Folsom RT Woes

Apparently the huge popularity of the newly opened Folsom light-rail line caught Regional Transit off guard, too. I know that nobody likes the backseat urban planning guy (especially when he doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about), but I’d like to know how something as large as a commuter rail line gets completed without a clear picture of how it’s going to be used. Survey, anyone? Polling? Calling random numbers? Anything ringing a bell?

But from the picture of RT this article paints, I guess the lack of user sampling is not the biggest obstacle RT faces.

Last week, a consultant for the south line extension told an RT committee it now looks like capital costs for that extension will be $150 million – a whopping $38 million more than anticipated.

And that’s not the only project over budget. If the people at RT misplace their tickets, they might want to look up their collective ass.

Personally, I like Roger Dickinson’s suggestion for saving money; that “light-rail stations don’t have to be as nice as they are.” Benches? What’s wrong with standing or sitting on the concrete? Lights? Who needs ’em. (Actually, I haven’t been on RT in a while: do they have complementary adult beverages now? Flat screens?)

In addition he shares this tidbit:

RT might want to ask local city or county governments to kick in more money to get light-rail lines built, such as additional property taxes they earn if new development sprouts up around light-rail lines.

I got an idea: Let’s build a line straight toward the sun, and then just hope people start inhabiting tiny meteors, like The Little Prince, so they can hop on the flying RT. Come on, Sacramento: build stuff for people to use, like trains that go by where they actually live, not where people escaping million dollar mortgages might live in 2 years. (Or not.)

But I’m afraid that’s business as usual in Sacto. Here’s Heather Fargo on the downtown library from a few weeks ago: “as more residents move [into downtown], they will want to have access to the library downtown.” You know who else wants access to the library downtown? People who live downtown, right now. Let’s not forget about them. You know, the frickin people who voted for you and stuff.

Author: CoolDMZ

"X-ray vision to see in between / Where's my kimono and my time machine?"

6 thoughts on “Folsom RT Woes”

  1. My light rail stop is one of the few that has parking available and its only luxury aside from that is a small awning that might shelter three people from the rain. I’m not sure what it will be like yet in the rainy season, but I can tell you that it’s certainly not so “nice” as to be the cause of exploding RT project budgets. I agree with CoolDMZ and would add that it’s amazingly absurd for new light rail stations to be constructed without adjacent parking, so that if you live more than a few blocks away the stop is useless to you. Sure, I could walk farther or ride a bike to my stop, but in the dark after work dressed in office gear, that’s not realistic, especially as a woman concerned about safety. I’ve always asumed the current stops don’t have parking because at the time it wasn’t necessary, but I’m amazed that the planners of the new stops didn’t take the opportunity to create parking near them. Even 30 or 50 spots per station would be a great improvement.

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  2. don’t get me wrong, i like reading and all, but i’m going with “no parking” girl on this one…

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  3. I have to put in my two cents on this — not that I’m an expert, but I’ve been in the planning / construction / utilities industry for about a dozen years now. Sadly, we can’t dream up a project and it magically happens overnight & solves our problems right away.

    Regarding user surveys, they are conducted, but because the planning process* takes so long, it’s not easy to know how well-used the facilities will be until they’re actually in place.

    Planning process 101 (to give you an idea of why projects sometimes have kinks to overcome when first implemented):

    -Scoping out what needs to happen based on travel patterns, population/employment growth projections, historical data, surveys

    -Developing a plan and gaining approval from local gov’t and establishing buy-in from stakeholders such as neighborhood associations, neighboring businesses, etc.

    -Acquire the right-of-way for your project — this entails buying the land you’ll need, usually from several different landowners (some of whom do not want to sell)

    -Have your plan go through the environmental process (CEQA and NEPA for starters, but then throw in issues specific to your project area like the burrowing owl, fairy shrimp, or garter snakes)

    -Having the plans put into the State Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP) by the local Regional Transportation Planning Agency (in our case, this is SACOG — see http://www.sacog.org) and then forwarded to the California Transportation Commission (different from Caltrans)

    -Acquire funding — many large transportation projects receive federal funding (through any iteration of the TEA bills), but there has to be a local match using city or county dollars & this is often the most difficult part of the process since local funding is so specific for how it can be used.

    -Once all the plans are approved and funding is acquired (you’re already a couple/few years into the process by now), then you put the project out to bid.

    -With a transit project like the Folsom extension, there can be several contractors involved (earthmoving, track laying, switching / signaling / automation, transit stations & parking lots, and of course the actual trains.) You sit through weeks of technical clarification meetings where your engineers talk to the transit district’s engineers to be very specific on what the project will require. For instance, the HVAC system in a light rail train will be drastically different in Sacramento than it would be in Calgary. With the Folsom extension, they contracted with CAF, a Spanish company, for the actual trains & they had MANY quality control issues with them (I used to work for a competitor of CAF.) You may think that all trains in all cities look pretty similar, but there are huge differences in the mechanics that you don’t see, and every detail has to be hashed out with the customer.

    -Once the bid is awarded, then work begins. Factor in weather issues, labor issues, change-orders, public opposition (there almost always is), and you’re heading toward cost overruns and extended schedules. (Yes, you can plan for these things, and I’m proud to say that I’m in the private sector now where we do plan for such things.)

    -The Folsom line could be expandable to express service, but they’d have to acquire the ROW to build a separate track for portions of it, install some switching in other parts of the line, and possibly build some bridges (e.g. over Watt) to minimize interfering with street traffic.

    Hopefully this sheds a little light on why things take so long, cost a lot, and don’t necessarily solve all problems immediately.

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  4. Sorry, I can’t resist the urge to write a dissertation when I see a comment like, “I know that nobody likes the backseat urban planning guy (especially when he doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about.)”

    I suggest writing a letter to your elected officials with your concerns & including a Sac Rag t-shirt.

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  5. I’m very impressed by your analysis of the Transit planning process, runnergirl1971. You must have worked as a state or regional planner at some point. That’s probably the only way you can know so much about the process.

    I wonder why many of the Sacto Light Rail stops are located in some of the most-unwalkable areas of the County, considering that every transit rider will be walking or biking to at least one of their destinations?

    Design cut-backs on the Light Rail? What a recipe for disaster. The success of the light rail COMPLETELY depends on the design of the entire system and how comfortable a rider feels. As good as RT’s intentions are for the system, the Sacto Light Rail has a long way to go. With rising oil prices, I hope it gets there soon! My two major line requests: stops at the airport and downtown Davis.

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  6. Sacramento has employed the path of least resistance in choosing where to place light rail, and generally that has been in existing rail lines rather than where people live or want to go.

    Station locations are generally determined by where the nearest major arterial crosses the rail line. The 47th Avenue station being a great example – the only reason there is a station there is because of the freeway exit on 99, two miles east.

    Regarding why there is not parking at every station – some neighborhoods don’t want you there, like 39th and 48th Street, some places there wasn’t any land available, and at stations close to the central city, it is not cost effective. Free parking is not free, and it is not the most productive land use – it does not generate the greatest number of transit riders, nor maximize the number of people who can get access to transit. (65th Street is one of the highest ridership stations – no parking lot.) And giant parking lots are wastelands at night. If only we worked on maximizing the number of people who live and work close to rail stations rather than the number of cars that can park there.

    BART is moving toward developing all its parking lots with transit villages

    http://www.bart.gov/about/planning/station.asp

    And the folks in Sonoma County are looking ahead to that
    http://www.sonomatlc.org/Transportation/RailStaAccess.htm

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