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By Paul Bendix

About this blog: A 32-year resident of Menlo Park, I regularly make my way around downtown in a wheelchair. This gives me an unusual perspective on a town in which I have spent almost half of my life. I was educated at UC Berkeley, and permanentl...  (More)

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Hit the Bus

Uploaded: Nov 16, 2014
Consider those really bad traffic days, say, a Friday evening just before Thanksgiving or Christmas...traffic crawling up El Camino in Menlo Park. It's the sort of gridlock that both supporters and detractors of Proposition M railed against. Thirty minutes of that sort of traffic and you feel like you've been run over by a bus.

When actually, a real, non-metaphorical bus could run over the whole thing. The key: remember that lots of cars doesn't mean lots of people. In fact, that's the problem. When I run an errand and hundreds of Peninsula drivers do the same...just as hundreds more are heading home from work...El Camino becomes a parking lot. Full of cars, not necessarily people. Which is why a 40-passenger bus can remove 40 cars from the road. And it's wise to begin thinking about Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) on the northern half of El Camino Real.

I need to restate the obvious about buses – because this isn't so obvious to me. When was the last time I rode a Samtrans bus? Perhaps a year ago when a Caltrain fatality stranded me in San Carlos. Buses ply the El Camino quite effectively, albeit slowly, one discovers. By skipping stops, adding rush-hour lanes and leveraging special signals, speeds could pick up dramatically. That's the idea behind BRT.

We're at a strange crossroads on the Peninsula. We have the prosperity, property values – and commuter traffic – of a highly urban area. Yet we cling to a suburban past. The Peninsula has city traffic. We need city solutions. Let's encourage Samtrans (San Mateo County Transit) in this early stage of BRT planning. Meanwhile, let's be downright vocal with VTA, which is currently seeking public comment on a real BRT system from Menlo Park south.
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Posted by Joe, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park,
on Nov 20, 2014 at 12:15 pm

Improving bus service is a great idea for exactly the reasons that Mr. Bendix states: we're living in a suburb with city-like traffic.

For too long, buses have been the province of the poor and those of us interested in some kind of street culture -- any kind of street culture. There is nothing redeeming about a car culture except freedom. Yes, you can get in and drive and enjoy the amenities of a rolling and comforting entertainment and transport system. You can have a good time impressing others with your taste and income.

But at what rate of speed and at what cost? We're strangers on private trajectories that intersect principally when professional ambitions intersect. There is nothing inspiring about life on the streets of Menlo Park -- or any Peninsula community. You have to go to a city to get any sense of the potential for human community, preferably a big city.

Maybe a rapid transit bus service would help people of means rub shoulders with people without means.

"Hah!," you say. "Dream on, Joe. Move to Brooklyn, already." I wish.

Posted by Louise68, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Nov 20, 2014 at 2:05 pm

Bus Rapid Transit ("BRT") will never work because:
1. One driver is needed for every 40-55 seated people .
2, they never have restrooms
3. They get stuck in traffic.
4. There are no parking lots anywhere near the stops.

A CalTrain coach can carry 3 times as many people seated per car as one SamTrans articulated bus. A 5-car Caltrain consist can carry around 700 people -- seated.

I just learned today (Thursday, November 20, 2014) that SamTrans has -- quite sensibly -- rejected BRT for now. Good. BRT is not practical.

Posted by Tunbridge Wells, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park,
on Nov 20, 2014 at 4:22 pm

Tunbridge Wells is a registered user.

On the contrary, BRT is highly practical and works extremely well in the places where it has the right infrastructure. The idea that BRT will fail because people can't drive to it betrays a deep misunderstanding of what BRT is about. The whole point of BRT is to make buses move faster than cars, and the way that is achieved is by persuading those who have cars to leave them parked at home.

Posted by Louise68, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Nov 21, 2014 at 6:39 pm

Tunbridge Wells --

I would appreciate your comments on the 4 reasons I gave why Bus Rapid Transit is not practical. Please share your reasons for supporting spending our scarce public funds on BRT instead of on CalTrain.

Here are more comments on my previous 4 reasons why Bus Rapid Transit is not practical, and why CalTrain is much better than Bus Rapid Transit:

My comment #1: One driver is needed for every 40-55 people in a SamTrans bus, whereas CalTrain can carry enormous numbers of people with only one engineer and one or two conductors. Labor costs for BRT are thus huge, compared to CalTrain. Re: capacity: seated: A standard SamTrans bus holds only 40 people seated, and only 55 if it is "articulated" -- hinged. In contrast, a CalTrain gallery car with no seats removed for bicycles or luggage or wheelchairs holds 148 people seated, while a "trilevel" holds 144 seated. (Note that a CalTrain cab car with many seats removed to hold 40 bicycles (!) holds only 78 seated.) A rail passenger car holds many more people than does a city bus, and does not need an additional driver for every 40-55 passengers.

My comment #2: They [buses] never have restrooms. CalTrain has wheelchair-accessible restrooms on every train.

My comment #3: They [buses] get stuck in traffic. CalTrain runs on private right of way, and never has to contend with bumper-to-bumper traffic, as do buses. Traffic stops for trains at grade crossings. Trains have the right of way.

My comment #4: There are no parking lots anywhere near the [bus] stops. CalTrain has parking lots at almost all stations, except 22nd St in SF and College Park in San Jose. And CalTrain has many shuttle buses to take passengers to their workplace from the CalTrain stops, and back to the CalTrain stations. How are people supposed to be able to get to the bus stops if they do not drive there?

Please give me some details about where Bus Rapid Transit has been successful, and why you think it could be successful here on the SF Peninsula.

Joe --
Bus Rapid Transit would take away lanes that cars and trucks need, and would serve very few people, for the reasons I gave above. If you take away one of the 2 or 3 lanes on ECR for Bus Rapid Transit, where are all the cars and trucks that used to use those lanes supposed to go? Are their drivers and their cargo just supposed to disappear? How are car and truck drivers supposed to be able to turn left to get onto or off of ECR? Do the BRT buses get to run at high speed through intersections where all other traffic is supposed to be stopped?

I look forward to your answers to these very important questions.

Posted by Tunbridge Wells, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park,
on Nov 23, 2014 at 6:08 pm

Tunbridge Wells is a registered user.

Louise68, you made very general broad statements about BRT. I disagreed with your broad statements, and from that disagreement you infer that I support a very specific proposal, when I have said nothing of the kind. Bus and train are both useful elements in a mass transit system, with their own benefits and drawbacks. Your criticisms of BRT apply to normal mass transit bus service as well, and yet bus service is used world-round for mass transit.

The idea of BRT is that instead of having 40 cars, each with a single person, you have one bus. You can see an illustration of the space single-driver cars take here: Web Link

The comparison of BRT to Caltrain is one of apples to oranges. Caltrain may have fewer employees on a train, but those employees are more expensive to train and employ and the equipment itself is also significantly more expensive to purchase, maintain, and store.

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