August 31, 1991
BART Service Integration Division/Planning Department
Attn: Michele Jacobson
800 Madison Street
Oakland, California 94607
Re: Rockridge Bart Station Parking Expansion Project Draft EIR
My sources tell me that you plan to build these 600+ new parking spaces regardless of how much opposition there is from the community. That makes me glad that several of the BART Board will be facing re-election very soon. It is high time that BART's anti-transit, anti-bicyclist, anti-pedestrian, anti-environmental, fiscally irresponsible policies got changed. In any case, I may as well tell the truth; even if you aren't listening, somebody may be.
Anyone who reads the newspaper, watches television, or listens to the radio by now knows that the future of life on the Earth is in grave danger. Some of these concerns are called Ozone Depletion, Global Warming, Air Pollution, Toxics, Water Pollution, Endangered Species, and Biodiversity. And we are also all aware that in the U.S., the chief culprit in all cases is the automobile (and its relatives, trucks, motorcycles, etc., and its accoutrements, the road, parking lot, etc.). And we are also aware that the chief antidotes are the bicycle, train, bus, etc.
Thus, it is very difficult to understand how anyone associated with BART could seriously recommend using scarce transit funds to construct more automobile-serving facilities. Haven't we gone down that dead end road long enough already? According to the experts, U.S. oil will run out in about 30 years. We will no longer have available vast quantities of cheap energy. We will be able to fuel perhaps 1% of the vehicles that are now on the road. And long before that happens, most of us will have chosen to save the remaining oil for more important uses than achieving a little bit of privacy for a couple of hours a day, such as bringing food to market, and making toothbrushes, tupperware, and ballpoint pens. The freeways and parking lots that we are in such a hurry to expand these days will long since have been torn down to make room for housing, gardens, and open space.
Even from BART's own point of view, building more parking makes no sense. Each parking space costs about $10,000-$15,000, and serves generally a single person, who returns maybe $300-$500 per year to BART. In other words, BART is subsidizing drivers to get them to use BART, while discouraging people from using cleaner forms of transportation. Pedestrians get no such help. We will just have to breathe from 600 more exhaust pipes every day, and risk getting hit by 600 more angry, frustrated drivers. Bicyclists are treated like second-class citizens. Baby carriages, which are much like bicycles, can travel anywhere, at any time. Bicyclists, on the other hand, have to buy a permit and show it every time they want to bring their bike with them (to avoid causing pollution at the other end of their trip), risk having their bike stripped if it is left in a BART rack, and can only travel at certain times and in certain directions. Those who arrive by bus will be slowed by 600 more vehicles in their way, and possible have to pay more, since BART has been threatening to stop paying A/C Transit for the essential service it provides to BART. An analogy would be if the University of California had provided me (and 601 other lucky students) a luxurious apartment, free of charge, and guarded by a special police force, if I would honor it by attending school there! BART is not a transportation system, but some form of patronage system.
As to the EIR, it is full of holes and misinformation. Where are the studies showing how many of the existing 877 parking spaces are used by non-BART patrons? By law, an EIR is required to examine every feasible alternative. Where is the alternative of simply restricting BART parking to BART patrons, as is done at Lafayette Station? Of providing more bicycle lockers, especially ones that can be rented for less than 3 months, with less bureaucratic requirements? Or more, safer, bicycle routes. Obviously, the taxpayer's money would go a lot farther, and do more good, if spent on increased bus service, than on trying to construct each patron his/her own personal parking stall!
Absence of parking doesn't seem to hurt BART's patronage in San Francisco. In fact, the reduction in auto traffic around the downtown stations makes bus use significantly more viable. And pleasant. Why are some people crying for more parking? Not because they care about air quality, or they would be crying for improved bicycle and bus access. They are crying for BART parking because they hate to drive on today's congested roads. So if you responded by improving bus and bicycle access, most of them would take advantage of it -- not go back to driving, as you assert in the EIR.
The air quality analysis is very suspect. There are no explanations given for why the added parking spaces would be used for BART access by people who would otherwise drive to work alone. Obviously, with no parking controls, a lot of them would be used by casual carpoolers, shoppers, and others who don't intend to ride BART. And given the attraction some feel for driving, many of them would be people who used to take the bus to BART, but who prefer to drive there. In any case, it is obvious that using the money to improve bicycle or bus access to BART would provide a much greater air quality benefit than the additional parking would.
To be honest, you should disclose the limits of uncertainty in your analyses. It is scientifically and professionally dishonest to try to leave the impression, as you do, that there is no uncertainty in your conclusions. The state of the art in transportation and air quality modeling is such that your computations, and hence your conclusions, could be off by 100% or more. You correctly identified the purpose of the EIR as "to provide objective information to public decision-makers and the general public regarding potential environmental effects resulting from the proposed project." (p.1) But you failed to achieve that, apparently in an effort to justify your wrong-headed aims.
As to the other expansion plans ("Phase 2"), putting housing next to a freeway is insane. Who would want to live there? Should we even let them, if they are so stupid? It should only be for short-term use, until we can get the freeway users out of their cars. One possibility would be for a conference center, since a BART station is an ideal place for people to meet: it is easily accessible from and to anywhere in the Bay Area. But by far the best use would be to plant more trees (to try to soak up a little of the auto-generated CO2), open up the culverted creek, and restore some of the gorgeous open space that the freeway and parking lots destroyed.
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.