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Archive for December, 2007

2007 was a gas, gas gas … or was it?

Today I accosted several of my colleagues and asked them if they’d miss 2007.

The answer was pretty much “no” all around, with the most convincing story coming from a person who’d bought a house with a sub-prime mortgage.

In the area of transportation, especially in the Bay Area, I’d have to say 2007 was a very Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Monday, December 31st, 2007
Under: BART, Bay Bridge, Buses, driving, Environment, ferries, Freeway collapse, Freeways, fuel, Retrofitting, Safety, Transit vs. driving | 11 Comments »

bullets for high-speed rail

lego-chsr.JPGIn the wake of the California High-Speed Rail Authority‘s decision by default to favor the Pacheco Pass, entering the Bay Area via Gilroy, I knew it wouldn’t be long until supporters of the Altamont Pass would start attacking the program itself.

Of course, supporters of both routes threatened to pick up their toys and go home if they didn’t get their way, but these threats were generally dismissed.

Today I noticed that of of our newspapers, the Contra Costa Times, and the Stockton Record (not one of ours) editorialized against both the decision and the bullet train enterprise altogether.

Our editorial writers said this:

Well, we have some news for the Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Friday, December 28th, 2007
Under: Misc. Transportation | 4 Comments »

now that you mention it, there IS a law


Many thanks to the AAA of Northern California for sending me a concise roundup of all the driving-related state laws kicking in in 2008.

First and foremost is the one that has probably led to more confusion than the last 100 California ballot measures. I confess that just prior to July 1 of this year, I thought we were supposed to go hands-free with the mobile phone or face the consequences (Those would be $20 for the first offense, $50 thereafter, which I suspect for many will considered the cost of doing business).

But, as AAA’s Sean Comey notes, that particular law, along with its no-cell-no-text-no-anything-while-driving-under-18 counterpart passed this year, don’t actually kick in until July 1, 2008. So Californians, gab away, but try to practice with the earpiece occasionally so it won’t be such a shock this summer.

If it helps, I recently got to know a Caltrans road crew that lost one of Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Thursday, December 27th, 2007
Under: Bicycling, driving, Environment, ferries, Freeway collapse, Freeways, fuel, other, Safety, technology, traffic signals, trucks | 2 Comments »

FasTrak takes its toll on bridge jobs

Carquinez toll booths

My colleague Rachel Raskin-Zrihen at the Vallejo Times-Herald did a nice times-they-are-a-changin’ story on toll takers this weekend:

Since the advent of FasTrak, Bay Area bridge toll taking positions have been cut by 46 and another 20 will vanish in the next five years, (Caltrans spokesman Bob) Haus said. In 2002, there were 372 full-and part-time toll collectors, Haus said, and 326 today.

Like so many other jobs, theirs have been taken by new technology, namely FasTrak RFID technology that the Bay Area Toll Authority, a.k.a. the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, is trying to boost these days.

There are now about 725,000 FasTrak accounts, said Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Bay Area Toll Authority spokesman John Goodman.

No toll takers lost their jobs as a direct result of FasTrak, since most job reductions came through attrition and voluntary transfers, Haus said.

That reminded me of a conversation I had with an MTC official on the question that inevitably comes up when encouraging FasTrak use comes up: Why don’t you just give FasTrak users a discount?

He told me that raising tolls would require Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Wednesday, December 26th, 2007
Under: Bridges, driving, Funding, tolls | 7 Comments »

that’s one small carbon footprint for a man…

i-5-grapevine.jpgThis Christmas, my son decided that the best way to see his grandfather and aunt in San Diego would be to drive. This decision, which I reluctantly seconded after thinking we might take a train/bus combination, had everything to do with the fact that he (along with his parents) wants to get a driver’s license before he reaches the age of 19.

On the way down Saturday, we got as far as Bakersfield before we started talking about why I believed we would  not experience ideal conditions for driving practice that day.

Part of it was the fact that it was a day when the freeways were swollen with holiday traffic, the kind that is light enough to stay moving most of the time, but heavy enough so that backups appear suddenly and often force inattentive motorists to swerve off  the road to avoid rear-end collisions. Most of it was that we weren’t in a very large parking lot with no other cars or lamposts to run into.

“It’s a Catch-22 situation,” he said more than once. I was very impressed with the fact that he had actually Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Wednesday, December 26th, 2007
Under: driving, Environment, Freeways, other, Transit vs. driving | No Comments »

air district’s critical miss


Speaking for those of us who toil away in the real world, where employers don’t much care how you get to work as long as you get there on time, it was with no small amount of glee that I discovered the memo from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

Regular commenter Murphstahoe provided the following link:

It provides a copy of a human resources memo to the employees of the air district, which is in the business of promoting alternatives to the automobile in the name of clean air, to wit:

It has come to the attention of the human resources office that some employees may be riding their bicycles in the course of their work duties. While biking to work is an option that the district supports, employees are not to ride their bikes in the course of their work duties.

The potential for serious injury is much greater Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Friday, December 21st, 2007
Under: Bicycling, Environment | 13 Comments »

railing against the darkness in Sacramento

wet-capitol-light-rail.jpgOnce again, I feel compelled to share my mis- fortunes at the expense of revealing my stupidity. I have to believe that there are others who regularly miss buses and have to drive an extra 15 miles to retrieve a forgotten mobile phone.

Perhaps it was my punishment for doubting that high-speed rail would ever be built in my lifetime. Perhaps it was what I deserve for not believing that people will all switch to public transit if only it were more convenient.

Or perhaps it was ignoring the sign in front of the Sacramento parking garage that said it closed at 7 p.m.

So I was in a hurry to get to the High-Speed Rail Authority board meeting where the board decided not to decide, thus deciding on a South Bay route for high-speed rail, which will improve the lives of millions of Californians and will be coming Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Thursday, December 20th, 2007
Under: AC Transit, Amtrak, BART, Bicycling, Buses, Capitol Corridor (Amtrak), connectivity, driving, Fare systems, high-speed rail, light rail, parking, rail, taxicabs, Transit vs. driving | No Comments »

it’s ok. Oakland’s got enough bullets.

In the end, while every other major population center in the state is to be served by the mythical beast known as high-speed rail, Oakland is stuck with actual rail.

And it’s all Jerry Brown’s fault.

Yes, it was our newly minted attorney general who gave the California High-Speed Rail Authority the legal opinion that they didn’t need to actually vote to deep-six the idea of running their 200 mph (recently downgraded by 20 mph) trains past Tracy, Livermore, Dublin, Pleasanton and those other communities that suffer from a gross lack of transportation alternatives.

It’s not really Jerry Brown, or even the attorney on his staff who actually figured out the legal niceties that dictated the HSRA board’s lack of action. This decade-in-the-making battle was over three years ago, when the board made its initial decision to go with the Pacheco Pass.

It was the East Bay against San Francisco and San Jose, and that’s a tough battle to win. But since then, it’s become clear that Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Wednesday, December 19th, 2007
Under: Altamont Commuter Express, Amtrak, BART, Caltrain, connectivity, Environment, Funding, high-speed rail, Planning | 2 Comments »

Marin County, the toll rings for thee

doyle-drive.jpgIt’s really funny how things that make perfect sense to a roomful of bureaucrats make no sense whatsoever to most other people. I’m supposed to to bridge that gap, so to speak, because my job involves studying the logic of the bureaucrats and translating it into the vulgar language of Noah Webster.

Today I noticed that our free-spirited sister paper, the Marin Independent Journal, had a column that cuts to the very core of that disconnect.

Here’s the bureaucrat’s logic:

1. We don’t have enough money to pay for our existing infrastructure, to say nothing of building new infrastructure.

2. We need to get more people to ride public transit, to take the pressure off clogged freeways and cut back on air pollution (CO2, particulates and that old-timey favorites, NOx and SOx).

3. The easier and cheaper it is for people to Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Monday, December 17th, 2007
Under: Golden Gate Bridge, tolls, Transit vs. driving | 9 Comments »

cars and SUVs only 28 percent of greenhouse gases?

tailpipe.gifI hesitate to call attention to someone else’s correction, particularly because I’ve had two of my own in short order. For a journalist, that’s enough to keep you up at night.

Still, we learn from our mistakes, and even fatal mistakes can teach others, to paraphrase Al Franken.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s spokespeople provided a teachable moment for me when they quoted their boss saying:

“With motor vehicles contributing to roughly 40 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, it is imperative that we be granted the fuel waiver from the federal government.”

The occasion was today’s decision in Fresno by U.S. District Court Judge Anthony Ishii that California has the power to regulate tailpipe emissions for cars and light trucks, a category that includes SUV’s.

The governor has championed the Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Wednesday, December 12th, 2007
Under: air travel, driving, Environment, rail, trucks | 15 Comments »