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Mass Transit to Nowhere
Dave Saltman says Bay Area transit is already disjointed and underfunded. And high speed rail threatens to make it worse.

By Dave Saltman

The Bay Area has a powerhouse economy anchored in technology's future. We protect the environment and possess more public transit than many North American regions.

And yet, you still need a car to get around. And if you want to use transit, it's an uncoordinated, connection-heavy mess. So why are we spending billions of dollars on California High Speed Rail, when the local needs are so great?

The needs are clear:

In the South Bay, light-rail lacks ridership. In Wine Country, it will be years before you'll connect from SMART Train to its planned terminus at Marin's Larkspur Ferry.

And in the East Bay? The A's will still be in Oakland -- though not in transit-friendly downtown -- before BART links to San Jose. Meanwhile, you'll transfer at Pittsburg to travel beyond BART's terminal there.

Like a polyester disco shirt, BART looked good long ago. Now it lacks clear signage and the fleet is aging. Sure, you can use it to get around -- just not to your destination. That requires connections, and if you can stomach multiple trip legs, you're a better traveler than me.

The BART link to SFO is one of the few examples of spending to lower our carbon footprint. Everywhere else, we're held back by poor planning and muddy priorities. What about a circular ferry line that hits the biggest cities on the Bay? Why not eliminate CalTrain grade crossings or  finish the Bay Trail? What about no more than one, easily-understood transfer per trip?

The fix is money. But the bucks to improve links in our regional transit system are headed to that marquee public works project, coming to a Central Valley almond grove near you. High speed rail is unlikely to reduce our local traffic, our carbon foot-print or the roadblocks to door-to-door trip-taking around the region.

There's an Internet video ad crowing about Californians always being "a step ahead." That ad is for a car company. We're many steps behind in planning for regional transit, an engine for future, green growth.

With a Perspective, I'm Dave Saltman.

Dave Saltman lives in Sonoma County and is writing a book about educational technology.

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