Viewpoint - July 4, 2007

Letter: Trains are not the answer to our transit needs


I was a regular on the old Southern Pacific through my high school years in the 1970s, and in the 1980s frequently rode Caltrain to work in San Francisco, usually walking the 1.2 miles from the station to my office in the financial district. In the 1990s I began driving to Colma and taking BART downtown, a practice I still follow regularly.

What I cannot understand is why the Peninsula continues to reject BART in favor of 19th century technology.

I've heard all the objections: BART is too expensive; BART is mismanaged; BART is outdated; BART is an East Bay institution. Well let's stop a minute and think about the proposal for the Dumbarton rail service — a roughly $500 million investment in train service that terminates in Hayward. Add to that figure the cost of electrification, grade separations up and down the Peninsula and continued operating deficits and I wonder if BART really is more costly.

The advantages are clear: a true regional solution that ties together the entire Bay Area. BART could be elevated above the Caltrain right of way and bicycle trails could be constructed on the old roadbed providing a safe commute corridor separated from El Camino traffic.

I know that the train buffs won't like my saying so, but the train is inferior. It is dangerous to pedestrians, with roughly one fatality per month on average, noisy, smelly, and slow. It doesn't reach downtown San Francisco and it has limited service after 6 p.m.

Let's dump this dinosaur and get serious about providing some real alternatives to single-occupant driving.

Mark Gilles

Hermosa Way, Menlo Park


Posted by EastBayer, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 5, 2007 at 1:19 pm

Bravo! It was a huge mistake to not have BART ring the Bay. Time to correct that mistake.

Posted by BART is not the answer, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 5, 2007 at 1:37 pm

I also commute to SF but find BART takes too long; it's not just the long drive to Daly City but also the circuitous route BART takes before it arrives downtown. CalTrain is much more direct and can be much faster round trip door to door; of course its schedules in Menlo Park stink right now (used to be better). CalTrain's connection to buses and Muni train to downtown have been superior to BART.
Don't get me wrong, as a former east bay resident who used both BART and AC Transit - BART is great in the right places.
What we really need is much more frequent trains so the convenience of a car is nullified. I fear CalTrain's schedules are going to continue to worsen for Menlo Park residents, at least for now. However, spending a ton of money on BART is silly.
How about merging the two train systems so they will make the most prudent financial and service decisions. With new leadership!

Posted by Martin Engel, a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jul 5, 2007 at 4:41 pm

Merging BART and Caltrain certainly is a step in the right direction, but only a very small step. There is an alphabet soup of organizations around the Bay Area, each managing a small piece of what needs to be an integrated transit system, JPB (Caltrain), BART, VTA among them. What is important to understand is that no single modality -- trains, light rail, buses, shuttles, etc. -- can do the job. Urban mass transit means getting from door to door conveniently. An effective, coordinated, networked system consists of multiple modalities. So long as they all compete for insufficient funds and criticize each other, the commuter will suffer.