Monday, December 26, 2011

Scott Wiener "making sure high-speed rail happens"

Photo: Dennis Hearne Photography

Supervisor Wiener keeps demonstrating that he's an unabashed elitist. First there was his "good government" reform of the initiative process that would have enabled the supervisors to "correct" initiatives passed by the voters. Fortunately, that misguided measure was rejected overwhelmingly by city voters. Now we have his thoughts on transportation (below), which includes this about taxis: "People need to know that if they need to get somewhere quickly, they can jump in a cab and get there." Wiener and his friends probably don't need to worry about it, but the flag-drop in city cabs is now $3.50 and then 55 cents for every 1/5 of a mile.

Wiener brags about getting Proposition B, the street repair measure, passed last month. But that was no victory for city taxpayers, who, once the interest is figured in, will end up paying $437,249,617 for that $248 million loan.

Wiener not surprisingly is equally cavalier about the price tag on the California high-speed rail project: "The press has sort of gone on a feeding frenzy against high-speed rail, and that’s unfortunate. Yes it’s expensive; yes it’s going to take a long time. But that’s true of any transformative infrastructure project."

The "press" has only been reporting the steady rise in costs of the system since state voters passed Prop. 1A in 2008. Wiener doesn't cite any actual numbers, but he probably hasn't done any homework since he graduated from Harvard. State voters okayed $9.95 billion in bonds to build the system, which, once the annual interest is factored in, will cost state taxpayers $19.4 billion. From the 2008 Voters Guide:

State costs of about $19.4 billion, assuming 30 years to pay off both principal ($9.95 billion) and interest ($9.5 billion) costs of the bonds. Payments of about $647 million per year. When constructed, additional unknown costs, probably in excess of $1 billion a year, to operate and maintain a high-speed train system.

$647 million a year when California is cutting aid to education and raising college tuition and cutting social services!

Wiener's homework assignment: read the many studies on this site about the infrastructure issues he mentions.

Thanks to SF Streetsblog for the link to the interview.


GJEL interviews San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener
Posted on Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener is one of the most outspoken street safety advocates in the city government and Mayor Ed Lee’s appointee to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (a four year term).

In 2011, he was instrumental in passing Proposition B, which will allocate $248 million in General Obligation Bonds for fixing San Francisco’s streets, bridges and public spaces. In 2012, he’ll be tackling another far reaching transportation renovation: bringing high-speed rail to the Bay Area.

We spoke with Supervisor Wiener about improving the transportation experience in San Francisco, thinking long term on high-speed rail, why more taxis means fewer drivers, and other street safety issues.

GJEL: You’ve lived in San Francisco for 14 years. Has the way people travel changed significantly since you moved here?

WIENER: Not dramatically. We do see more people biking and I do know of more people who have gotten rid of their cars or have a car but hardly ever drive it. You know, I have some friends I never thought would ride Muni who now ride Muni at least some of the time.

GJEL: To what would you attribute that change?

WIENER: I think that’s a combination of the fact that parking can be challenging but also there are a lot of people who are realizing that just driving in this town is not always so fun.

And I’m realistic. I have a car. I don’t drive it that much, but there are times when I need to drive. I don’t subscribe to the belief that we are going to create a non-car paradise. There are people who need to drive whether that’s because of their job or to get groceries or getting their kids around.

But for the people who are only driving because they can’t get where they want to go otherwise, we want to give them the option to travel in a different way. So by improving Muni, by making the streets more walkable, by getting more cabs on the street there will be more people who decide that is more desirable to not drive.

GJEL: You mention taxis on your city council homepage. Why are cabs such a big part of your agenda?

WIENER: If you want to be a transit first city, if you really want to get people out of their cars, cabs are an important part of that system. Even if we had 100 million dollars each year to improve Muni to address its structural deficits, to expand service and to really upgrade the system, Muni is never going to be able to get you anywhere you want to go at any time. If you look at a city like New York, this city has a world-class transportation system, one of the most amazing subways around. That is part of what gets people out of their cars in New York, but their cab system is just as important.

People need to know that if they need to get somewhere quickly, they can jump in a cab and get there. And I personally have people tell me that if they knew they could get a cab when they wanted, they would sell their cars tomorrow. But we have a relatively low number of cabs, and our cab service is bad.

GJEL: The passing of proposition B was a big win for you this year. The city has tried to pass similar bond measures in the past, in 2005, what was different this time?

WIENER: A couple things: We put together a very strong coalition to get the streets bond passed of all sorts of different people including the Bike Coalition, the safety advocates, labor, the business community. We had a lot of different people involved who could agree that we needed to fix our roads and fix a lot of other infrastructure that this bond addresses.

It’s also important to keep in mind that in 2005, the last bond that failed, it got in the high 50s (in terms of votes), so that bond did well, it just didn’t make it to two-thirds. That was a much smaller campaign so we knew with the right campaign we’d have a shot at the two-thirds and I also think that, as time goes by, people just become more convinced that we need to do something drastic to getting our roads fixed.

GJEL: On transportation issues, some might see a tension between function and experience in urban planning. That is, there’s a belief that the things we do for quality of life, wider sidewalks, etc, are not the most functional improvements. This bond sort of addresses both needs. Can you talk about your emphasis on quality of life in San Francisco?

WIENER: I think anything we can do to improve our public spaces is going to bring people together and build communities. So when we now have $10’s of millions to spend on street safety and making our neighborhoods more walkable, to make room for outdoor seating by making the sidewalks a little wider–that improves our experience as a community. When we improve Muni with signal upgrades, it improves the public experience. When we make our streets more bikeable–that improves the public experience.

GJEL: Speaking of bikeable: The relationship between Muni buses and city cyclists isn’t all that great. There have been a number of collisions in the last year. Is the problem one of education for riders and drivers, or is it an infrastructural issue?

WIENER: We live in a very cramped city in a lot of ways. Geographically it’s a small city that’s densely populated. Many times we have narrow roads, and on these cramped spaces we have cars and large busses and cyclists and pedestrians so there’s a lot of potential for conflict on our roads. So we’re not going to make our geographic space bigger, but what we can do is make sure our roads are structured in a way so that everyone can use them and its clear who should be where and that it’s as easy as possible to make sure everyone can travel on our roads in a way that reduces those conflicts. That’s a real challenge but we have been moving in that direction.

GJEL: One of the crucial tools for a lot of the pedestrian advocacy organizations we talk to are strong statistics that help pinpoint where we can make manageable improvements. Are metrics an important tool for you?

WIENER: Yes, because they really help us make the case for why we’re doing this. Sometimes when we make changes, let’s say by having a longer crossing time for pedestrians. Sometimes people will say “you’re just doing this to undermine driving because you’re anti-car,” or something like that. And that’s not the case. We’re doing this because we have an unacceptable rate of injuries and fatalities for pedestrians.

[Stats] really help justify why we’re doing it. We’re not doing it for the heck of it, for unfounded reasons. We’re doing it because we have a lot of pedestrians in this town and too many injuries.

GJEL: What are you big transportation agenda items in 2012?

WIENER: I’m already engaged–and will be even more so–in high speed rail and making sure it happens and that it goes to down town San Francisco.

GJEL: That’s another controversial topic, what’s the status of that initiative right now?

WIENER: It’s in flux now. The press has sort of gone on a feeding frenzy against high-speed rail, and that’s unfortunate. Yes it’s expensive; yes it’s going to take a long time. But that’s true of any transformative infrastructure project.

You know the interstate highway system was not built overnight, and when the decision was made to build it, they didn’t have all the money in the bank. These projects take years and years and years and investment over time. But we know that without high speed rail we’re just going to have to spend an enormous amount on highways and doing a lot of things that are very expensive, have significant negative environmental impacts and then we still wont have a good transportation system.

GJEL: What do you think the hang up is? Is it that people do not think this sort of infrastructure is important, or is it a sort of cognitive issue where people recognize that they want or need these changes, but it’s such an enormous project that right now, with the economy not so flush, people aren’t willing to take the plunge?

WIENER: The short term, easy answer is to say, “let’s not take on these big projects because they’re expensive and they take a long time and they’re controversial.” So it’s easy just to throw up your hands and say, “lets not do it.” But if you look at what made this country great, it was our willingness to say, “we’re going to do something big and it may be expensive and it may take a longtime and politically it may be a heavy lift, but its going to be transformative.”

So whether it’s the interstate highway system, whether its building BART and Muni underground–whatever it may be—it almost always ends up being worth it. Can you even imagine what would have happened if people would have killed BART because it was going to be expensive and take a long time and be disruptive while they’re building it?

Look at the fact that we made the huge blunder of allowing Marin County and San Mateo to opt out of BART. If we had BART all the way up to Santa Rosa and down through the Peninsula to San Jose, it would be so much better. With these kinds of infrastructure projects, far more often than not, you regret not doing it, and you regret not going further.

GJEL: What are some things that people who are passionate about high-speed rail can do to aid its progress?

WIENER: When there are negative stories about high-speed rail, for example, write a letter to the editor. Keep lobbying officials, keep all of our spirits up and make sure that we’re focusing on high-speed rail, that we’re committed to it.

Sometimes you only hear from the people who don’t want it. As committed as you may be, sometimes you only hear from the opponent. And that’s tough psychologically for any public official, so it’s important to keep communicating and keep talking about how important it is.

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22 Comments:

At 9:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Supervisor Wiener keeps demonstrating that he's an unabashed elitist...

This is bad? We want the "non-elite" running the government? I want the best.

 
At 10:18 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Wiener is an economic and political elitist, not among the intellectual elite, to put it mildly. With his support for high-speed rail, he fails another IQ test.

 
At 3:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's always been amazing how these first time politicians who represent one-eleventh of the City of San Francisco and who were voted into office by a small number of the residents of that one-eleventh portion of the City suddenly become experts on everything and feel they should be in charge of everything.

It doesn't bode well that Wiener picked SPUR’s Transportation Committee chairperson for one of his assistants. And again, a someone who knows absolutely nothing about transportation. No wonder SF needs almost $8 billion annually just to barely function.

 
At 5:25 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Yes, and I like Wiener's bullshit about the history of BART:

"Look at the fact that we made the huge blunder of allowing Marin County and San Mateo to opt out of BART. If we had BART all the way up to Santa Rosa and down through the Peninsula to San Jose, it would be so much better."

BART of course was an opt-in system, and there was no authority that could order a county to join. On Marin: the Golden Gate Bridge couldn't accommodate train tracks, and another tunnel was not considered affordable, much, I suspect, to Marin's relief, since a lot of people there didn't want the riff-raff swarming over from points south.

 
At 7:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suspect, to Marin's relief, since a lot of people there didn't want the riff-raff swarming over from points south.

Cuz ya know, Walnut Creek has been overrun with riff-raff.

Once again Rob you show your underlying racism - or is the riff-raff Marin was trying to keep out a certain Anderson, Rob?

 
At 7:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wiener is an economic and political elitist, not among the intellectual elite...

Because you know, in a capitalist system, money flows to stupid people and smart people are always broke and because of their intellectual prowess they lose elections to dummies.

 
At 7:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"much, I suspect, to Marin's relief, since a lot of people there didn't want the riff-raff swarming over"

Read: brown people.

 
At 10:48 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"Once again Rob you show your underlying racism---or is the riff-raff Marin was trying to keep out a certain Anderson,Rob?"

I grew upn in Marin. No, in the 1950s Marin riff-raff would have been a class issue, not a race issue. More importantly, there were those who didn't want the development that was expected to come with a BART line.

 
At 11:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"More importantly, there were those who didn't want the development that was expected to come with a BART line."

101 brought no development.

 
At 12:15 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Yes, but BART would have brought even more.

 
At 12:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So transit bring more development than highways? Why are we building highways then?

 
At 1:09 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

You have to focus on the specifics of BART and Marin County.

A Marin County Supervisor makes the point about development:

Not so, says Supervisor Steve Kinsey. He believes BART would have led to unprecedented growth that would have transformed Marin into an East Bay-like suburb.

"It would have been a bad thing because we did not have the land protections in place in the early 1960s when BART was being discussed," said Kinsey, Marin's point person on key regional transportation issues. "BART is a great system, but it is meant for high-density urban communities. We would have seen sprawl development."

Wikipedia provides some background on BART and Marin on the money issue. There were doubts about whether its tax base was adequate to contribute to building the system---and whether the Golden Gate Bridge could carry BART.

 
At 1:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

High-density = sprawl? But highway, low-density != sprawl? That's fucking nuts.

 
At 1:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

BART is a great system, but it is meant for high-density urban communities. We would have seen sprawl development."

We would have seen suburban sprawl if we put in a transport system suited for dense urban communities.

Got it.

 
At 1:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

From your Wiki link:

"Although Marin County originally voted in favor of BART participation at the 88% level, the district-wide tax base was weakened by the withdrawal of San Mateo County. Marin County was forced to withdraw in early 1962 because its marginal tax base could not adequately absorb its share of BART's projected cost."

 
At 2:44 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Yes, and that's hard to believe when you look at Marin County today. But the point about the expense of building and operating rail systems is still valid. But Marin now has a white elephant rail system---the "SMART" system---on the drawing board that's already costing more than predicted, and it won't even come to San Francisco!

Interesting to note that fares only cover 53% of BART's expenses, which is only good when you compare it to Muni where fares only cover 25% of expenses.

 
At 4:48 PM, Anonymous sfthen said...

Realizing that this thread has drifted quite a bit from the SF D8 Supervisor's Napoleon complex (does the complex increase w/height?) but Marin County (when speaking of Marin you're really talking about southern Marin, Novato on north is different) has also kept the riff-raff out by tightly control the water. You can build a house but they ain't gonna run a water/sewage line to it.

During that long drought in the late 70s one lane of the San Rafael bridge was used for an enormous waterpipe to keep the lawns in Mill Valley green. Now they're embroiled in fighting over a desalination plant so's they can continue to control the water and thus the development.

Actually maybe this is in keeping with the Wiener thread: the demographics of Mill Valley and Eureka/Noe Valley are almost exactly the same. Coincidence?

 
At 9:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the demographics of Mill Valley and Eureka/Noe Valley are almost exactly the same. [citation needed]

 
At 12:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cabs are for those who want to live a NYC style of living, which unfortunately is fast becoming the norm in many parts of gentrifying SF. Cabs are ecologically
unsound--even if they are Priuses.
Driving around looking for fares and then often carrying only 1 person is not a sustainable solution.
Endless cabs flowing down our streets as in Manhattan--adding to pollution? No thanks!
$10-$12 for a 2 mile trip? You're a sucker if you don't have a high income and you're letting that bleed your budget.

 
At 9:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cabs are ecologically
unsound--even if they are Priuses.
Driving around looking for fares and then often carrying only 1 person is not a sustainable solution.

Short sighted thinking. Cabs running around picking up fares are not looking for parking because they just pick up and drop off passengers. Without cabs, more would drive, and thus be less likely to find a parking spot and be circling around. 1 cab picking up fares or 5 drivers circling around looking for parking. This is especially acute at places cabs go to - destination spots which have people flocking to them but in which parking is a premium.

Taken to the next level, cabs make it possible for some people to own fewer or no cars. This not only frees up parking, the pollution caused by the production of a single Motor Vehicle and then transporting it to California offsets the loss from cabs looking for fares.

 
At 11:50 PM, Blogger alai said...

Most people who use cabs don't use them every day-- that's what makes them "ecologically sound". They are a vital part of a public transit network, allowing for trips which are made at night when the buses have stopped running, when a trip is urgent, or when there is a special need for door-to-door service.

I do disagree with Weiner that our streets are narrow. By international standards, many of our streets, especially in residential neighborhoods, are extremely wide. It's a matter of how we use them.

 
At 9:26 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Still, the cost of taking a cab, even when it would be convenient, is prohibitive for a lot of people in the city. As a supervisor, Wiener makes $90,000 a year, so he doesn't have to worry about that.

The real alternative to driving in SF for most people is Muni, which is chronically in the red as the city wastes millions on the Central Subway and the Transbay Terminal, both of which Wiener supports.

The high-speed rail project in California is an even bigger waste. Maybe single guys making $90,000 a year are desensitized to those realities.

 

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