The recent BART strike gave Bay Area commuters a taste of what happens when we lose a major segment of our transit system. So what would happen if more than one system shut down, or if there was a major earthquake? The transit advocacy group SPUR warns that our transportation systems are already at capacity and aren’t set to handle rapid population growth. SPUR executive director Gabriel Metcalf joins us to discuss how the Bay Area can become more resilient, and better prepared for the next disruption.

Show Highlights

Resiliency Equals Redundancy

“The key is to have redundancy in the system, and with San Francisco being a peninsula you can really think about this in terms of specific corridors. So, if the Golden Gate Bridge were to go down, tragically, how would that corridor work? In the Transbay/East Bay corridor, we can look at that same question. But it turns out there really is no way to replace what's now almost 400,000 people a day taking BART. The de facto decision most people made [during the strike], we think, is to stay home."

— Gabriel Metcalf

On Replacing or Backing Up BART Services

"There are 400,000 people that ride BART every day. And if you figure that the average ten car BART train probably carries more than 1,000 people, that would take a lot of buses in order to haul that many people. It's really impossible. You might be able to get all those buses and store an extra fleet of buses in Alameda. It would be expensive, but then you'd have to have drivers who are just standing by on call. It's literally impossible to have something that would replace the capacity.

— Michael Cabanatuan

On Enforcing Restricted Occupancy During Emergency Times

I'm not sure how politically realistic it is around [the Bay Area]. I'm sure there would be a lot of opposition to that. One thing they did do is along I-80 and at the Bay Bridge toll plaza, they extended the carpool hour lanes basically to all day. From, I think, 5 AM until 7 PM.

— Michael Cabanatuan

On Expanding Carpool Systems

I think that would probably help as well. You know, the east bay has the casual carpool system that coincidentally started in the 1970's during an AC Transit strike. That has proven to be very popular and worked very well going into the city. Coming out of the city and going back to the East Bay it's a little more problematic.

— Michael Cabanatuan

On Transit Authority's Coming Together

It's [about] coordination. It is making them work together. For example, there are transit agencies in Contra Costa that just run buses in Contra Costa. Perhaps they could run buses that go into the city. Perhaps AC Transit could run more buses that go across the Bay Bridge. Maybe people could shuttle passengers from, let's say, Walnut Creek to downtown Oakland where they would get on a bus. There's a whole variety of things that they could do, but it would require the agencies to work together and part of the reason that many of those agencies formed was to have local control and to serve their area, not the region.

— Michael Cabanatuan

Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of SPUR, the San Francisco-based urban planning think tank
Michael Cabanatuan, transportation writer for the San Francisco Chronicle

  • loujudson

    How short are memories! Your program description mentions “major earthquake” – recall the relatively minor 1989 Loma Prieta when the Bay Brdige and BART were out for some time. I commute across the Richmond Bridge, and that suffered a significant impact at that time.
    (and the Bay Brdige is still not replaced, with poor engineering fouling it up again…

    This BART strike had very minor impact for my Marin-East Bay commute.

    Population growth is a completely different subject form a disater scenario, and more significant in the long run. Yet my community (Marin) is very unhappy with the bay area plan… Discuss! 😉

  • Bob Fry

    What “rapid population growth” is anticipated?

    I hope Metcalf comments on self-driving cars, sure to come within the next decade, and dominate driving in the decade after that.

  • erictremont

    If BART continues to squander capital on route extensions it can’t afford, or on absurd projects like the Oakland Airport connector (projected construction cost = $484 million) that will do nothing to relieve traffic congestion, the Bay Area will be vulnerable. Would make much more sense to invest $ in bus rapid transit which requires much less capital and is more flexible.

    • Sanfordia113

      How about converting Caltrain to BRT? Please explain why BRT on a dedicated below-grade lane would not be more efficient than a huge train with either tons of empty seats, infrequent departure times, and suicide-by-train delays?

      • erictremont

        Since the cost of Caltrain’s infrastructure is sunk, I see no need to replace Caltrain with BRT. But I do think it would be a bad idea to pour new capital into fixed rail systems because the cost of such systems is too expensive compared to other feasible alternatives.

        • Sanfordia113

          Good economists know that sunk costs do not justify wasting money on inefficient, inferior products. Rip out Caltrain and put BRT underground.

          Besides, that is exactly what Governor Brown is driving forward with:$100 billion for California HSR to nowhere.

          • erictremont

            I agree that high speed rail is a huge waste of money.

  • Sanfordia113

    How coud they have spent so many billion dollars without adding a bike lane?

    • Ramon Tinio

      Yes, indeed. Billions of dollars for the new East span but no continuation of the bike lane from Yerba Buena to San Francisco!

  • halberst

    I didn’t hear the whole comment about Alameda and buses…but I live in Alameda and wonder why we can’t have better (read more frequent and less expensive) ferry service. In fact I thought WETA was setting up ferries for transportation in the case of emergencies.

    On a side note, our family just returned from a vacation to Seattle and Vancouver and they put us to shame. Bus services were frequent, clean and cheap in both locations and ferry services particularly in Vancouver (the “Seabus”) was amazingly cheap and efficient.

  • Sanfordia113

    What are Metcalfe’s thoughts on the efficacy of spending $100 billion on California HSR, versus $25 billion on Bay Area transit (and $40 billion in L.A., etc)

  • John Fournet

    The new eastern span will add capacity/improve circulation westbound. Figure in the number of trips per hour we will gain with stalls and accidents removed from the traffic lanes when utilizing the new shoulders on either side of the new deck. In additon the wider 12 foot lanes will reduce the number of accidents. Do not forget we will finally lose the dreaded s-curve as well.

    • Sanfordia113

      So there is room for a bike lane? good to know!

      • John Fournet

        The new bike/pedestrian lane is cantilvered off the south side of the new self anchored eastern span. You can see it when driving on both the upper and lower deck. No bike line on existing western suspension span.

        • Sanfordia113

          Thanks John!

  • Ramon Tinio

    What about the Oakland bay bridge bike lane from Oakland to San Francisco? It would solve a lot of problems like our total dependency on BART and AC Transit plus it would also alleviate traffic on the Oakland Bay Bridge and San Francisco, parking and pollution. A no brainer solution. Of course, it would be expensive but the cost outlay would pay for itself in solving all those problems.

  • hundoman

    What transit crisis?

    These kinds of problems only happen when the over compensated unionized public sector workers go on strike for ever increasing wages.

    How much of BART or MUNI or most public sector transit systems are actually spent on running and maintaining the systems. 10 or 15 or at most 20%

    75% of the expenses are related to employee costs for both MUNI and BART.

    Heck 30% of the total labor costs at BART are related to benefits costs not salaries.

  • Magnus Thorne

    Simply put, BART and Caltrain are over priced. When a group of people visit me, I will drive to SF. It is cheaper than taking BART. I take Caltrain to work, because I get exercise. Otherwise, I would drive. Driving to work costs the same.

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