VTA budget notes

The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) are working on their biennial budget for fiscal 2014 and 2015. VTA’s fiscal year begins on July 1. Here are my quick observations from selections of the draft budget.

Busy light rail

  • 49ers Stadium: the new 68,500 seat 49ers stadium in Santa Clara will open in August 2014. VTA acknowledges the challenges of transporting tens of thousands of people to the new stadium and is working with the city of Santa Clara and with 49ers management to develop a transit plan, with $1.7 million budgeted for FY2015 for special light rail and bus service to the new stadium.

    A 300 foot long three car light car train can carry up to 500 people, so you can fill up the stadium with 137 full train loads of people. That sounds a little bit hectic, but consider: 300 feet of a single lane of road has a capacity for six minivans. If each of those minivans carry their maximum load of seven passengers, you can transport 42 people to and from the stadium in the space of a single VTA train. Put another way, you need over 1600 fully loaded minivans. If you lined up them in a single lane on Highway 101 from the Great America Parkway exit, you’d have a queue of fully loaded minivans stretching 12 miles all the way to Palo Alto.

    Consider also, though, that VTA only owns enough trains to run, at most, 20 or 30 trains at a time, but there’s no way to run 20 trains worth of people from Mountain View because of extremely limited track capacity. Plans are afoot to eventually double track in Mountain View and triple track at Santa Clara Great America, but right now there’s a lot of single track in Sunnyvale, which limits the headways in Mountain View, and you can only park a couple of trains at Mountain View at a time.

  • Low Income Fare Grant: VTA plans to pilot a low income fare grant program in Santa Clara County. 1,000 ‘qualified individuals’ will receive a monthly pass for 24 months in this program to promote transit use.

    I like this type of “try transit” program that limits participation instead of the free transit days the Bay Area has experimented with in the past. On free transit day, everybody wants to ride transit for free, and so you get piles of newbies experiencing the worst possible day for public transportation. If you dribble out free passes to possible transit users, though, you distribute the newbie effect and make things more manageable.

    VTA says the purpose of the program is the promote transit ridership by introducing transit to these people with free passes. Instead of handing out two years worth of free passes to 1,000 individuals, I think a better way to promote transit is to give out free one-month passes to 24,000 people. A month is long enough to figure out if transit works for you or not, and you can spread the promotion out to a much larger population.

    Dashing through traffic

  • Caltrain: VTA contributes a whopping 41% of Caltrain’s operating budget. No changes are planned for FY2014, while a 3% increase is budged for FY2015.
  • New buses: VTA budgets the purchase of 44 forty-foot buses and 48 sixty-foot articulated buses to replace old vehicles that are reaching the end of their useful life.

    60 foot articulated buses are currently only used on the 22 line down El Camino Real, but VTA anticipates they’ll need these also for connections to the new BART stations.

    Millbrae BART

  • North First Street light rail improvements: VTA budgets a half million dollars to improve the North 1st Street light rail line and improve speeds there from 35 MPH to 45 MPH.
  • BART to Warm Springs opens 2014: the BART Warm Springs extension in Fremont will open in Calendar 2014. Activity continues on the Berryesa extension from Warm Springs, with VTA contributing $67M in Measure A funds to various BART projects (aside from the Berryessa construction) in anticipation of service into Santa Clara County. This includes the purchase of 20 new BART rail cars which will be titled to VTA and improvements to control and maintenance facilities.

    VTA also budgets $8.4M to create improve the light rail travel time from Mountain View Castro Street to the BART station in Milpitas, which will be located at Montague Station. Improvements include double-tracking the light rail line in Mountain View (hurray!) and adding pocket tracks at Hostetter Station.

What about bicycles?

VTA budgets over half a billion dollars in highway projects for FY2014 and 2015, but they’ve thrown a couple of bones for cyclists too.

  • Santa Clara Station Pedestrian Underpass: Anybody who uses the Santa Clara Caltrain station knows about the difficulty of crossing to Brokaw Road and Coleman Avenue on the north side of the tracks (over where Costco is at).

    VTA plans to spend $9.25M to build a pedestrian tunnel underneath the tracks to Brokaw Road. This project is a long time coming and I’m personally very stoked about it. No more riding my bike on that swooping high speed overpass of De La Cruz Blvd to Coleman.

    Little known fact: VTA would someday like to extend this tunnel all the way to the passenger terminals at San Jose International Airport and to the Metro Airport Light Rail station on 1st Street, with some kind of high tech people mover to whisk passengers between those locations. The red dashed line in the diagram below is a tunnel underneath the runway between Santa Clara Caltrain and VTA Metro Airport Station on 1st Street.

    Mineta Airport people move

  • Charcot Avenue extension over I-880: This is technically a highway project, but it benefits cyclists who need to cross I-880 too. VTA plans to build a new bridge over I-880 by connecting Charcot Avenue to Old Oakland Road. The proposed Charcot extension was designed five years ago before Complete Streets was trendy, but VTA promises the new overpass will “provide a safe bicycle & pedestrian crossing over I-880.” It certainly can’t be worse than the existing crossings at both Montague and Brokaw, which are major interchanges with I-880 with high speed freeway entry / exit ramps.

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