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Time for a Change at BART

Those who have seen my bike know that I prefer it unadorned and minimalist—no brand name, no logos, no stickers, no extraneous parts, and no colors except black and white. So it was not without hesitation that I temporarily scraperized it and turned it into a rolling billboard for Robert Raburn’s campaign for the BART Board of Directors:

Raburn for BART Board

I don’t have the craftsmanship of the scraper bike artists, but since I lack a yard or street-facing windows, I had to do what I could. In a mostly depressing election season, Raburn’s run for the BART Board in District 4 (encompassing Alameda and about half of Oakland) is one of the few bright spots. He is well-qualified for the position, with an academic background in transportation and urban planning, and a long history of public action on urban transportation issues. He also offers a stark choice between competing visions for what BART should be. Carole Ward Allen (the incumbent) and most of her fellow directors prioritize grandiose but imprudent projects like the Oakland Airport Connector and expensive expansions to far-flung suburbs, where ridership consistently fails to meet BART’s projections. Raburn, in contrast, wants to refocus BART’s priorities on core services, putting more resources into increasing reliability, decreasing headways, decreasing blight in and around stations, and improving passenger connections between BART and other modes of transportation, whether they be bus or bike or pedestrian.

Raburn has his work cut out for him. Not only is Carole Ward Allen a 12-year incumbent who is deeply embedded in the East Bay political machine, but Raburn is pushing back against 40 years of BART history. The sad fact is that BART has always acted more like a commuter rail system than an urban subway system, so Raburn’s focus on strengthening core services in the bay area’s most densely populated areas is surprisingly revolutionary.

It may be an uphill climb, but Raburn does have some things going for him. As the longtime director of the East Bay Bicycle Coalition, Raburn has very active support from the cycling community (see the photo above for an example—and I picked up that yard sign at a supportive bike shop in Alameda). He will also benefit from the highly motivated, highly organized opposition to the misguided Oakland Airport Connector—there are a lot of people like me who never paid any attention to the BART board before, but who are now more eager to vote for a BART director than anyone else on the ballot.

The airport connector, which will likely provide worse service than the current AirBART bus, but at twice the cost to passengers (and a cost of almost $500 million to BART) is not only a strong argument against Carole Ward Allen, who championed the project, but it also offers a more general lesson on why these down-ballot elections are important. Advocacy groups such asĀ TransForm (not to mention a veritable army of local bloggers) fought heroically to get BART and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) to reconsider their plan to endanger BART’s financial future by taking out loans to fund a wasteful and unnecessary tram, but ultimately the MTC deferred to the BART board and approved the project. The airport connector is a prime example of why it’s more efficient—and effective—to elect the right people to these positions in the first place, instead of having to fight long, difficult battles over every lousy project.

The airport connector appears to be a fait accompli (although BART’s “groundbreaking ceremony” last week before the contracts have been finalized was a premature piece of campaign season theater), but there will be plenty of other decisions for the BART board to make down the tracks. If you live in BART District 4 and care more about increased and improved service than another expensive extension to some doomed outpost of the cheap-oil empire, then I urge you to vote for Raburn. (And if you live in BART District 8, then I urge a vote for Bert Hill for similar reasons—with the added bonus that you would be helping to defeat the unctuous James Fang, an especially unappealing character and San Francisco’s only elected Republican.)

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