Transportation Improvements and Accountability in San Francisco Bay Area Term Paper

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Transportation Improvements and Accountability in San Francisco Bay Area

The process has been much more painful and has taken much longer than anyone anticipated, but today, by any measure, San Francisco is a world-class city. The Bay Area in particular is poised to become one of the most livable regions in the entire nation as the result of progressive and far-sighted transportation projects and investments in civic infrastructure. To determine how recent transportation improvements and the related issues of accountability have played out in recent years in the San Francisco area, this paper provides an overview of recent transportation initiatives in the region, followed by an assessment of what accountability issues emerged as a result. A summary of the research and salient findings are presented in the conclusion.

Review and Discussion

Recent Transportation Initiatives and Improvements in San Francisco Bay Area. Perhaps the most well-known and visible of San Francisco's transportation initiatives to date is the Bay Area Rapid Transit, or BART, the troubled but forward-thinking Bay Area Rapid Transit system. In fact, San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose have all extended key transit links throughout the Bay Area; this process produced, by the mid-20th century, a highly efficient, multifaceted transportation network (Rodriguez 11). The introduction of an expansive network of freeways, combined with the impact of the BART by the 1970s resulted in local leaders encouraging residents from throughout the region to visit, work, and live in their cities or suburbs; however, many Bay Area residents complained that these initiatives efforts by their civic leaders to attract outsiders from throughout the region were adversely affecting their lifestyles, and protests began to take place over transit connections that they felt undermined local culture and traditions (Rodriguez 11).

There are clearly a number of forces at work besides the citizenry in the Bay Area that are influencing the placement and types of transportations initiatives being sought today. For example, Rodriguez points out that, "The Bay Area's geography channeled urban development along distinct paths. San Francisco may be the most European-like city in the United States, but beginning in the 1840s towns sprouted up along the Bayshore" (11). The region's mountains and the Bay Area itself also forced the construction of railroad and streetcar lines, highways, and BART along almost the same routes. Each of the new transportation technologies that emerged over the years served to transform small settlements that had been built around a preceding transit system. For instance, Oakland actually began its existence as a mere ferry suburb of San Francisco; however, the introduction of streetcars in the early 1900s helped to transform it into the modern city it is today. Likewise, Berkeley also began as a ferry-streetcar suburb of San Francisco and Oakland and subsequently evolved into a city during the automobile era (Rodriguez 12).

Notwithstanding the enormity of the contributions made by BART and the other transportation networks in place today, one of the most notable recent achievements has been the restoration of the city's waterfront. According to Ellis (2002), "The former double-decked elevated Embarcadero Freeway, which was built in the late 1950s and disfigured the city's access to the Bay, was badly damaged in the 1989 earthquake and has been torn down to be replaced with a fine boulevard, lined with stately rows of Canary Island palm trees" (26). Furthermore, despite the concerns of traffic experts, the removal of the freeway did not result in gridlock or back-ups across the Bay, but rather managed to disperse traffic easily along nearby surface streets. "Most importantly," Ellis says, "it has allowed the city to regain its waterfront and given access to the splendid Ferry Building and pier buildings" (27). All of this progress was not without controversy, of course, and the accountability issues associated with these transportation initiatives are discussed further below.

Accountability Issues. The costs overruns being experienced in typical urban rapid transit projects, particularly San Francisco BART system, are well-known, but there remains a relative paucity of timely data for comparison purposes. What is known, though, is that the Bay Area planners were not alone in their underestimation of the costs associated with its construction. According to Buhl, Flyvbjerg, and Holm (2002), "Comparative studies of actual and estimated costs in transportation infrastructure development are few. Where such studies exist, they are typically single-case studies or they cover a sample of projects too small…

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