Quick Takes

A couple of shorter items today, because reasons.

First up, the Matier & Ross column in yesterday’s Chron announced that ticket kiosks are being reinstalled at the Temporary Transbay Terminal, suggesting that it’s likely to a while before the new terminal is back in operation.

Oddly, that’s not really bad news. I don’t think anybody expected a quick fix. Even by the most optimistic estimates, the new terminal couldn’t have reopened before February.

The only real surprise in the news is that testing of the cracked beams is still going on. That was supposed to be complete sometime in November. So, yes, the process is lagging behind schedule, but did anyone expect otherwise? And, frankly, I’m choosing to regard the delay as a good sign. Better to take it slowly and be sure everybody is happy with the testing than to rush it and stoke fears that something has been missed.

Assuming the tests wrap up this month and show the cracking isn’t a design problem, we’re still looking at a few more months. The fix will need to be planned, approved internally and by an external group of engineers, and then implemented and (one hopes) tested.

So spending the money to put the kiosks back where the riders are just makes sense.

Moving on.

A bit of news out of the Northwest.

Seattle has been granted a NHL franchise and will begin play in 2021.

Even though I no longer follow hockey, I’m pleased to hear it.

Just this once, let’s skip the discussion of injuries, violence, and general unpleasantness that usually goes along with talk about the NHL and NFL.

It may come as a surprise to many people, but Seattle was once a big hockey town. Back in the nineteen-teens–before the NHL was founded–the Seattle Metropolitans played for the Stanley Cup three times, winning once and losing once. (The playoff was canceled in 1919, due to a flu epidemic. No vaccines in those days.)

They also had a team from 1944 to 1975, playing in the high minor Western Hockey League. That was the team I followed obsessively in my possibly misspent youth. (There’s also a current minor league team, the Thunderbirds, but they don’t get a whole lot of press, even in Seattle, so…)

So, yes, it’s good to see high-level hockey coming back to Seattle. It should be good for the city: like the Mariners, they should be able to draw fans from Oregon, Idaho, and Montana, which means hotel revenue. There’s an automatic rivalry with the Vancouver Canucks, not just because of geographic proximity, but also because Vancouver used to treat the Seattle team as a farm club. Now they’ll be meeting on an even footing.

The big question now, of course, is what the team will be called. That WHL team started out as the Ironmen, changed to the Bombers and the Americans, before settling on Totems. It doesn’t seem like there’s any sentiment for those first three names, but Totems has a lot of appeal–though, as several people have already noted, it would take some significant outreach to avoid controversy over cultural appropriation.

Apparently there’s even some interest in reviving the Metropolitan name. I’ll admit to liking the idea, but it probably won’t go anywhere. Inter-sport name collisions are one thing, but conflict within the league is discouraged. The NHL has a Metropolitan division, so confusion would be inevitable, especially given that Seattle won’t be in that division.

Some of the other ideas the franchise owners are considering are also problematic. “Rainiers” is on the list, but the Tacoma Rainiers baseball team is only about thirty minutes away. Awkward. “Cougars” isn’t much better. Washington State University wouldn’t be too happy about that, and annoying a big chunk of your potential fanbase doesn’t seem like a good idea.

“Renegades”? Blech.

“Evergreens”? Maybe. It’s somewhat unique, anyway. But are we really ready for the reporting when the team loses and attendance drops? “Last night the Evergreens tried to answer the old chestnut, falling 3-0 in a mostly empty arena. Not a sound was heard.” Nah.

I’m sure we’ll hear plenty more as ownership narrows down the list.

Transit Talk

Shall we start with some good news? I think we should.

Word from the engineers studying the Transbay Transit Center beam cracks is that they’ve ruled out a design flaw as the cause of the problem. That means once the cracked beams are repaired (or, presumably, replaced) we should get decades of use out of the terminal.

Granted, we still don’t know what the underlying problem is or how long repairs will take. In theory, we’ll know the answer to the first question by the end of November–but don’t forget the difference between theory and practice. And, although the engineers are already planning repair procedures based on a variety of likely scenarios, implementing those plans could still take months.

But let’s focus on the positives here. Based on what we know now, unlike the Bay Bridge Bolt Botch, the TTC’s problem seems to be limited in scope and unlikely to recur. That’s a big win.

To be fair, however, all is not sweetness and light in TTC-Land. The San Francisco County Transportation Authority–an alias for the city’s district supervisors–voted to withhold tax money that had been slated to go toward the next phase of the Transit Center*. The SFCTA is also calling for an investigation of the whole project and the Joint Powers Authority, which currently oversees the TTC.

* Laying new railroad tracks to bring Caltrain into the Transit Center.

An extended delay could permanently derail the train project (sorry). That would make the TTC a mindbogglingly expensive bus-only project.

Stay tuned to see how this one plays out.

Meanwhile, BART is taking steps to ensure that we don’t lack for expensive transit projects to worry about. They’re about to present plans for a second connection between San Francisco and the East Bay.

I hesitate to call it a second Transbay Tube, as early reports suggest it could be an above-ground project associated with one of the existing auto bridges.

According to the Chron, construction wouldn’t even start for another decade, which does make me wonder if we’re going to get a reprise of the Bay Bridge’s extended design and implementation. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to see them rush in and give us something half-assed.

Still, ten years of planning should produce plenty of blog fodder. That’s a good thing, I think.

And one final Bay Area transportation note. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission is considering a plan to do away with toll booths.

No, that doesn’t mean doing away with tolls. Don’t be silly.

The goal would be to go to all-electronic toll collection, something that’s already been done on about 20% of the country’s bridges and tunnels.

There are some good arguments around cost savings and safety to be made in favor of the change, but there are also some unanswered questions to be dealt with.

Most notably, in a region as heavily dependent on tourism as the Bay Area, how does electronic collection work for someone driving a rental car? I hope the MTC isn’t figuring that Uber and Lyft are going to put Hertz, Avis, and Enterprise out of business any time soon.

I also wonder just how much support the MTC will have for some of the ideas they’re considering under an all-electronic toll regime. Congestion pricing is never popular, but I could see it happening.

But implementing tolls on traffic in both directions seems like a plan designed for failure. If you thought the gas tax caused a major upset, just wait until voters hear that a round trip across the Bay Bridge is going to cost $15.

BART had better hurry up with that second Bay crossing. When the price tag for driving hits two or three times what transit costs, we might actually get a few drivers off the road. (Yeah, I know. That’s my optimistic side speaking.)

Here We Go Again

A quick reminder: the MLB season ends Sunday* and the playoffs start Tuesday evening with the NL Wild Card game. In keeping with this blog’s usual public service orientation, Tuesday morning’s post will be our annual guide for “Who To Root For If You Don’t Have a Team In the Playoffs.”

* Monday’s scheduled make-up game between the Marlins and Pirates has been canceled, presumably because it has absolutely no impact on the playoffs.


That said, stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Not the one about a woman being put on trial in the Senate over a man’s alleged inability to behave like a moral individual. Though that is getting to be a rather tired story, and I really wish Congress’ slush pile reader would try something different.

No, I’m talking about the one where a Bay Area multi-billion dollar transit project goes wildly over budget, and only to have serious construction problems uncovered.

Long-time readers will remember my fascination with the Bay Bridge Bolt Botch. In large part, my interest was due to the obvious QA failures and the (still!) unanswered questions about what testing was done and how the reports were handled.

And now we’ve got a new serial to watch. The brand new Transbay Transit Center opened just last month after $2.2 billion in over (if memory serves) a decade of construction. Mere weeks after it opened, decomposed granite paths in the park on the center’s roof underwent further decomposition, crumbling and developing potholes. But that was just a warm-up for this week’s troubles: on Tuesday, the center was closed indefinitely after workers found a large crack in a major support beam. The beam supports the bus deck and the park where they cross Fremont Street, so the street was also closed as a further precaution.

On Wednesday, inspectors found a second cracked beam adjacent to the first.

The cause of the cracking hasn’t been determined yet. Despite a lawsuit between the company that handled the steel work and the primary contractors over construction documentation, it doesn’t seem like there was a QA failure this time around. The Chron says they passed inspection after installation and again when the beams were fireproofed two years ago.

Speculation about the cause of the cracking is all over the map: manufacturing defects, installation errors, and design flaws are all getting consideration. Despite the uncertainty, temporary repairs are in progress, aimed at reopening Fremont Street by the end of next week. Presumably–hopefully!–permanent repairs won’t start until the root cause has been determined.

The situation is rife with irony.

Not only was the problem found during Transit Week, San Francisco’s official celebration of public transportation, but the official name of the facility is “Salesforce Transit Center”–and Salesforce is current holding their huge, annual “Dreamforce” convention a couple of blocks away.

But wait, there’s more.

Traffic coming into downtown San Francisco on I-80 across the Bay Bridge exits the freeway on–you guessed it–Fremont Street.

QA implications or no, I’ll be following the story as more information comes out.