SF Bay Area needs regional transit planning to avoid Google Bus syndrome

The San Francisco Bay Area has a transportation problem/crisis on its hands.  Every day some corridors turn into miles of gridlock, while the region is saddled with a pathetically fragmented mass transit system.  The other day I wrote about how Google (and other Tech companies) are building privately owned mass transit systems, that further the fragmentation, when the dollars those companies are spending could be better spent, macro-economically, on a publicly owned mass transit system that serves everyone.

What I really had in mind was that “we” (the SF Bay Area) need to focus on walkability and mass transit.   However, because the SF Bay Area doesn’t have a cohesive regional transit agency, the needed planning for transit that serves the whole bay area simply doesn’t take place.  That’s why these privately owned buses come into being, the publicly owned transit system isn’t doing the job.

Over on the SF Streetsblog the editor of that site, Aaron Bialick, tells us The Bay Area Needs More Walkable Housing, Not Google Bus Bashing.  While I agree with him, that walkable affordable housing is critically needed, and would tend to cause the population density required for effective transit systems, his piece solely focuses on San Francisco.  Hey, dude, there’s a whole Bay Area that isn’t part of San Francisco, and focusing solely on fixing Transit in San Francisco won’t cut it.

The reason those Google Buses exist is because many of the employees are living in San Francisco but working at jobs in Mountain View.  The problem for them is the ridiculous structure of the transit system across the whole region.  And it’s a problem not just for the tech employees who work in Silicon Valley but live far away, it’s a problem for everyone in the SF Bay Area.

Where Bialick says “the Bay Area can’t have the dynamic
tech-based economy sought by Mayor
Ed Lee and an affordable housing supply for middle-class and low-income
people without building substantial amounts of walkable development,” it
shows that he doesn’t at all understand the real problem the Bay Area
is facing.  His whole blog post focuses on transit issues INSIDE San Francisco, where the actual issue of the Tech Buses is not about that problem, but is about the problem of getting people from San Francisco or other far flung places in the Bay Area down to a job in Silicon Valley.

That is, many of these people have a job in Mountain View or Sunnyvale or San Jose, but don’t want to live close to those cities.  Instead they feel the desire to live in a desirable place like San Francisco or Santa Cruz or the Berkeley/Oakland hills.   The commute distance is 30+ miles each way, and due to the geography of the SF Bay Area is maddeningly difficult.

The typical commute on public mass transit is … HOME -> Local Bus -> Rail Transit -> Local Bus -> Job

There’s enough variables in that scenario which can derail the commute, that some people just throw up their hands and drive the car.  But that carries its own problems, as well as environmental footprint.

This isn’t the only sort of commute scenario in the Bay Area because Silicon Valley isn’t the only destination.  I picked that one because the Google Buses, in particular, serve that particular commute scenario.

The problem with that scenario is the local transit systems on both ends are woefully inadequate.  Plus, for most of the Silicon Valley tech workers, Caltrain is the only “Rail Transit” choice but that rail line only serves cities on the Peninsula.  For those whose desired house location is in the East Bay, they simply do not have a satisfying rail commute choice for locations in Silicon Valley.  Why?  It’s again because of fragmentation between BART and Caltrain, with ridiculously inadequate connections between the two.

In his blog post Bialick talks about a lot of things related to housing and transit in San Francisco.  I’m sure all those things are true.  But he started that blog post talking about the Google Bus protests earlier this week.  As I’ve attempted to show here, the Google Bus problem isn’t about housing and transit in San Francisco.  It’s about region-wide transit issues.

He closes with this

The bottom line is that San Francisco needs to make the tough political
decisions to prioritize people and transit, not cars. Cities up and down
the Peninsula and the East Bay need to ditch the suburban model of the
20th century and embrace the creation of more human-scale,
transit-friendly neighborhoods that more of us want so badly to live in.

And while I agree with the sentiment, it shows us a San Francisco centric parochialism.

What’s needed is for the entire SF Bay Area to be better planned on a regional scale.  Yes, focus the plan for the region on prioritizing people and transit, and on human-scale transit-friendly neighborhoods.  I’m all for that.  But so long as the SF Bay Area transit system is fragmented on  county borders, the region-level transit needs will not be adequately served.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

Leave a Reply