GUIDEWAY 2003 articles

PRT system for Santa Clara County proposed by MTS. Display used at the MTS booth at the Transportation Fair of the Norman Mineta Transportation Institute by Bob Williams, MTS President, and Noel Tebo, MTS secretary.

Recent successes for pedestrians along "expressways"

Akos Szoboszlay

MTS had great successess this year in the struggle (since 1982) for pedestrian rights and safety on arterial roads renamed "expressway."

1) Sunnyvale now allows walking on shoulders and pedestrian paths. Sunnyvale is also gradually building sidewalks on Java Dr., where LRT patrons have to walk in the traffic lane.

2) The County Supervisors, in a new policy, also support pedestrians on shoulders and pedestrian paths, approved on Aug. 19, 2003. This was a dramatic changed from even one year ago, when the Couinty highway engineers opposed even pedestrian path usage. Akos Szoboszlay, MTS Vice-President, quoted policies of FHWA, Caltrans and VTA which the County highway engineers would have violated, so staff changed the draft to conform. These policies support pedestrians on arterials, and expressways meet all federal specifications for "arterial."

3) The County trimmed shrubbery for pedestrian safety --after 10 years of requests-- for pedestrian safety on Montague. More expressways will follow.

Next: MTS will approach San Jose to stop prohibiting walking on the sidewalk, etc. The San Jose staff continues their decade of stonewalling, but I predict they will have a major loss before Council, like their last 11-0 loss when MTS lead the fight to allow bicycles on shoulders, in 1989.

For details on all above topics see:

Update in Sept. 2003: the County highway engineers refuse to comply with the law and with County policy. Details and two photos are in the letter to the County Supervisors.

What Norman Mineta Didn't Say

Mike Bullock

U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta announced [On May 9, 200] that the economic impact of motor vehicle crashes on America's roadways has reached $230.6 billion a year, or an average of $820 for every person living in the United States. The announcement was based on a new research study released today by the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

What Norm didn't say is that cars kill 40,000 Americans per year, and that's the good news. Before air bags, they killed 50,000 per year and they literally did this for decades. Although we should never forget September 11th (and thanks to all of our Democratic and Republican Secretaries of Transportation for never realizing that they had a responsibility to protect the general public from jet fuel, instead of just working to maximize the number of people that fly, and for crying out load, they haven't even shut the cockpit doors yet), we lost less that 3000 folks that horrible day, while cars kill more than 3000 every single month.

Some modes of transportation are inherently more dangerous than others. But our (oil company) officials rank transportation modes by how much oil they can consume per passenger mile, not on inherent safety.

Automobile Dependence

Art Weber (in El Cerrito, California)

Four times as many United States residents have been killed in motor vehicle accidents as were slain in all our nation’s wars since the 1776 Revolution. The rest of the world is still catching up: in its annual World Disasters Report the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies predicts that in twenty years traffic accidents will take third place in the world for death and disability, ahead of war, respiratory infections, tuberculosis and HIV.

Why do we routinely ignore traffic accident statistics when we draw up our laundry lists of all the adverse impacts resulting from dependence on motor vehicles? Is such an extreme degree of violence justified on economic grounds? Are maximum profits for the auto manufacturers and petroleum industry paramount? Are so many injuries necessary to maintain an adequate client base for the medical industry?

Many of us agree that the alternatives to driving are so inadequate that we’re left with no choice — but the analysis shouldn’t stop there. No one should be forced to rely on modes of transportation so dangerous that they require seat belts, air bags or crash helmets. If anyone is forced to drive we need to do a better job of identifying the political decisions responsible. Urban and suburban land use decisions (consistently ignoring public transit and other alternatives to the auto as necessary infrastructure) leave increasing numbers of us faced with taking a warlike risk of death or serious injury, or being disenfranchised.

Since California and federal courts consider driving to be a privilege (not the equivalent of our fundamental right to travel) federal law should prohibit any urban or suburban development that is not at least as accessible and functional for non-motorists as it is for those who drive. Development that accommodates only motorists is in violation of the equal protection provision of our Constitution.

What kind of fools would build the biggest public works project in human history (our interstate highway system), call it a national defense project, and then force themselves into dependence on a mode of transportation that’s deadlier than war? Our planning process is a greater threat to our well-being than any allegedly hostile elements outside our borders. We should shift our defense spending to alternative transportation projects that will undo decades of discriminatory planning and assure equal access for all.

Why will so many parents meekly submit themselves and their children to a warlike risk of death, injury or permanent disability in an auto accident rather than protest government planning decisions that offer no alternatives? With friends like that kids don’t need any enemies!

Santa Clara County Election 2002:

Transit Measure Beats Roads Measure, 82% to 74%

Mike Bullock

Measure A asked voters if they approved of the County's current transit plan. Measure B asked voters if they approved of the currently adopted plan for spending VTA discretionary money for roads. So in a way, they were very similar measures. It is highly unlikely, at least within the next 10 years or so, that it would have made any difference if these measures had lost. They were both largely symbolic. The transit measure beat the roads measure, getting an 82% yes vote compared to the road measure's 74% yes vote.

Unlike Measure A, however, Measure B did make a change in the laws. Its passage prevents the current VTA spending plan from being changed for 34 years, except by another ballot measure.

Here's the historical background on Measure B and how it came about.

Our County's Valley Transportation Agency (VTA) allocates money to transportation projects. They are directed by a group of our elected officials. Their discretionary funds can be spent on either transit or roads. They receive these funds because the VTA has been designated as our congestion management agency. So, theoretically, the money should be spent to relive congestion. Before Measure A 2000 was created, the VTA policy was to spend half of the funds on transit and half on roads.

But in 2000, polls conducted by both the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group and the San Jose Mayor's office showed that a half-percent increase in sales tax could get the required two-thirds vote, if it paid for an extension of BART to downtown San Jose. The SVMG and the Mayor came up with a plan to use the tax for both BART and highways. They took their plan to the Board of Supervisors. In general, the SVMG group gets what it wants. But the Supervisor's initial reaction was to oppose the idea because of BART's high cost. Supervisors Bealle and Alvarado led the opposition.

Therefore the SVMG went to the VTA to put BART on the ballot if the County didn't. However, by state law, any VTA measure must be 100% transit. This is where the VTA discretionary funds entered the picture. All of the VTA Board members except their chair, who was none other than Supervisor Alvarado, signed a letter stating that if the Supervisors did not put a BART measure on the ballot, they would do so and, in addition, they would use 100% of their discretionary money for roads. Supervisors Bealle and Alvarado would still not change their position and since the county needed, by state law, 3 votes, it was left to the VTA to carry out their pledge (which some had viewed as a threat).

Therefore, the VTA voted to spend all of their discretionary "congestion management" funds on a very specific plan of upgrading the highway system over the duration of the Measure A 2000 tax (2006 to 2036), if Measure A 2000 passed.

Measure A 2000 passed with a vote of 71%. It is estimated to raise $6 billion dollars. The ballot argument promised BART to San Jose and Santa Clara, an airport people mover, two planned Light Rail projects, two additional (undefined) Light Rail Projects, a new train over the Bay to Palo Alto, and improvements to Caltrain and bus service. It showed that it is possible to get two-thirds of the voters to support an increase in the sales tax, if it is to fund a set of transit projects that the voters feel will be effective.

The Measure A 2000 also contained words promising to spend the VTA discretionary funds on roads. Only the poll takers might know if this promise helped or hurt the vote for the measure. If they know, they are not sharing the information. And the San Jose Mercury, which is no more than the SVMG's free advertising agency in these matters, acts as if the question does not exist. (Recall the question as to whether or not Al Gore would have won Florida if the Supreme Court had not showed its Republican leanings. The media spent a huge amount of money to find that he would not have.)

But in any case, the VTA Board had voted to spend all the money on roads. More specifically, they had adopted a set of road projects that was identical to what came to be the Measure B 2002 list of projects. Evidently, the road proponents believed that there was a possibility that some future VTA Board (our elected leaders) could vote to use some of their money for transit and that therefore a ballot measure was needed to prevent this from happening. It is estimated that over the thirty years that Measure A 2000 and Measure B 2002 are in effect, these discretionary funds will total $2.4 Billion.

Since before all this activity the funds were to be divided between transit and highways, highways have gained about $1.2 Billion. This compares to the $6 Billion for transit. Some transit supporters are OK with this trade. Others are not pleased because they feel BART is not a good value.

The Measure B campaign was interesting.

B was opposed by the Sierra Club, the Modern Transit Society, the Bay Rail Alliance, and the Santa Clara VTA Riders Union. MTS President Akos Szoboszly led the effort to write the ballot arguments, which were excellent. However, the Pro-Measure B argument made it sound as if a yes vote would cause $2.4 Billion dollars to suddenly appear to mostly fill pot holes. And not raise taxes (true, the tax money was already there) and not take money from transit (misleading, at best).

The SVMG's Director Carl Guardino stated, in a mailer sent to every voter in the County, that "Measure B will make the next investments in our roads."

That was misleading, since the investment decision had already been made.

Carl could say that if Measure B had failed and the VTA Board later decided to spend some of the money on transit, some of the road projects might not get built. B would stop this. But this is hardly "making the next investments in our roads".

Diane McKenna (our state Highway Commissioner and a well know local figure, being a former Supervisor) said in the same mailer that Measure B would not take money from transit. That could also be true, but only if, given a Measure B failure, the VTA Board never decided to change their policy and spend some of their money on transit. Carl and Diane could not have both been correct, but since Measure B passed, we will never know which one failed to predict the future correctly. One could say, however, that since both statements were made as if they were true in any case, both Carl and Diane have shown themselves to be quite capable of misleading voters to get the outcome they want.

The Mercury never made any attempt to clear up the confusion caused by these statements. In fact their editorial in support of Measure B, as well as their "coverage" reinforced the idea that Measure B was going to build and repave highways and these wonderful things could only happen if B passed.

The opposition groups sent many letters to the Mercury News about the poor coverage, but only one short letter was printed. The opposition groups put anti-B articles in their newletters, but the SCVMG's newsletter, the Mercury News, reached a lot more readers. The San Jose Metro newspaper opposed Measure B.

The Silicon Valley Bicycle Association was neutral. They invited Carl Guardino to write a pro-B article in their newsletter, the Spinning Crank. He did a masterful job of making it sound as if our roads would all be made smooth for bicycle riding if Measure B passed, but no maintenance would happen if Measure B failed. Ellen Fletcher, editor of the Spinning Crank, let me write the opposing side. I failed to stress that the highway projects were already approved and would probably all get done even if B failed. I read Carl's article and my article and felt that I had been soundly thrashed. It felt worse because I edited the Spinning Crank for over 10 years. (Live and learn as my mother used to say.)

Measure A 2002 (the transit advisory measure) had no opposition. The Mercury News supported but it but wrote very little about it. When one recalls all of the anti-BART opinions that were aired during the Measure A 2000 campaign, one wonders how much of the 18% that voted against it were not anti-transit at all, but were instead anti-BART.

Measure B was probably viewed as either pro-roads or a chance to somehow get $2.4 Billion dollars worth of road maintenance for nothing. Its 74% total also may show that the B opposition did make a difference since it is 8% lower than Measure A 2002 vote.

This perception, which is very likely true, could pay dividends for the transportation reformers that opposed Measure B. The VTA is facing huge shortfalls in its budget. The SVMG will probably decide to go back to the voters for more money to help the VTA. It should be clear to the SVMG that getting 67% will be easier if some of the Measure B opposition groups decide to not oppose the new measure. This could happen if the SVMG talks to the Measure B opposition groups and incorporates some of their ideas into the new measure.

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