Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee

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At Least Santa Clara Measure A Failed...

Yesterday was a primary election that had look-alike candidates and (to me) no compelling issues, and in which I, a person who has voted on every single election for which I've been eligible to vote, was feeling quite apathetic. A sign of that is that the issue I most wanted to hear about was Santa Clara County Measure A, and I live in Alameda County. I am relieved to see that Measure A failed, 42% Yes, 58% No.

Santa Clara Measure A, for those of you who aren't local or weren't paying attention, would have raised the county sales tax by 0.5% as a "general tax" -- that is, the money would have gone into the county's general fund. However, there was a "wink, wink, nudge, nudge" agreement in place that would have had the county spend the money on hospitals and transportation. How can I oppose that, you ask? Well, the hospitals issue was okay with me, and had I been there, I think I could have tolerated the originally-proposed quarter-point general tax increase. But "Transportation" in this case means BART, BART, and more BART, no matter what people like Carl Guardino of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group claimed. The "official claim" has always been "a balanced transit spending strategy," but anyone with any sense realizes that this means "starve the entire rest of the county and pour it all into a Fremont to San Jose BART extension."

But aren't you a train and transit buff, Kevin? Wouldn't you want to see more BART? Heck, you live in Fremont, so wouldn't this be of use to you personally?

I'm an enthusiast for trains and rail transit. I think BART works okay, and use it myself when it's practical to do so. But what I am not is a "foamer" who loves any new rail build, not matter how foolish or inefficient it is. And make no mistake, nearly any BART extension is a loser in my book. (I could probably work up enthusiasm for a Geary Street subway in San Francisco, but I doubt that will every happen.) I'm a transportation logistics engineer, and I'm a fan of things that work. In my job, I wouldn't dispatch a shipment by overnight air freight if sending it by surface truckload would get it where it needed to go when it needed to be there. And BART is very nearly the ultimate case of wrong-mode thinking.

BART is a heavy-rail subway or "metro." Such systems, like the New York subway and the London Underground, are absolutely vital for the health of the heavily-urbanized cities they serve. I have no doubt that San Francisco would not have thrived without BART to feed tens of thousands of workers into and out of the City each day. But using metros as medium-distance commuter trains is madness. BART already sprawls -- although it has relatively few lines, it covers a lot of ground. See this map of transit systems shown at the same scale to see what I mean. BART is more spread out than the New York subway, and almost more than the London Underground.

Metros are the wrong mode of transportation for long commutes through sprawling suburbs. Such commutes are much better served by "conventional rail" systems such as the Bay Area's Caltrain commuter rail that connects San Jose and San Francisco. Extending BART to San Jose (and the more wild-eyed extensions I've heard, like Stockton or even Sacramento) makes as much sense as extending the New York Subway to Boston or the London Underground to Birmingham.

In the case of the South Bay (including southern Alameda County), I believe that the best thing we could do would be to spend a fraction of the money that a BART line would cost to rebuild and expand the conventional rail lines already in place and establish a commuter rail system connecting San Jose with Southern Alameda County, coming at least as far as an intermodal station (where people could transfer from/to BART if necessary) at Union City. Land is already set aside for this station. Union City wants to build it. Santa Clara County Valley Transportation Agency already owns the right of way -- they bought it from Union Pacific for the BART line. Such a service ideally should be integrated with the Dumbarton Bridge rail service restoration, and I think the whole thing should be run by Caltrain.

Now I have no great love for Caltrain. During my three years as a member of its Citizens Advisory Committee when I lived in Santa Clara County, I could see how badly managed it was. However, the only way we can be somewhat sure that such a new commuter-rail service would properly integrate with the existing rail system would be for it to be under a single agency. In this Balkan States of transit, the last thing I want to propose is yet another independent transit agency.

Actually, the more radical proposal -- unlikely to ever happen -- would be for BART to take over Caltrain, repaint the trains, and figure out some way to integrate the systems' fare structures and schedules. BART the train-running agency is not the same thing as BART the custom-built-incompatible-with-anything-else metro technology. BART already operates the Capitol Corridor trains (which are all but commuter trains between Sacramento and the Bay Area), and runs them reasonably well. They actually do know how to run a railroad.

Santa Clara County has already dedicated a lot of money to transit. Much of it has been poured down a BART-to-San Jose rathole. We could have already had a conventional rail service connecting the Fremont-Union City area to San Jose years ago. The equipment had been ordered, even. But the BART-blinkered politicians stopped the order and diverted all the resources to "BART someday."

Well, I say we don't spend another dime on BART extensions, and I urged my friends in Santa Clara County to vote no on A, as did most of the actual transit-advocacy groups covering that area. I'm happy to see that the voters of Santa Clara County have said, "Not this time."

Meanwhile, on the subject of low voter turnout, have a look at the Santa Clara County Election Results and scroll clear down to the final result:

Non Partisan MEASURE M

Precincts Reporting 2/2 100.00%
BONDS YES 6 60.00%
BONDS NO 4 40.00%
Total 10

Yes, this appears to be an election where only ten people voted on a bond measure for a small school district in Southern Santa Clara County. Ten people! With that small an electorate, why bother having a school board? And in this case, since 55% was required for passage, you can certainly see how every single vote mattered. Had one less person voted Yes, the measure would have failed.

Update, 13:50: Ah, I get it now. According to the district web site for the school district to which Measure M applies, the district is mostly in San Benito County, with a tiny bit in southern Santa Clara County. The results I quoted above are only for the two precincts in Santa Clara County and do not include the San Benito County votes.
Tags: bart, politics, transit
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