Google “Bike Vision” in Limbo After Mountain View Rejects Office Expansion

Northern Santa Clara County's many streets with "moderate to high traffic stress" and hazardous intersections discourage many local commuters from bicycling. Image: Alta Planning + Design
Northern Santa Clara County’s many streets with “moderate to high traffic stress” and hazardous intersections discourage many local commuters from bicycling. Image: Alta Planning + Design

Google’s “Bike Vision Plan” [PDF], which calls for a network of bike-friendly streets in and around its Mountain View campus, may not become a reality if the Mountain View City Council rejects the company’s plans to expand office space.

On May 5, the council approved just one office building, at Landings Avenue, and held off on approval of the other three expansion sites. Without those approvals, Google won’t cover the costs of several major improvements for walking and biking.

Image: Google Bike Vision Plan [PDF]
Image: Google Bike Vision Plan [PDF]
Google envisions a regional network of low-stress “Bicycle Priority Corridors” in Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Altos, Sunnyvale, and western Santa Clara that would enable 20 percent of its employees to bike to work, up from 10 percent today.

“Bicycle networks should be safe enough, complete enough, and comfortable enough for people of all ages to ride on them,” Google’s Bike Plan says.

“Google is committed to reducing single-occupancy vehicle trips and encouraging healthy transportation options for their employees,” the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition wrote of the company’s proposal, which aims to keep the current number of car parking spaces available to employees and visitors fixed as Google expands in Mountain View’s North Bayshore office district.

As tech company campuses grow, the SVBC “recognize[s] the tremendous impact their land use decisions can have on changing every day behavior,” the organization wrote on its website:

As the saying goes, if you build it they will come — A company that builds a sprawling campus with ample amounts of car parking will perpetuate a car culture and continue to apply the brakes to our ability to create a community that values, includes, and encourages bicycling for all purposes for all people.

The city may still receive some of the $200+ million for public projects originally offered by Google, with the approval of the Landings Avenue development and two smaller office projects submitted later in May — Charleston East (595,000 square feet) and Huff (328,000 square feet) — which haven’t yet been reviewed. Google says it will include the same public benefits offered with the Huff Avenue building (immediately east of Landings) as part of its four-site May 5 proposal, which includes resurfacing the San Francisco Bay Trail. Google’s offer to fund a $5 million regional grant program for bike projects (Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Altos, Sunnyvale, and Santa Clara would be eligible), is also contingent on approval of the Huff offices.

Charleston East was already entitled for office development in a 2007 lease agreement with the city, and doesn’t include any specific public benefits package. All of Google’s new office buildings, however, would be connected by a public walking and bicycling trail called the “Green Loop,” which Google is currently building from Permanente Creek eastwards.

The Landings Avenue offices will include a new bike/ped bridge over Highway 101 just east of Rengstorff Avenue, and a new bridge over Permanente Creek to connect with the Permanente Creek Trail, which crosses over the highway to the south. LinkedIn, which was awarded 1.4 million square feet of new office space development on May 5, has offered to build another bike/ped bridge over the highway just west of Shoreline Boulevard connecting to a protected bike lane along the street north of the highway.

Google's two-dome office development at Landings (left) will include a new Highway 101 bike/ped bridge, and the company's re-submitted Huff office project will incorporate the company's "Green Loop" mixed-use path. Image: Google
Google’s office development at Landings (left) will come with a new Highway 101 bike/ped bridge. The company’s Huff office project would, if approved, incorporate the “Green Loop” walking and biking path. Images: Google

Google had originally offered to pay for several other street safety and active transportation projects, such as new bike/ped bridges and paths, upgrades to the Stevens Creek Trail and SF Bay Trail, and a bicycle boulevard on Latham and Church Streets. Also included, however, were funds for a “Highway 101 Interchange Improvement Study” that would undermine such efforts by adding more traffic lanes and reconstructing interchanges to allow for higher traffic volumes on Highways 101, 237, and 85.

Next up for review is the Charleston East project, which includes a section of the Green Loop walking and bicycling trail. The Mountain View City Council will consider it on July 2.

  • Twitter got a sweet deal from SF by threatening to leave. I’m wondering why Google doesn’t try the same with Mtn View?

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Because it’s not run by assholes?

  • murphstahoe

    Twitter is an ant. Google is a gorilla. Not many gorilla cages around here.

  • Scott Mace

    “Low stress” study = junk science. Politics masquerading as evidence.

  • gneiss

    Okay. Because we all know that having cyclists mix with fast moving car traffic isn’t at all stressful and is just a “political” problem.

  • SFnative74

    I disagree. People who are interested about riding a bike often talk about how unsafe they feel, which is basically the same as feeling stressed. It’s not a difficult exercise to determine what causes stress to people while they are on a bike, then working to remove those stressors.

  • Caleb

    Wow, look at that map. The words “abject failure” come to mind. What a livability and safety disaster Mountain View is.

    Perhaps it would be clearer to have a map of corridors that actually go somewhere that _aren’t_ high stress through challenging crossings. I suppose that wouldn’t make a very interesting network map.

  • ladyfleur

    Don’t be too quick to judge Mountain View. You’d be hard pressed to find any similar sized place in the Bay Area that rates better.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    Google should just build a high rise in SF and slowly ditch the campus in the ‘burbs. most of its employees already live in SF

  • 42apples

    Except it’s basically the opposite here. Google is begging to stay and promising hundreds of millions in “community benefits.”

  • Its sad when your private corporations have to do this type of work. The city government should be providing this type of infrastructure.

  • murphstahoe

    most of its employees already live in SF [citation needed]

  • aslevin

    The story is complicated. Mountain View City Council didn’t simply tell Google to take a hike because they didn’t like Google. The City created a plan allowing millions of square feet of office development in North Bayshore, and then accepted applications for the development. Google applied for 100% of the square feet available. In order for Mountain View to accept Google’s application entirely, the Council would have needed to boot LinkedIn and the other companies that are also located in North Bayshore. Council made a decision according to the process it set up, and granted Google only part of its application.

    This has several unfortunate consequences. Not only does it put the transportation investments in limbo, it also puts the prospects of good residential development for North Bayshore in limbo. The previous council had disallowed housing in North Bayshore, but the new Council members elected with the campaign goal of enabling housing, and decided to set that in motion. But the process for planning the housing/mixed use neighborhood was set up to happen after divvying up the office space. Google also owns key parcels along Shoreline which the city had earlier identified as valuable for housing, in part because of the direct shuttle connection to downtown. Google had also been offering to use those parcels for housing. That proposal is also in limbo.

    But it may not be too late. The process to plan housing is coming up starting this summer; there could possibly be some way for the city to work with Google to provide more of what it wants in exchange for the housing site.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    tried to Find exact numbers unavailable but The extensive Google Shuttle bus Service from SF to MV Points to a significant percentage of employees already living in SF. Migrating HQ to SF over 5 -7 years would do more to reduce VMF than anything.

  • murphstahoe

    I invite you to visit Mountain View and note the traffic headed to google on Shoreline and 237 – even the San Tomas Creek Trail. Moving the HQ to SF would increase travel, not decrease it

  • Alexander Vucelic

    current modal share at Googleplex is

    walk 0%
    bike 9%
    bus approx 15%
    private car 75%

    SF modal share
    walk 10%
    bike 3%
    bus.etc 32%
    private car 46%

    traffic congestion would be hugley reduced by SF move

  • aslevin

    Driving to google is under 50%, where did you get those numbers?

  • Alexander Vucelic

    web search but could be wrong – do you have a link with solid data ?

  • aslevin

    North Bayshore mode share, December 2014 page 97.
    http://www.mountainview.gov/civicax/filebank/blobdload.aspx?BlobID=15038

    Current North Bayshore mode share is 61% and Google does better than the NBS average (I’m not sure that’s written down)

  • Caleb

    Not in the Bay Area, admittedly, but…….Davis? Similar population. Similar “campus” situation adjacent to a small/medium town. Similar rail connection (Mountain View has a far more frequent connection, so this should be easier) … …
    …..

  • murphstahoe

    You’ve just proved the opposite of what you are claiming. If everyone from SF working at Google is taking the bus to Google, yet their private car mode share is 75%, that means that most of their employees are not living in SF. Most of their employees are sprawled out in the South Bay – and they would then be driving to SF instead of MV.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    good find – it’s 61 indeed,

    and Googleplex likely does better than this which of course begs the question how much better would a SF Google HQ do than the average mode share of 47% 🙂

    6,400 Googlers use the SF – MV shuttle every day.

  • murphstahoe

    I’m skeptical of that number. Google has 53,000 worldwide employees. Even if every single one of them worked in MV, by your stats above that means 8000 take a shuttle. And it’s well established that the shuttle program goes to many places besides SF. And it’s definitely established that far less than 100% of Google’s workforce works in MV.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    Dude – like the 6,400 number is straight from Google totally man

  • murphstahoe

    6400 for all shuttles in the fleet, or just SF? Google runs shuttles from all over the place.

  • RMN

    Parts of that map are right, but others are wrong wrong wrong. Embarcadero and Alma in Palo Alto -> Moderate Stress !!. Bike lane sections of Mary and Homestead in Sunnyvale – High Stress!! Hollenbeck, no bike lanes, no space, Moderate stress! Foothill Expy with a light every half mile and 8 foot bike lanes, high stress?? Maybe for some. Also, access via unpaved bay trail = low stress on other maps. Great, lets all ride 3 miles on dirt and gravel.

  • ladyfleur

    You do realize you picked the #1 bicycling location in the nation, where the first bike lanes were built.

    My point is that people shouldn’t judge Mountain View harshly for having a lot of high-stress roads and crossings. Very, very few cities in the US are any better because cars dominate our cities.

  • murphstahoe

    Riding 3 miles on dirt and gravel is not low stress. It is the absolute opposite of stress!

  • RMN

    Ok, opposite of stress, but effective distance 1.5x vs pavement for some (and unacceptable route for others).

  • ubrayj02

    If Google had spent a tiny fraction of what it cost to make their report, or pay their architects, to instead buy itself a slate of candidates in the last election to Mountain View city council I don’t think they’d run into problems like this.

    Perhaps that is already what happens and Google’s rivals have dumped enough money stomping on their dreams in city hall.

    I feel like this whole story is indicative of the great achilles heel of nerds – they think that if only they generate the right ideas that somehow their will will be done. Their expansion wouldn’t make that much difference, but remaking the streets of this small American city would be revolutionary.

  • murphstahoe

    Google tried to build a whole bunch of employee housing inside Mountain View. If that’s not trying to buy an election, dunno what is…

  • jonobate

    There is a map on page 7 of the Google Bike Vision Plan that shows where Google employees live. No hard numbers, but they seem to be evenly split between Mountain View and SF (Mission/Marina/East SOMA). There’s also a small hot spot in North San Jose, but that’s about it.

    So, Google should expand their presence in SF until it’s roughly equal to their presence in Mountain View. Right now their SF office is about a tenth of the size of the Googleplex.

    They probably don’t want to do that, because of innovation or something. But it would certainly eliminate a lot of wasted employee time sitting on buses.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    good point;

    migrating The HQ over a 5-7 year period would also save Google a fortune.

  • Alexander Vucelic
  • murphstahoe

    You got me!

    Oh wait – that office space is for a new location for the YouTube office, currently housed in San Bruno, not mountain view.

    You get an A for effort.

  • aslevin

    A pro-housing majority was elected last November, and is moving forward with housing in North Bayshore which Google has supported. Google’s application asked for 100% of the available office space, though. That’s what the council turned down.

  • aslevin

    Probably any solution that would enable Google to phase in more office space would also entail some way to phase in more housing, since the big increase in jobs/housing imbalance is contributing to displacement in Mountain View.

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