If Howard Terminal ballpark happens, so should a new BART station for it (repost)

2/7/17 – I originally posted this a year ago yesterday. The basic information hasn’t changed, so I’m reposting it now. This comes as the Chronicle’s Scott Ostler reported on the A’s potentially requesting light rail (a streetcar) to bridge the gap between BART and Howard Terminal. Have at it. – ML


My last article with Howard Terminal as the main subject (and not as an aside) was posted on November 15, 2014. That was nearly 15 months ago. Since then, few things have changed in the immediate area. The site remains without a tenant, short or long-term. While relationships with shipping companies SSA Marine and Matson solidified, the same can’t be said for rival Ports America, which pulled out of Oakland completely.

No site studies were completed on Howard Terminal, so in the event the site become an official relocation site for the A’s in the future, it will again come time to figure out just how much it costs and how long it will take to get the site ready. Thankfully, in Mayor Schaaf’s recent push for HT, a preliminary figure has been floated for site prep and infrastructure: $90 million. To me that sounds conveniently low, especially because $90 million is also the figure to get the Coliseum ready for the Raiders – even though we don’t know how much can or would be developed there.

Fortunately, we know that the infrastructure budget would include at least one bridge extending Market Street over the Embarcadero and Union Pacific tracks to Howard Terminal. There’s also a good chance we’d see a small parking garage to serve the stadium, probably for players, management, and VIPs such as suite holders. The actual cleanup cost is still to be determined, since we don’t have a proper sense of the footprint and placement of the ballpark in relation to the waterfront, not to mention the fate of the rest of the 50 acres.

Oakland has embarked on updating its Downtown Specific Plan. As is often the case when such updates come around, the city has chosen to expand its definition of downtown, now including Howard Terminal as part of an expanded Jack London district. This is a good move if the purpose is to recast HT as Jack London Square’s commercial flank to the west, instead of HT’s legacy as a dirty, blue collar, West Oakland port facility.

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Howard Terminal and Ballpark at the far left of expanded Jack London District

The expansion makes the Jack London District quite large, extending 1.25 miles from west to east. That’s as long as a stroll from the marina all the way to 21st Street down Broadway. Or in walking distance, 25 minutes or so. To get a sense of distance and walkability, Oakland plotted out a series of maps showing rights-of-way, transit access, and walking distance from key points. Take this map, for instance:

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Radius of 5-minute walking distances from various points within Downtown Oakland

Based on where the the ballpark is located, it’s about 10 minutes from Jack London Square. It’s another 10 minutes to the nearest entrance for the 12th Street BART station. That’s going to require some sort transit option to bridge that distance, either via a more frequent Broadway Shuttle, the long-rumored Streetcar project, or another BART station in the vicinity of JLS. Because BART inclines from a tunnel to an elevated viaduct as it runs by 880, the most likely place for a station would be Market and 5th St. That’s a great location relative to Howard Terminal, only 1/4-mile away. There’s room and BART-owned land there for a new station. To accommodate BART’s up to 710-foot trains, the station would have to be located between Market and Brush Streets.

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Gray marker on Market St denotes location of BART infill station

BART aerial at 5th Street at Market Street

BART aerial at 5th Street and Market Street

The downside of BART at Market and 5th is that it’s 3/4-mile from Jack London Square, though at least it would be in the district (barely). A streetcar would conceivably serve more locals and non-ballpark users, but its route would run closest at JLS, again, 1/2-mile away. In a 2012 study, the streetcar’s estimated cost was $202 million. An infill aerial BART station would cost $70 million or more to construct. To me, if there’s a choice it’s a no brainer – build the BART station. But I’m not an Oakland resident, I’m an A’s fan who cares most about BART access. Citizens of Downtown Oakland who want a more comprehensive transit plan for their neighborhood may not find such an option satisfactory. The location is also not conducive to a big transit-oriented development plan, which makes it less attractive for grant funding, a possible necessity for construction.

Some may think that this infrastructure is unnecessary for the ballpark. They point to the numerous fans who walk from the Embarcardero BART station the long way along the waterfront to AT&T Park. Yes, people do that. They do it because it’s scenic. The walk from 12th Street to Howard Terminal is not scenic, whether you’re taking Broadway, Washington, or MLK. Forcing people to walk 20 minutes after taking in many cases a 15-25 minute BART ride is not convenient. It’s not up to the standards the public expects for transit availability. And it’s incredibly disrespectful to the needs of the disabled and seniors. You know what those people have in San Francisco? They have the ability to transfer to MUNI without leaving the station. Thousands of able-bodied fans do the same thing. They have the option to either walk or take transit directly to the park. That’s pretty close to ideal. Or if you want ideal access, there’s the Coliseum and the BART bridge. A’s staff are on hand at each end to help fans in wheelchairs. In upgrading ballparks, we shouldn’t downgrade access. We’re better than that.

An honest discussion about a ballpark’s transportation needs

The discussion always starts the same way. I throw out a question or poll to my Twitter followers about transportation at Howard Terminal. Most of the respondents are A’s fans who want to understand the options. Some are locals to the Jack London Square neighborhood or are from adjacent areas (West Oakland, Downtown/Uptown, Lake Merritt). There are always the inevitable “people can walk the mile” or “we don’t need anything more than a shuttle bus” folks who don’t understand how flawed (and usually short-term) such ideas are. And then there are the transit geeks, who envision something that could create better transit links for Oakland and the East Bay. That last part is what I call transit feature creep in that they always get away from the project-level needs and goals. The result is a general lack of consensus.

It starts and ends with how BART was conceived and implemented. BART is a “rapid” system, using equipment and grade-separated (from traffic) alignments like legacy systems such as the New York City Subway and Chicago’s “L”, along with newer systems such as Washington Metro and Atlanta MARTA. The first three have metro-systems with many systems in dense, urban areas, whereas MARTA is more like BART in its more spread out stations and extensions into the suburbs. Trains were designed to be more comfortable than their urban counterparts in order to attract suburban riders. As BART was built, Oakland became the spine of the system, though none of the stations in Oakland’s core are true transit hubs other than their connections to AC Transit buses. There are transit hubs elsewhere in the BART system (SF’s Market Street stations, Millbrae, Richmond) but with Oakland, the lack of a streetcar or light rail solution to better cover downtown and link neighborhoods has always seemed like a lost opportunity.

Prior to BART, the Key System provided streetcar to Oakland, Berkeley, and Emeryville. It at first connected to SF-bound ferries via a long pier, or mole. Later it traveled on the lower deck of the Bay Bridge, terminating at the Transbay Terminal. The Key System then became part of a diabolical plan to kill off streetcars and replace them with buses. BART filled in the transbay aspect of the Key System, but most other transportation needs are handled by AC Transit, a situation that the Eastshore has lived with for 40+ years. AC finally started construction of a BRT (bus rapid transit) line that runs from downtown Oakland on Broadway to San Leandro BART via International Blvd. It will have streetcar/trolley-like stations, though the route will avoid currently low-traffic neighborhoods such as Jack London Square/Howard Terminal and Brooklyn Basin in favor of denser neighborhoods.

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The map above, which shows the northern part of the BRT route, largely covers the same ground as the planned streetcar except for the aforementioned JLS/HT/BB Estuary neighborhoods. If the new BRT route succeeds, it’ll lead to further rollouts elsewhere, such as San Pablo Avenue, where there’s already a limited-stop “rapid” line 72R in place.

By now I’ve spend 520 words talking about transit that doesn’t serve a ballpark near Jack London Square, which may feel like a waste of time to you. There is a point – that all this talk of trying to include every neighborhood and constituency leads to losing sight of projects that can provide great effectiveness at the scale required. It’s not the oft-discussed, still under study streetcar. It’s not an infill BART station between West Oakland and 12th Street, which would be close to Howard Terminal (1/4-mile) but not close enough to Jack London Square (3/4 mile) to make sense. Shuttle buses are only a temporary solution. Any bus solution would be hampered by limited peak capacity to handle crush crowds for events at a ballpark. The answer is nothing in the poll I posed two weeks ago.

The answer lies in how BART is constructed along Broadway. If you’re a frequent rider, you know that the stations along Broadway have two platform levels. The upper platform is for trains traveling north, either along the Richmond line or the Pittsburg/Baypoint lines. The lower platform is for southbound trains heading to Dublin/Pleasanton, Fremont, and by virtue of BART’s alignment, San Francisco. However, all of the southbound trains only travel on a single track, effectively using half of the platform. BART left the space there for expansion, including a potential second Transbay Tube or service to Alameda. For the purposes of a ballpark, let’s start with a simple BART spur to Jack London Square.

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The spur would run from the 12th Street Station to the heart of JLS (Broadway & Embarcadero), with the station having portals on either side of the Embarcadero. If developed properly, the station could partly solve the pedestrian safety problem by providing an underground concourse for fans to use before and after games. Fans exiting at Broadway and Water would be a mere 1/4-mile away from a Howard Terminal ballpark, allowing for a leisurely stroll through what would surely become very high-rent retail property.

This option would be the most desirable and hassle-free for BART riders. Consider how they would never have to leave the station to transfer, riders from Berkeley or Walnut Creek only having to walk across the platform. Riders from SF and Southern Alameda County would have to descend an escalator. That’s it. No having to leaving the station to wait in line for a streetcar or bus, or walk 20 minutes. Walking is nice if you have the time, but not convenient. Queueing for one of multiple 50-person buses is never fun if you’re person 200 in line. Muni streetcars work for the Giants, mostly because can transfer to BART within the same stations on Market Street.

Ridership forecast for the spur in the 2004 Jack London BART Feasibility Study was estimated to be 3,000-4,000 riders on weekdays, half that on weekend days, for a rough total of 1.2 million riders annually. That was without a ballpark in the area. Take 82+ dates of decent (30k, not sellout) ballpark crowds and the current percentage of BART riders (20-25% percent) and the ridership for the line could grow up to 50%! From an operations standpoint, there’s a good chance that the spur could be automated, like the Oakland Airport Connector. Since it would be a direct connection, the trip would take 3-4 minutes, the same time it takes to travel from 12th Street to Lake Merritt.

The spur doesn’t come without downsides. It would involve a tunnel, which is by far the most expensive alignment option. Muni’s Central Subway currently costs $500 million per kilometer. A kilometer is slightly shorter than the distance from 12th Street to JLS, though I suspect engineering could be a little cheaper by simplifying the process (no station in between, no cut-and-cover operations). The feasibility study estimated the cost to be $180-250 million more than a decade ago, expect the $500 million estimate to be more in line.  That’s a ton of money, but it would come with far less upheaval coming from digging up dozens of Downtown Oakland blocks for years. And unlike streetcars or buses, a BART spur would not mix into surface traffic, ensuring a much smoother, efficient trip to and from JLS. Plus there’s also the chance for user fees, such as a $1 ticket surcharge for ballpark events, to help fund the project.

The other caveat is that spur wouldn’t directly connect with the Jack London Square Amtrak station. That’s not as big a deal as you might think, considering that the western end of the Amtrak platform at Webster is less than 800 feet from Broadway. Having a portal on the landslide of Embarcadero and improved wayfinding should help significantly. In addition, JLS is also not close to Brooklyn Basin, nearly a mile away. Unless Oakland wants to extend a streetcar to Fifth Ave, there is no good transit option there.

A spur may at first sound like a very limited-purpose, “selfish” option. Taken within the fabric of how transit is being developed in Oakland, it actually makes sense. It provides fast, direct access to JLS. It acts as a first step towards a BART tunnel to Alameda, if Alameda actually wants it badly enough. It eliminates the looming redundance and inefficiency that comes with having streetcars, BRT, regular buses, and normal traffic on Oakland’s dieting streets.

Planning an effective transit strategy for a ballpark will come down to priorities at Oakland City Hall. If they prioritize the needs of users (quick and easy transfers, high capacity) a spur is the best solution. If the goal is to better connect neighborhoods and have lower capital cost (not sure how much lower), a streetcar is a better solution, though it will be slower and less efficient. It’s up to you, Oakland.

Howard Terminal and… Oakland’s Outer Harbor?

Yes, Howard Terminal is high on the list for the A’s. Eastshore Empire looked the last week’s Port Commissioners’ meeting agenda and found something interesting:

That type of language comes up a lot for the Coliseum JPA’s board meetings, especially when the JPA and its tenants are negotiating leases. It’s great to hear that the A’s are having talks about land use and potential acquisitions or leases with the Port. That shows that they’re willing and able to move on multiple sites without waiting for the Raiders to clean up their own mess. Having Berths 20-24 (?) on there is a different matter altogether.

I chimed in with the following:

Berths 20-24 are better known as the former PAOHT (Ports America) site. Due to an ongoing dispute with the Port over their own lease and slow business, PAOHT declared bankruptcy last year, abandoning their 50-year lease in the process. I wrote about the potential of the site last year, though I framed it as more of a replacement site for the Raiders should the A’s take over the Coliseum. Because of the site’s lack of transit availability (BART runs nearby but can’t stop there) but massive size for a future parking lot, it could work as a NFL stadium site. For baseball it makes little sense at all. It’s two miles from West Oakland BART, three from Howard Terminal, and three from downtown Oakland. There’s nothing around it and the wind there makes Candlestick feel like a light tropical breeze. And because a ballpark can’t face west, fans would never benefit from the incredible view of the Bay Bridge and San Francisco.

The site may function as parking for a Howard Terminal, which might work better in terms of planning and maintaining Port operations. However, as mentioned before, the site is a three mile bus ride from HT. That’s the same distance along Broadway from the Embarcadero to 51st Street. Having dozens of shuttles running such a lengthy distance on regular Oakland surface streets during peak hours sounds like a recipe for disaster. It belies the urban ballpark concept that Oakland and the A’s are seeking. Still, parking is rather scarce at JLS/HT, and maybe the shuttles can be routed to stop by West Oakland BART to pick up fans.

paoht-ht

David Kaval reaffirmed that the A’s will announce their site choice, plan, and timeline this year. While the communication lines are open to fans for suggestions, the decision-making process isn’t exactly open. That was a major mistake made under Lew Wolff, and I hope that the team at the very least provides more insight into the factors driving the decision (cost, transit, land availability, development potential, etc.). A’s fans deserve at least that much.

Davis messes with bull, gets horns

Fan Fest at JLS a rousing success

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As I arrived at the Jack London Square Amtrak station around 9:30 AM on Saturday, I looked around. No fog. Thin cirrus clouds. The sun was warming the air. This was, for once, going to be a good Fan Fest. Which it was. The A’s had a permit for 7,500, and if it rained as it had over the past several weeks and during most recent Fan Fests, they were expecting a modest 3,000 to show up. They were even considering putting up a tent at the Ferry Lawn, if only to provide more cover for fans. Instead, they got a reported 15,000 fans to show. And according to Sean Doolittle, the crowd actually measured 1.5 million in attendance. Frankly, I’m all for #alternativefacts when it comes to A’s attendance.

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Fans took over Jack London Square: waiting in line for autographs, sampling free food from several food trucks, watching player interviews, or taking in kids’ activities. Some came out because of the great weather, others wanted to check out nearby Howard Terminal. I’ll have an expansive post on that later this week. For now I’ll give you some initial thoughts.

 

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15,000 is an impressive crowd for Fan Fest, and Jack London Square makes for a pretty decent already-built ballpark village, doesn’t it? That’s only half the size of a good new ballpark crowd, and it’s on Saturday morning, not a traditional heavy traffic window as you would see most weeknights. Still, things seemed to go without incident. There could have been plenty, though. Counting the train on which I arrived, there were five trains rumbling through Jack London Square in a roughly 40 minute span coming from both east and west, including a long freight train. I also saw a near accident:

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Pedestrian bridge at Yoshi’s between Washington and Clay

The driver of the black Tesla was confused about where he could turn, thanks to the barricades at the Washington Street entrance to JLS. He stopped on the tracks before making a U-turn. Thankfully there was no train in the area. This is the same intersection where, only two weeks ago, two members of seminal Oakland jazz group Tower of Power were tragically hit by an oncoming Amtrak train. I know I sound like an obsessed worrywart about this train safety aspect. I can’t emphasize it enough, not just because safety is paramount, but also because the whole area needs to be safe for the companies that operate trains in the area.

food_trucks

At Fan Fest itself, new team president David Kaval reaffirmed the A’s commitment to Oakland. The new marketing slogan is “Rooted in Oakland.” The Shibe Park Tavern rebranding of the West Side Club space at the Coliseum is to make it more baseball-leaning and fan-friendly. Kaval’s chief desire during this planning stage is to have a very intimate ballpark experience with “neighborhoods.” Anyone who has been following this story back through the Wolff years knows that those last items aren’t new. They’re not location-specific. As for those locations, they remain the Coliseum, Howard Terminal, and two “in and around Lake Merritt.” Those two are the Laney College and Peralta CCD sites. Kaval was quick to praise the Howard Terminal locale especially with the perfect weather at the time. He also mentioned that the team will need help from fans in terms of community support and lobbying at the city, county, and even state levels. Citing his experience in bringing Avaya Stadium to completion, Kaval emphasized the need to deal with the special regulations unique to Howard Terminal, including the Tidelands Trust. Kaval’s language has been careful to not favor one site over another, no matter what fans want to read into tweets and news quotes.

The thing Kaval didn’t provide was an announcement regarding the site choice. That’s still in progress, though Kaval promised a timeline along with renderings and the usual things that come with such an announcement. The simple fact is that we don’t know if any of these sites will be available when the time comes, so hedging by studying four sites (down from twelve) is the most prudent move the A’s and Kaval can make for now. So we’ll have to wait for some months to come before that major event. Until then, enjoy the food trucks!

What happens to the would-be lame duck Oakland Raiders?

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The Raiders unceremoniously filed for relocation to Las Vegas last week, a move as predictable as expecting the sun to rise tomorrow. Raiders owner Mark Davis has stayed steadfast in his opinions of Sin City since last year’s Carson stadium plan was rejected. Many questions still exist regarding the plan regarding the financing, potential attendance, and whether the franchise will actually make significantly more money there as opposed to Oakland. While I remain skeptical about the Raiders’ prospects in Vegas, I’ve come around to thinking that ultimately it won’t matter. If the Raiders move, they’ll get a massive subsidy from Clark County. If they come up short, they’ll somehow finagle their way to get another subsidy on top of that. The team can always cook the books in some way to make it look like they’re losing money even if they aren’t, which would start the cycle of getting more public money all over again.

Oakland and Alameda County limited their contributions to cheap land and subsidized infrastructure, and naturally, the NFL is not impressed by this. Yet the NFL has given the city/county several years to come up with some sort of plan that fits within the NFL’s typical stadium-building business model. At this point it’s simply unreasonable to expect the two sides to come to an agreement that is mutually satisfactory, let alone beneficial, within the next two months. While this isn’t a zero-sum game, there is always a winner, and it’s usually the NFL. When the public statements boil down to Oakland saying it has a plan and the NFL saying Oakland doesn’t, there isn’t much common ground.

Should Davis get the necessary 24 owner votes to move, he still plans to play out the next two lease option years at the Coliseum while the Vegas stadium starts construction (which may not happen until 2018). The lease allows for this, a huge mistake on the part of the City/County. Two lame duck years may be propped up by a more competitive Raiders team. They will suffer severe backlash from long-time Oakland Raiders fans. How much? Well, it won’t help that for the first time in twelve years, the Raiders are raising season ticket prices.

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2017 Raiders Season Ticket Prices

Surely, some fans who are location-agnostic will continue to come to games. The Raiders have good information on this so they have to be preparing for the worst. Though honestly, I have no idea what to expect. I’ve had many fans tell they’ll never go again, some who’ve said they’ll appreciate the time they have left with the Raiders, some who won’t go because of the ticket price hikes, and others who’ll continue their traditions of tailgating only or watching on TV. Dean Spanos chose to have the Chargers play in a stadium that currently seats only 27,000 (at least it’s in Carson, right Dean?), smaller than capacities for some two dozen FBS programs (out of 128). The Raiders could face hundreds of weekly references on Empty Seats Galore. It’s a sad way to go out, and probably not what the NFL intended. That rant, and the NFL’s mismanagement of the LA situation, deserves a much longer treatise at a later date.

The A’s have stayed largely quiet on this, other than a bit of shade thrown the Raiders’ direction last year. They just want the NFL to get on with it, though they won’t say that publicly. Yes, the search for the best site in Oakland remains ongoing. Then there’s this.

Sometimes it’s best to simply not saying until it’s time to do so.

NFL-Oakland in 140 characters

I realize that the last post was 1,200+ words long, so at lunch today I tried to come up with a more succinct version. So here it is. Pardon my French.

You’re welcome.