Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Understanding Downtown Delusionals

The City of San Jose finally acknowledges that it can't afford to turn the historic BofA Building at 1st and Santa Clara Street into a new bum magnet, a sad news for the downtown delusionals.

For them, the downtown delusionals don't support BART to San Jose simply as a way to connect the East Bay with the South Bay. Their delusion is that having a BART-branded "grand" subway station in Downtown San Jose will turn it into the center of a great metropolis like New York and London.

If it weren't for them, there's no point to build BART. BART by far is the most expensive urban rail technology and is also the least flexible. BART tracks cost more to build yet no other trains (like ACE) can run on. The proposed alignment also bypasses the "Golden Triangle" area where most commuters work. Instead, the alignment requires a long subway alignment through a old residential neighborhood and helped the eventual removal of a popular flea market.

These delusionals also don't want it built any other way. They are opposed to building the BART extension in multiple phases like most other rail projects around the country. They know that if the South Bay residents get to experience what a big hype BART is with a shortened extension, funding will not be made available to build the subway downtown.

As much as these people want to believe a BART-branded subway would bring tremendous growth to downtown, we should instead take cue from Oakland, which has BART subways in downtown for more than 35 years. Even though every BART train has to get through downtown Oakland, most passengers stay onboard traveling underground. In many other ways, downtown Oakland is no better than downtown San Jose.


295bus said...

All of San Jose's transportation planning is skewed by the city's leaders' desire to ursurp San Francisco as *the* metropolis of the Bay Area.

This is fine to the extent that it encourages smart growth, urbanization, transit--the trouble is when it skews transit priorities away from the practical to the "cool".

Future said...

I'm in SF, and I'd absolute *love* a BART extension to Downtown San Jose. Why use it instead of Caltrain, which would (probabl) get me to San Jose faster?

The simple answer is no transfers. Caltrain doesn't go to downtown SF. and getting to 4th and king requires a relatively long ride downtown, a transfer to Caltrain, and a transfer to DASH (or an even longer transfer to light rail)

According to, a ride from Civic Center station to 2nd and Santa Clara (a frequent destination of mine) at 4:20 PM (the time I am writing this) that includs Caltrain takes a staggering 2 hours and 17 minutes. This is unacceptable, and I'll just drive instead.

A BART ride to Fremont *PLUS* a relatively slow bus transfer to the same location takes 1 hour and 41 minutes (with the ride to Fremont taking only 51 minutes!).

Were BART to go all the way through, it could shave the trip down to under an hour and a half, and potentially as little as an hour and fifteen minutes, making it an acceptable option instead of driving.

accountablevta said...

Of course it is reasonable for someone to love a project, no matter how senseless it is just because it provides him or her a direct, if not non-stop ride. Every city up and down the Peninsula wants to be a Baby Bullet stop for the same reason.

Unfortunately not that many people share your commute to make BART cost effective. Look at how many people take BART from SF to work in the East Bay. Should a bus rider in the South Bay suffer from bus cut backs because VTA needs to pay BART for your commute?

BART is not free from transfers either. People change trains on BART and to and from BART everyday. You can't get from downtown SF and Berkeley without changing trains at nights or Sundays.

Also, how is this BART extension suppose to help someone who works in North San Jose? Will it provide a transferless ride? Nope. There are many more people working in North San Jose than downtown, and there's more job growth and development protential there than in downtown.

The trip from Downtown SF to Downtown San Jose should take no more than 2 hours even on Caltrain. The trip planner sucks and doesn't take account of faster transit options to and from Caltrain.

In fact, most of the problem is because the lack of commitment and funding to provide fast and frequent transit operation. Caltrain can run more trains if there's more operating funds. The BART extension needs operating funds too. Why not spend less money on Caltrain to run more trains, or on VTA to run more buses?

accountablevta said...

Actually we should not forget that there was a transferless (and free) shuttle connection between SFO and Caltrain. Now it requires a fare and a transfer on BART. There goes a BART hype that is supposed to make transit better.

Winston said...

I live about 3 blocks from Fremont BART and work in Santa Clara. Currently I either drive or bike and take VTA's express buses. BART to San Jose would likely be a disaster for me. As it stands, I get fairly direct, bike friendly service from Fremont BART to Santa Clara that is sorta competitive with driving. With BART, I'd have to ride BART to Milpitas then take light rail and a local bus. Worse than that, BART isn't exactly bike friendly so the walking part of my trip would take much longer. This improvement would be pretty certain to force me to drive.

Jonah P said...

In response to "future",

If I were you, I'd pin your hopes for a transferless ride to SJ from SF on caltrain's 2025 project, which may include electrification and a tunnel to a station in downtown SF.

Sure, it might not be done until 2025, but who says that BART would be done any sooner? They've been trying for 30 years so far, with no particular results!

bay trains said...

You've stated on your blog many times that you don't want a BART extension to San Jose. Ok, so what is your solution to commuting between the east bay and san jose? Do you not think there is a need there? Maybe you think the amtrak capitol corridor is sufficient? Are you saying the money should be spent on caltrain to improve the peninsula commute instead?

accountablevta said...

Caltrain Metro East ( and is a superior alternative to BART, except for the fact that it won't fulfill the downtown delusional's dream. It costs half as BART and that ACE trains can run on.

bay trains said...

Wouldn't the north-south caltrain metro east route roughly parallel the alviso line that ACE already runs on? It goes by the airport, just on the other side. There's already a shuttle that goes from the santa clara station to the airport. ACE riders can transfer to light rail or use company shuttles from great america at tasman street to get to where the first street and milpitas stations are on this map. Also half of this plan is in fremont, which already pays into ACE. Why would they also want to pay into caltrain and fund a new corridor that mirrors the ACE line? The dumbarton corridor upgrade makes sense to me to reach the peninsula and avoid bridge tolls.

accountablevta said...

The Caltrain Metro East will use the VTA owned right of way supposedly for
BART. ACE and Amtrak now has to use Union Pacific owned right of way, and UP has the reputation of not caring about passenger trains.

ACE wants to buy the track from UP over the Altamont Pass, but the Alviso line is not likely to be publicly owned. If ACE runs totally on publicly owned tracks, it can run as frequently as it can if there's ridership and operating funds.

Most ACE trains would operate on Caltrain Metro East tracks instead of the Alviso line. Caltrain and ACE can run on the same track and use the same trains.

The cost to build and operate Caltrain Metro East will be much lower than BART, yet Caltrain Metro East is compatible with Caltrain, ACE, and possible high speed rail.

Nick said...

Downtown San Jose is not the same as Downtown Oakland! Downtown Oakland is a real urban Core, despite the fact that street-level retail is less than desirable. The 12th and 19th Street BART stations are among the busiest in the East Bay.

Downtown San Jose on the other hand, is by no means the primary anchor of the south bay. While the way BART serves Oakland is imperfect, let's not put it in the same Category as San Jose. BART in the East Bay, especially more urban areas like Oakland, is important part of the transit network. BART in San Jose is unnecessary.