Oakland Airport Connector Updates

9 Sep

Woo! I leave for a week and the blogosphere and media worlds explode with news about the Oakland Airport Connector. In case you’ve missed any of the excellent coverage, here’s a brief roundup.

FTA Title IV complaint filed: Last week, Public Advocates filed a complaint on behalf of TransForm, Urban Habitat, and Genesis, arguing that BART has failed to comply with civil rights requirements in planning the OAC. Streetsblog and Transbay Blog cover the issues well, but the short story is that BART did not complete studies about how the changed OAC would affect low-income residents and did not study alternatives. If the complaint moves forward and is successful, it would endanger all of BART’s federal funding for this project.

BART tried to kill BRT alternative immediately: Jeff Mitchell wrote a story for the Sacramento Bee about the OAC that frames the issues well. Also, towards the end of the story, he shares some information gained through a public records request that I filed:

In one May 8 e-mail, Tom Dunscombe, BART’s Oakland Airport Connector project manager, expresses concerns about TransForm’s request for the district to analyze its RapidBART bus counterproposal.

“Any information you can provide to put holes in this would be appreciated – we have some worried Board members and I need to easily discredit this (TransForm) ‘paper,’ ” Dunscombe, who declined to return an e-mail seeking clarification, wrote to four outside project consultants. BART spokesman James Allison defended Dunscombe, but failed in a written response to explain the project manager’s choice of words.

Dunscombe concludes the e-mail: “Any time you can give to this would be really helpful – another delay from the Board and we are practically dead.”

What this story does not mention is that Dunscombe’s email was sent just a few business hours after TransForm sent its RapidBART proposal to BART so this makes it very clear that BART wanted to kill this proposal before even considering it.

How BART could have come up with a more politically viable OAC: Daniel at 21st Century Urban Solutions has argued against the OAC project in the past and yesterday imagined a different possibility for the OAC. For less money, BART could have built an infill station at 98th Avenue and built the connector from there. Bonus: it would be faster, since it’s a more direct route. Daniel doesn’t think this would be a good project, but his point is that BART clearly put little critical thought into the OAC or they might have come up with something similar to his suggestion.

Trying to come up with language for a poll on the OAC: Yesterday, V Smoothe recounted a conversation she had with dto510 and I a couple weeks ago about what polling language would sound like for a fair poll on the OAC. It’s an entertaining post and also demonstrates how absurd this project really is.

Pissed off yet? If so, follow V Smoothe’s directions on taking action:

First, you can have some fun while helping stop the project by entering TransForm’s Oakland Airport Connector creative criticism contest. Cash prizes await the person who comes up with the best image or haiku illustrating just how bad this project is.

Second, you can sign this petition urging funding agencies to explore cost-effective alternatives to the connector. Over 420 people have signed so far, and if you’re not one of them, I urge you to add your name today.

Finally, you can contact the Oakland City Council’s Public Works Committee, who will be discussing the Airport Connector at their first meeting back from recess, next Tuesday. They’ve submitted a long list of questions (PDF) about the project to BART, and considering how completely indefensible the expense of the Airport Connector is, I can’t imagine that BART is having a very fun time answering them all. The members of the Public Works Committee are: Nancy Nadel (nnadel@oaklandnet.com), Pat Kernighan (pkernighan@oaklandnet.com), Desley Brooks (dbrooks@oaklandnet.com), and Rebecca Kaplan (rkaplan@oaklandnet.com).

The questions submitted by Public Works is incredible – I highly recommend reading the document. And please consider attending the Public Works Committee meeting next Tuesday at 9:30am at City Hall in Hearing Room 1. It’s early on the agenda so you won’t be waiting around for a long time, and your testimony is very important. As a bonus, the committee will also be discussing AC Transit’s unrelated BRT project just a couple agenda items after the OAC so you could stick around and speak on both items.

Previous posts on the Oakland Airport Connector:

One Response to “Oakland Airport Connector Updates”

  1. Guy Span September 17, 2009 at 11:06 am #

    Napoleon said, ” In politics, stupidity is not a handicap.” So I find it difficult to believe that you are a politician.

    The OAC is a horrible idea. But it represents spending money on OUR stupid idea instead of some other community’s bad idea. These funds are not fungible. We (rightly so) save them here and some other goof-ball will waste them over there. Admittedly, they will be hard-pressed to come up with a worse idea, but I have faith.

    Alameda City wasted millions on a useless bicycle lift bridge over the Estuary because it had access to the money. That was the excuse for building it, rather than modifying the existing bridge.

    Another argument against the connector is echoed at SFO. That airport is running free employee connector shuttles so lower-paid employees won’t have to pay the huge surcharge of using BART to the airport. The OAC’s $6.00 charge will cause the same effect. The Port of Oakland will be forced to step into the breech.

    Finally, there is little traffic on Hegenberger with delays caused by ill-timed traffic lights. A BRT with a traffic light over-ride or timed lights would solve this problem cheaply. This entire project could be wrapped up to apply for the same funding source and use a lot less of it.

    Rather than expensive hydrogen fuel cells, why not use an existing and ignored technology? As a part of this project, we could fuel the buses with a proppane/butane mix. This fuel comes in rugged cylinders and is available at many gasoline stations and hardware stores. It burns very clean and provides more combustion power than gasoline.

    Australia has over 200,000 propane filling stations that also sell gasoline. This system works, though largely ignored by Americans. And while we are at it, why not have the BRT buses stop in the inside lane, right in front of each terminal? This would allow passengers and their baggage direct access to the check in areas and baggage claim for those exiting?

    In short, the BRT system could be a project on its own, shovel ready, and able to be implemented quickly. To placate the politicians, you could even go so far as to have a “Buck Rodgers” bus design…

    Guy Span is a transportation writer in the Bay Area and transportation consultant.

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