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Pitfalls of Armchair Urban Planning (AUP)


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NOTE: this post applies to me first.

I spent a few days in San Fran over the New Year holiday (after a cross country Amtrak trip - you can read about on another thread).

When I got back to Charlotte, Google suggested a news article to me about BART - San Fran's metro system.  I thought it was funny for Google to suggest articles out of San Fran when I only spent a few days in the city... anyway, I read it just for fun, which brings me to this post.

The article was written by Alon Levy and Alon is:


Alon Levy is a mathematician with a strong interest in urbanism and mass transit, and currently works as a freelance writer.

In sum, Alon is an armchair urban planner - AUP.

His focus is on BART's extension to Berryessa and comparing it to the project for Millbrae (Millbrae is 1 stop south of SFO) but he opens his article with this:


Every year, thousands of holiday travelers endure the soul-numbing BART trip to and from SFO. Does it really have to be this way?

As BART is about to open its extension to Berryessa, it is worth reflecting on an earlier major expansion to the system, which linked Millbrae and San Francisco International Airport. That project was planned poorly, and now, almost fifteen years later, public transportation between SFO and the greater region still doesn't work. So what went wrong, and how can we avoid making the same mistakes again?

This is not my first time to San Fran (first time arriving on Amtrak) but we left via SFO. In the past I've arrived and left out SFO and OAK (Oakland International). With few exceptions, I've relied on BART to take me to and from the airports. I've yet to find something "soul-numbing" about any of my trips on BART, even though there were times when it was inconvenient (eg. one time the line to OAK was shutdown for weekend maintenance and we had to take transfer buses - that was not convenient, for sure, but "soul-numbing", not really, no).

I am sure his arguments on the actual problem he was attempting to address are/could be valid. The problem is he threw out the baby with the bath water.  The message conveyed is "ALL of BART sucks and we are wasting all our transit money" only then to point to Caltrain as the savior for every problem.

Now, I don't know enough to comment on actual project problems in San Fran, but I've followed Charlotte development for over a decade now and can comment on the public projects we have here, and I do. But reading Alon's article I was reminded that we here on UP tend to fall into this same mindset/trap that our solutions are best and the current implementation is garbage.

I will try to do better and strive to be constructive in my criticism.

Link to article: https://www.thebaycitybeacon.com/politics/bart-to-sfo-is-everything-wrong-with-bay-area-transit/article_f0a461a6-f40c-11e7-8c72-430b15948e9d.html

BART system map:



And my Amtrak adventure post ...


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