Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Ok, so we're almost done with 2008, and what a year it's been. From the most interesting election in decades to the economic collapse, we've seen it all this year. Next year starts in a few hours, and it promises to be even more interesting--especially for transportation. 

Let this be an open thread. What are your memories of 2008? Post them in the comments, both good and bad memories of this 8th year of the new Millennium. 

To ring out the old year, I'm listing my favorite posts from 2008.
I hope your New Year's Eve celebrations are fun and safe. I'll be ringing in 2009 by watching the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets beat LSU at the Peach Bowl. 


Monday, December 29, 2008

Welcome to the Club, Phoenix

Phoenix, Arizona opened a 20-mile light rail system on December 27. The system serves 28 stops in Phoenix, Tempe, and Mesa. 

Congratulations Phoenix!

MTA Announces MARC Cuts

As I reported before, due to a severe budgetary situation, MTA Maryland had proposed cuts to MARC Commuter Rail service despite ridership being higher than it has been in years. The actual cuts have proven not to be as bad as the original proposal, but even this proposal is disappointing for a region with growing commuter rail ridership.

I've listed the proposed cuts to MARC service below:

Overall Service:
  • No service will be offered on federal holidays
  • No service will be offered on the Friday after Thanksgiving
  • No service will be offered on December 26
  • The 10-Trip ticket will be discontinued
Penn Line:
  • Train #447 (9:30p departure; Balt.->Wash.) is cancelled
  • Train #448 (11:00p departure; Wash.->Balt.) is cancelled
  • Local stop Train #410, will depart Washington 15 minutes later at 8:30a
  • Limited stop Train #412 (8:45a Wash. departure) is cancelled
Camden Line:
  • The midday bus from Odenton (Penn Line) to Laurel will be discontinued

Brunswick Line:
  • Train #871 (1:45p departure; Wash.->Bruns.) is cancelled Monday - Thursday. Service will continue to operate as scheduled on Fridays
  • As a condition of retaining two trains to West Virginia stations, passengers boarding at Harpers Ferry, Duffields, and Martinsburg will pay an additional fare. For a one-way ticket, the fare will increase by $2 at each of these stations. Weekly and monthly tickets will increase by $20 and $80, respectively

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays!

I just wanted to wish everyone a happy set of holidays. However you choose to celebrate, I wish you the best. 

Stay warm and stay safe out there!

I also want to apologize for the light posting so far this week. I'm visiting my parents down in Georgia and it's difficult to run Track Twenty-Nine from there. So I'll be drinking lots of coffee at Starbucks while I sip their free internet. As far as I can tell, it's the only place in my hometown that has free internet. 

And they're kicking me out right now.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

New Poll: Ray LaHood

I've got a new poll up. How do you feel about President-Elect Obama's selection of Ray LaHood as Secretary of Transportation?

Feel free to leave comments in this thread.

LaHood Tapped as DOT Head

It's official. We finally have a nominee for Secretary of Transportation. Unfortunately, the potential future leader of the nation's transportation program is a relative unknown in transportation circles. 

The nominee is Ray LaHood, a congressman from rural Southern Illinois. He has represented Illinois' 18th District since 1995 in the United States House of Representatives. Representative LaHood is a moderate Republican whose record on transportation seems to be neutral, although certainly more liberal than most Republicans. Unlike Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer, whose sponsorship of transportation bills has dramatically improved the situation for transit, or James Oberstar, Congressman from Minnesota, whose support for bikes and transit is well known, Mr. LaHood has no transportation bills to his name. Other than the occasional break from the party to vote in support of Amtrak, LaHood hasn't focused on transportation. 

And I'm afraid Mr. LaHood's nomination does not bode well for America's transportation policy. By selecting someone with little transportation experience, Mr. Obama is indicating that he does not place much emphasis on the importance of transportation on his policy agenda. 

While I don't necessarily think that Mr. LaHood will have a negative impact on transportation policy, I don't think that he's the person who is going to bring change to Washington. I think it most likely that he will keep the status quo, at best--and right now, that is one of the last things we need in transport policy. 

As I've pointed out before, now is a pivotal moment for transportation in America. Among other things, we're up for reauthorization of the transportation bill in 2009. Additionally, transit ridership is higher than it's been for decades while VMT is dropping. The last thing we need right now is business as usual. I sincerely hope that Mr. LaHood will not bring that kind of leadership to DOT. 

Honestly, I am disappointed in Mr. Obama. He seems to be serious about energy independence and fighting climate change, but does not seem to see the transportation component of either of those goals as important. And while his platform called for transit-oriented planning, his policies seem to be headed toward the kind of road building of the sort catalyzed 5 decades of sprawl.

For now, I'm waiting to learn more about Ray LaHood. I truly hope that he will bring change to Washington, but I don't have too much hope anymore. With all Mr. Obama's talk of infrastructure spending, I'd hoped he was serious about rebuilding America. It seems I was mistaken.

Please make sure to see my other posts on the topic:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Building America, Building a Cabinet

In the month and a half since the Election, President Obama's cabinet has slowly been announced. For those of us into policy, it's an exciting time while the cabinet takes shape. Change is certainly in the air after 8 years in the hands of Republicans.

So far, most of the cabinet has been announced. Here's who's been chosen so far:
Chief of Staff: Rahm Emanuel
Sec. of State: Hillary Clinton
Sec. of Treasury: Timothy Geithner
Sec. of Defense: Robert Gates
Attorney General: Eric Holder Jr.
Sec. of Interior: Ken Salazar
Sec. of Agriculture: Tom Vilsack
Sec. of Commerce: Bill Richardson
Sec. of HHS: Tom Daschle
Sec. of HUD: Shaun Donovan
Sec. of Energy: Steven Chu
Sec. of Education: Arne Duncan
Sec. of Veterans Affairs: Eric Shinseki
Sec. of Homeland Security: Janet Napolitano
EPA Administrator: Lisa Jackson
Director of OMB: Peter Orszag
UN Ambassador: Susan Rice

Still left to be decided:
US Trade Rep.
Sec. of Labor
Sec. of Transportation

For an administration so intent on rebuilding America's infrastructure I find it slightly disingenuous to have Transportation left as one of the last two Departments without a Secretary. Granted, this is a transportation-type blog, and I know everyone has their own pet issue, but still I'm on pins and needles waiting to hear who will be leading DOT for the next 4 years.

Another thing that I find unnerving is that the Transportation Secretary is not going to be part of Obama's Environmental Team. The team, which Obama has picked to lead America into the new energy economy is certainly well-qualified, and Mr. Obama seems dedicated to working to stop climate change. According to his website,

"The future of our economy and national security is inextricably linked to one challenge: energy," President-elect Barack Obama said at a Chicago press conference today announcing the leaders who will guide his administration's policy on energy and environment. "The team that I have assembled here today is uniquely suited to meet the great challenges of this defining moment. They are leading experts and accomplished managers, and they are ready to reform government and help transform our economy so that our people are more prosperous, our nation is more secure, and our planet is protected."

The nominees include Dr. Steven Chu, Secretary of Energy; Lisa Jackson, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator; Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality; Carol Browner, Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change; and Heather Zichal, Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change.

President-elect Obama acknowledged that he is not the first leader to promise dramatic efforts on climate change and American energy independence--but "This time must be different," he said. "This is not a challenge for government alone - it is a challenge for all of us. The pursuit of a new energy economy requires a sustained, all-hands-on-deck effort because the foundation of our energy independence is right here, in America."

This is especially disturbing because of remarks that the President-Elect made last week, calling for "the single largest new investment in our national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s." Now, Mr. Obama has not said that he's planning on building a new Interstate Highway System, but he has made reference to it. He has not made reference to transit since being elected--and we certainly need to invest in transit.

There's been a lot of talk of fixing it first--and that's a great policy. But there are projects other than highways waiting to be fixed. Transit systems across the country (and Amtrak, for that matter) have been underfunded for decades, and most have serious infrastructure issues. Here in Washington, Metro has billions in unfunded needs over the next decade, but I haven't heard of any stimulus headed our way.

But on the environment, Mr. Obama is correct about the all-hands-on-deck effort that is needed to solve the climate change puzzle. But, his plan is missing at least one key piece--alternative transportation. He's talked quite a lot about alternative fuels, but they will not solve the energy or climate problems alone.

According to Growing Cooler a report on the relationship between urban development and climate change, "Transportation accounts for a full third of CO2 emissions in the United States" (page 2). This report refers to the "Three-legged Stool" of Fuel Economy, Carbon Content of Fuel, and VMT. Any policy that fails to address all three legs of the stool will fail to reduce greenhouse gas emissions far enough to reach targets. Because the Department of Energy projects that increases in VMT will outstrip improvements in fuel economy and carbon content, any emissions savings from those two legs will be outpaced by increases from the third leg, VMT.

It is readily apparent that we must take the first two steps (alternative fuels and fuel efficiency), but not everyone is sold on reducing VMT. Growing Cooler makes it clear that we must address how much we drive. And things are looking up. Just last week, the Washington Post reported that transit ridership across the country is way up, despite falling gas prices. But we're not doing enough. In every city in this country, transit is underfunded. In many places, even with high ridership, the economy is cutting into revenues. Atlanta's largest transit operator, MARTA, announced this week that major cuts are necessary, even in the face of an 11% increase in riders from last year.

President Obama must address this crisis, not only for transit operators, but from an urban design perspective. We must, as he promised in his platform, address livability and transit-oriented communities. His stimulus must go to cities, as advocated by Streetsblog, and it must go to transit agencies, as well as states and DOTs.

I worry about Mr. Obama's stimulus because roads are not the way to go. They should not be the future of American transportation policy, at least not the cornerstone. I'm not against funding for roads, and I understand that they will play a major role in American society for years to come. Fixing it first is certainly the best way to invest in roads, but Mr. Obama is calling for a major investment in our national infrastructure, on the scale of the Interstate System.

But we cannot afford to build another Interstate System. America is still recovering from all the unintended consequences of the 1956 bill that started all of this superhighway business, and without the suburbs that Interstates facilitated, we wouldn't be having this climate crisis or this energy crisis.

From Growing Cooler, page 2:

The growth in driving is due in large part to urban development, or what some refer to as the built environment. Americans drive so much because we have given ourselves little alternative. For 60 years, we have built homes ever farther from workplaces, located schools far from the neighborhoods they serve, and isolated other destinations--such as shopping--from work and home.

To spend money on highways will only encourage these wasteful trends--what James Howard Kunstler calls the "largest misallocation of resources in history"--to continue. Subsidizing drivers encourages them to make economic decisions that cause sprawl and crowd roadways.

The federal government has never been involved in land use, and it shouldn't be now. But policies such as the Interstate System have supported auto-centric suburban development. As long have subsidies and regulations that favor suburbia over urban areas, they will be indirectly involved in increasing America's dependence on foreign oil and carbon output. While the 1950s might have called for that type of subsidy, the 2010s certainly don't. It's time to refocus America's energies on truly making a dent in the climate question--and revitalizing cities at the same time. Transportation policy is one key component of that kind of change.

Without a sustainable transportation policy, not only will Mr. Obama's climate/energy policies have a major gap, they will have a fatal flaw. It is imperative that he include the transportation secretary, whoever that might be, on his energy team. It is even more imperative that we refocus our transportation resources, whether in the stimulus or in the reauthorization, on other modes. Automotive transportation has been overfunded for years, and a more balanced formula is needed.

Transportation is only one part of a comprehensive investment in stopping climate change, but it is an essential part. I hope Mr. Obama realizes how important is. I also hope he has the political willpower to make sure that change is manifested in transportation policy. We cannot afford 6 more decades of sprawl to result from a ill-thought plan to address the economic downturn. Transit can also help the economy, and the economy will be much better off when compact development, centered on transit, allows Americans to live with a reduced dependence on the automobile, foreign oil, and with cleaner air to breathe.

Soon, we will hear Mr. Obama's pick for Secretary of Transportation. Let's hope he or she is as dedicated to change as the President-elect's platform. And let's also hope that they're tough, because they will have one of the hardest jobs in Washington.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

How Many Graduate Students Does It Take...

So we've all heard those lightbulb jokes, you know, "how many Californians does it take to screw in a lightbulb?" 

This isn't one of those jokes.

The real question is: How many graduate students does it take to do an awesome studio project 
about the future of Lower Barracks Row?

Answer: 12.

And you can see them (us, I'm one of the 12) present the findings of the semester-long study this Thursday.

Here are the details:
Connect Barracks Row Final Presentation
Thursday, December 18, 2008
The Blue Castle
770 M Street SE
(Corner of 8th and M SE)
7:30PM - 9:00PM

This location is easily accessible by Metro, via a 10 minute walk from Eastern Market (Blue/Orange lines) or a 15 minute walk from Navy Yard (Green line). 

Our studio project was the capstone course for our Master's program in Planning. We looked at the section of Barracks Row south of the Southeast Freeway, which has languished since the Freeway cut it off from Capitol Hill in the mid-1960s. With the redevelopment of the Riverfront District, around the Navy Yard Metro station, this area is in a prime location for redevelopment. How that occurs is up to the citizens of the District, and we are here to present scenarios based on public input received from the community.

If you can make it this Thursday, please try and come. The meeting is open to the public and represents the completion of our work. We're handing over our work to the community--it's your responsibility to take it from here. 

Monday, December 15, 2008

News Notables: 12/15/08

Sorry, still busy with final papers and such. But the end is near. Since I can't blog for you, make sure to check out these news notables.

Stimulus Funding Highways at the Expense of Transit?
I wrote a post on this topic last week, and it appears I'm not the only one who is fretting about this stimulus. Yesterday's Washington Post had an excellent article explaining why I'm worried. If you missed it, make sure to follow the link.

Got Transit? Fill 'er Up:
Matthew Yglesias has a great post up on the topic of demand management for transit. After all, it's more efficient when it's not running empty.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Not That There's Anything Wrong With That...

I know that I usually focus on transportation and policy issues here at Track Twenty-Nine, but sometimes it's nice to get off on a siding and talk about other issues I find near and dear to my heart. And sometimes, I just read an article in the newspaper that calls out for reflection.

This post is the latter.

I still haven't seen the movie "Milk." I've been meaning to for a while. In fact, I was in San Francisco when it debuted at the Castro Theater, although I didn't find out about that until the following morning, in the Chronicle. But last week, my boyfriend and I went downtown to one of (only) two theatres in metropolitan Washington that is screening the film. The woman in front of us in line got the last two tickets.

So I still haven't seen it. This weekend, I'm going to get there an hour and a half early, since 45 minutes isn't apparently enough. We weren't the only people turned away, either. I think the movie theater could make some more money with additional screenings, but supply and demand isn't the subject of this post.

Kissing is.

Today's Washington Post ran with an article on that subject. It responds to the question that everyone in America, apparently, wants to know: what's it like to kiss a guy?

And the title of the article says it all: Why Can't A Kiss Just Be a Kiss?

James Franco has been fielding questions left and right about his on-screen kiss with Sean Penn in Milk. And after reading some of the questions, I agree with the writer. And I'm offended.

First off, I've never been a fan of Letterman. When I do watch late night television--and that's not often--I watch Leno. I always found Letterman to be in bad taste and quite uncomedic. I mean how desperate can you be for jokes when you have to resort to "will it float?" I'll make sure to steer clear from now on.

"I didn't want to screw it up," Franco told Letterman on "Late Show" last week.

"See, if it's me, I'm kind of hoping I do screw it up," Letterman shot back. "That's what you want, isn't it?"

"To screw it up?" Franco asked.

"I mean, do you really want to be good at kissing a guy?" Letterman said as his audience howled with delight.

Well, yes, Mr. Letterman. I suppose an actor playing the role of a gay man would actually want to be good at it--that's what it means to be a good actor, to be good at portraying something you aren't. And what's wrong with that? Is James Franco suddenly to be shunned because he didn't vomit afterwards?

Mr. Letterman might have been making light of the situation the only way he knows how, but his tasteless jokes suggest something more. They suggest that there's something to be horrified about for any straight actor handling this situation.

The article's author, Hank Stuever, makes this point very poignantly.

Underlying the questions (and the answers) is this notion that a gay kissing scene must be the worst Hollywood job hazard that a male actor could face, including stunt work, extreme weather or sitting through five hours of special-effects makeup every day. We live comfortably, if strangely, in a pseudo-Sapphic era in which seemingly every college woman with a MySpace page has kissed another girl for the camera; but for men who kiss men, it's still the final frontier.

There's a whiff of discomfort of the Seinfeldian, "not-that-there's-anything-wrong-with-it" variety. It's a post-ironic, post-homophobic homophobia, the kind seen most weeks in "Saturday Night Live" sketches or in any Judd Apatow movie.

To put it in perspective for those of you who bat for the other team (after all that's how it appears from my dugout), the article entices the reader to think about how it must feel for those of us in the GLBT community:
"No one ever asks Neil Patrick Harris what it's like to play a straight guy who sleeps with lots of women" on the sitcom "How I Met Your Mother," Scholibo says. "No one ever asks him how 'gross' it is to kiss a woman."

And from personal experience, it is gross. I don't know why. It just is. It always has been. But I don't expect my heterosexual readers to agree with me. And that's fine.

Perhaps the most mature of comments I've heard on the topic come from (heterosexual) "Brokeback Mountain" star Jake Gyllenhaal, who talks about his on-screen kisses in "Brokeback" by saying it's "like doing a love scene with a woman I'm not particularly attracted to."

Exactly. At least one good thing's come out of all this:

I can finally stop saying to Letterman, "I wish I knew how to quit you."

I assure you, that won't be a problem anymore.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Dead Week/Disappointment

It's a busy time of the year for everyone, I suppose, and so the past few days have been light on blogging and blog reading for me. Next week is the last week of the semester at Maryland, meaning that my final classes are this week. When I was at Georgia Tech, we called the week prior to finals "Dead Week." It certainly will be dead for Track Twenty-Nine, although I'll try and get back to blogging more next week as my class obligations end.

But despite my lack of time this week, I want to express some frustration. I'm not the only one around to be doing so, either.

You see, on November 4, I stood in line in the cold and voted for change. While I waited with my neighbors and fellow disenfranchised citizens (in DC), I thought back to the first time I voted for Barack Obama, on a snowy day in March, during the Potomac Primary. It was cold then, too. But I felt that I was casting a ballot which would help to thaw America from the icy clutch of the Republicans. For 8 long years, they stood with the reigns of power, and created public policy in the transportation, energy, and urban policy areas which made me want to vomit.

So on November 4, I was out in the streets cheering when CNN called the election for Obama. It was raining, but we didn't care here in DC. Getting wet that cold November evening didn't matter. We had won! After 8 years of strife, victory was at hand. Change was in the air. In a matter of months, a new era would start in America--an era of growing environmental consciousness, of reinvestment in our cities, of policies for the people--instead of for corporate executives.

Now, I'm not so sure that I got what I voted for. To be certain, Mr. Obama has not yet taken office, and much is still unknown about his policies, but I am worried.

In a speech on Saturday, the President-Elect called for investment. But I did not hear a call for anything remotely like the Second System. Instead I heard a call that hearkens back to the Eisenhower Administration.
"We will create millions of jobs by making the single largest new investment in
our national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system in
the 1950s. We’ll invest your precious tax dollars in new and smarter ways, and
we’ll set a simple rule – use it or lose it. If a state doesn’t act quickly to
invest in roads and bridges in their communities, they’ll lose the money.”

Granted, Obama did not actually call for investment in the federal highway system. But he did use it as an example. Where are his calls for high speed rail? Where are his examples of the UMTA transit program of the 1970s that gave us BART, Metro, and MARTA? The program that gave us LRT in San Diego, in Pittsburgh, in San Francisco?

In a world where highway building has been the status-quo for over 5 decades, the lack of mention of transit does not bode well. For the last 7 years, Mr. Bush has called for Americans to reduce their dependence on foreign oil in each of his States of the Union. Not once did he ask Americans to try transit--nor did he do much to increase the supply of transit. Do we face another 4 years of the same?

Mr. Obama says that if communities don't invest in roads and bridges, they'll lose federal dollars. I fear that if they don't invest in transit, they'll lose their communities. But where are Mr. Obama's pledges of money to fund transit projects that are in design?

According to today's Washington Post, Maryland and Virginia have new hopes for road projects cancelled by the recent downturn. Excuse me? What about the major cuts to MARC service proposed by MTA? Shouldn't we be hoping for a stimulus that would at least keep transit service at today's levels, especially in the face of vast increases in ridership?

Just yesterday, the Post ran a story about transit ridership across the nation--it's up, way up. In heavy rail, LA leads the pack with a 14.1% increase over last year. Baltimore's light rail leads with an increase of 19.6%. The Railrunner in Albuquerque leads with a huge increase of 35.8%. For the Post's editorial board, the evidence is clear and convincing. They're calling for investment in transit. The Post rightly points out, that any fast-acting stimulus penalizes transit because of the hoops we've created for those projects to jump through. And while Obama might be the likeliest candidate to change that situation, he has so far shown no inclination to fund a transit stimulus.

Even though VMT is dropping and transit ridership is increasing, Mr. Obama wants to give states money to widen highways, like I-66 and I-95, but doesn't see fit to give a few federal dollars to stop the elmination of already-crowded commuter trains running alongide these corridors.

Indeed, with all this talk of infrastructure spending to rival the New Deal, why haven't we heard about his pick for Secretary of Transportation? If we're really going to invest in our transportation infrastructure like Eisenhower did, why isn't Mary Peters' replacement already drawing up plans?

I'm still holding out hope for a Transportation Secretary like Jim Oberstar or Earl Blumenauer, but with Obama's talk of highway spending, I'm afraid we'll get someone more like Robert Moses.

I haven't yet given up hope for change. But I also haven't heard much since November 4 to suggest that change is really coming, at least to transportation policy. And in this time of high ridership and demand for government infrastructure investment, that would be a shame. This is the chance of a generation to change the way our cities are structured--we cannot afford to squander that opportunity just to build more highways. Not if we have any hope for redesigning cities to survive into the 21st century--a century guaranteed not to be the century of cheap oil.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Subway for the Prairie

This post is the seventh in a series of posts I am writing about lessons planners could learn from Canada. My recent trip showed me North American cities that have done a better job of managing their urban fabric than is typical south of the 49th Parallel.

It has been quite a while since I last penned an entry for this series. I've been swamped with work and also have focused on other topics for Track Twenty-Nine. Anyway, in this episode, my journey across the continent has reached the capital of Alberta and the end of my trip on Via.

Edmonton is a medium-sized city on Canada's plains. With one light rail line, it was my first chance to ride rail transit since leaving Toronto, some 2000 miles eastward. When the system was opened in 1978, it was the first city in North America under 1 million in population to build a light rail system. The system is one of the first-generation of modern light rail systems.

Unlike many light rail systems, in Edmonton, a subway was constructed downtown to keep transit riders from being stuck in traffic. While the outer segments of the line operate like typical light rail lines in North America, with grade crossings, the central subway certainly saves time.

In Baltimore, the north-south light rail was constructed in a transit mall, but cross traffic often delays trains. The Red Line is a proposed east-west light rail line through central city Baltimore with a proposed subway section in downtown. This is certainly a more reasonable approach to light rail, one I hope isn't killed by the "cost-effectiveness" criteria of the FTA.

Incidentally, another time-saving approach that Edmonton took was to make all stations high platform boarding. Without the stairs typical of earlier light rail systems (including Baltimore), passengers find it easier to board and alight.
I think Edmonton's approach demonstrates a foresight in transit planning which will benefit the system for years to come. Even though the system is still relatively small, the subway will make core capacity less of an issue as it expands. Costing less should not be the primary criterion for a good transit project, even though it seems to have been for many years in the United States.

Perhaps with an Obama stimulus package, we can build more of this sort of high quality transit investment.

Other modern light rail systems with downtown subways/stations:
  • Buffalo
  • Cleveland
  • Los Angeles
  • Pittsburgh
  • Saint Louis
  • San Francisco
  • Seattle (under const.)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Faster Than a Speeding Bullet

This is the newest installment in my series "Profiles in Transit." In this series, I reflect on transit systems around the country that I've ridden, focusing on unique elements.

I was in the Bay Area in October, and had the pleasure of riding Caltrain during my trip. Caltrain is one of the best commuter/regional rail services in the country, in my opinion. Service is fast and efficient, and very popular. Frequencies are high and transit oriented densities can be seen all along the corridor between San Francisco and San Jose. Additionally, Caltrain has ambitious plans for expansion and service optimization.

The Basics:
Caltrain is a one-line commuter/regional rail system operating along the San Francisco Peninsula. The service is funded by the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board and operated under contract to Amtrak. The line was constructed in 1863, and was operated by Southern Pacific from 1870-1980. After 1980, the California Department of Transportation began subsidizing the service, and it became 'Caltrain' in 1985.

The 77 mile line includes 29 regular stops, 1 football only stop, and 2 weekend only stops. Service on weekdays operates approximately every 30 minutes, with additional service provided during rush periods. Most service operates over the segment of track between San Francisco and San Jose-Tamien Station, with additional service provided south to Gilroy during peak times.
Service is operated in one of three patterns: Local, Limited, and Baby Bullet. Not all trains make the same stops, even within the same category, with the exception of local trains, which make all stops. Limited stop trains tend to have a northern local/southern limited or northern limited/southern local pattern. Baby Bullet trains make 5 stops from San Jose Diridon to San Francisco, taking approximately 57 minutes--a savings of approximately 33 minutes over slower trains.

Other rail transit connections are available at multiple points along the line:
  • San Francisco Caltrain: Muni Metro light rail
  • Milbrae: BART heavy rail
  • Mountain View: VTA light rail
  • San Jose Diridon: VTA light rail, ACE commuter rail, Amtrak Capitol Corridor
  • San Jose Tamien: VTA light rail
My Visit:
I took two trips on Caltrain:

Segments Ridden
  • Limited Stop train, Millbrae-SJ Diridon
  • Baby Bullet, Mountain View-SF Caltrain
Stations Visited
  • Millbrae
  • San Jose Diridon
  • Mountain View
  • San Francisco Caltrain (4th & King)
One of the things I found most profound about the service was the amount of transit oriented development along the line. In town centers all along the line, there are walkable communities with housing, retail, and offices mere steps from the platforms. To some degree, this has occurred because these communities grew up next to commuter services. But the cities along the line have also focused growth around the service, and it seems to be working.

Another thing I was surprised by was the ridership. Perhaps it's a function of the above paragraph or maybe it's because service is so frequent, but the trains I was on were very crowded.

Bikes: Trains have significant accommodations for cyclists, allowing up to 32 bikes per train. Bikes are kept in a designated car in racks. To make room for additional bikes, communities along the line have installed bike lockers at stations and a bike station as been created at the San Francisco Caltrain station.

Frequencies are very high. With trains every 30 minutes, even off-peak, the service is reliable and easy to use. It means that frequencies off-peak are a little less than half of the frequencies for an individual BART line (they operate every 12 minutes, even at rush hour, translating to every 3 minutes or so downtown).

I was also impressed with Caltrain's vision for the future. While in many areas, commuter rail services exist at the behest of freight railroads and as remnants of former systems that are focused just on getting by. Caltrain's Baby Bullet is a perfect example. With the installation of passing tracks, purchase of new rollingstock, and creation of a central control system, Caltrain significantly improved service and laid groundwork for future improvements. Future plans include electrification and a tunnel to San Francisco's Transbay Terminal.

I was very impressed with Caltrain. I think it offers a lot of good lessons for other commuter/regional rail operators in the US. If any of you have a chance, I highly advise you to take the time to ride Caltrain.

Thoughts? Reflections?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

News Notables: 12/2/08

I hope everyone's holiday was safe and happy. It was a quiet week here at Track Twenty-Nine, but I'm working to keep the posts flowing. In the meantime, here are some news items you might be interested in checking out:

Gas Prices Fall, Transit Riders Increase: This is indeed good news from the Washington Post. Here in the DC area, Metro ridership has increased 5% over last October, while MARC and VRE have seen 7.5% and 12% increases over the same period, respectively. And the increases are not confined to Washington alone. Dallas, Texas and Orange County, California are among areas seeing increases in ridership.

Washington Prepares for Inauguration Strains: The New York Times reports on the struggle here in the District to prepare for the major crowds expected for President Obama's inauguration. The $15 million allocated by the Federal Government for all federal activities in 2009 won't even begin to cover the inauguration. They also report that 18 trains on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor are booked into Washington for the inauguration.

Freakonomics Looks at the Gas Tax: Check out this engaging post on the New York Times Blog. It explores a lot of the issues surrounding the gas tax and why we might need to consider raising it.

The Crumbling Past: Look through the lens at the decaying remains of Central Michigan Station. This wonderful photo essay explores a place where time seems to have stopped--some post-apocalyptic world where America's great train stations have been forgotten. Too bad it's true. At least Detroit still has the building. Atlanta, for instance, lost both the Terminus and Central Station. 

Jackets Destroy Bulldogs 45-42: While this isn't exactly a transit-related headline, it's worth noting. This Thanksgiving weekend upset between the hedges at Athens put Georgia Tech on top. And despite being the highest-ranked ACC team (in the BCS) at #15, we won't be going to the championship. Still, I wouldn't trade that for a victory over Georgia. How 'bout them dawgs, eh?