It's difficult to convey complex civic problems in 140 characters
March 21, 2016 3:10 PM   Subscribe

SF BART's twitter account admits that their infrastructure is failing and delves into the details: "We have 3 hours a night to do maintenance on a system built to serve 100k per week that now serves 430k per day."

SF Weekly suggested that BART is using this as a political move. Taylor Huckaby, the employee running the twitter account that night, responded in an article about how BART's issues reflect a general trend in US public infrastructure.
posted by sibilatorix (81 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
 
Is it true that BART was only built for 100K a week? That would have made it one of the smallest rail systems in the country -- probably not worth digging those giant tunnels. I like the sentiment but I don't think the numbers are correct.
posted by miyabo at 3:13 PM on March 21, 2016


This is the only true way you can do Twitter as a big public organization. Anything else is suicide.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 3:17 PM on March 21, 2016 [13 favorites]


Being honest and not acting like everything is going great all the time is the way to do social media. Film at 11.

Seriously, this is national news for some reason?
posted by zachlipton at 3:28 PM on March 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


Seriously, this is national news for some reason?

Probably more because it underscores deteriorating public infrastructure that affects commuters everywhere, and the apparent lack of will to fix it.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 3:35 PM on March 21, 2016 [54 favorites]


"It's like they're saying what everyone is thinking!" If by "everyone" one means "the people trying to draw attention to America's crumbling infrastructure"
posted by DoctorFedora at 3:37 PM on March 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


Wait, this is a craven political move now? I guess we're supposed to just keep pretending that public transit runs on air and then throw up our hands in frustration when the bond measure fails.

(Count me as one of the people who was seriously impressed when this went viral the other day. It shouldn't be exceptional, but it is.)
posted by sunset in snow country at 3:38 PM on March 21, 2016 [24 favorites]


Seriously, this is national news for some reason?

ASCE Infrastructure Report Card 2013: D+
Every four years, the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Report Card for America’s Infrastructure depicts the condition and performance of the nation’s infrastructure in the familiar form of a school report card—assigning letter grades based on the physical condition and needed investments for improvement.

The 2013 Report Card grades show we have a significant backlog of overdue maintenance across our infrastructure systems, a pressing need for modernization, and an immense opportunity to create reliable, long-term funding, but they also show that we can improve the current condition of our nation’s infrastructure — when investments are made and projects move forward, the grades rise.
"Taking a road trip this summer? Enjoy America's crumbling infrastructure"
“It’s absolutely critical that we address this transportation funding deficit,” he said. “The US currently has a $740bn backlog in improvements needed to restore the nation’s roads, highways and bridges to the level of condition and performance needed to meet the nation’s transportation demands.”
"How to Fix America's Infrastructure"
Fixing America’s decrepit infrastructure shouldn’t be controversial—it enhances competitiveness, creates jobs, and helps the environment. And of course, it protects the public. Repairing unsafe conditions is a critical priority: More than half of fatal vehicle accidents in the United States are due in part to poor road conditions.
posted by Celsius1414 at 3:40 PM on March 21, 2016 [27 favorites]


The reality is there are two problems: BART has a huge deferred maintenance backlog and needs billions in bond financing to put a dent in it, and it has suffered from years of mismanagement, including a board that has pursued an expansionist policy without regard for the need for maintenance or the increased costs that result from a larger and aging system.

Frankly, there's a non-trivial part of me, the evil side, that would vote against the bond measure because "screw this. I'm not giving these incompetent fools any more money." No, I'm not really going to do that. Functional transit is important to me, and hey, better years late then never on that maintenance. But a BART bond measure requires a 2/3rds majority in several counties to pass. It doesn't take a ton of voters who think along these lines, or just refuse to pay for the system because they never ride it, to defeat the bond and create an even bigger mess for everyone.

And the fact is that the system is literally falling apart today (and it's not at all clear that the current problem is actually due to lack of money or maintenance). Yes, it's going to get a lot worse if things aren't replaced and refurbished now, but we needed to be doing the work years ago.
posted by zachlipton at 3:40 PM on March 21, 2016 [6 favorites]


I want America's breathtakingly shitty infrastructure to be the entire focus of a whole presidential debate. They could host it in Cincinnati, next to the Brent Spence bridge*, which so many people are convinced is going to collapse into the Ohio River that billboards insinuating as much have been popping up near it, and the governors of each state have to keep saying "We're working on it y'all stop panicking"


*If you've ever driven on I-75 through Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky, you've been on it. It's the terrifying double-decker bridge with no shoulder.
posted by mostly vowels at 3:44 PM on March 21, 2016 [26 favorites]


miyabo: "Is it true that BART was only built for 100K a week?"

Yeah I don't think this is right. The 1962 Composite Report is not available online (please post a link if you can find it!), but this anti-BART monograph from 1976 reports that the Report expected that "258,500 daily passengers would be riding BART in 1975."

That's a lot more than 100k (though it took decades longer than expected to reach that 250,000).
posted by crazy with stars at 3:44 PM on March 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


miyabo: "Is it true that BART was only built for 100K a week?"

That does seem pretty low. Maybe it was supposed to be 100k/day? I found a NY Times article ("3-Week Snarl is Feared on Coast Transit System", 1979/01/21) about a BART shutdown that says: "Almost half of the system's 150,000 daily passengers ride through the tunnel between Oakland and San Francisco."
posted by mhum at 3:49 PM on March 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


I'd like to see more specific cites for "financial mismanagement" on BART's part; most of the references I've seen seem to be quoting Rep. Steve Glazer, who appears to be using that phrase largely as code for "too generous with unions."
posted by en forme de poire at 4:00 PM on March 21, 2016 [6 favorites]


From the SF Chronicle, discussing how BART got into the state it's in now: BART chased glamorous projects as its core system decayed.

And from Taylor Huckaby, the guy who was running the Twitter account that evening: This Is Our Reality: Why I Couldn't Hold Back About the Bay Area's Real Transit Problem.
posted by Lexica at 4:06 PM on March 21, 2016 [6 favorites]


One wonders how much sooner these debilitating problems would have appeared if the workers weren't being given such good compensation.
posted by clorox at 4:06 PM on March 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


...including a board that has pursued an expansionist policy without regard for the need for maintenance or the increased costs that result from a larger and aging system.

From the SF Chronicle, discussing how BART got into the state it's in now: BART chased glamorous projects as its core system decayed.

Those arguments gets thrown around a lot when things start breaking, and I think it's extremely shortsighted and lazy. Lots of transit systems in the US are forced to justify their continued funding levels/existence on the basis of ridership, which means expansion is always going to take precedence over maintenance.

If BART (or the T, or the Washington Metro) had instead spent the money on their backlog, people would complain that it's a worthless expenditure because so few people ride it.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 4:07 PM on March 21, 2016 [19 favorites]


The reality is, BART was built during a time of exceptional commitment to public transit with the expectation that the same levels of funding, ambition, and responsibility would persist indefinitely.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 4:15 PM on March 21, 2016 [9 favorites]


Is this a good spot to complain that my county, San Mateo County, brilliantly decided to opt out of BART participation in 1961? 'Cause they did, and as a result BART is probably never coming to my local area in my lifetime.

There is a counter argument, outlined in one of the above links, that if San Mateo County hadn't opted out when they did they system likely would not have moved from the drawing board to being funded and constructed, but looking back on that decision now, in 2016, it sure looks incredibly short sighted. We have buses and CalTrain in San Mateo County, but no BART (other than a few stations in the northern part of the county that were built primarily to facilitate an extension to SFO).
posted by mosk at 4:20 PM on March 21, 2016 [6 favorites]


Previously
posted by gingerbeer at 4:21 PM on March 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'd like to see more specific cites for "financial mismanagement" on BART's part; most of the references I've seen seem to be quoting Rep. Steve Glazer, who appears to be using that phrase largely as code for "too generous with unions."

It's a hard thing to judge. The union issue is obviously an easy conservative punching-bag given the strike two years ago. I'm not going to union-bash, and the reality is that a number of long-term maintenance workers have done an awful lot to duct-tape the system together for years. More broadly, BART has pursued a number of new expansions over the past decade or so while clearly neglecting basic maintenance. On the other hand, it's hard to fault them too much for this. There was political will for expansions, and there never are people crying out for maintenance until it's too late. More importantly, there was big federal money available for expansions, and none for maintenance.

As an example, BART spent close to $500 million on the Oakland Airport Connector, which opened in late 2014. Many criticized the project at the time because of its cost, it didn't offer much advantage over the existing bus link, and it was built to serve comparatively well-off air travelers instead of transit-dependent riders in the East Bay, to the extent that they lost federal funding as they never completed an adequate civil rights analysis for the project. The OAC is certainly not useless—it's actually pretty convenient—, but if the BART Board and management had stood up and said "our entire system is on the verge of collapse from lack of maintenance, so maybe a new link to the airport isn't the best use of our money right now," we might well be in a slightly better place today. Or maybe we would have done it anyway, but at least we would have been warned.

And that, in a nutshell, is why people have begun to politicize this issue. BART's tweets would be all well and fair if the BART Board and management had been issuing dire warnings for years about lack of maintenance, but that's not what happened. Instead, they've kept up a chipper tone for years, with occasional weekend shutdowns on various lines for track refurbishment, slick press events to promote all the new train cars they've ordered, and otherwise projecting an image that things were going to be ok. So suddenly, things start breaking, commutes become more hellish than they already were (even before all this mess, I had colleagues who would ride four stops backwards every night so they could get on at an earlier station and get a seat), and BART is telling us we've been doomed all along and half the system is past its usable life. It's easy to be a little upset about that.

Like I said, I truly cant fault BART management entirely. They chased after the money and the public interest, as was their job. But the BART Board was elected to show some leadership, and that means being direct and clear about the true state of the system and maintenance needs and then fighting to make them a priority. Leadership would have meant talking about these issues long before they had to paint a giant red X over part of the system map. Leadership would have meant that we'd all have been aware of the state of BART's infrastructure years ago, and that message would have come from the people in charge of the system, not from the guy who runs their Twitter account getting frustrated and going rogue.
posted by zachlipton at 4:25 PM on March 21, 2016 [22 favorites]


I'd like to see more specific cites for "financial mismanagement" on BART's part; most of the references I've seen seem to be quoting Rep. Steve Glazer, who appears to be using that phrase largely as code for "too generous with unions."

Yeah I ride BART every day and I really have no problems with it, much less the vitriol thrown at it from some commuters. When they talk about their budget and the work that needs to be done, it's not like anyone has an illusions about what would be necessary to actually fix it, yet somehow all the local editorialists seize on one single cause for every single problem with BART: it's those damn workers. How convenient that a system that needs billions of dollars in capital improvements can have all it's problems boiled to do one single thing. Funny how that one thing happens to be middle class jobs for the (mostly) black and brown people who move the equivalent of the population of Atlanta from their lily white suburbs to downtown SF for a $3 fare.

BART is at the mercy of regional voters with competing interests, and most of those voters want a BART station in their bumfuck suburb without putting any money into the choke points in say, less white downtown Oakland. God forbid you suggest this rather than more parking, another end of line station for people who don't even live in "the bay area", or talk about removing BART's absolutely bullshit seating layout so that more people could fit on the trains. God no!

There is a direct correlation between how much someone benefits from Prop 13 and how loudly they complain about BART.

Board and management had been issuing dire warnings for years about lack of maintenance, but that's not what happened.

Are you sure? Seems like I have been hearing dire warnings for years and years. The problem seems to be that there is no political will to do anything, especially if that involves property owners in the burbs paying for anything but a massive parking garage next to their station.
posted by bradbane at 4:33 PM on March 21, 2016 [18 favorites]


Are you sure? Seems like I have been hearing dire warnings for years and years.

Yes and no... There's a Matier & Ross column from last year that's incredibly instructive--BART’s track troubles can’t be ignored:
“They are afraid a tie could come loose, cause a derailment and send a train plunging off the tracks,” said a BART insider, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to go on the record.
...
One member of BART’s Board of Directors, who asked not to be named for fear of upsetting management, said the agency faces an “awful dilemma” about how much information to disclose about the extent of its safety issues.

“If we put out everything that’s a problem, people are going to have second thoughts about riding the system,” the director said.

Assistant General Manager Paul Oversier said BART has made no secret of the need for repairs.

“We have been saying this for a couple of years now and have been trying to warn the board and tell them that we need to do maintenance in a different way,” Oversier said. That “different way” means more extensive repairs than can be made during BART’s normal overnight shutdowns, Oversier said. The more far-reaching repairs unavoidably disrupt service.
So yes, we certainly have dire warnings in there, along with anonymous quotes, including one from a BART Board member, who is supposed to be an elected official responsible for the system, yet he's afraid of the management he's supposed to be overseeing. We have management blaming the Board. And we have an anonymously sourced dire warning. Even so, Oversier's message is that they need more partial shutdowns for maintenance, not that the whole thing is on the verge of collapse.

And none of it makes anybody involved look very good.
posted by zachlipton at 4:55 PM on March 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


One of the problems with organizations like the ASCE, the lobbying arm of highway contractors everywhere, trying to piggyback on the coattails of productive infrastructure, is that when people start pointing out the ASCE's bogus math, we lose the will to build the actually productive infrastructure.

Similarly, can you imagine if we'd taken the extra billions (so far) poured down the rathole of making the eastern span of the Bay Bridge into bizarre modern art and put that back into BART?

The problem isn't that we're not spending enough on infrastructure, it's that we're spending it on unproductive monuments.
posted by straw at 4:56 PM on March 21, 2016 [6 favorites]


The problem isn't that we're not spending enough on infrastructure, it's that we're spending it on unproductive monuments.

And that it somehow costs us an absurd amount more to build infrastructure in the US than it does pretty much anywhere else in the world: If we lowered transit construction costs, we could build more transit
posted by zachlipton at 5:02 PM on March 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


If anybody still wants it, here is my crummy scan of the Composite Report (big PDF). The 100K/week ridership figure in the tweet is an error. BART got 32K actual riders/day in the first year of partial service and were up to 118K/day by 1975. Still dramatically less than today's travel demand though.
posted by enf at 5:07 PM on March 21, 2016 [8 favorites]


How is the new eastern span anything like "bizarre"? The older trestle span looked more out of place compared to adjacent bridges than the new one. Yes there are some unfortunate and costly problems, but those are engineering flaws, not aesthetic.
posted by clorox at 5:13 PM on March 21, 2016


For better or worse, the Bay Bridge was built in China for cost reasons, "saving" billions.
posted by effugas at 5:17 PM on March 21, 2016


DC's Metro's Silver line was not funded by Metro.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 5:46 PM on March 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Has anyone mentioned that it can also take them like a month to fix the fucking escalators?
posted by lkc at 5:47 PM on March 21, 2016


The 100K/week ridership figure in the tweet is an error.

Yes, it's a misquote from BART history about 100,000 riders in the first five days of operation. However I haven't found any old reports of projected ridership, or what the system really was built for. Obviously not the ridership it has today, since it was probably hard to imagine so many people working in San Francisco yet being unable to afford living there.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:01 PM on March 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


You want to see bitter? Look to the people in East Contra Costa who paid into BART from the start, only to see political heavy weights push it toward the South Bay. Of course, they are getting "eBART" — some silly light rail connector that will be be out of date before it's finished and over crowded in it's first year of operation.

My personal annoyance is that the eBART stations, which, though originally had plans bike and ped access somehow had a lot of it fade away as "too expensive."

That said, I had to fly out of Oakland last week, and the connector to OAK was pretty nice. I've also used and appreciated being able to BART to SFO. Connecting to transport centers strikes me as a fine idea.
posted by cccorlew at 6:20 PM on March 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


BART has been polling passengers on the likelihood of a bond being passed for a few years now, most recently on whether a $4.5 billion bond will be palatable to voters. Currently, the BART Board of Directors has before it a plan to ask voters to approve a $3.5 billion bond in November, still in draft form, that it could choose to put before voters.

Why are they asking riders? Urban rapid transit, more than anything, is a subsidy to business.
posted by klanawa at 6:22 PM on March 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


You want to see bitter? Look to the people in East Contra Costa who paid into BART from the start, only to see political heavy weights push it toward the South Bay. Of course, they are getting "eBART" — some silly light rail connector that will be be out of date before it's finished and over crowded in it's first year of operation.

Eastern Alameda county is in a similar place. Pleasanton finally got service a while back. But Livermore has been paying into it from the start and looks unlikely to get anything back in my lifetime.
posted by ericales at 6:37 PM on March 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


I realise this isn't up for debate and is essentially a given in this thread, but just to share an anecdote, I have had several friends (Australian ) travel across continental USA and be consistently horrified by the state of your infrastructure. Crumbling roads and bridges etc that belied the USA's claims to greatness (or even first world status).
posted by wilful at 6:44 PM on March 21, 2016 [14 favorites]


Agreed, wilful - my Aussie husband was shocked the first time he visited me in the US.
posted by olinerd at 6:47 PM on March 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


ASCE, the lobbying arm of highway contractors everywhere

ASCE7 says hello.

...you know what that is, right?
posted by aramaic at 7:08 PM on March 21, 2016


It's almost like we built all these roads without any plan for actually paying for them.
posted by entropicamericana at 7:09 PM on March 21, 2016 [7 favorites]


I've been digitizing BART documents and posting them on the Internet Archive as part of my job, and can vouch for the 120,000 riders per week statistic, but I'd have to do some digging to find it. One of these days I'm going to create a BART collection within the Internet Archive so the documents can be easily accessed.

You have to remember that BART was first conceptualized in the late 1950s and had a much more limited scope then. It may be that the service was first only available in San Francisco.

Since the system passes through several counties and many municipalities, expansion requires jumping through lots and lots of hoops. The SFO extension was first thought of maybe in the 70s, but took over 30 years to finally be realized.

I think it's a miracle BART has survived and I'm grateful for it every day, because there's no other way I could commute to my job.
posted by oozy rat in a sanitary zoo at 7:14 PM on March 21, 2016 [22 favorites]


I collected all the pre-construction ridership projections I could find in this image, where you can see them dwindle away as San Mateo and Marin Counties dropped out. They never tried to see further into the future than 1980, when they expected 81M yearly riders on the system as built (65% of today's volume, including extensions), for 270K boardings or so per weekday.
posted by enf at 7:16 PM on March 21, 2016 [9 favorites]


"BART's tweets would be all well and fair if the BART Board and management had been issuing dire warnings for years about lack of maintenance, but that's not what happened. Instead, they've kept up a chipper tone for years,"

I am absolutely flabbergasted that Taylor hasn't been fired for speaking up. FLABBERGASTED.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:20 PM on March 21, 2016 [6 favorites]


Has anyone mentioned that it can also take them like a month to fix the fucking escalators?

An escalator can never break: it can only become stairs. You should never see an Escalator Temporarily Out Of Order sign, just Escalator Temporarily Stairs. Sorry for the convenience.
posted by dudemanlives at 7:33 PM on March 21, 2016 [18 favorites]


I am absolutely flabbergasted that Taylor hasn't been fired for speaking up. FLABBERGASTED.

He did more in one night to sell BART's bond measure than anybody else at the agency has done in years. Follow the money.

An escalator can never break: it can only become stairs. You should never see an Escalator Temporarily Out Of Order sign, just Escalator Temporarily Stairs. Sorry for the convenience.

Not to kill the joke, but people trip on escalators when they're used as stairs (if the broken escalator doesn't fail catastrophically), and then they sue you because they claim the escalator-cum-stairs were dangerous and uneven. This might be why BART proceeds to wall off the broken escalators for months at a time.
posted by zachlipton at 7:40 PM on March 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


Dudeman, I was thinking the same thing as I walked down the broken escalator at the Civic Center station this evening.
posted by neon meat dream of an octofish at 7:41 PM on March 21, 2016


.the system is literally falling apart today (and it's not at all clear that the current problem is actually due to lack of money or maintenance).

I don't quite understand what else might be to blame. Actual sabotage?
posted by the agents of KAOS at 7:56 PM on March 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I can walk up an escalator, but at rush hour Montgomery the second street exit BOTH escalators were shut off and barricaded, with two full sets of gates open and people streaming in assholes with bikes, and people trying to go UP the stairs.

This has been going off and on for months.

So yeah, escalators become stairs. surprisingly steep stairs with a coarsely serrated edge and no notices until you're corralled into it.

Couple that with a sometimes erratic schedule, and the platform was FULL. Like you had to fucking push to get past the stairs and it never really opened up.

I spent several years in Tokyo, and had one commute that was a local, saikyo, then yamanote, and had the dudes pushing people on to trains and it wasn't like as tragically stupid as some of the bad days I've had with BART recently.
posted by lkc at 7:58 PM on March 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


I don't quite understand what else might be to blame. Actual sabotage?

What I meant there was that nobody seems to actually know what is causing the current problem. There are weird electrical spikes that destroy propulsion components in the train cars, and they've flown in experts to help investigate. Apparently, some of the problems have occurred in sections of track that have been the subject of fairly recent refurbishment, so it's not like you can necessarily blame it on everything being old.

Clearly, BART has a big deferred maintenance backlog and I'm not denying that. I'm just saying this particular problem is caused by some sort of unknown technical problem, and we don't know that it wouldn't have occurred had we been spending more money on maintenance all along.
posted by zachlipton at 8:04 PM on March 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


I know this is really naive, but I keep reading stories about places in the USA with amazingly high unemployment and no jobs. I'm sure you can't just slot untrained people into construction jobs, but why can't you offer free training and accommodation to people that are willing and able to learn construction. After they graduate, you'd have skilled workers right there. You could partially finance the whole thing by the savings on welfare and crime and healthcare and all the other costs of poverty, and you'd have nice new roads and bridges.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:11 PM on March 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


Joe, come on. You clearly don't know how this country works. First you have to blame it on immigrants taking the jobs, then once all the skilled immigrant tradespeople have been deported....wait..fuck.
posted by dudemanlives at 8:16 PM on March 21, 2016 [8 favorites]


Is the problem lack of skilled construction workers? I don't think it is. I'm pretty sure it's about budgets.
posted by gingerest at 8:27 PM on March 21, 2016 [7 favorites]


> The OAC is certainly not useless—it's actually pretty convenient—, but if the BART Board and management had stood up and said "our entire system is on the verge of collapse from lack of maintenance, so maybe a new link to the airport isn't the best use of our money right now," we might well be in a slightly better place today. Or maybe we would have done it anyway, but at least we would have been warned.

Yes, and also it's worthwhile to note that the OAC uses fairly exotic technology — it's actually a cable car system — that requires custom equipment that's pretty expensive compared to more conventional systems.

This is in microcosm one of the big problems with the design of the BART system as a whole; since in the 1970s the idea was that the success or failure of the system depended on whether or not well-off white people in the far suburbs used it, they made a number of questionable and very expensive custom choices. Most notably, BART cars are wider than most transit vehicles, in order to fit in the wide, plush seats that were meant to be attractive to suburban butts, and to support all this wideness the system as a whole uses broad-gauge tracks of a type used nowhere else in North America.

Why is this a problem? This is a problem because BART cars are custom jobs, usable nowhere but in the BART system, and costs more than using off-the-shelf hardware.

As I understand it (or at least, as I understood it a few years back, when I stopped paying close attention to this sort of thing), the budget-conscious way to design a metro rail system is to go out of your way to make your system as compatible as possible with the trains used on the NYC subway. This is because the NYC subway system is far and away the biggest consumer of train equipment, and so if you build systems compatible with their trains, you can get in on the economies of scale they've established — or even just buy old decommissioned subway cars for your system.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:29 PM on March 21, 2016 [17 favorites]


Another consequence of the non-standard gauge is that the cars have to be individually trucked in from the factory instead of being hooked up to a locomotive and delivered by rail. Not sure if it's a big deal cost-wise but it's a little silly.
posted by clorox at 8:59 PM on March 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


Social welfare state, do you speak it?
posted by blue_beetle at 9:17 PM on March 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


My suburban butt really appreciates those soft seats though.
posted by bleep at 9:30 PM on March 21, 2016


Transbay bus is where it's at.

Where it sat.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 9:33 PM on March 21, 2016 [7 favorites]


> My suburban butt really appreciates those soft seats though.

yeah, but during commute time a few extra inches of standing space would keep me from having to put my West Oakland face directly in someone else's Rockridge armpit.

fwiw, this morning I caught one of the new test cars, with single seats instead of double seats in order to make more room for standees, and it was glorious.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:35 PM on March 21, 2016 [8 favorites]


From the SF Chronicle, discussing how BART got into the state it's in now: BART chased glamorous projects as its core system decayed.

BECAUSE THERE IS FUNDING FOR THOSE PROJECTS AND NONE FOR MAINTENANCE. They weren't "chasing funding" to be assholes, its a different pot of money, a lot of it grants etc, and they'd have been insane to turn that money down. At least part of the system is modern now. The maintenance is supposed to be local/ state funded with operating funds (or not apparently) but a lot of the expansion is federal funds and bonds and other stuff. You can't spend capitol money on maintenance. Or you'll go to prison, for starters.

Infrastructure wasn't built by magic, if we don't maintain it, it crumbles. And yes that cuts into personal wealth. The people of CA have been choosing granite countertops over infrastructure for decades now and it shows.
posted by fshgrl at 9:43 PM on March 21, 2016 [37 favorites]


I'm sure you can't just slot untrained people into construction jobs, but why can't you offer free training and accommodation to people that are willing and able to learn construction.

Austerity policies at the State and local levels, that is, the levels most transit it funded at, through the last recession, make this not feasible.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:45 PM on March 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


Is the problem lack of skilled construction workers? I don't think it is. I'm pretty sure it's about budgets.

Yeah procurement (and the layer cake of rent-seeking and graft it seems to enable) seems to me to be a way bigger problem in the USA, plus the other things people mention in that thread like lack of continuity and institutional knowledge and belief in things like "the public good," plus all the things relating to the poisonous city-planning legacies that segregation/redlining/racism left on urban American landscapes that were covered in this excellent post about Baltimore's deferred mass transit dreams...
posted by en forme de poire at 9:58 PM on March 21, 2016 [6 favorites]


From the SF Chronicle, discussing how BART got into the state it's in now: BART chased glamorous projects as its core system decayed.

BECAUSE THERE IS FUNDING FOR THOSE PROJECTS AND NONE FOR MAINTENANCE.


Oh hey, that's how the University of California system works, too, last I heard. There's funding for the shiny new buildings....
posted by aniola at 10:58 PM on March 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


New test cars that benefit standees? That's even better then them getting rid of those staph laden cloth seat covers.
posted by lkc at 11:06 PM on March 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


dudemanlives: "An escalator can never break: it can only become stairs. You should never see an Escalator Temporarily Out Of Order sign, just Escalator Temporarily Stairs. Sorry for the convenience"

It's a great joke (Mitch was a funny guy) but IRL it is also a giant fuck you to people with mobility issues.
posted by Mitheral at 12:31 AM on March 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


I know this is really naive, but I keep reading stories about places in the USA with amazingly high unemployment and no jobs. I'm sure you can't just slot untrained people into construction jobs, but why can't you offer free training and accommodation to people that are willing and able to learn construction. After they graduate, you'd have skilled workers right there. You could partially finance the whole thing by the savings on welfare and crime and healthcare and all the other costs of poverty, and you'd have nice new roads and bridges.

Yeah, no. There are plenty of specialized heavy civil construction companies ready and willing to bid on big infrastructure projects, and they would all staff up in a hurry if we were spending billions and billions upgrading our infrastructure. It's not the 1960s any more and evidently we are in a post-infrastructure society, because we have decided to just let it decay instead.

It's most visible to me in our transportation and educational infrastructure, because we all have daily contact with both, but I am sure it is just as bad in the invisible infrastructure of power supply, dam safety, and so on. Nice things (like well-functioning infrastructure) take a lot of money and effort to build and maintain, and like fshgrl says, we "have been choosing granite countertops over infrastructure for decades now and it shows."

Economically it is a pity, because infrastructure is a great investment, from the way the work results in well-paid jobs to the ways you use the infrastructure to grow an economy, and done right it is extremely redistributive. But why build infrastructure when you can have another tax cut?
posted by Dip Flash at 5:06 AM on March 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


BECAUSE THERE IS FUNDING FOR THOSE PROJECTS AND NONE FOR MAINTENANCE. ... The maintenance is supposed to be local/ state funded with operating funds (or not apparently) but a lot of the expansion is federal funds and bonds and other stuff. You can't spend capitol money on maintenance.

Which is a problem in the private sector as well, though the consequences are (usually) less severe there. See also, this Twitter thread from SwiftOnSecurity.
posted by tobascodagama at 5:31 AM on March 22, 2016


If you've ever driven on I-75 through Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky, you've been on it. It's the terrifying double-decker bridge with no shoulder.

Sorry for the slight derail but I wondered if anyone would mention the Brent Spence and was not disappointed. That it was mentioned, anyway. Very disappointed in the way the bridge has (or hasn't) been handled. I've lived in Cincinnati for 10 years now and literally knew about the bridge within a month of being here, and maybe it's hyperbolic but if at all possible I take 471 across the river and do a longer loop to get where I need to go rather than go over the Brent Spence on 71/75 and I've suggested to my parents they ought to consider doing the same whenever they visit.

I think anyone who's had to sit on that thing during rush hour traffic though would probably feel the same way, though. And I didn't even know about the billboards.
posted by suddenly, and without warning, at 8:34 AM on March 22, 2016


Which is a problem in the private sector as well, though the consequences are (usually) less severe there.

At least in the private sector there is such a thing as capital. All government accounting in the US is done on a cash flow basis -- if I spend $1 billion on a bridge this budget cycle, there is literally no financial record of it next budget cycle. While a private company would record a $1 billion asset that depreciates over 30 years -- and could be forced to take a write down if they fail to maintain the asset and it depreciates faster than expected. Or, they could invest another $100 repairing in maintaining the bridge and spread the cost out over time.

It would be nice if a politician could say "We used to have $300 billion worth of roads, but due to aging now we only have $200 billion, so we need to invest $10 billion a year for 10 years to get back to where we were."
posted by miyabo at 8:49 AM on March 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


When I lived in NYC I would have welcomed similar honesty from the MTA. So I'm going to go with 'good job' here, instead of cynicism.
posted by Splunge at 9:58 AM on March 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


Anyone who says there can be no broken escalators hasn't seen a broken BART escalator- barricaded off, "stairs" all ripped out and ahoo, so that there is a gaping hole that sits there, unattended, for months.

The bigger problem is the constantly breaking elevators but they do try to fix those asap, seems like.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:07 AM on March 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


Since BART is a commuter train, aren't daily and weekly *rider* numbers comparable? Since one person uses BART roughly 10x a week?
posted by politikitty at 10:47 AM on March 22, 2016


New construction means you can put your name, or someone's name, on it: this gets you your funding for the new stations and roads. Maintenance, not so much, and many companies who specialize in such large-scale maintenance have perfected the art of sucking every penny out of a contract, meeting the absolute bare minimum requirements, and essentially turning what should have been a do-it-and-done project into a never-ending suck on the public teat.
posted by Blackanvil at 11:07 AM on March 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Because it should be ongoing maintenance it is something that should be mostly in house anyways. Develop the skills in house and use people who are intimately familiar with your processes and the system.

But it gets contracted out as an anti union measure and so maintenance can be deferred without layoffs. And then people are surprised that the contractor has what's best for the business in mind rather than what is best for the transit system.
posted by Mitheral at 11:42 AM on March 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


> Since BART is a commuter train, aren't daily and weekly *rider* numbers comparable? Since one person uses BART roughly 10x a week?
posted by politikitty at 10:47 AM on March 22 [+] [!]


I see you have mistaken BART for a type of train system that can be clearly and easily categorized.

BART is neither a commuter train nor a metro. It's a hybrid system that satisfies basically no one. In (parts of) Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco, it functions as a metro — stops relatively close together, with relatively dense development around stations, with sooorta frequent service, and with most people walking or taking buses or bikes to the station. In the rest of its coverage area it works like a commuter rail system — stops spread way out, relatively infrequent service, with a significant fraction of the ridership driving to a station and parking their cars at gigantic parking lots.

It's not a commuter rail system (at least, not a good one). It's not a metro (at least, not a good one). It's in the awkward uncanny valley between being a commuter rail system and being a metro.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:16 PM on March 22, 2016 [9 favorites]


Meanwhile, Muni floats a plan to bury the M from West Portal to SFSU/Parkmerced. I'm not optimistic it'll actually get done because it actually makes too much goddamn sense, but I can dream!

(It is an expansion of a sort rather than maintenance. But in this case, it would also make the line dramatically less vulnerable to above-ground traffic disruptions, which are commonplace right now, and would make the entire system run faster and more smoothly once completed. If Muni did a better job at being a metro, that would take at least some pressure off of BART...)
posted by en forme de poire at 12:40 PM on March 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


en forme de poire: did anything ever come of the campaign to get muni to align the end of the central subway expansion so that it could hypothetically be extended out Geary in the future? that's really the biggest hole in SF's transit system, I think... everything in the whole northwest corner of the city is just totally inaccessible from anywhere else in the entire Bay Area....
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:26 PM on March 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


Compared to the larger East Bay cities the entirety of SF is a transit-accessible wonderland.
posted by clorox at 3:43 PM on March 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


No, last I heard I think it's still aligned towards North Beach/Fisherman's Wharf. Geary is supposed to be getting BRT instead. But since most BRT projects in the USA [pdf] barely qualify (Boston, I'm looking at you), I'm not optimistic anything useful will actually materialize. People have been up in arms about the prospective loss of parking and about how this will Forever Completely Destroy retail along Geary, so my cynical guess is that under pressure from merchants and drivers, bit by bit the parts that actually make it a BRT line will go away and eventually we'll be left spending a lot of money for a repainted bus with a few minutes' advantage. (The reneged promises and the obvious waste of money will then conveniently give drivers even more ammo to shoot down further Muni expansions, of course.)
posted by en forme de poire at 3:44 PM on March 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


If anything runs out Geary, it won't be the Central Subway, the north end of the tunnel for which is at Washington Square in North Beach. The extension plans take it up Powell to Kirkland Yard, along Columbus to Fisherman's Wharf, or possibly both in an ill-advised loop, and then possibly out Lombard to the Presidio.

It might be BART, as part of the Metro Vision Plan and a second Transbay Tube. Or it might be Muni if they get their act together instead, but apparently connecting to 2nd St, not the Central Subway.
posted by enf at 3:45 PM on March 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


Compared to the larger East Bay cities the entirety of SF is a transit-accessible wonderland.

Yeah, and it's still small enough to be walkable. It's very steep in places, but the size of SF makes it possible to walk anywhere within city limits, which is great if you're not familiar with transit schedules and just need to get from point A to point B.
posted by krinklyfig at 4:04 PM on March 22, 2016


I love the walkability too, but that's mostly an advantage for tourists or people enjoying a weekend. Most of the neighborhoods in SF which are not totally inaccessible to non-rich people are scattered around its periphery. I'm not even that far out and it would take me an hour and 48 minutes to walk the >5 miles from my apartment to work; the fact that Muni can only speed that up to an hour and eight minutes is a joke, imho.
posted by en forme de poire at 4:17 PM on March 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


I guess that's true. I was thinking more of SF in years gone by, where your starting point might be the Mission or around Haight. Even so, when I lived in Fremont without a car, the walk from the BART station to my house was about two hours, and transit between them was only available until 10pm on weekdays, which resulted in a lot walking or getting trapped in SF overnight if I stayed past midnight. Going out was always a tricky situation, which seemed kind of primitive even then considering the influx of money and people (early 2000s).
posted by krinklyfig at 4:29 PM on March 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Compared to the larger East Bay cities the entirety of SF is a transit-accessible wonderland.
posted by clorox at 3:43 PM on March 22 [2 favorites +] [!]


It helps that I live relatively centrally, but I've found transit in Oakland and Berkeley at least to be, well, not half bad. For most places I want to get to, BART works well; for the rest of the places I want to get to, there's decent-ish AC transit buses.

AC transit frequency is, admittedly, a little lacking, but their (pretty useful) realtime bus locator sort of mitigates that problem.

Muni's not as bad as people say it is, but it's not great. That said, I promise you I will never ride the 38-Geary ever again. I'd do nearly anything to avoid riding that bus. I'd learn to drive a car and then buy a car to avoid riding that bus.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:07 PM on March 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


ugh, krinklyfig, yeah, I had a similar situation when I lived in the NJ suburbs on a train line to NYC. American suburbs and a lot of smaller American cities seem to go out of their way to be hostile to transit users. (I lived on a tiny rail spur from the main line, which shut down around 11 pm even though the last train in was around 2 am; it was around an hour's walk back without that rail link, but you couldn't actually walk the whole distance without illegally crossing a 4-lane freeway, with no sidewalk or street lights. I did it once and decided I had better call someone so they could hear if I got hit by a car and call 911 for me.)

The other thing is that while Muni routes do basically innervate the whole city, Muni's average speed is only 9 mph and schedules can be unreliable and sparse; the part of the network that's actually high-frequency is way, way smaller, and even then headways are extremely variable. People always respond to this with "but NextBus!" but I think that misses the point; yeah, it's way better to at least know when the next bus is coming, but if at any given time there's even odds of the next bus being in 10 minutes or 35 minutes (and IME in the latter case, the bus after that is usually in 38 minutes) it's terrible for both spontaneous and planned trips. The real main use of NextBus is so you don't have to stand out in the rain for half an hour, but it doesn't help you get where you're going any faster. (Plus, even with NextBus you can get burned by ghost buses.)
posted by en forme de poire at 9:26 AM on March 23, 2016 [4 favorites]


Is this a good spot to complain that my county, San Mateo County, brilliantly decided to opt out of BART participation in 1961? 'Cause they did, and as a result BART is probably never coming to my local area in my lifetime. --mosk

My understanding is that they did it out of spite. The San Francisco International Airport is actually in San Mateo County, but somehow arrainged it so that they pay little, if any, property taxes to the county. "You won't pay us taxes for your airport, then we won't pay taxes for your mass transit." Of course they were just shooting themselves in the foot, but that's politics for you.

I think the department stores in San Francisco were also afraid that city residents could get another easy ride out of the city to shop elsewhere, so some of them were also fighting it.
posted by eye of newt at 8:30 AM on March 24, 2016


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