Six of One, Half Dozen of Hohokam

I’m starting a new job Monday. It’s a full time gig, which will force me to attend Cactus League games on the weekends and listen to weekday games via streaming.

That’s a marked difference from last spring training, when I went to one game, an A’s-Brewers tilt at Maryvale, as part of a rehab outing.

Things are looking up these days, so I splurged for a Spring Training Pass, the Cactus League equivalent of A’s Access. I’ll have admission to the lawn and standing room areas around Hohokam, though I may upgrade my location here and there. I’ll go to 6 games at Hohokam, planning for at least 2 more (Angels, Giants). I’ll also drop by Salt River Fields to see how the new artificial turf fields look. The Dbacks are installing artificial turf at Chase Field, which I believe is part of the new reality coming for outdoor as well as indoor stadia.

Partial schedule. Bold indicates games I’ll be attending

In the meantime I’ll continue to enjoy the lush green blanket in Mesa. Maybe I’ll see you there. Thanks to the Japan series, there’s less than three weeks until the first game!

 

Running the numbers on the gondola

I wasn’t sure how long I’d last at FanFest, so I made sure to pack a lot of activity in the morning just in case I petered out in the afternoon. That turned out to be good planning.

    • Arrived at the Amtrak Jack London Square station at 9:20
    • Walked to Howard Terminal while passing through Jack London Square via Water Street. 0.7-mile walk took longer than expected because of the amassed crowds and booths. Arrived at the east gate by the old oil storage tank at 9:38.
    • Went back towards the action at JLS, sat on a bench outside 10 Clay Street for a breather. Listened to coach and player intros, 9:55.
    • Looked around, found the Regatta 1 space where the A’s were holding the ballpark Q&A sessions. Grabbed a good seat at 10:15.
    • First Q&A session started at 10:30, lasted a half-hour.
    • Headed towards food truck corral to meet Jeff, who couldn’t get in the first session. We decided to get non-food truck grub, so we decided to walk the gondola route down Washington at 11:30. (Sadly, Jeff’s brother Kevin couldn’t make it as his munchkins were having a little too much fun with some balloons, so they had to leave early.)
    • The walk up Washington to the convention center took 17 minutes (also 0.7 miles) with light pedestrian and vehicular traffic. After we arrived at the convention center, we went into the Marriott. Jeff retraced his journey with Casey Pratt to the Warriors’ practice facility. We didn’t have access to the fifth floor entrance, so we left to get lunch at 12:15.

Gondola Route down Washington, ballpark placed at Howard Terminal

  • After lunch I was starting to crash and Jeff had to visit his sick grandma, so we hiked over to the 12th Street BART station. He was going to Pleasanton, me to Oakland Airport at 1:15.

As is often the case, the escalator at the BART entrance was out of service. I took the stairs and groused about it a little. During our journey I showed Jeff the video the A’s and BIG posted of the gondola simulation. It looked cool, though it missed the transfer from BART to the gondola station (900-foot walk). The station itself is planned to sit above the intersection of 10th Street and Washington Street.

To make the station work, a two-block stretch of 10th Street would be converted into a pedestrian mall. Washington would remain open to vehicles, though the streetscape could be changed to accommodate more trees and perhaps wider sidewalks and less parking. I think it would be a good idea to put in a reversible bus lane for use during games. Jeff thought Washington should be closed to vehicles like 10th. I agreed, pointing out the political difficulty in doing so.

After we boarded a southbound BART train, I downloaded the gondola economic impact report. While the numbers from the report looked impressive, a closer look showed one particular set of numbers was missing: The cost to riders.

To be fair, this is how such reports are often written. The reason often given is that the agencies or private parties involved are working on different ways to charge for the service, and a final determination hasn’t been made. However, I took some of the aforementioned numbers and tried to figure it out.

  • $123 million to build gondola over 0.7 miles, including a station at each end (Washington & Water, Washington & 10th).
  • $4.6 million annual operating cost
  • 1 million riders each taking round trips

If you write a $123 million loan for the gondola, you end up with an $8 million annual debt payment spread over 30 years at 5%. Add the operating costs (labor, maintenance) and it comes to $12.6 million per year just to break even. That’s important, because the A’s aren’t going to depend on local or regional mass transit funding to make this happen. It means that every one of those million riders, not all of whom will be A’s fans, have to provide the equivalent of $12.60 in revenue for every round trip.

Powell-Mason cable car line (via Google Earth)

Should the A’s get this thing built, they’ll come up with innovative ways to help pay for the gondola. They could pass the cost on to subscribers of their All Access plans. Or levy a transportation fee with every ticket. Still, $12.60 to cover the literal last mile to the ballpark is a bitter pill to swallow. No wonder their pitch includes tourists! The gondola path includes a descent over I-880 down to the waterfront, reminiscent of the Powell/Mason and Powell/Hyde cable car lines. Speaking of which, have you looked at how much it costs to ride a cable car these days? $7 each way! Makes a $12.60 round trip look like a bargain! Sort of.

This is how the Oakland Airport Connector worked out. I rode the elevated cable-car line from the Coliseum BART station to Oakland International Airport. It cost me one-way $6.65 (less 50 cents if using Clipper). The tram ran smoothly and had only few other people in it.

Saturday afternoon on the Oakland Airport Connector

I enjoyed the OAC the two times I’ve taken it, but I can’t get past the idea that it’s an incredible waste of money. There is some history behind this money pit via Matier & Ross:

When it was proposed, the cost of the 3.2-mile elevated tram line was put at about $134 million. By the time work began in 2010, the cost had risen to about $500 million — requiring BART to issue $110 million in bonds to pay for it.

Despite the growing costs, the project was propelled forward because it was seen as a boon for the airport and a job creator in the midst of the post-2008 economic crash.

Now, however, it’s a headache for BART — and another red line in the system’s looming $477 million budget deficit over the next decade.

If BART is smart, they won’t touch the gondola with a ten-foot pole. Make that 900 feet for good measure. At least aerial trams don’t run into cost overrun problems.

Now consider that the cost of the gondola for a family of five, not including their regular BART fares or parking or anything else, could be $63. I’m about to get the Spring Training Pass. 12 games for $50 plus a $5 handling fee. Good to know bargains like that still exist.

For those who are going to #Athletics FanFest on 1/26

Last month I mentioned that I would be going to FanFest next Saturday. I’m pretty excited to go, perhaps not for the reasons you might think.

I’ve talked a lot about my misgivings over the lack of accessibility at Howard Terminal. I’m glad that the A’s and the City of Oakland are creatively looking at ways to bridge the gap between the nearest existing BART stations (12th Street/City Center, West Oakland, Lake Merritt) and Jack London Square/Howard Terminal.

I think it’s best if I spent a good deal of my time determining just how easy (or difficult) it will be to get back and forth between the waterfront and the transit hubs. It’s going to pull me away from many of the normal fan and family-related activities at FanFest, but I’ll stick around for the starting festivities. The schedule:

9:30 a.m. – FanFest opens to the public
9:45 a.m. – Player Welcome Walk from Scotts Seafood down Water Street to the Ferry Lawn
10:00 a.m. – Welcome Address and Player Introductions
10:30 a.m. – Q&A Sessions begin on Ferry Lawn Main Stage
10:30 a.m. – Food Trucks open
2:00 p.m. – FanFest closes

You see, when I planned this trip last month I was on a pretty advanced track in my stroke recovery, lengthening my walks and regularly going to the gym. I also extended my available unsupervised time at home, and I thought I was in the clear in terms of my health.

On January 3rd, I woke up with vertigo and dizziness, so I couldn’t go to my normal program that day, let alone keep any food, water, or medications down. While the vertigo went away after 24 hours, I felt lightheaded throughout the entire weekend. I eventually checked myself into the local emergency room on Sunday (January 6) and got an MRI on my head. The MRI came up negative, which meant that even though nothing was found, it’s possible I had a transient ischemic attack, commonly referred to as a mini-stroke. (Previously neurologists found numerous brain infarcts.) Net result: I was told to add a daily baby aspirin (blood thinner) to my regular meds and was sent on my way.

The next week was a whirlwind for me personally, as I was recovering from whatever I was dealing with AND I was set to start interviewing for full time employment. The whole point of the recovery program is to get me back to work. I sent a bunch of resumes out, interviewed with three companies, and received multiple offers. I chose one of those offers last Friday. My first day on the job is on February 4. I’m excited about starting work again, ever the eager beaver. Thanks to all of you who supported me over the last year and beyond. Next weekend I’ll have a chance to talk with friends and family in the Bay Area, a fun weekend before I start work in earnest.

Back to FanFest.

My plan is to take a Capitol Corridor train from San Jose, arriving at the Amtrak Jack London Square station before FanFest starts at 9:30 AM. I investigated the possibility of taking Caltrain to SF and then hopping on a ferry across the bay, but the schedules don’t run early enough on the weekend. I’ve spent much of today compiling all of the various ways to get to JLS on public transit. I figured I should share that info.

Other notes:

Questions? Suggestions? Meetup ideas? Drop them in the comments.


Trip planning resources:

Google Transit
AC Transit
BART
Capitol Corridor
San Francisco Bay Ferry

For Kyler Murray’s sake, I hope he is able to follow his dream, whatever it is. I’m sure his parents and representation will guide him through whatever arcane and complicated economic systems he has to deal with to become a successful professional athlete.

In the meantime…

Kaval Call Part IV: Coliseum redevelopment

Imagine the mid-60’s. You’re driving on Highway 17. There’s a flurry of construction near Hegenberger. Terminal 1 at Oakland Airport opened. The tumult (and the joy that comes with six world championships) of the 70’s was still in the distance. Oakland was hitting the big time!

Starting tomorrow the Coliseum may only have one tenant, the A’s. That lone team announced its intention to leave last month. What will be left of the Coliseum complex?

Coliseum originally under construction

In the picture above you can clearly see all of the notches in the lower bowl. The Coliseum started out with the Raiders as its first tenant. Seating risers mounted on steel plates could be moved around to suit football or baseball, which came in 1968. There were actually two different configurations for football: one for the overlapping baseball and football months where the gridiron ran from home plate to center field, and the “permanent” first base-third base configuration. The notches allowed the football field to fit the bowl, and are still in use today.

Knowing that the notches are part of the charm of the Coliseum, it’s curious that the A’s and BIG released the following rendering of a mostly deconstructed stadium.

Coliseum reimagined as amphitheater

The distinctive corner notches that would normally exist in the regular football configuration are gone. The notches at the foul poles remain along with a redone backstop notch, making this ampthitheater-Coliseum in some ways more of a true ballpark than the Coliseum ever was.

Closeup of redone Coliseum baseball configuration with arena in background

So… what happened to championship plaza? In this vision, the plaza is gone along with the plaza and upper decks, replaced by a grove of trees. It hardly makes sense for a city that’s about the spend significant effort to preserve its football history and tradition to simply cast that history aside. Now I get that these sketches are very preliminary, but they show a certain blindness to Oakland sports history. Even though the Raiders are leaving and no replacement is in sight, it doesn’t make sense to keep this baseball configuration when the A’s aren’t going to play many (one per year? any?) games there while so many fans also want football. Or if they can’t have football, they’d like a reminder of what once was. If this is the future of the Coliseum, it should reflect the venue’s rich history: football, baseball, concerts, monster truck shows, all of it.

Looks like a park, feels like a cemetery

Look at the outline of the Coliseum field above. There’s the plentiful foul territory and the backstop notch. I was surprised to find that also intact is the misshapen outfield wall, once euphemistically called the “Jagged Edge.” It’s the last remnant of a to-be demolished Mount Davis. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that the concrete east stands are gone, but the outfield wall was never an architectural highlight. I suppose that it too is an important part of history, so perhaps it should remain. Unlike my previous argument for the notches, the jagged edge was a by-product of design choices made with the 1995 renovation. If anything, bring back the Bash Brothers-era outfield fence and dimensions.

Around the amphitheater are a lot of nice amenities. As Oakland doesn’t have a large urban park, and maybe this could work despite its distance from downtown. Yet check out the nomenclature. Meadow. Lawn. Soccer. The Hills. Youth Sports Academy. Job Training. Soccer (again). No “football” to be found. A few tennis and basketball courts. The term Community bumps up against the Nimitz Freeway. It all speaks to a sort of whitewashing/greenwashing of sports in Oakland. Toss in some “affordable housing” and facilities that should help East Oakland residents, and Bob’s yer uncle.

I remember back to Frank Deford’s write-up of the Coliseum complex in Sports Illustrated, marveling at how things have (or haven’t) changed in the years since. Consider this pearl of wisdom:

The teams all have come so fast that, among other things, Oakland has neglected to support them. People in Oakland tend to gloss this over.

In 1968 there was a bonanza in the East Bay. In 2018 the teams are in a hurry to leave.

A narrative has emerged recently in which Raiders fans looking to place blame for the Raiders’ departure say it’s the A’s fault for “squatting” at the Coliseum.  The argument is not based on any facts or real evidence. All the A’s asked for in their lease extension was for 2 years to make plans for their own eviction if the Raiders put together a bona fide stadium plan of their own. That never happened. And if we’re being honest, Mark Davis would’ve been a fool to turn down $750 million in stadium subsidies from Nevada. Such a gift was not awaiting him in Oakland ever.

These days attention is turning to having Howard Terminal become the centerpiece for another civic revitalization effort, while the A’s, being the last team standing in Oakland, negotiating control over the Coliseum land and reaping the benefits. When I first heard that was the plan I was incredulous. It’s hard enough to build one big development in the Bay Area. Now Oakland wants to hand the keys for two of them to the A’s? The East Bay Times’ recent editorial captured this sentiment well, a sentiment that will undoubtedly grow in the coming months.

Comparison of new large real estate developments

The A’s don’t plan to build out the Coliseum per the Coliseum City plans. It would be nice to have for future development. Even if there’s no new stadium, or even if the old one becomes the Oakland Mausoleum. Just think of it. The A’s could have control of 170 acres, entitlements to 8,000 homes and some 4 million square feet of commercial square footage – in two separate, high-profile locations. To the victor loser goes the spoils, I guess. For the A’s, the spoils are being able to have the East Bay all to themselves. They can dictate what kinds of development can occur at the Coliseum complex, including another football stadium.

I asked A’s President Dave Kaval about the A’s plans for the Coliseum. He ruled out building a ballpark there. Kaval’s response:

We’re still following the entitlements for the Coliseum that were approved for Coliseum City. We have to build up the areas at the Coliseum to deal with sea-level rise.

That led to the obvious follow-up question: Is there a Plan B?

You know we’re the Oakland A’s, we’re all about Plan A. We think we’ve done a lot of community outreach and we’ll do a lot more.

After the backlash suffered with the Peralta plan, I don’t blame the A’s for trying to cover all of the bases this time. I have to wonder if the world – nay, the Bay Area – is moving too fast for them.

Casey and Jeff walk from BART to Howard Terminal

Take a stroll with ABC-7’s Casey Pratt and our Jeff August as they take the lunch hour to walk from the 12th Street City Center BART station to Howard Terminal. Merry Christmas.

Kaval Call Part III – Gondolas not BART

The late, long-lamented Key System once provided an efficient, well-planned streetcar network that operated in Oakland, Emeryville and Berkeley. In the wake of the Great American Streetcar Scandal, streetcar lines were replaced by buses. That led to the eventual development of the BART system, which in 1972 was a then-futuristic regional network that decidedly was not a streetcar replacement.

It helped somewhat that Oakland started as the heart of the BART network, with eight stations within city limits and the first main trunk line (Fremont-Richmond) running through Downtown Oakland. What remained was a hub-and-spoke system in which AC Transit buses fed newly established transit hubs at the BART stations. While buses had more route flexibility than streetcars, they lacked the permanence and service quality of streetcars or light rail.

60 years after the streetcar-to-bus debacle, the modern era of light rail passed by Oakland. Meanwhile, light rail proliferated in San Francisco in the 80’s and San Jose in the 90’s. The 21st century introduced BRT – light rail in terms of station infrastructure, but buses by motor and wheels.

Construction continues apace on the San Pablo Ave and International Blvd lines. However, both terminate in or near Downtown Oakland, short of Jack London Square and Howard Terminal. Practically, that makes them no better than BART in terms of getting to the ballpark. If Howard Terminal becomes its own non-BART transit hub, it will be necessary for those BRT routes to extend to the waterfront. To accommodate BRT properly, at least one of the north-south streets running downtown (Broadway, Jefferson, Washington) will need to be modified to add BRT stations, eliminating parking or traffic lanes.

The free Broadway Shuttle provides a decent transfer option, though to properly handle the crush of pre-game and post-game riders transferring from BART, Broadway will still need to be modified. What could be the solution besides walking or street-clogging buses? A gondola, of course.

Wait. A gondola?

Saffron Blaze, via http://www.mackenzie.co

We’re not talking about the Venetian kind of gondola, as Oakland lacks the kind of canal system that could support a fleet of gondolas. Instead, the type of gondola discussed hangs in the air. Using similar technology as the Oakland Airport Connector, the gondola system the A’s are proposing would run above Washington Street between Jack London Square/Howard Terminal and 11th Street in Downtown Oakland.

Portland Aerial Tramway (via Tim Adams, flickr)

A scaled down gondola system was installed at the Oakland Zoo last year as part of the zoo’s California Trail expansion. Implementation was predicated on the notion that visitors should be able take the 1,780-foot span and 309-foot elevation change from the entrance to the new Landing Cafe at the California Trail; all while minimizing impact the wildlife beneath the gondolas. Gondolas tend to be reliable – zoo operational hiccup being an exception – and don’t use a lot of energy. Austrian vendor Doppelmayr, which also built the Airport Connector, claims that the system can carry 6,000 riders per hour. Neither of the American systems come anywhere close to approaching that capacity. Single lines in Bolivia and Colombia can carry 3-4,000 per hour. Those examples are among the busiest in the world.

The trip from the 12th Street/City Center BART station to Howard Terminal will run over flat land, though not without a transition. A rider disembarking from a Fremont or San Francisco-bound train will do so on the lowest level, the third subway deck beneath Broadway. From there fans have to take a two-story escalator, elevator, or stairs to the concourse level, walk towards the 11th Street exit, then take another escalator/elevator to street level. Once on the street, the fan would have to cross 11th Street to the Marriott City Center, then find a way to move past the hotel and up 5 floors to what is now the Warriors’ practice facility atop the Oakland Convention Center. From there there should be a gondola station that will whisk fans to Howard Terminal.

It’s not an elegant solution. It beats walking, right? While I’m sure Marriott would enjoy the uptick of baseball fans staying at the City Center hotel location, the company may not be so enthused at the idea of thousands of people not paying anything to trample the facility’s elevators. There will be many fans who decide it’s better to walk especially on a sunny day or take the Broadway Shuttle to the water. Others will have to herd like cattle up or down EIGHT flights to transfer From the subway to the gondola. A better solution may be for the City of Oakland to extend the station’s concourse level and build a separate exit from the BART station to the Convention Center that could include banks of escalators and elevators to navigate the other 5-6 levels.

(BTW the $1 million Warriors practice facility was thrown into the Coliseum Arena renovation deal. The City’s half of whatever settlement comes from the Warriors for breaking their lease could be put to good use once the remaining debt is paid off.)

Curiously, in 2007 the City of Hercules in Contra Costa County researched a gondola to help alleviate traffic on CA-4. It seemed somewhat outdated given recent advances in ropeway technology, but the basic tenets of the pro/con debate appear sound.

Advantages:
1. Capital costs are low. Aerial cable transit typically has the lowest capital cost (on a per mile basis) compared to other fixed-guideway technologies.
2. Operating and maintenance costs are low.
3. Environmental impacts are minimal. Cable systems leave only a small footprint, require little space for a guideway and towers, and can be easily retrofitted into existing streets.
4. Construction impacts are minimal. Except for a limited number of foundations for towers or terminals, much less site preparation is necessary than for other types of fixed guideway.

Disadvantages:
1. Expandability is impossible or difficult at best. Since current technology makes it difficult to have systems consisting of more than two stations, future expansion to other areas of the city may not be feasible.
2. Alignment tends to be limited to a straight line. Angle stations both increase costs and consume relatively large amounts of land, the latter being undesirable in urban areas. Concrete or steel guideways carrying self-propelled vehicles are preferable if a curved alignment is needed.
3. Availability, while high, is not as great as for other technologies.
4. High winds and electrical storms force shut downs which would not occur with other technologies.
5. Evacuation techniques are dramatic and unnerving. Cautious public officials are unlikely to feel comfortable with them. Although the techniques are proven safe
and effective, media may emphasize their dramatic aspect.
6. Insurance premiums are high. This tends to cancel advantages to low operating and maintenance costs.

Compared to other modes of transportation, there aren’t a lot of studies on gondolas in urban settings in the USA. There are successful examples of the technology in Portland (Portland Aerial Tram) and New York (Roosevelt Island Tramway). Yet the tech has had difficulty escaping the notion that it’s meant primarily for ski resorts. The Roosevelt Island Tramway may be the most apt comparison for a Howard Terminal Gondola, as it runs on a BART-like schedule and has cabins that can hold up to 125 people each. Newer cabins used in Vietnam can carry 200. That’s a lot more than cabins at the Oakland Zoo (8) or even Portland (78). My concern about the gondola is that with its limited availability it will be looked upon as an exclusive toy for the well-heeled. At least compared to the OAC it shouldn’t cost half a billion to build it.

And now there are rumblings that Howard Terminal could be just the thing to close down underutilized I-980, re-use the old Interstate right of way for both BART and high speed rail or Caltrain tracks, while offering a station at Howard Terminal AND offering the long-sought-after Southern Crossing via another Transbay Tube to reach San Francisco. This is a clear example of wishing for things with no regard to how much they cost. If the combined Howard Terminal ballpark and transit center and trains on 980 and expanded ferry service and water taxis and redesigned Oakland streets end up costing eleven figures, what’s a few billion extra among friends?

I asked Dave Kaval how the gondola would be operated. Would it have a separate fare, or something rolled into the ticket price? Kaval response was

That’s not really determined yet. There’s an operating agreement with the operator (Doppelmayr or Garaventa), then we work out the details from there including fares.

Presumably that would include integration with the Clipper Card system, though BART saw fit to create its own app to handle payments for the Airport Connector as well.

My friends, Jeffrey and Kevin August, walked from the 12th Street City Center BART station to the open house at the A’s Jack London Square headquarters. They’re planning to do at least one more trip including Lake Merritt, then I plan to join them for the walk when FanFest happens, weather permitting.

Look, we all know how much of a cluster the Bay Area’s transit situation is. Could we all get on the same page and set some priorities? A fanciful double-tunnel based on a non-existent train extension incumbent upon a mega-development based on a small ballpark that is far from being approved? Pardon me for thinking it’s a bit of a stretch. Oakland is blessed to be the heart of the BART system. Why spend so much effort dreaming of ways to avoid BART? Or why does a second Transbay Tube have to connect through Oakland when there are so many other communities that don’t have BART at all? Answers to many of these questions will be revealed in the forthcoming EIR.