With Caltrain stations set for closure, transit options running thin 

In 2008, David Amos and his wife relocated from Southern California to San Jose, right across the street from Caltrain’s Tamien station. Both of them planned to rely heavily on Caltrain to commute to and from work.

Click on the picture for photo gallery of rider responses to station closures.

Now, Tamien station is slated for closure by Caltrain, leaving Amos wondering if it was smart for his family to base their living situation around the availability of nearby transit.

“When we moved here, we had no idea that this station could potentially close,” said Amos. “If the station shuts down, we’re probably going to have to move. It would be an incredible hardship for us to go through.”

The story could be a cautionary tale for Bay Area families, many of whom are being urged by regional officials to relocate next to stations and use public transportation instead of automobiles.

That philosophy, called transit-oriented development, is aimed at lowering greenhouse gases, improving public transportation systems and decreasing sprawl.

But Caltrain’s threat to close seven stations has some planners wondering if the Bay Area’s push for transit-oriented development (TOD) could be in danger of failing.

For the past decade, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the region’s lead transportation planning agency, has made TOD the centerpiece of its long-term goals. The state Legislature even approved Senate Bill 375, a measure aimed at specifically promoting the use of TODs to combat the rise of greenhouse gases. Transit agencies such as BART and Muni have based expansion projects on TOD plans, and San Mateo, Burlingame, San Bruno and other cities have revised their general plans to focus on smart growth ideas like TODs.

However, Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of SPUR, a San Francisco think tank, said it would be irresponsible to ask residents to relocate next to Caltrain stations if service wouldn’t be guaranteed.

“How can we ask people to make these decisions if we can’t even assure there will be transit service there?” Metcalf said.

Without a dedicated funding source, Caltrain, facing a $30 million budget shortfall, is forced to question whether it can even continue to operate in the future. Metcalf said until Caltrain finds funding, the Peninsula will not be able to move forward with any smart-growth plans.

Despite the problems facing Caltrain and its TOD plans, the MTC remains committed to its focus on planning around transit hubs.

“It’s too early to be writing obituaries for Caltrain, and far too early to declare transit-oriented development in the Bay Area gravely ill,” said John Goodwin, spokesman for the MTC.

Caltrain spokeswoman Christine Dunn said the agency will continue to woo development around transit stations, even with its budget woes.


Caltrain budget scenario

$30.3 million Projected budget shortfall for upcoming fiscal year

Stations eyed for closure

45% Planned reduction in weekday service — from 86 trains to 48

$101 million
Total operating budget for Caltrain

Source: Caltrain

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Will Reisman

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