Herhold: Why BART to San Jose is a bad idea

Submitted by News Desk on Mon, 01/28/2008 - 4:36pm

More than 35 years ago, Roy Nakadegawa stood up in protest when the city staff of Berkeley presented a plan to widen Hearst Avenue, a residential street that runs along the north side of the University of California campus. To the relief of the residents, the veteran civil engineer was able to show that better timing on traffic lights could accommodate the traffic.

It was an eye-opener for Nakadegawa, who went on to serve on the AC Transit board and later for 12 years as an elected director of the Bay Area Rapid Transit District. A citizen talking sense could change the course of a bureaucracy.

Today, Nakadegawa, frailer at 84, is standing up in protest once more - this time, in opposition to the plans to extend BART from Fremont to San Jose. As usual, his command of numbers makes you think.


In Silicon Valley, the BART extension is sometimes taken as accepted wisdom. Pushed on by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group - they used to be the Manufacturing Group, but they inflated their wisdom - we've been quarreling about facts on the ground: Will BART go to the north or south of Santa Clara Street at Coyote Creek? Will the old Bank of America building be the downtown entry station?

Nakadegawa, a Berkeley resident whose interest in surveying began after he was shipped to a Japanese internment camp at 17, has a more fundamental issue: He thinks we shouldn't do the extension at all.

His first and primary argument is cost: The $4.7 billion BART line, with its non-standard gauge, is tremendously expensive, better-suited to dense urban areas than suburban transit. Citing increased construction costs, Nakadegawa says it could easily end up costing $9 billion to $10 billion.

Next is ridership. Nakadegawa thinks BART backers' estimate of 71 percent fare-box recovery by 2025 is too generous. He says the current BART line, running between two denser cities - San Francisco and Oakland - took 25 years to attain 65 percent recovery.

Nakadegawa also says parking will be prohibitively expensive - $400 million by his estimate - and take up valuable land that could be used for offices or apartments that could drive ridership. He says busways would be a far cheaper and more flexible alternative than BART.


BART backers say such arguments ignore public will, expressed in the voters' passage of a half-cent sales tax in 2000. Valley Transportation Authority officials said Nakadegawa's cost estimate had "no basis in fact" and disputed his idea that BART wasn't suited for suburban transit. (For a back-and-forth on BART, go to: www.mercurynews.com/scottherhold)

To which Nakadegawa says this: "Forming a regional transit network was never really studied. It was something that (former Mayor Ron) Gonzales said: 'OK, I want to do it.' It was partially a political gimmick."

As a longtime rider of public transit, I come down firmly on Nakadegawa's side. When I talk to friends about BART, they'll say things like, "Well, it should always have circled the bay." But very few ride transit or understand that BART will suck money from buses and light rail.

Because the sales tax revenue from the 2000 measure has fallen short of estimates, BART backers are now planning a fresh one-eighth-cent sales tax. Anyone who thinks that will be the last bump is a fool. The feds have listed this project as "not recommended." And before you scaldyourself, it's worth listening to the man who correctly said Hearst Avenue didn't need to be four lanes.

Contact Scott Herhold at sherhold@mercurynews.com or (408) 920-5877.