping Fell/Oak the way it is.

Here's the problem with that. Cyclists DO in fact take Fell/Oak, already. Killing the Fell/Oak project is not going to chase them away from Fell/Oak. Some comment on a blog is not going to move them to Page. Should we remove the bike lane on Fell completely, and widen the primary travel lanes? Cyclists would still use Fell but without a bike lane and amongst even faster traffic - at speeds that do not belong on what is still a residential street.

Consider this. Foothill Road is a road that runs from Pleasanton California to Sunol California, parallel to the 680 Freeway. It goes through a relatively undeveloped section of the foothills on the East side of the mountains between Contra Costa Valley and the Bay. I rode this road on my bike 12 years ago and found it to be a very peaceful road along horse farms and not much else.

At some point over the last decade, Dublin and Pleasanton had some nominal development at the North end of Foothill. Traffic on the 680 in that corridor gets backed up a commute hours. From those subdivisions there is a direct connector to 580/680 to get onto 680 South. But the residents of this area discovered that they could take Foothill south and then cut over to 680, bypassing a chunk of traffic.

Those cars are *supposed* to take the freeway, not the rural road parallel to the freeway. But they started using Foothill anyway. So what did Contra Costa County do? Did they start a campaign to stop people from driving on Foothill? Make the road narrower and put in speed bumps to slow traffic? No - they repaved and widened the road to make for wider, quicker travel lanes, put in guardrails, installed a bike lane that has sections that go away because they could not fit the bike lane *and* a wider travel lane.

Similarly on 680 North there is a sign that says "SACRAMENTO USE 680N" to discourage people from using 84E as a shortcut around traffic on 680 and cut directly through Livermore onto 580. This sign was summarily ignored by motorists who figured out that they could shave a few miles and bypass traffic jams on 680 by using 84E, a narrow winding road to Livermore. What did the county do? Improved 84E to deal with the traffic they think should not be going that way.

Why is it that it that we will upend a country road to carry volumes of traffic that we already installed a freeway to carry, but when cyclists vote with their pedals to take a specific road, it is considered a reasonable argument to try to get the cyclists to not use that route? This project must happen or we are setting a bad precedent that cyclists should be pushed around only to certain roads we deem they are worthy to ride upon.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Proposed Caltrain Schedule Changes

Caltrain has proposed some schedule changes that add three trains in each direction and modify some train schedules.

The proposed schedule can be seen here -I think there is a typo, the schedule indicates an additional Redwood City stop on trains 314/324 which doesn't make sense and does not match their description.

The summary for people who commute N->S in the AM is this.

1) Addition of a train running the same schedule as 275/285 in the 4 PM hour.

2) Reinstatement of train 236 and 256.

3) Addition of Palo Alto to Baby Bullet runs 312/322/332/365/373/383.

Item (1) I think is a great idea. Inserts a solid skip stop train for key but non-primary stations into the schedule. I like adding train 256 back, for the reverse commute this adds an option for midday service and is a limited stop train. Great.

I take issue with the strategy of adding PA to the (then no longer) Baby Bullets and reinstating train 236.

Adding the extra stop to the Baby Bullet trains adds 2 minutes to the run time of those trains, negatively impacting the notably large population that uses Mountain View station, with the benefit of adding more options for Palo Alto riders. Certainly a PA rider who currently can't take those trains gets value from that, but if they want to take the newly configured train, it will be 2 minutes longer than the current bullet trains they are taking. I assume Caltrain's theory is that by shifting Palo Alto riders from trains 314 and 324 to 312/322/332 they can ease the current crush loads on 314/324, but I question the validity of this theory - hoping that PA riders will take a slower train.

Here's my support. Currently train 324 is one of the most overloaded in the system, with a peak season load of 112% of capacity. Reference - Caltrain's annual ridership counts. Meanwhile, train 226 which departs San Francisco 5 minutes later and takes 5 minutes longer in journey time to Palo Alto - is not on the top 10 list of train loads. Anecdotally it runs fairly empty, despite not having much longer run time and serving additional stations (San Mateo, San Carlos, Lawrence). The train departs San Francisco at a very similar time to 324, and has comfortable seating capacity yet it has not drawn riders from 324 - I theorize this is because the riders do in fact care about that 5 minutes.

An additional problem with just throwing in the extra stops into an established schedule is that it does not take into account last mile problems. Trains 312/322/332 have not stopped in Palo Alto before, so there is no shuttle infrastructure ferrying riders to Facebook or Stanford timed to meet this new train. Trains 365/373/383 will now leave Mountain View 2 minutes earlier. This may throw shuttle schedules a real monkey wrench. It's hard to say that VTA has actually timed their light rails to the trains, but customers have established patterns. It may be only 2 minutes, but if you miss the train and are headed to Redwood City, you've just lost over half an hour.

Summary - I don't think Caltrain accomplishes the goal of reducing overcrowding on the trains by adding stops to 312/322/332, and causes other problems they have not accounted for.

Proposal - what I think Caltrain should do, which would be a slam dunk winner, is this. First, leave the current bullets alone. Second, instead of adding back train 236 as a limited, they should bring it back with the same departure time of 9:37 AM from 4th/King, as full local train #136. Then take the current full local train, train 134, departing SF at 9:07, and make it a baby bullet train 334, departing SF at 9:14 and making the same stops as 314/324 - 22nd/Millbrae/Hillsdale/Palo Alto/Mountain View/San Jose. This train would fit into the schedule as it runs with the same symmetry as the earlier parts of the commute hour, and has a schedule familiar to riders. Instead of adding a marginally slower train adjunct to current bullet trains, it adds a brand new bullet train to Palo Alto in a previously empty slot in the schedule for those riders. This will attract riders from train 324 who will "only take bullets", and attract new riders. So instead of just adding capacity, Caltrain would also increase ridership and collect more revenue to offset the addition of the train.

The North to South commute has a lot of riders with the flexibility to take an express train at that later hour, riders who currently do things like childcare dropoff and then drive to work because the peak commute (and thus bullets) have passed. I predict a train 334 would be an instant hit, relieve the overcrowding on trains 324/230, and drive Caltrain's revenue.

Discuss. And if you like this idea, use this use this handy email link to send a message to Caltrain saying so. Caltrain will be having a meeting at 6 PM on May 30 in San Carlos' Caltrain HQ to take public comment on the changes.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Time for a 48X

Supervisors, MTA Board, Transportation Advisor Gillett -


I read this morning that MUNI is adding an 83X line to ferry riders from the 4th/King Caltrain station to Civic Center BART. I applaud this measure to layer on high return on investment, targeted transportation options onto the overall system. While this service might not benefit the typical MUNI rider directly, there are indirect impacts of adding service like this that absolutely impact our current regular riders. If this service attracts riders and removes cars from congested corridors, everyone wins.

Given the addition of this line and the recent NX line, I would like to suggest a line that would also be of benefit, across Districts 7, 8, 9 and 10 and benefitting each district in one way or another. 

Over the last few years, ridership on the "reverse-peak" direction of Caltrain - riders leaving SF to go to jobs South of the City - has exploded. Much of this population of riders resides in the Supervisorial districts noted above, because those districts have relatively easy access to freeways headed Southbound. What those districts do not have is reasonable access to a Caltrain station. The 48 bus runs from the ocean to 22nd Street Caltrain, but navigates congested corridors as a workhorse taking residents along two semi-distinct retail corridors and serving BART and SFGH. The bus runs from 1 block from my house in Noe Valley and stops in front of the 22nd Street Caltrain station - taking roughly 35 minutes to complete a journey that I can make on my bicycle in 12 minutes.

The result of the demand for Caltrain coupled with poor MUNI service is that residents of Noe/Mission/Bernal have voted to drive to the 22nd Street station which is known for copious amounts of free parking. Known well enough that parking management has become a problem here, and a plan to resolve that issue by metering the parking in the area caused much rancour.

The time has come to respond to this market. I believe that the SFMTA should study a 48X express bus from the West side of town to Caltrain. By routing such a bus down Cesar Chavez instead of 24th, and making fewer stops, we could serve this population, attract new riders, and mitigate the parking problems in the Caltrain/Dogpatch area while also reducing AM/PM congestion on Cesar Chavez. Placing a stop at Mission Street would also serve as a nominal express to BART for West Portal/Miraloma/Diamond Heights/Noe. This route could also serve a working population that has no current route down the Chavez corridor on MUNI (subject to making the schedule effective as a Caltrain feeder, perhaps with stops on 3rd Street after the train station).

Thank You

John Murphy

San Francisco

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Urban Jungle

Nobody cares anymore. Maybe they never did, who knows.

Chattanooga Street, 8:10 AM. This preferred bike route is great except at 8 AM. That's when the kids are being dropped off at school, 2 blocks from the 48 bus stop. This AM, there were 4 cars double parked in the direction I was headed, NB, on what's a pretty narrow street. I hesitated because down the road there was a car in the oncoming lane, but eventually I ascertained that it was also double parked. I moved to the oncoming lane and moved to pass the 4 double parkers.

After I passed, the front car in the line of double parkers had finished their drop off and put it into gear. The driver quickly figured out that I was in front of them and they were really going to have to jam on the accelerator to get past me before reaching the car double parked in the oncoming lane. I was going about 15 MPH (this school does not yet have a 15 MPH speed limit) and flinched as I heard the roar of the motor as I was passed. The driver swerved back into the lane just in time for... the 8 year old child who was exiting the double parked car to come out from behind the back of the double parked car! I'm not sure if the driver ever saw the child as he was probably focused on me, but the 8 year old jumped back. There's all sorts of wrong here.

Valencia and 14th, 8:18 AM. I'm headed down Valencia to make a right turn on 14th Street. There is a car in the bike lane just at 14th, with its right turn signal on, waiting to make a turn on green. This is good - that's the proper place to make that right turn from, and "waiting" means they aren't t-boning the pedestrians crossing 14th. The car makes their right turn and I prepare to make mine. At this point the SFPD cruiser in the primary travel lane makes an unsignalled right turn going through the apex tightly and cutting off my line. Bad bad bad. Had I been going straight I would have been on the pavement for sure. I caught up to the cop at South Van Ness and gave him the stare down, but the only person better at a stare down than an aggrieved cyclist is a cop.

Division Street Rotary, 8:24 AM. This spot is very dodgy. Car lane and bike lane entering the rotary, and a reasonable amount of pedestrian traffic. I see a pedestrian on the right, partially blocked from view by the parked cars. I move to the left side of the bike lane, slow, and stick my hand straight out to signal (and block!) the three cyclists behind me from rolling the stop, and when I get to the stop line I set my bike diagonally, unclip and put my foot down, arm still extended, and look straight at the pedestrian. He smiles and says "Thanks!", at which point one of the cyclists shoots the very small gap between me and the car to my left and runs the sign full speed. I look at the pedestrian and say "I tried" and he shrugs and continues to cross the crosswalk, at which point the car to my left decides to enter the rotary, almost smashing the pedestrian in the process.

What is with you people?