Bike blog, highway expansion & CNG

Bullies suck.

Lockwood Lane is a 30 mph residential street with 3,500 vehicles per day during the week, much less on a holiday weekend. My daughter and I biked down this lane last week when she fell over in the street.

Enter Mr Dude with the monstrous diesel powered dualie driving behind us. He slows a little, decides my 10 year old daughter is taking too long picking herself up off of the street, blares his horn, then guns his engine and roars past us. What a dork.

We have some individuals out there who think Caltrain’s budget problems are due to financial mismanagement. Caltrain moves 36,000 people each day on an annual budget of less than $100 million, 60% of which is provided by the three county agencies that own the commuter rail line. (Compare against the $300 million annual budget for the California Highway Patrol Golden Gate Division traffic operations, or Caltrans District 4 $1 billion operating budget). For Fiscal 2011, those agencies are pulling $30 million of that funding in response to their own fiscal problems. Caltrain has the same problem many of us as individuals have these days: We suddenly have a lot less cash to spend. A big part of their challenge is that Caltrain is already a lean operation — there really is very little fat to cut. Green Caltrain has a couple of ideas on saving money, especially from SamTrans (and have you seen SamTrans fleet of shiny brand new buses? Wow!)

Murph points out that if (or when?) Caltrain goes away, you need to add 2.5 lanes of freeway to Highway 101 and / or I-280 from San Jose to San Francisco to handle the increased traffic. At a cost of $48 million per lane per mile (SF Bay Area highway construction costs), you need $6 billion to add those lanes for the 50 mile distance between San Jose and San Francisco. That’s assuming the right of way can be acquired (good luck). With or without these added lanes, you’ll still have added public expense through more delays, more traffic collisions, more strain on local roads feeding the highways, and more deleterious health effects from the added traffic and pollution.

In other transit news, I had a good conversation with Santa Cruz Metro operations manager Ciro Aguirre the other day. Some news and info from him:

  • The engine reliability on their latest batch of buses used for the popular Highway 17 Express service has been “disappointing,” which explains the spate of breakdowns over the past few months. The John Deere engines used in these coaches apparently must operate within very tight tolerances, and when a sensor goes haywire somewhere the computer shuts the whole engine down. Ciro says he plans to reprogram the computers on those engines after the warranty expires.
  • Before that happens, Santa Cruz Metro received a grant and have ordered 5 brand new buses. With different engines in them.
  • In the context of service reductions, I asked about doing something like VTA did with their community shuttle buses. These are smaller buses to service lower ridership routes that are ostensibly less expensive to operate. Ciro smiled and told me, “No, not really.” VTA had to build and entire new maintenance infrastructure for the gasoline engine community buses. They’re less durable and, hence, more expensive to maintain than larger, diesel engine coaches. The expected cost savings from lower paid drivers on these bus routes didn’t pan out because their operators wanted the same pay for driving no matter what the bus looks like.
  • Santa Cruz Metro uses compressed natural gas (CNG) to fuel its coaches. The agency picked CNG for several reasons, but there is a big drawback that nobody mentions: CNG results in reduced engine life. According to Ciro, a bus diesel engine generally lasts about 400,000 miles before it needs an overhaul. With their extensive experience with CNG, Santa Cruz Metro has found they need to overhaul the engine after only 240,000 miles.

Well, this was supposed to be one of those catch all posts with links out to everything else, but I focused on public transit instead. I’ll save the links for another post.

Oh, and *ahem* — don’t forget THE CONTEST. and Thank you for reading.


  1. Rafael Mandelman, District 8 Supervisor Candidate in San Francisco, was asked at a debate (along with the other candidates) to give one of his “out of the box ideas”.

    His was a fleet of small buses to serve the Twin Peaks area.


  2. Wow, I'm so impressed by a guy who can demonstrate that he's more macho than a 10-year-old girl. [/sarcasm]

    Where were those Deere engines made, do you know? Weren't they shuttering plants like crazy and going overseas recently?

  3. Don't you just want to scream “Hey dude in the monstrous diesel powered dualie! Stop being such a friggin' stereotype.”

    Daughter must be OK or you'd have mentioned it. If it will help her heal, point out that boys dig scars.

  4. Rafael Mandelman, District 8 Supervisor Candidate in San Francisco, was asked at a debate (along with the other candidates) to give one of his “out of the box ideas”.

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