All posts by andy

SamTrans to revisit busway on Dumbarton Corridor

On the agenda for the SamTrans Board of Directors July 10, 2024 meeting is an action item to request funding for a study of putting a busway on Dumbarton Rail Corridor. Unlike the previous attempts that considered bus and rail options (including pods) through the entire corridor from Fremont/Newark to Redwood City, this time the agency is only looking to build a busway on the San Mateo County side between Redwood City and East Palo Alto, on the rail right of way that the agency owns.

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Caltrain electrification & Alternative Compliance

On the weekend of June 8 and 9, 2024, Caltrain suspended diesel passenger trains to allow testing of new electric trains on the corridor. While the testing of electric trains have been conducted for many months, seeing many of them in simulated operation during daytime is eye opening. The trains are quiet; start fast and stop fast. The riding experience should be transformative when these trains are to be fully rolled out in September. The operating plan for September is to only have electric trains serving all trips between San Francisco and San Jose, and diesel locomotive haul trains would provide service between Gilroy and San Jose, where the trains operate on Union Pacific owned tracks that aren’t electrified. Arguably, Caltrain will have the most advanced passenger train sets in North America.

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San Mateo Bridge Transit

A fact of life on the Peninsula is that during rush hours, the 101 freeway is jammed in both direction leading to SR-92 and SR-92 is also jammed leading to the San Mateo Bridge. Unfortunately, unlike nearly all other Bay Area bridges, this bridge has no transit option currently for the general public nor a route for cyclists. Commuters either have to drive themselves, make informal arrangements for carpool, lucky enough to have employer sponsored shuttles, or use other bridge corridors on transit or bike/micromobility. Why hasn’t transit worked for the San Mateo Bridge?

Remaining portion of original bridge that turned into a pier (right). High rise portion of the current bridge (left).

Even though the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge first opened to traffic in 1929, and being the second road bridge to be opened crossing San Francisco Bay (after Dumbarton Bridge), I was not able to find history of scheduled bus service on the bridge before SamTrans introduced the 90E route between San Mateo and Hayward BART in 1977. In the early decades, the Peninsula and East Bay regions outside Oakland and Berkeley were mostly rural. Primary transbay transit service was ferries from Oakland and eventually interurban rail and buses over the Bay Bridge.

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Trying out autonomous shuttle

Not too long ago, I made a trek to San Ramon to try out the PRESTO autonomous shuttle operating inside the Bishop Ranch business park.

The service runs 2 battery powered autonomous vehicles between the transit center and the shopping mall. For now, each vehicle has an attendant that monitors the vehicle (and takes over with a game like controller if necessary). The vehicle has a footprint of a minivan but can seat up to 11, along with ability to accommodate a wheelchair. The service primarily operates inside the parking lots and driveways of the business park, but crosses a public street (at Camino Ramon). The vehicle operates at level 3 automation and currently at a max speed of about 13 miles an hour.

The service is not particularly fast, and if you’re on a bike (or for me, electric unicycle), this service wouldn’t be attractive at all, but according to my conversation with one of the attendants, people do use the shuttle to go to the shopping center and can get busy. I like the general interior layout of the shuttle, with easy access between the door and each of the seats. It has a feel of a proper transit vehicle versus personal vehicles like sedans and SUVs. The vehicle amazingly has a tight turning radius.

With being autonomous, the technology is not perfect. On 1 of my trial rides, the vehicle made a few sudden stops. Fortunately the vehicle features seat belts. Those quick stops may be an advantage to avoid collisions but the machine generated response of sudden braking seems too much for humans to handle compared to human driven vehicles.

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Millbrae Station – 20 years later

This month (June 2023) is the 20th anniversary of opening of BART SFO extension. Millbrae is the end of the line of this extension & the transfer point between Caltrain and BART. The station was built with an expectation of high ridership & transfer activities, but things changed quite a bit over the past 20 years with changes in economy, transportation/housing priorities, and COVID.

2003

20 years ago I was a young transit activist & a regular Caltrain rider. I was able to see the station being constructed and was there on the opening day.

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