Published Tuesday, January 1, 2002, in the San Francisco Chronicle
BART won't solve the region's transportation woes
By James W. Kelly
Let's be objective about the Metropolitan Transportation Commission's
latest 'regional' spending plan and its centerpiece, BART to San
Jose. It's not regional, nor does it show much grasp of
The commission focuses on the nine counties touching the San
Francisco Bay. But in fact, our regional commutes now cross 15
counties from Sonoma to Monterey, coastside to valley -- as my own
San Mateo County and Silicon Valley know well, both being dependent
on workers from afar.
Regionally, why anchor us to a nonregional BART that would reach only
five counties with no prospects of serving more? It's further
weighted with hardware too often in need of repair, with rigid,
nonstandard parameters, hence astronomical costs.
For lengthening commutes, we deserve better than a jammed subway with
no room to sit -- and no amenities (read restrooms and refreshments)
BART has a place -- serving the Bay Area's urban core. Keep it there.
For the future, we can raise our regional sights and make use of
better tools. Europe and beyond have models to explore. In
Brazil's 'ecological capital,' Curitiba, a multicultural city of 1.6
million dating from 1693, busways have an astonishingly futuristic
Freiburg, Germany, with confidence in public transit, has banned cars
from new, high-density development.
Any transportation plan of merit must aim to get more people out of
more cars more often. By 2025, the MTC projects just the opposite:
More cars than ever congesting freeways and local streets.
To stem that tide will require public transit beyond anything now
running or on our drawing boards. That will mean a major disconnect
from old ideas, for serious reappraisal of where we are and want to
go. Here are some clues:
What would induce people to leave cars at home?
Local transit that is fast, frequent, affordable and handy to our
front door -- and ditto at destination.
Realize that BART does not relieve congestion or give us appreciably
cleaner air. Its parking lots are the Bay Area's largest point source
of intensive vehicle emissions, while its drive-ride-drive commuters
add to local traffic woes, as Bay Area Air Quality Management
District data shows.
San Francisco International Airport officials project expansion to
increase their traffic by 3,000 vehicles a day, BART or no. Note,
too, that present BART lines haven't unclogged adjacent freeways, for
reasons that bear more study.
Transit of regional reality, instead of continually reinventing the
wheel, will build upon the underutilized net of standard-gauge rails
already in place, linking 15 counties so that trains can run
interchangeably from one end to the other. It will carry riders 60
miles as comfortably as 6. It will unify and integrate macro and
micro modes, meshing easily with airports, inter-city rail, local
buses and shuttles, ferries too. (One state legislator, Sen. Don
Perata, D-Oakland, wants that way explored by a special commission.)
It won't require a monorail to Oakland International Airport, the one
proposed because BART itself is too rigid and costly to go there.
If reality had ruled, Millbrae's new intermodal station would not
deny San Francisco International Airport direct access to inter-city
trains. Nor would it substitute a pricey, awkward, inefficient BART
shuttle for a handy, free little bus from trainside to curbside at
We've seen the future as the MTC foresees it -- still dominated by
cars, still saddled with mass transit of disparate modes, largely
unsuited to growing needs -- and with spending controlled by a
commission unrepresentative of the region we've become.
Do we have the guts to change that picture? Let us hope and pray.
James W. Kelly, a San Bruno resident since 1953, is a retired
newspaper reporter and editor and member of the BayRail Alliance.
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