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Milestones in Bay Area Transport: SMART Train and Bike-Share

Preview rides start today of the Marin-Sonoma ‘SMART’ train service. Seen here from the driver’s view, a SMART train races cars on 101. Photo: SMART

This is a week of milestones (or maybe 'near milestones' is more accurate) for Bay Area transportation.

SMART Train Carries First Passengers

Yesterday, the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit agency (aka the SMART train) held a press run of its new commuter rail service. The system will offer free preview rides for the general public today and Saturday, and again on Tuesday, July 4, to help people get to and from the Marin County Fair. Details on the schedule are available on the SMART website. From the Chronicle's story on yesterday's run, it sounds as if the trains are smooth and comfortable. That said, the official launch of service is still up in the air, thanks to federal regulators who have yet to sign off on the system's Positive Train Control, a computerized system that should prevent a train operator from exceeding the speed limit or running a red signal.

Aside from being the first regular passenger rail service to operate in Marin and Sonoma in over a half-century, this marks the introduction of modern Diesel Multiple Units (DMUs) in Northern California. DMUs are self-propelled rail cars, where each passenger car (or sometimes every other one) has its own engine and driver's cab. This kind of train is very common on lightly used lines in Asia and Europe, but are harder to find in North America (the nearest one is the relatively new Sprinter service in North San Diego County).

BART will soon be rolling out DMUs on its East Contra Costa extension. There are many advantages to DMUs over conventional, diesel-locomotive-hauled trains such as those used by Caltrain and Amtrak--mainly, trains are cheaper to operate and more fuel efficient when they're only a few cars long, which makes rail service feasible on lightly used lines. It also means acceleration is consistent regardless of how long you make the train.

DMUs can fill an important niche in the transportation picture. It will be interesting to see how this train-type works out in Bay Area operations.

Ford GoBike Bikeshare Expansion Launch

Yesterday morning at Harry Bridges Plaza, Motivate, the operator of Bay Area bike-share, held a ceremony to mark the regionwide roll-out of its new Ford-sponsored system, GoBike. That is: it marked the re-launch of the San Francisco portion, as a start.

The plan is to roll out the new system throughout the summer. Yesterday's San Francisco launch began with 44 bike-share hubs; today the San Jose system launched with sixteen stations. The East Bay--Berkeley, Emeryville, and Oakland--will see bike-share become available on July 11, starting with 32 stations. Meanwhile the number of stations in all the cities will continue to grow each week, reaching 3,500 bikes by Labor Day, according to a GoBike press release. "When completed in 2018, the 7,000-bike Ford GoBike system will be the second largest bike share network in North America," said the release.

Thanks for the relaunch of your bike share system Motivate. Not to sure about that giant truck in the bike lane though. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
It's nice to see the bikes return for the relaunch of bike-share. Not so much enthusiasm for that giant truck driving in the bike lane, though. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

The system ran into a few snags recently when several bike rental companies complained that its new fare structure would give it an unfair competitive advantage over their businesses. Ford GoBike agreed to eliminate a $15, three-hour pass option, but nevertheless San Francisco decided to hold up some funding it had planned to give the company to help it do research on future expansion sites.

Meanwhile, Hoodline quotes Mayor Lee as saying “Ford GoBike makes this mode of transportation a safe, accessible, and convenient option for residents and communities across San Francisco." Perhaps the Mayor needs to take a look at the above photo taken at 10th and Market late this morning. It's fine to have a Ford re-branded bike-share station. But until SFMTA gets solid, robust infrastructure in place that is intuitively easy to navigate and also stops drivers from rolling on down the bike lane, how can anyone claim a bike-share system, on its own, will make cycling safe?

Back to the SMART Train

Meanwhile, if you can't get out to Marin to ride the new train, SMART posted this video:

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