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(Unedited) Podcast Transcript 321: A Second Bay Crossing

February 18, 2021

This week, we’re joined by Sadie Graham, BART Program Director for Link21, a rail network planning program for the San Francisco Bay Area. Graham chats about planning for a second bay crossing and the potential for a suite of projects to improve regional connectivity. We also talk about the frustrations of long term capital projects including politics, costs, and getting it done before you retire.

Below the fold is a full unedited transcript.

Jeff Wood (1m 27s):
Well Sadie Graham, welcome to the Talking Headways podcast.

Sadie Graham (1m 33s):
Thanks for having me, Jeff. I’m excited to be here. So

Jeff Wood (1m 36s):
Before we get started, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Sadie Graham (1m 38s):
Sure. My name is Sadie Graham. I’m the acting director for the link 21 program, which is what we’re here to talk about today. It’s a coordinated effort between Bart and Capitol corridor on behalf of transit in our region. We’ll actually our mega region. So I’ve been working for Bart for almost eight years. I didn’t start as a transportation planner, but I am so happy to land it at Bart. I really enjoyed my work. I studied city and regional planning and urban design and landscape architecture actually at Berkeley, which is what brought me to the Bay areas.

Jeff Wood (2m 12s):
Oh, nice, nice. I’ve been planning to no transportation specific background, but kind of what I dove into.

Sadie Graham (2m 18s):
Well, everything leads back to housing and transportation. So

Jeff Wood (2m 21s):
It does. How did you get into that? I mean like what brought you to the Berkeley program? What was it when you were a kid that made you decide, or maybe when you’re older, I want to be a planner.

Sadie Graham (2m 29s):
Well, it’s interesting. We were talking about Portland earlier. I moved there after undergrad, you know, just trying to land somewhere and it was after the 2001 bust, the economy was not so great. I ended up working as a gardener at a home for children who just needed a little extra help and that gardening position, it transitioned into a horticultural therapist position. And which meant that I really got to just garden with kids who maybe didn’t have that experience before. And it really, I think was eye opening to me how the landscape can be sort of such a healing environment or just really affect someone’s mood or their quality of life.

Sadie Graham (3m 12s):
And so that led me down the path to landscape architecture here at Berkeley. And then when I was doing the program, I realized that I was also, you know, I love the site-specific scale, but I was also drawn to that regional planning sort of scale. And so I stayed at the college of environmental design to get my master’s in city and regional plan.

Jeff Wood (3m 34s):
That’s awesome. Yeah. I, you know, the reason I asked that question is because people get to where they are so many different ways and it’s not, you know, a standard path that folks go from studying this to being that because you go your own route, but I haven’t had a lot of university students say, Oh, I appreciate that. I didn’t have to get a planning degree or I’d appreciate that. I didn’t have to get a transportation degree to be in a position like that in the future. So I can kind of study what I want, but also I want to know, you know, how people got there. So that’s kind of why I asked that question.

Sadie Graham (4m 1s):
Well, work’s been great too, because I really have had the opportunity to think of those multiple different skills, you know, at the site scale of a station and, you know, the access multimodal access to a station. And now we’re thinking, you know, the long range planning project for 21 counties. So I really enjoy the ability to sort of think on different sides. I think it makes every day exciting for sure.

Jeff Wood (4m 23s):
Yeah, for sure. Do you remember your first time on the transplant tube? Yeah.

Sadie Graham (4m 28s):
Wow. It was my first time on Bart. I came to visit Berkeley to see if I wanted to go to school here. I’d stayed with some friends in the city. And then, so, you know, I had that experience where you come up and the cranes of Oakland are to your left and you know, the sun is shining and it’s February. So I had just been in Boston where it was like slushy and rainy and you know, so I think all of that just culminated to really deciding that California was one where I needed to do.

Jeff Wood (4m 57s):
I think that gets a lot of folks, especially in a February January context. Well, so let’s talk about a second crossing. I know this idea has had major discussions going back decades, but I’m curious what the history is of the second crossing idea. Yeah,

Sadie Graham (5m 11s):
Well, it, it really has gone back to before my time it’s been something that the region has looked at a number of times, our regional planning agency MTC is the nine County Bay area planning agency. And so we’ve looked at a crossing a number of times in terms of capacity. Most recently there was a study that was done that compared really rail versus new bridges, because I mean, for people who aren’t really aware of, I guess the geography of the Bay area, it has a big Bay in the middle of it. So, and then the West is the city of San Francisco and then the peninsula and on the East is Oakland, the East Bay.

Sadie Graham (5m 53s):
There’s a lot of housing and smaller office centers or centers of, and so we have, I guess, three bridges that go across the Bay to San Francisco and the peninsula. And we have one current bark crossing. And I think there’s a major amount of congestion that’s on the roadways and, you know, pre pandemic Bart was at its capacity. We had overcrowded trains regularly. And so the most recent study that MTC did called the crossing perspective, I think really looked at the benefits of different crossing options, bridge and rail, and did come out with a recommendation that a regional rail or bark crossing is the one, you know, makes a lot better sense and serves more needs than another bridge.

Sadie Graham (6m 41s):
And then I guess in addition taking sort of this step back, California has a state rail plan and the last one was updated in 2040. And that also calls for more of an integrated network with a trans Bay crossing for Northern California rail. And, you know, before that is before my time here. But I’m sure that as soon as I don’t know when the first person thought of it, probably as soon as the last paper was placed for the last two,

Jeff Wood (7m 9s):
Probably. So, yeah, I’m sure that people can go back and look at the newspapers and see, you know, when there was a discussion about a trans Bay crossing of some sort, even if it is an automobile bridge, this process is called link 21. When did this start organizing in this specific form?

Sadie Graham (7m 24s):
Well, that crossing paper I talked about came out about two years ago and then our program specifically got underway maybe a year and a half ago. And so in 2016 there was a regional bond measure to support Bart that included some money to actually do some of the planning and development work sort of beyond what had already been looked at before. And so for about a year and a half, we’ve been together and thinking about this program and really structuring the way in which we’re going to do the planning and the alternatives, design and development.

Jeff Wood (7m 57s):
And so what are the parameters like what organizations are involved? What’s the geographic scope, what’s the overall kind of massive information you’re having to take in to kind of start this process?

Sadie Graham (8m 8s):
Yeah, it’s a little bit mind blowing. We are looking at the 21 County mega region. So if you check out our [email protected], you can see a map and it’s quite large. So all the way from you, but County, Sonoma County, you know, down to Monterey County. So it’s quite large, there’s literally millions of people that live there. So which it’s, and then, you know, Bart has money. And I think I said, we’re partnering with Capitol corridor, which is a passenger rail. Bart is the managing agency for Capitol corridor. So we already have a natural relationship. The capital corridor is essentially representing standard rail for the region, right?

Sadie Graham (8m 48s):
So we are definitely coordinating with all the other rail operators within the region, but Capitol corridor is our day-to-day partner.

Jeff Wood (8m 57s):
I think the thing for me is looking at that map. It’s such a large geography, but it’s such a small kind of sliver of where the project might go. I mean, you’re not going to have a tunnel go from San Francisco directly to Sacramento, but it’s that one single project. So it’s interesting to think about why the geography is so large in that discussion

Sadie Graham (9m 16s):
Step back a little bit, because I think the way we’re describing link 21 is really a program of projects. So the program really will build upon and transform the existing passenger rail network. So it will make it more integrated, right? So there’ll be more connections. And right now there aren’t many great connections between Bart and regional rail. So that program together we’ll have sort of multiple projects. The first one of which will be a crossing and sort of the supportive ancillary projects that will be needed to do that. But we see this as more of a suite of projects that will end with sort of a integrated network, a passenger rail.

Jeff Wood (9m 59s):
Well, that’s a really good point. Cause I mean, I think the big bang of a project everybody’s going to talk about is that crossing, but also there is a need for a network of, or a system of transit expansion in the Bay area that will impact the way people get around. Especially since the system we have now is in comparison with many other regions, Paris and London and Singapore and Hong Kong and those types it’s somewhat limited. And so if we start to think about these larger projects, it starts to get to be a, I guess, a bigger discussion than just a crossing.

Sadie Graham (10m 30s):
Yeah. And if that crossing is serving a regional rail, you know, the regional rail connection already goes way beyond the six County Bay area of what Bart serves, right? So it’s linking those things. And not just at that crossing point, there will likely be other pubs where these different rail services connect possibly new alignments. So we’re really looking at that overall program to understand sort of what the needs are, what the potential is, what we want to serve. And then through that, we will develop an alternative that has the right crossing that will help enable that network.

Sadie Graham (11m 10s):
It’s a lot of really plan early talk. I get it.

Jeff Wood (11m 12s):
This is a plan early podcast. I like that. I mean, I think one of the worries that I had about, you know, even coming into this discussion was I’m grumpy about a second crossing. Not because I don’t want one and not because I haven’t drawn one on a map before when I made my crayon maps as the crannies to call it. You know, I think that it would be a super benefit. You know, obviously if you get into the weeds, you can talk about the gauges and whether it’s going to be standard or bark gauge, et cetera. But I also had just frustrated by, you know, how long stuff takes to get done. I mean, here in San Francisco, we have the central subway, obviously that was not a preferred project for many transit advocates, but it was a political deal that got done. That’s taken forever and it’s still not open yet.

Jeff Wood (11m 54s):
And so I’m looking at that 2040 timeline, and we can get into that in a second about, you know, the timelines and how long things take. And I’m just like, Oh, I’m going to be retired by then. I won’t even be able to use it to get to a meeting or whatever, you know, it’s like, that process is just frustrating, but if you start to kind of open it up like a butterfly, then you can have this discussion about the greater good of a region rather than just maybe one project. And I think maybe in the coverage that’s been happening so far, that’s gotten lost to a certain extent. I know there’s been coverage about regional rail, but then they show up map and it’s not very exciting. And you know, that’s, that’s the discussion that happens. So I’m wondering if you’re feeling the same way or if what I just said was complete crazy.

Sadie Graham (12m 34s):
No, I mean, I think, I think, listen, everybody’s grumpy about how long it takes to do these things and how much it costs. And I feel about paying, we’re definitely looking at it. One of the things we’re doing is this business case development framework, which you know, is not only based on the economics of something, but it’s a really sort of meticulous way of evaluating different alternatives to one another. I think sometimes we, in the past, we meaning planners have let the environmental review process do that for us in California, at least to choose the preferred alternative. And I disagree with that being what sequel was meant to do.

Sadie Graham (13m 15s):
And so what we’re trying to do is set up this framework through this business case of, after we have these universe of alternatives, really be able to evaluate them upon these metrics of like, what are the goals? How do we want to serve them and how do they line up? And then, you know, eventually it’ll be the cost benefit ratio operability, you know, how are we going to fund it? And to your point about the central subway, you know, funding does come into play at some point, right? And we all know that. And especially in California and the way that we have our different transit agencies, not really all working together, it’s inevitable at some point, but really this business case alternative framework is to help us move through that process and then make decisions and hopefully move forward from those decisions.

Sadie Graham (14m 3s):
So that we’re not moving backwards. You know, we’re picturing it like a funnel of getting to the right alternative, which will be both that program. And then that project,

Jeff Wood (14m 13s):
I think the grumpiness is about how long it would take to get stuff done, how much it’s going to cost, whether it benefits the right people. I mean, a lot of the economic reporting on a second crossing, or even just generally talks about, I was reading some of this morning, it said economic Bonanza. And I was like, for who, you know, who does it benefit? And I think that’s the frustrating part too, is, you know, we can build these systems, but how do we get to a point where it’s actually giving people opportunities to get to jobs that need that opportunity rather than folks that might not need it, or giving landowners increases in property values that maybe should be captured in some form or fashion. I mean, we can talk about all these things, but I guess 26 year old me would have blogged about this and said, this is an amazing thing.

Jeff Wood (14m 54s):
It’s going to do this and it’s going to do this. And then 40 year old me is like,

Sadie Graham (14m 60s):
No, I get you, especially because the timeline really lines up with my retirement path. So you can at least hold me to that 2040 number. No, but in all reality, it’s a challenge. But I think to some of your points about, you know, who is it going to serve? How do we make sure, you know, the project we’re picking is correct. I think some of this program, we’ve spent a lot of time in this plan, early world to set up this business case framework because we want to do the right thing to make those decisions. And that takes some time, right? Like right now we’re doing a market analysis. We’re trying to understand where people go, where they want to go unmet need, and then COVID happens.

Sadie Graham (15m 41s):
Right. And then, so that all of that changes. And I just, I’ve really tried to say since the beginning, it’s a blessing in disguise that it’s happening now when we are in this phase where we can really change right. To accompany the changes that are going to happen with people’s travel patterns and such, and you know, the Bay area has a jobs, housing imbalance, which is like, I feel on a daily basis. I think one of the things we’ve been trying to do is really through this vision in our equity statement, think about how we make sure we’re developing a program and project that do meet the needs. And I think that really does mean, you know, specifically transit dependent writers, you know, are essential workers.

Sadie Graham (16m 28s):
I mean, the Bart system really was a suburban commuter rail system, which catered to the nine to five office worker. Right. And that’s what it was for the time. And it met that need. But I think especially now, when you see who’s still riding Bart and the fact that there are a number of people that listen, we are serving like still 11% of ridership. I think that’s a lot of people who are using Bart because they need it to get to their jobs, you know, and like essentially the service industry or in our essential workers. So, you know, we’ve had a commitment to equity since the beginning, but I think this pandemic has really highlighted sort of that need and that responsibility.

Jeff Wood (17m 10s):
Yeah. To what extent are you all going to be looking at kind of other examples of bigger expansion projects? I mean, right now, you know, Crossrail is happening in London. The grand parade is happening outside of Paris, that regional rail expansion that’s going on. Obviously there’s expansion of systems in China and other places, how much kind of outside research is going to happen to take the best practices and come up with something really good. Yeah.

Sadie Graham (17m 35s):
That’s a good question. Crossrail has been one of the things that we’ve looked at the most in terms of this business case framework and this idea of stage Gates, which are essentially linked, but you know, a stage gate is sort of programmed decision points within which you are at a point where you’re making a decision of whether or not you’re going to continue investing time and resources into a project. And, you know, and then when that decision is made, you’re moving on without work and developing work for that next stage gate. You know, the Crossrail example, there’s a lot of reasons why these international examples don’t always align up with American systems, but I think we are trying to learn what we can from them.

Sadie Graham (18m 18s):
And so I would say, you know, the business case is something that’s been used actually I think most recently in Ontario as they’ve used it for their overall, I think transit network to prioritize need. And then the stage Gates comes from Crossrail.

Jeff Wood (18m 34s):
Yeah. And I think, you know, one of the things that has been a lot of discussion on Twitter, et cetera, for this kind of group of folks that I follow is the cost of transit projects. And, you know, has put out some work. The folks that I think is the Marron Institute have put out a bunch of things as well, talking about this. And it’s kind of become a big discussion because it feels like American projects are so expensive. And you know, the problem with that is that we get less project for more money. A lot of the times when you think about the second Avenue, subway and long Island, East side access and those types of projects. So I’m wondering like how much that comes into play as well, especially when you’re talking about, you know, whether to cut off a project or not in the future.

Sadie Graham (19m 11s):
Yeah. We have done a lot of thinking about this because as you said, it’s, you know, it’s a common question or critique and I, I wish I had all my smart people behind me in the corner. So I could just point to the right one and say help me with those soundbites. But, and I think it’s true. And I think also sometimes the way in which we look at our costs and compare our costs is a little bit different for instance, with countries that have universal health care, the salary that someone’s paid, you know, doesn’t include the salary that in America might also include their benefits, which include healthcare.

Sadie Graham (19m 54s):
And that’s a huge actually percentage of salary when you break it out. And so that’s just one example of how it is actually really hard to compare the cost analysis to sort of non American examples, I guess.

Jeff Wood (20m 10s):
Yeah. It’s a good argument for universal health care. You have

Sadie Graham (20m 14s):
A podcast on that right after this, right? Yeah. Right.

Jeff Wood (20m 16s):
Exactly. Times of universal health care and as an independent business here, I I’d appreciate that as well. My stuff’s expensive. So I understand that argument. What does the process look like to get this project going and towards that 2040 timeline?

Sadie Graham (20m 30s):
Well, we are up and underway, you know, bark. We have a procurement out to get more consulting services. There’s a lot of work to be done. You know, we have to do some level of conceptual design and engineering at some point. And clearly there’s the environmental process, which I’m sure you’re aware of in terms of California specific environmental process. And then there’s the federal process. So there’s a lot to do. We hope to have sort of this program of alternatives, like the program defined within two to three years. And then at that point, it’ll be more clear sort of like what that first project and those sets of projects will be.

Sadie Graham (21m 11s):
And listen, I, I think you, you said it before, you know, crayons on the napkin sort of thing. People love to draw lines on the map and I can’t wait to we’re at the point, which is coming soon, but where we can say like, give us your lines in the map or, you know, tell us exactly what it is you want this service to do for you. And so we’re going to be starting that engagement fairly soon. Maybe not the lines on the map so soon, but again, you know, with 21 County is we have like millions of stakeholders, but at some point in the next, you know, two or three years, we’re going to need more money to keep going. And then, you know, if that money isn’t available, then that timeline that we talked about before is just going to, you know, grow with fits and starts depending on funding sources.

Sadie Graham (21m 53s):
So we have some hope that the new administration be a little bit more friendly to transportation. And so, you know, looking forward to what’s going to come out of the administration in the next couple of months.

Jeff Wood (22m 5s):
Yeah. I think that’s one of the frustrating things too about politics generally, is that you have these terms of leaders that come into office and then leave office at some point and on both sides of the aisle, it’s not a Republican or Democrat thing. It’s just, you have these changes in priorities. And so I think one of the frustrating thing about a project that, you know, might actually be ending in 2040 is that you’ll have a bunch of shifts in priorities in the meantime. And so how do you keep that funding going? And I know we have a friendly administration for hopefully more the next four years, but for the next four years, at least what does that mean going forward if that gets switched up or, you know, as we’ve seen with California, high-speed rail, you know, the funding started in the, in the Obama administration, it kind of dried up and the Trump administration and now maybe it’ll come back and the Biden administration, it’s just that switching on and off of priorities one way or the other that might be frustrating.

Jeff Wood (22m 50s):
And that definitely has an impact on what you all are trying to do. Yeah.

Sadie Graham (22m 54s):
And, you know, to get back to the timeline question, then it’s no wonder that American projects take longer, right. With sort of unreliable funding sources. So I think a lot of mega projects are looking to public private partnerships. And I think you mentioned value capture before. I mean, I think these are all things that we’re going to have to consider when we’re thinking about financing stream for the project. And hopefully as I said in the next two or three years, when we know a little bit more exactly what this program is, and we’ll have some more solid numbers and a better answer in terms of what it is that we need exactly. When and where

Jeff Wood (23m 32s):
You mentioned the California state rail plan. And then also the MPO MTC has plans as well. How does this going to get tied into the overall system? I think right now there’s a regional discussion about integration of fairs and things like that. But this project, if it moves forward should be benefiting a regional system. And I’m wondering how that fits in as well.

Sadie Graham (23m 52s):
Yeah. So MTC, which is the regional planning agency, they just finished their 2050 plan Bay area within that plan. They do do a project evaluation where they’re looking at the cost benefit ratio of projects. And so the crossing is in there and it came out as the most sort of cost-effective mega project for the region. And that is with the understanding that it’s not defined as Bart or regional rail, just sort of like the inputs and of what it would serve. And certainly, you know, the state is updating the state rail plan right now, which is also good timing.

Sadie Graham (24m 34s):
And so I think your question is also sort of relating to some of the discussions that are happening in the Bay area about transit agencies and their governance, and sort of the call for more seamless integration between the agencies. And, you know, I think that those calls have been heard. And I think that this program, our goal is to be integrated and seamless and affordable. I’m not quite sure how exactly we get there, but I’m hoping that this program can align, you know, with the same time that some of those discussions are happening in the governance realm. So that in the future, we will have sort of a more clearer understanding of no governance.

Sadie Graham (25m 16s):
Operations is a hard one, right. Because there’s definitely smarter people than I am sort of having those discussions. And I’m happy to be over the project that will hopefully learn from them.

Jeff Wood (25m 30s):
Yeah. I mean, there’s a lot of, I’ll just call them fiefdoms in the Bay area and it’s hard to get the folks all to work, to get on the same page with that, but hopefully we’ll get there. I’m looking forward to the Bay area, very cursory bond. My son,

Sadie Graham (25m 42s):
We are like coordinating with all the rail agencies and transit agencies. And I can say that at the meetings when it’s staff and executives, like everyone’s on board with the vision, you know, and I mean, that’s typical, right. But at least we’re on board with the vision and we’ll figure out how to get there. And I’m sure there will be small battles won and lost on many sides. But I mean, we’re all a bunch of really, I think, committed planners ultimately, you know, and it’s just those five items of the greater good. And then how we’re going to slowly sort of juggle the pieces to get there. Yeah. I don’t know. That’s maybe too optimistic.

Jeff Wood (26m 16s):
I like it what’s been the feedback so far of the project. Like what have you heard from folks that have seen kind of some of the introductory stuff? What have they been saying

Sadie Graham (26m 24s):
So far? There’s been a lot of enthusiasm, you know, frankly, the one lesson I’ve learned over my career is don’t read the comments so deep into the comments and we certainly will be going out to the public and asking them for their participation. And we haven’t quite done that yet. So, you know, from sort of a publicity standpoint, it’s been pretty good for the most part. There’s been a lot of questions to the similar ones that you’re asking right now. Like why so long, how much is it going to cost? Like how are we going to pay for it? Who’s going to operate it. And those are all really valid questions.

Jeff Wood (26m 59s):
What’s the biggest question you have.

Sadie Graham (27m 2s):
That was a really good question.

Jeff Wood (27m 7s):
Well, maybe I should ask also, in addition to that, what are you excited about the most?

Sadie Graham (27m 11s):
I am really excited that I feel like this last year has been super hard for everyone and this program, it is a ways off, but it has also been an opportunity I think for part and our partners to double down on equity, which we have talked around a little bit, but we have to acknowledge the disparate impacts that large infrastructure projects have had on communities of concern, communities of color low-income communities, non-English-speaking communities, both, I think physically by destroying neighborhoods in some instances, and also just, you know, not sharing in the benefits of a project.

Sadie Graham (27m 51s):
And so I am really proud that we’ve made this commitment to equity and with our bigger Bart’s support. And I think Bart’s done a great job in the past of prioritizing equity. And this is sort of like the next step building upon that in terms of the vision of what that means for the future. And so we were thinking about it in many ways and I have a lot to learn in this realm as well, but you know, it’s both process and outcome. Like how do we make sure that we’re talking to the right people, maybe the people who haven’t been engaged in the past, because they didn’t feel like their voice mattered or trusting government, or maybe they weren’t asked previously.

Sadie Graham (28m 33s):
So we’re trying to have early and prolonged discussions with some of those communities by going to the communities, you know, working with community-based organizations to meet those communities where they are, and, you know, talk to them in trusted spaces with people that they already have a relationship with. And that’s super daunting too, because it’s a long time it’s a multi-generational program, right? So essentially we’re planning for our kids, which is really great for me because about that time, my kid will want to drive and have a car and there’s like, no way that’s ever going to happen. So he gets free bar pass with my employment bonus.

Sadie Graham (29m 16s):
So it’s not only this process of like engaging with people, but I think it’s also the outcomes in terms of like being really strategic about how we look at these communities. And this is where it gets into all the smart, you know, market analysis, ridership people that are, you know, just doing all the really thoughtful analysis on the backend, but how do we identify those transit dependent writers, like figure out where they are and make sure that they’re benefiting from this project. You know, obviously we want everybody to benefit from it. We want people to get out of their cars and into Bart, but we also want to make sure that we’re serving the people who have that really specific need, who maybe aren’t being met with transit opportunities.

Sadie Graham (30m 0s):
Now, especially as that jobs, housing imbalance grows and, you know, people leave the expensive Bay area to the outer counties to find affordable housing.

Jeff Wood (30m 11s):
Yeah. I think it’s a tough question. I mean, I often kind of wonder if given the opportunity to voice their opinions, whether folks who are impacted the most would actually want these bigger projects or they appreciate the smaller kind of incremental changes that we can make, whether that’s improving transit service or I’m, I’m always curious, like whether these days, at least whether the projects are actually answering the calls. And I think we’ve learned a lot from what’s been happening during the pandemic. And I know that folks in Oakland have learned a lot from their slow streets program around the country. We’ve learned so much about what people want and what they ask for versus kind of what planners to a certain extent sometimes assume more than maybe we should. So that’s a lesson that’s learned and I hope that we can address that going forward.

Jeff Wood (30m 53s):
I want to circle back to the last question. Maybe I’ll give you a little time to think about it, but what questions do you have about the project or what’s something that hasn’t been answered maybe that you’re interested in answering or getting answered?

Sadie Graham (31m 4s):
You know, what’s not getting answered. That’s such a good quote. I mean, I have so many questions, right. As the director, I feel typical planner, you know, like dabble in everything, but master of none, you know, so it’ll be really interesting to look at the analysis, you know, especially as we’re not only looking at future ridership trends, but I mean, I think all of us have the question of how transit will respond after the pandemic. Like, will we ever see a time in our lives? That’s hones ever going to be willing to get on a crowded Bart train again, like literally the last ride home from my last day at the office was like a major crowded bar train.

Sadie Graham (31m 44s):
And I just think in my mind, you know, wow, but who knows, you know, will I ever experience that again? And so I think that that remains to be seen. I think that certainly people will change their patterns in at least the near term. And so, you know, I think that there’s a lot of smart people who know how to start to answer those questions and I’m waiting to see, you know, we are in the middle of bringing on new consultants and it’s amazing the people that are out there that really just want to work on this project because they know they’re really fun and huge questions that we’re going to be asking. I don’t know if that’s that great of a question. I mean, of course it’s like, what’s, Covid going to do, I mean, it’s a, I’m sitting in my bedroom talking to you.

Sadie Graham (32m 30s):
It’s not ever what I, how I expected, you know, how I expected my career to progress.

Jeff Wood (32m 36s):
Yeah. I think one of the questions for me is about what value is and what we value. You know, we, we have all these projects and we talk about money. We talk about how much stuff costs. I’m obviously sensitive to that. But recently I’ve had discussions with folks on the show, talking about, you know, reductions in poverty and thinking about, you know, what people actually need to get places and what kind of value the transit investments we may create for communities, whether that’s connecting people with jobs, it’s connecting the employers with workers, it’s connecting people with healthcare. It’s connecting people with all of these things. And none of those things necessarily gets calculated into the calculus. When you look at a kind of a base number of this is how much it costs, this is the cost benefit analysis.

Jeff Wood (33m 17s):
This is the cost per rider. This is that type of thing. And also we’ve made decisions in the past and not just here in the Bay area, but around the country where we take the path of the least resistance. We go down freight corridors instead of through population centers. And my family, you know, my grandmothers lived in Lafayette since 1963. And what would have happened if they would have not gone down the center of the freeway instead gone down the center of Mount Diablo Boulevard underneath, or what happens if you go into the center of Walnut Creek versus on the edge, those types of decisions have long-term ramifications. And it’s frustrating sometimes because it says the cost is this. This is what the benefit is, and we’re going to do it this way because it costs less rather than looking at the longterm impacts. I think that question of value is something that we have yet to kind of reconcile in our discussions about infrastructure and our discussions about transit expansion.

Jeff Wood (34m 6s):
So we have these kind of upper level discussions when we should be looking deeper.

Sadie Graham (34m 11s):
Yeah, that was very eloquently said. And I think that those are actually some of the things that we are trying to look more closely at, and we’ll be sort of tackling in the next couple of years, you know, theoretically, it’s a hard question, right? In terms of how do you assign numbers to some of these things? Like it’s easy to assign numbers to ridership so that we can pop it into our business case, but when we’re talking about access or, you know, access to food resources or there’s so many things, and then I remember that we’re just a transit agency, right. And we don’t have land use authority.

Sadie Graham (34m 52s):
And so we have the best of all intentions. Ultimately we have to put our stations and our alignments somewhere, and then that’s a whole nother level of thoughtfulness or maybe perhaps on thoughtfulness. And so, you know, to me, that’s where the crux is, you know, because that’s where the, it becomes a political challenge at times. And I think in terms of value, I think we are perhaps understanding a little bit more how to value at least in the Bay area, the lives of others and understand how like, when everyone thrives, we all thrive that then you turn on the news and it’s, you know, some people can’t even wear a mask not to get, that’s

Jeff Wood (35m 38s):
Not political science. I know what you mean though. I know what you mean though.

Sadie Graham (35m 43s):
And I think to then sort of the monetary value of things, it’s like, everyone is not going to be happy by this. Sometime we are going to end up going in communities where there are people that don’t want us, whether it’s, you know, nimbyism or whether it’s, you know, fear of gentrification, which is a very, very legitimate fear. Right. And then it becomes, we have to be here. Right? How do we ensure that we are not disenfranchising people that live there pushing people out of their communities? How do we enable like both of these things to exist simultaneously? How do we bring that benefit to the local community?

Sadie Graham (36m 25s):
Right. And those are hard questions and they’re not only transportation planning questions, you know, they’re big policy questions. So yeah, I guess those are the things, I don’t know if there are questions, but they’re just like, there are moments that, that I’m both looking forward to and, you know, I know they’re coming and I just question, you know, how it’s all gonna play out. And then to your point and understanding of the Bay area, there are very different communities, very close to one another. So some that are very supportive of transit and, you know, affordable housing and then others, that just aren’t. And so, you know, when you draw a line between two places, you know, we gotta go somewhere, whether it’s above ground underground, you know, can’t always go around.

Sadie Graham (37m 8s):
And so I think that will be very challenging. And I know that we think we’re progressive in the Bay area and for, you know, a lot of ways we are. And in some ways we’re not, in some ways we’re not consistently progressive. Right. Yeah. I know, you know, that Bart is doing some amazing Tod work and it’s, I live not far from the North Berkeley Bart station where it’s been really amazing to watch the YIMBY ism movement sort of just grow and, you know, drive around and see, I want Tod in my backyard. I want affordable housing here. Like that’s amazing and it’s not everywhere. And it’s certainly not even everywhere in Berkeley.

Sadie Graham (37m 48s):
Right?

Jeff Wood (37m 49s):
Yeah. Well, so last question. What about the environmental impacts? So obviously we have California, we have cap and trade. We have this discussion about sea level rise. We have climate impacts. There’s been a lot of discussion lately about particulate matter, especially as pertains to like rubber particles going into the Bay. I’m curious how the project might fit into our kind of environmental goals and maybe into a larger discussion about California’s environmental goals.

Sadie Graham (38m 16s):
Yeah. I mean, we have ambitious goals in California and I mean, I think really it comes down to, we need ambitious projects to meet those ambitious goals, right? Congestion is huge in the Bay area. And the only way to really deal with that is transit and sort of more thoughtful land use. I know as part of that analysis MTCs analysis that I was talking about, you know, this project is really necessary for us to meet the regions nine County GHG reduction goals. I think you mentioned sea level rise, and I think that’s going to be major because if you look at sea level rise predictions for the future, it’s already going to impact rail.

Sadie Graham (38m 58s):
Right? And so I’m hopeful that this is an opportunity for us to advance our thinking on that and what that means for our transit planning and transit infrastructure. Frankly, I think there’s also just earthquakes, right? Which is, I think a major success story of Bart in that the last major earthquake we were up and running, I don’t know, within hours and really enabling people to get home that day, you know, when bridges weren’t available and ultimately another crossing will allow another, a level of redundancy for any of those potential impacts as they arise. So I guess, you know, I don’t want to say that our project is the panacea for all climate change, because that would keep me up at night.

Sadie Graham (39m 43s):
But I think to the point of like, we have big problems, we need big solutions. I think this is one of them. I don’t think it’s the only solution. Right. But it’s going to keep greenhouse gases out of the environment. How many, well, I mean, remains actually some smart person on my team could probably tell you exactly how many I can’t right now, but yeah. Coordination, all of these other things that we need to be doing. Right. So I don’t mean to come across. Like I’m not that myopic to think that transit is the only solution, but it’s one of them. And, and I think you and I have both talked about land use policy and housing and transportation are, are sort of one in the same when we’re talking about that problem.

Sadie Graham (40m 28s):
Yeah. For sure. You know, we’re going to be reaching out to our community. So if you’re listening and you live within our service area, please go to our website, link 21 program.org and sign up for updates. There’s a survey. And that’ll be really, at least for this near term where we still are in this virtual pandemic environment, we’ll be doing our outreach. So

Jeff Wood (40m 50s):
What’s the first date. Is there a date already set for meetings or just kind of watch this space?

Sadie Graham (40m 55s):
Yeah. Watch this space. And I think we’re, you know, to the point of trying to meet people where they are trying to piggyback on some existing meetings that different locations and regions might have. So just, yeah. Look for us a little bit more Bart and Capitol quarter, have some amazing social media presence. So we’ll be out there as well. Yeah. I hope that I can come back and fill in some of those answers. I couldn’t get to and tell you more about our project.

Jeff Wood (41m 26s):
I’m looking forward to that. We’ll say to Graham, thank you so much for joining us. We really appreciate it. Thank you for having me And thanks for joining us. The talking head waste podcast is your project of the overhead wire on the [email protected] Sign up for a free trial, the overhead wire daily or 14 year old daily city’s news list by clicking the link at the top, right of the overhead wire.com. And please, please, please put the pod. We’re going to pitch you on.com/the overhead wire many thanks to our current patrons for their ongoing support. And as always, you can subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud, overclass Spotify, and wherever you get your podcasts. And you can always find a traditional home at USA dot Street’s blog.org.

Jeff Wood (42m 6s):
See you next time at talking headways.


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