Tag Archives: RapidBART

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:


Take Action: Turn Oakland Airport Connector into RapidBART

8 May

Next Thursday, transit advocates have what will probably be our best chance to change the Oakland Airport Connector (OAC) from an incredibly wasteful rail connection with $6 fares into a much cheaper rapid bus connection that could potentially be free for riders. At the last meeting, 11 of us spoke out against the current OAC project and in favor of a bus solution, and we made a huge difference, with the BART Board nearly unanimously agreeing to postpone the vote so more studies could be done on a rapid bus option. Imagine what a difference 50 or 100 of us could make next week.

Please join us at the BART Board meeting to reclaim transit funding for BART, AC Transit, and other Bay Area transit agencies and to secure a project that make sense for the region:

What: BART Board Meeting on the Oakland Airport Connector

When: Thursday, May 14th @ 9am (TransForm recommends showing up by 8:30 if you’d like to get a seat in the Board room; if not, there is an overflow room.)

Where: Kaiser Center – Third Floor, 344 20th Street in Oakland

If you cannot make it to the meeting, but want to tell the BART directors how you feel, please send an email via TransForm’s action page. You can find a pre-written message there, but I encourage you to take the time to personalize the email, as non-form letters are always more effective.

OK, now that you’re on board to take action, onto the fun stuff. BART has put transit advocates in a similar situation to the one we just had in Oakland, when redevelopment staff refused to look into alternatives for the surface parking lot so advocates (well, mostly me and dto510) had to do research into displaying public art. Though the BART Board directed staff to look into a bus rapid transit (BRT) alternative, we weren’t convinced they would so TransForm went ahead and did the research themselves and produced a phenomenal report in two weeks about a bus alternative that they’re calling RapidBART. Pictured below is what RapidBART would look like, exiting the Coliseum BART station.

RapidBART at Coliseum BART Station

So what makes RapidBART so much better than the current OAC proposal? Via the report, it would:

  • Cost dramatically less (possibly as much 90% less to build!).
  • Use some of the existing funds dedicated to building the Oakland Airport Connector to make service free to riders in perpetuity.
  • Have similar travel times to the proposed Connector.
  • Allow intermediate stops to better serve the East Oakland community.
  • Stop in front of any future terminals at almost no cost.
  • Keep BART from incurring any debt or risk.
  • Result in more, sustainable long-term jobs.

Sounds pretty damn good to me, but I wouldn’t blame you if you thought this sounded too good to be true. Fortunately, John Knox White and Stuart Cohen of TransForm did a thorough job researching the numbers and logistics and created a solid plan. Below are some questions you might have that they answer in the report.

How will RapidBART run more quickly than the current AirBART bus?

If you’ve taken AirBART, then you know that the main delay is often loading of passengers. I’ve seen loading take up to 15 minutes as everyone squeezes through the front door, fumbles for the correct change, and moves slowly with luggage. RapidBART would have multiple doors for loading and unloading, just like BART does. Better yet, it will be free, which means you won’t have to wait while someone tries to find change for a $20 bill.

The other delays on AirBART are caused by getting stopped at traffic signals and getting stuck in car traffic. Signals can easily be dealt with using signal prioritization, which can keep a light green until RapidBART passes through. Navigating past traffic can be accomplished by using right hand queue jump lanes. Often, traffic gets backed up at intersections:

Traffic on Hegenberger

A queue jump lane would allow RapidBART to enter the right turn lane, crossing the intersection before car traffic can move, and then merging back into the mixed flow lane:

RapidBART Queue Jump Lane

Queue jump lanes would be placed at most intersections throughout the route. Then, when RapidBART reached Airport Drive, it would enter its own dedicated bus lane.

How much cheaper would RapidBART be to build, compared to OAC?

A lot. OAC would cost $550 million while RapidBART is projected to cost $45-$60 million. That’s a savings of $500 million!

What could be done with the savings?

The $70 million of stimulus funds would be reallocated back to the transit agencies, including BART, which would receive $15 million that could be used to halt some of their service cuts and/or fare increases. (AC Transit, Muni, and other agencies could do the same with their shares.)

Other funds could be used to subsidize fares so that the system would be free:

In particular, TransForm is recommending that BART request the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to shift the $65 million of Regional Measure 2 funds designated for the Oakland Airport Connector into an annual operating revenue source.

If additional funds are needed then some of OAC’s Regional Measure 1 funds could be used. Another source could be the Port of Oakland’s proposed contribution, which could be used as an endowment in an interest-bearing account that throws off an annual operating dividend. (The Port’s contribution could be reduced from the $44 million currently slated).

Another idea I’ve heard that isn’t expressed in the TransForm report is to use some of the savings to help fund the construction of a transit village around the Coliseum BART station. Oakland City Councilmember Larry Reid and BART Director Carol Ward-Allen are both strongly committed to building a transit village there so hopefully they’ll see that the savings from RapidBART could greatly benefit this project.

Where would RapidBART stop?

The first stop would be at the Coliseum BART station, in an enclosed area underneath the BART platform. It would then head down Hegenberger and stop somewhere in between BART and the airport. TransForm proposes stopping at Pardee and Hegenberger, but the great thing about RapidBART is that it’s easily adjustable. As business grows in the area, a RapidBART station could be moved for a small cost, or another intermediary stop could be built.

At the airport, RapidBART would stop at both terminals, where the AirBART currently stops. The total walk time to either of the terminals would be 2 minutes. The rail OAC, on the other hand, would stop in between the terminals and passengers would have to walk down to street level and across parking lots. TransForm estimates that this would take 3 minutes. However, if Oakland Airport were to build a third terminal (which has been discussed), it would take 7-8 minutes to walk to this new terminal from OAC. It would be easy and cheap to build a third RapidBART station so the time it would take to walk to a third terminal from RapidBART would also be just 2 minutes.

What would the RapidBART schedule be?

The RapidBART would operate the same hours as BART and would have 4-10 minute headways depending on the time of day.

But isn’t rail so much more comfortable than buses?

It doesn’t have to be that way. Check out these pictures of the Eindhoven Airport BRT connector. To me, they look even more comfortable than BART.

BRT Airport Connector

BRT Door

BRT Interior

With all of this information in hand, I’m hopeful that we can talk the BART Board into making the right decision by scrapping the rail OAC and building RapidBART. And if this post and the report weren’t enough for you, check out the YouTube videos of TransForm’s press conference that was held yesterday:

Previous posts on the Oakland Airport Connector: