Friday, February 21, 2020

Why I believe cyclists need to vote for Measure I

I've made various cases for passing Measure I - the re-upping of the sales tax for SMART. Here is my down and dirty argument why cyclists should support Measure I.

It is incredibly important at this point for anyone who cares about cycling in Sonoma County to vote for Measure I.

Why? Path? Trains? Sustainability? Finances?

Nope. Politics.

At this point, every Supervisor in the County, National Representative, State Representative, Mayors, etc... have endorsed Measure I. All of the key stakeholder organizations I know of have endorsed Measure I. Except one - the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition. The SCBC took a "no endorsement" position. I am on the board, and I disagreed with this position. Hey, it's a democracy.

The net result is that if this measure loses, "The Cyclists" will be blamed. Not just SCBC (700 members) - the closest thing to a political arm of this demographic. I mean the thousands who bike every day, line up for Levi's Gran Fondo, students who bike to school. etc... A recent Press Democrat editorial referred to "a few disgruntled bike advocates". Not a good look.

We have spent decades becoming non-marginalized. Slowly and surely building political capital. And now in order to "teach SMART a lesson", we are trying to blow up all that hard work and piss off the entire power structure in the county. This political capital is why we were able to get in their face and clear out the Rodota Trail. Why the mistrial in Amy Suyama's death was pushed for a retrial where the assailant was convicted. Why new road projects might just have a complete streets component. Why we get bike lanes and paths. Why we get targeted enforcement efforts on the road, and bait bikes in the racks.

Shortly, the Sonoma County Transportation Authority will start work on redoing Measure M. It was a 1/4 cent sales tax passed in 2004 for transportation projects. Four Percent of that money went to bike/ped projects. That's a LOT of money for our projects.

The draft renewal for Measure M almost triples that amount to 11%. That's a lot of beans. A group led by Supervisor Lynda Hopkins' husband Emmitt Hopkins is lobbying to get that number up to 20%. At some point that measure will be put in stone and there will be a number.

The SMART train is a key component of SCTA's vision. The original measure M put 5% of the money towards some of the original push for SMART. The board of the SCTA is heavily invested in SMART - four of the board members are on the SMART board, the head is Supervisor Gorin who has endorsed the measure.

If the final bike/ped percentage in Measure M drops by a percent or two it would be a disaster. The process doesn't even need to be capricious - there are a lot of very important competing wants for that money, and groups like SOSRoads will be advocating for that money for the roads instead of bike ped, often roads like CA-12 or the Narrows that we are not allowed to use. We don't need to be seen as an enemy, just as a uncooperative group, to lose the support that gets us funding and support.

Who exactly will be taught a lesson if Measure I fails? At this point I'm afraid it might be Sonoma County Cyclists. Don't hate the player, hate the game.

Monday, February 3, 2020

SMART Measure I Sales Tax extension on March Primary Ballot

The Sonoma Marin Train is putting an extension to their 1/4 cent sales tax on the ballot this March. The current sales tax does not expire until 2028, this would extend it another 30 years. I posted the following in some Sonoma County Facebook groups. Enjoy. SMART began in earnest in 2008 when Measure Q passed. That’s a 20 year sales tax, money comes in over 20 years, but the construction - the big costs - are frontloaded. Think of how most people buy a home - they take out a mortgage because they need a place to live, build equity, etc now, but they don’t have the money to pay cash. For this mortgage they pay interest. Same for public works - SMART wrote bonds to build the train. If you hold a mortgage and you haven’t refinanced it in the last couple of years, you are forking money over to the banks because your rate is probably higher than your original note. But a refinance is like a purchase - the bank will check your income, credit scores, etc and you have to qualify. Same for SMART. They want to refinance their bonds. This will save SMART 12 million dollars a year of YOUR MONEY. If you want SMART to run more frequently, or build more parking, or extend to the North - it is easier to fulfill that vision with more money. And this 12 million in savings isn’t coming from the taxpayers - it’s coming from the banks! Boo banks! Boo! But in order to refinance - the banks want to see SMART’s finances. Their balance sheet is strong. They are running an effective operation that is qualifying for very competitive federal and regional grants - a big chunk of the Windsor and Larkspur extension came from outside agencies (not our money!) because no matter the flaws, SMART is up, running, and very popular with riders for what is really an infant organization. But the banks won’t refinance because the sales tax ends in 2028. A refi also stretches out the debt schedule and the bank doesn’t want to take risk beyond the sunset of the tax. So if Measure I fails - you, me, Mike - as taxpayers we fork over an extra 12 million a year in interest to the bond holders. That’s bogus, dude! But let’s say you hate trains, or are annoyed that it turned out to cost way too much to fix the tracks from Windsor to Healdsburg compared to the tax. Maybe it bothers you that the bike path isn’t compete (even though SMART has taken 150,000 cyclists on train with bike, trips beyond the distance those bike riders could do unassisted). So you don’t care if we pay the extra 12 million a year the next 8 years (that’s 96 million bucks). So you vote against measure I and it fails. Then what? SMART has 8 more years to try again. And somewhere along the line it will pass. The younger generation is more interested in phones than cars. They like trains and bikes and they’ll still be alive and voting in 2026 and some of the old folks against it will be no longer voting. So we still pass a tax extension but waste all that money. Or let’s say it never passes. Then SMART has no money for operations, goes into bankruptcy, and defaults on the bonds. The biggest bond holder for SMART is CalPers - the California State Pension Organization. Bonds are also held by fireman’s and police pensions, teachers, etc. If SMART goes bankrupt - WE WILL STILL HAVE TO PAY THE MONEY - in the form of state funds being used to make the pensions whole, or higher interest rates on home loans by banks that held the debt. This is a math problem, not a philosophical one. Passing Measure I is simple math - if you vote yes, the taxpayers pay less interest, if you vote no, the taxpayers pay more interest. SMART is a public agency owned by us. Their debt is our debt. Let’s pass this measure, refinance the bonds, and get this train to Windsor in 2021 (funded not by debt but by grants) and onwards for the younger generations who want to be riding this thing long after we are on that last train to your chosen religious affiliations final destination. Sincerely - Casey Jones. You better, watch that speed.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

SMART Train alcohol policy

For 18 years I have ridden Caltrain - and in that time I have brought aboard and consumed hundreds of bottles and cans of beers, which I have enjoyed legally on the train. This includes frequent patronage of the semi-official Party Car formed by the cyclists on Caltrain.

Starting in 2000, alcohol consumption on Caltrain increased exponentially with the opening of AT&T park, home of the San Francisco Giants. Giants fans have flocked to the train, riding up the Peninsula with cases of beer and bottles of who knows what, safely being carried to and from the games. At some point Caltrain decided to ban alcohol on trains running after 9 PM only IF there is an event - primarily Giants games but also Sharks games, concerts at AT&T Park, and now 49ers games and concerts at Levi's Stadium. That late, the consumption before and during the events reach enough of a pitch that it was prudent to put a limit on the policy. Over the years the train has also served hugely alcohol fueled events like Bay to Breakers, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, Octoberfests, etc... frequently on the same day.

Generally speaking, this open BYOB policy on Caltrain has been a success. Problems are generally very rare, given the nature of the train as primarily a commuter rail with a higher level fare. It has been an attraction to the train that has a nominal positive influence on overall ridership numbers.

At the end of 2016, I will start riding a new train line - the SMART train in Sonoma County. It will function as primarily commuter rail, running almost exclusively during peak commute hours, with a fare structure prohibitive to general miscreants, making it nominally similar to Caltrain, except that it will serve no special events like the Giants as there are no major sports or entertainment venues on the train line.

SMART has released their draft code of conduct for the train. It includes a policy of NO BYOB. They don't have a no alcohol policy because they have an operating theorem of having a bar car on the train. I am very disappointed by this policy - I find it rider hostile and that it will have a negative impact on the rider experience and overall ridership. While there will be a bar car - there are bar cars on the Amtrak Capitol Corridor too, but in a place like Sonoma County with an excellent selection of beer and wine, to limit riders to the meager selection of a bar car is misguided.

There is of course the suspicion that the rationale is not to prevent unruly behavior, but to support whatever vendor they get for their bar car. This is understandable, for the most part because the decision to put a bar car onto the trains is misguided at best. SMART put out a presentation on the bar car where they are toying with giving free rent to the vendor for a return of a percentage of the profits. This is predicated on the presumption that a bar car will turn a profit - my experience from the Amtrak Capitols is that the bar car is at best a loss leader, not a profit center. This is especially true when you consider that SMART has wasted valuable train space to build the bar car.

I personally think that the potential ridership of SMART should make it clear that the no BYOB policy is not in line with the overall goals of the train. They should reconsider this path and allow riders to bring their own beverages onto the train.

If you agree - please email SMART at Thanks


Thursday, March 31, 2016

SMART Train - Last Mile Connectivity - North County

Sonoma County is getting passenger rail service for the first time in decades, hopefully starting at the tail end of 2016, with the opening of the SMART train

SMART is starting to move from being an agency building a train, to an agency that will *run* a train. Big difference. Based on a lot of things I have heard in the past, there is concern that General Manager Farhad Mansourian is a better project manager CEO than an operations CEO. Time will tell, but as we approach the opening and decisions start to fall in place, I am going to reload this blog and follow the topic.

At last month's SMART board meeting, there was a presentation on First/Last Mile connectivity. The PDF is linked above, there is also a video of this meeting - March 2, 2016 which is interesting and a bit illuminating. The board rightly gives the staff of SMART and the related agencies credit for a lot of hard work, but there are a lot of holes in the strategy which underscores that transit agencies and boards don't really focus test their ideas. They look at a problem, place themselves in the problem, and imagine how the problem needs to be solved. Witness Caltrain discussing workers who can go in "later" because they have "flexible" schedules. They go to work 8-5, my office doesn't even turn the lights on until 9 AM and people get upset at meetings before 10. The schedule isn't "flexible", it's flat out different.

With SMART, the board (mostly local politicians) and staff are working from a very "how do I get to San Francisco" mindset. I can't blame them, a lot of the public reacts this way as well, if you read internet comment boards. Officially, SMART diverges from this message on their website

Today, more than 75% of commuters in the North Bay travel either within or between the two counties to get to work.

Thus we get to my first topic on the presentation on first/last mile - the North County Coordination to be provided by Sonoma County Transit. This connection is at the direction of the board and not negotiable - Windsor, Healdsburg, and Cloverdale were on the original proposed train line, and have had train service delayed indefinitely due to lack of funding. There is a bus from Cloverdale to Santa Rosa - route 60 - but it's slow compared to the freeway and doesn't go to the train depot on Airport Rd. SCT is going to add a shuttle - as seen in the first/last mile presentation, that will express between the 3 towns and the North SMART terminus at Airport Road. It will mostly run on US-101 in uncongested areas making it a quick connector. Sort of.

The proposed schedule shows the "go south in the AM, north in the PM" mindset of SMART. The only shuttles in the AM run North to South to meet trains, there are no proposed shuttles the opposite direction. One problem - the City of Healdsburg is a net *importer* of labor, not an exporter! SMART is trying to figure out how to get a small population of Healdsburg residents south, instead of the large population that is trying to get TO Healdsburg. The population shift during the day is such that tiny Healdsburg is starting to have parking wars and consider using valuable downtown land to build more parking.

Housing prices in Healdsburg are forcing the town's workforce to leave the City for Santa Rosa and Cloverdale, less expensive areas, which is bad on its own, but exacerbates the parking problem which leads to bad land use decisions which feeds back to make the housing problem worse. That workforce could theoretically take SMART to the Airport and hop a shuttle to town, but it won't exist.

Not only does a NB shuttle not exist, but the market of workers in Cloverdale who could take the shuttle to Healdsburg will be poorly served. The express shuttle will go from Cloverdale to Healdsburg in 20 minutes. SCT route 60 takes ~40 minutes to make the same run - the express cuts the trip in half and could attract new riders. However, because SMART and SCT are only thinking about "get people to the train" - the stop is located at the decrepit Healdsburg train depot on the outskirts of town (and they are building a $1 Million parking lot there), producing a walk for people making that trip which eats up any time savings. It also means that any tourists from SF who decide to take this route get dumped off in the middle of nowhere instead of the middle of town. Might as well drive. This in order to provide park and ride service to a bus for Healdsburg residents? The Healdsburg depot is out of the way for most Healdsburg residents, the bus will make an additonal out of the way stop at the Windsor "Train Depot", before winding to Airport Road. Summary - any sane Healdsburger with a car will simply drive to the Airport Road Station.

The detour through HBG to get to the old depot, and the similar winding trip in Windsor kills the trip time, reducing any incentive for people coming from Cloverdale to use the shuttle. The buses should make quick stops just off the freeway but close to the downtowns - the Amtrak bus stop at Mill/HBG Ave in Healdsburg, and right off the freeway in Windsor next to where there is a McDonalds. Shuttle service like this relies on speed. Optimizing it is the only chance to get the ridership needed to keep the shuttle going and hopefully support the train. This includes understanding that some of the riders will eschew the train altogether, using the shuttle as a fast intra-North County bus service. And they should provide service in both directions at both peaks.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

San Francisco Bike Yield Law - Committee Hearing

For those of you not aware of this whole "Bike Yield Law" thing - it is a proposed ordinance by Supe Avalos that would set a policy advisory for the SFPD to have bikes rolling stop signs be a low priority enforcement activity.

It does not make rolling a stop sign legal. And it does not make enforcing someone buzzing a pedestrian a low priority enforcement. This is in response to the stings in the wiggle, if you see the Stanley Robert's videos all the cyclists getting pulled over are rolling a red in a completely empty intersection. In theory, the SFPD could still run a sting there and claim they were following the spirit of the policy advisory by solely ticketing cyclists who do not yield.

How the sausage gets made. The ordinance starts in committee - in this case land use and transportation. That's a 3 member committee that can block legislation from getting to the whole Board, even if the board would vote 8-3 for it. That's why the Board President is so powerful, the president assigns people to committee. This committee is Wiener/Kim/Cohen. If it passes committee, it goes to the full board, they vote, then they have to re-vote (usually a formality), then it goes to the Mayor for signature to make it law. If the Mayor vetoes the legislation, the Board can override his veto if they can get 8 votes to override.

I watched most of it yesterday. Avalos is the lead sponsor so he ran the show. Wiener and Kim gave statements for it, as did London Breed who showed up to give the statement. Campos and Mar are also sponsors of this legislation - 6 sponsors.

The hearing was very amusing. The SFPD showed up with a spokesman. He gave all these sturm and drang statistics about crazy cyclists. He stated that 30 percent of stop sign collisions were the fault of cyclists. Supervisor Wiener called him out - "You stated that 30% of collisions at stop signs are the fault of cyclists. Is that 30% of all collisions at stop signs, or just 30% of collisions that involve a cyclist, because my understanding is that collisions involving a cyclist at a stop sign are a minuscule component of overall collisions". The cop stammered and said "I see what you are saying" and "I don't have that information". There was another very badly misleading set of stats delivered as well. Greg Suhr deliberately crafted a misleading statement from the SFPD - fortunately Wiener slayed him. Wiener also said "I support cycling, but I don't ride a bike. I have a neighbor who loans me a bike when I need one, which is basically for bike to work day. I ride MUNI. And I know that people riding bikes is really good for MUNI"

Breed on the other hand gave a statement like "Enforcement on cyclists is unfair". I don't think that's very good framing. This isn't about fairness, this is about safety. The cops sitting in the wiggle eating donuts instead of focusing on real dangers, reduces safety.

Bruce Oka, a disability advocate who used to be on the SFMTA board said "this policy is trying to expand the ranks of the disabled". That's why I dislike Breed's framing.

If Oka's premise that enforcement improves cyclists behavior is correct, then we can deduce that enforcement will also improve motorist behavior. So whose behavior do we need to improve? The statistics on injury collision show us - it's the motorists who need to behave better. Let's say enforcement doubled compliance. Doubling cyclist induced injuries/fatalities would be worth it if we also cut in half the motorist induced injuries/fatalities which swamp the cyclist incidents.

Mayor Lee has gone on record that he will veto this. We would need two more votes. Yee has come out against this, which is bad news. My best guess to get 2 more is Peskin and ??? My best guess would be we don't get Farrell and Tang, so we need Cohen but....

The bike yield passed the planning and trandportation committee 2-1, with Malia Cohen VOTING AGAINST. If you live in Cohen's district, let her know you support this law, we'll have to persuade her to override Ed Lee's threatened veto. Ditto for any other supervisor.


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Self Driving Cars

I am fascinated by Self Driving Cars. I want to do a writeup. One thing I find very interesting is the vast number of occupations that will have huge reductions or vanish, for which I cannot find a simple replacement brought on by this new technology. Here's a quick list.

Taxi Driver. Delivery Driver. Meter Maid. Traffic Division of police department. Ambulance Driver. Paramedics. Doctors and Nurses. Construction workers building parking lots/garages. Parking lot attendant. Auto body shop. Auto repair shop. Car manufacturing. Auto Advertising. Auto Dealer. Construction workers building new roads. Traffic Reporter (sorry Sal Castaneda). Car Magazines.

Curt Krone reminds me of Lawyers. No traffic court, no need for attorneys, judges, bailiffs, processing. Hey - no more DUI jury duty.

Nick Wade reminds me of the entire DMV. Also large parts of the traffic infrastructure is no longer needed, no speed limit signs, exit signs on freeways, etc... If stop lights still exist they sure won't need to be as complex. Do we still install guardrails? Probably in snowy/rainy regions.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Cycling for dummies

Had to write this down as it was so off kilter.

I was waiting to cross Healdsburg Ave on Mill Street, headed west to east. This is a 5 way intersection with 6 phases as northbound there is also a left arrow phase. A "person on a bicycle" rolls past me into the intersection, during the NB left arrow phase, stopping halfway across the intersection. There isn't really a median, he is just hanging out in the southbound lane of Healdsburg Ave. The light changes to give Southbound HBG Ave a turn, at which point he rolls across the NB lanes to finish his crossing.

The whole thing was pretty disturbing to me as it was super sketchy, this is a high traffic intersection serving the offramps of US-101 among other things. So I'm sort of shaking my head, and I threw in a crazy arm wave, admittedly to point out to the drivers behind me that I agree that what we just witnessed was completely screwed up.

At this point, the driver of a Healdsburg City truck behind and to the right of me (in the right turn lane) said "That guy isn't doing you any favors, is he?" I replied - "Why do I need that guy to do me any favors? He's just some crazy person and has nothing to do with me".

He said "I know but some drivers will see that and make it tougher for you" and I said "I understand that this happens, but it makes no more sense than me yelling at you because some drunk driver ran over a 12 year old kid, right? I just hope that dude doesn't kill himself, know what I mean?" We agreed, he gave me a thumbs up, and we moved on.

I got my green and headed across HBG Ave onto Mill Street, at which point I noticed the same cyclist. There was a line of cars lined up at the light, headed west. So this cyclist dude decides to ride past them going the wrong way in the Eastbound lane which now contains me and two cars behind me. He's carrying a 32 Oz Slurpee, wearing a helmet that has the chin strap disconnected, and...

He's on a rental bike. You know, handlebar bag and a map/etc...

"Sorry man!" - he says.

So this guy, who is apparently "not making things any easier for me" is some tourist from New York or wherever, riding a bike for probably the first time in 30 years. Do the anti-cycling forces hire these guys to go out and do stupid shit in order to beat back bike infrastructure projects? Perhaps it was one of the 30 or so random tourists I saw last week riding across the Golden Gate Bridge with no helmet and carrying a selfie stick with a go-pro on it.

I'm not taking any of this bullshit about cyclists being some monolithic faction - a "community" or "culture" if I have to be associated with this nimrod and have someone in the comments sections justify running over cyclists intentionally because he saw some random tourist trying to juggle a big gulp while salmoning into a screwed up intersection.