What We Observed and Learned
The Grand Jury Report serves as the de facto guiding document and provides the background and justification for embarking on our project. The Report established that although SamTrans provides a fixed-route, bus transit network for San Mateo County of which 16 routes connect or terminate at Caltrain stations, these routes are not well-coordinated with the scheduled train arrival and departure times--this despite the two systems being operated by group, according to our conversation with Ian Griffiths on Monday. After speaking with Adina on Friday, we learned that SamTrans and Caltrain have responded to the Grand Jury Report and claim to be working on this issue. Our job through this project is to collect data and create maps that can be helpful in terms of decision making. Reading the Report prompted us to develop numerous discussion and investigation points, namely: 1) why only 3% of Caltrain commuters utilize SamTrans for their first/last mile trips, 2) why routes designated as “Caltrain Connectors” do not actually connect with trains, 3) how to manipulate existing resources (buses, scheduling gaps, etc.) to optimize the current system to provide better connections.
“Moving Silicon Valley Forward” was an eye-opening report that exposed the commuting difficulties, especially of minority populations, along the Peninsula and in the Bay Area. It concluded that, among other mandates, that transit in the Bay Area must improve to fit the needs of such commuters in order to lessen the impacts of pollution and traffic congestion. As the primary heavy rail system in the Peninsula, Caltrain is poised to reduce this congestion but only if other systems are coordinated to maximize its effectiveness. This reading allowed us to get a better understanding of the profile of those we are attempting to assist with the project, and the real impacts we might have. This issue is real and happening right now, as we observed through group members recounting their own experiences connecting through public transit in the Bay Area.
In our conversations with Ian Griffiths, we also discussed Bay Area transit and how it consists of nearly 30 separate, uncoordinated systems--a network that Ian hopes to integrate into one, functioning network via the work of Seamless Bay Area. In essence, the Bay Area is unique in this regard of so many systems serving their own purposes. San Mateo County alone has the Valley Transportation Authority, SamTrans, and Caltrain as the three major transit providers--and that’s not counting the amalgamation of smaller, local providers in the region. This fragmentation is something we hope to assist with mitigating along with organizations like Friends of Caltrain and Seamless Bay Area.
Update on Project Activities
Our first order of business was to exchange contact information and create a system for sharing information and dividing up work. After getting acquainted and sharing our backgrounds and skills, we created a Google Team Drive that will house all our documents and files. We then (luckily!) were able to set a weekly group meeting time for Thursdays at 5pm.
At our first meeting in class on Monday September 30th, we were joined by one of our community partners, Ian Griffith from Seamless Bay Area. He spoke about policy reform, grassroots movements to integrate transit systems, and reiterated data that only 12% of Bay Area commuters ride transit, whereas 75% drive. We did a thought exercise where we brainstormed reasons why people might not be using SamTrans buses to connect to Caltrain, based off personal experiences using public transportation in the area, and focused on missed opportunities and barriers that prevent Caltrain riders from accessing SamTrans. We then went over the project description and deliverables together. Ian suggested that we each go out and try to make a connecting with public transportation over the next week and ask other riders what their experiences were along that particular routes.
At our first team meeting on Thursday October 4th, we began working on Reflection #1, reviewed the Project Scope of Work assignment, and came up with questions to ask Adina and Ian the following day. During our Zoom call on Friday, we got acquainted with Adina and were updated on SamTrans’ and Caltrain’s responses to the Grand Jury Report. We then went over next steps and project expectations with Adina. After getting all our questions answered, we feel comfortable about the scope of our work. We will be meeting with our community partners again next week, when we will be able to gain their feedback on our initial data collection and analysis.
We have also set up the computation foundation of our project: team members have installed the ArcGIS suite and system for sharing data over our Google drive. We have compiled a set of data layers to assist in our mapping analysis. So far, these include Caltrain centerline and station locations, preliminary mapping of the Bay Area with Communities of Concern, and SamTrans routes.
Critical Analysis/Moving Forward
Speaking with Adina and Ian on Friday allowed us to define our goal for this project, immediate scope of work, and expectations for our deliverables. Our goal is to make recommendations about improvements to transit connections and for active transportation. We will summarize the recommendations on an interactive website, though we currently do not know exactly what these visuals will look like. Ian will help us decide the best way to visualize these transit recommendations and communicate the issue.
While the project description states identifying Communities of Concern within a 3-mile radius of SamTrans, VTA, SFMTA, BART Bus/Light Rail/Heavy Rail Stations, we decided to first focus on access to SamTrans Caltrain Connection bus routes in San Mateo. Adina told us to first establish a methodology for the mapping analysis: creating the maps, analyzing the data, creating the visuals, and presenting recommendations for just one transit system (e.g. SamTrans and Caltrain in San Mateo). We will then work incrementally and carry out the same methodology for the other transit systems and, if time allows, expand the scope of our work to Santa Clara County and San Francisco. Once we know how long the entire methodology takes for one transit system, we can create a schedule for the rest of the quarter to carry out additional analysis and recommendations. Adina also suggested using this first mapping exercise to determine which specific routes it might be interesting to try out as field work and interview riders.
We are currently scheduling a meeting next week with both community partners, during which we will go over our Project Scope of Work and assess any roadblocks related to the mapping analysis of SanTrans Caltrain Connection buses. We also hope to use this meeting to discuss the best data visualization practices.
As we start to establish the relevant metrics we need for determining transportation access, we need to find GIS files for those metrics in Bay Area cities. We need to be able to find quality GIS files, but they may not be the easiest to find. Since this project relies on the use of ArcGIS in order to determine our recommendations for changes in current Bay Area transportation systems, it is important that we all have an adequate understanding of how the software works. As of now, we are at varying levels of experience which we will need to improve upon throughout the quarter to ensure we create high-quality deliverables. Our current individual experience with ArcGIS are as follows:
* Brandon: I have no experience with ArcGIS or mapping software.
* AJ: Currently in ESS 164 (Fundamentals of GIS).
* Allan: While working with the City of San Jose, I used arGIS to map out gang-related crime around the City. However, this involvement with arcGIS is very minimal and doesn’t relate well to the work done in this project.
* Lilla: I’ve used ArcGIS once before for a research project and am currently in ESS 164 (Fundamentals of GIS).
* Ken: I have used ArcGIS previously in a public works internship, but it was mostly set up for me and I simply added and edited layers.
After we establish our mapping analysis protocol for the first transit system, we will need to replicate it for other systems. How many we are able to analyze over the course of the quarter will depend on how intensive the process (from data collection to presenting recommendations) is, and thus we are not sure what we will accomplish in this short timeframe. Adina told us that the more systems the merrier, but to focus on the quality of recommendations and working incrementally. Regarding recommendations for improving equitable Caltrain analysis, we are also unsure what form this should take: should we be highlighting simply areas that need work or recommend specific changes to routes?