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Looking to Curb Traffic, Palo Alto Rebuffs County’s Plans for Wider Roads

Santa Clara County planners want to widen Page Mill Road in Palo Alto. Palo Alto wants to reduce driving instead. Photo: Santa Clara County

Santa Clara County’s plans to widen expressways are out of step with cities like Palo Alto that are striving to curb traffic by reducing car commuting. Last week, Palo Alto City Council members balked at the county’s $98 million plan to expand Page Mill Road near Highway 280, which would only encourage more driving. If any expansion of the road should be studied, the council said, it should only be to add carpool lanes.

Last year, Palo Alto created a Transportation Management Association (TMA) aimed at reducing solo driving by 30 percent in three years through commuter benefits like free Caltrain passes or employee shuttles, which would be provided by employers. Such programs, including one at Stanford Universityhave proven effective at alleviating traffic and are far cheaper than building more roads and parking.

But when crafting the $3 billion Expressway Plan 2040, Santa Clara County didn’t account for local transportation demand management programs like Palo Alto’s because the county doesn’t fund or operate those services, county planner Dawn Cameron recently told the Palo Alto Planning and Transportation Commission.

“The county’s responsibility is to operate the expressways,” said Cameron. “The kind of TDM programs that you’re discussing are typically implemented locally, by employers… We can’t require them to operate shuttles, or to provide passes to their employees.”

But the county’s prescription for wider roads will only result in more driving, Council Member Greg Schmid noted. “With your improvements, the [traffic] numbers actually go up.”

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San Mateo County Officials Insist on Failed Strategy of Widening Highway 101

San Mateo County wants to add two more lanes to Highway 101, a strategy that has failed to reduce traffic congestion. Photo: Andrew Boone

San Mateo County officials are moving forward with plans to widen Highway 101 in a futile attempt to pave their way out of traffic congestion.

The City/County Association of Governments (C/CAG) has dismissed a more effective and less costly proposal to avoid highway expansion by converting two existing traffic lanes to high-occupancy toll lanes, also known as express lanes.

“If we build more capacity for cars, what we’ll end up with is more cars,” said Joseph Kott, vice president of Transportation Choices for Sustainable Communities and a former transportation planning manager for C/CAG. “We’ll have spent a lot of money to get more cars, and will live with all the consequences of having more cars. It’s just not very sensible.”

Rather than convert two of Highway 101’s eight lanes to express lanes between San Bruno and Redwood City, C/CAG wants to keep all existing lanes free for solo drivers while expanding the roadway to 10 lanes.

C/CAG plans to conduct an environmental review that will only evaluate the addition of carpool lanes, which could then be converted to express toll lanes. The agency’s board passed a resolution greenlighting the study on June 11.

But according to a 2013 report from Kott and TransForm called “Innovation Required: Moving More People with Less Traffic,” converting existing lanes to express lanes would move 75 percent more people on 101 using 10 percent fewer vehicles, at far less cost, compared to building new, un-tolled carpool lanes. Even C/CAG admits that widening Highway 101 would increase driving and air pollution, and result in less transit ridership.

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Redwood City’s Plan for Wider Roads Will Confound Its Bid to Cut Traffic

Redwood City’s vision for a dense, walkable downtown would be undermined by its plans to induce more driving. Image: Redwood City

As Redwood City plans to develop a more compact, walkable downtown, the city is ramping up efforts to encourage transit, bicycling, walking, and carpooling to avert the surge in car traffic that many residents fear would come as a result. At the same time, the city plans to spend tens of millions of dollars on infrastructure that will pump more car traffic into downtown.

Redwood’s new Transportation Demand Management (TDM) Ordinance, expected to be approved by the City Council this summer, would place stricter requirements on large companies to reduce driving by their employees. But Redwood City also plans to spend big on widening roads, which would induce more car traffic.

In December, the City Council considered increasing allowable office space downtown from 500,000 square feet to 670,000 square feet while reducing space for housing and retail development, but hasn’t gone through with the proposal.

Aaron Aknin, Redwood City’s director of community development, said the city can accommodate this growth without increasing traffic. “In the long run there is a way to maintain or even reduce vehicle trips,” he told Streetsblog. “We can minimize traffic resulting from new office projects, and we can draw on our existing employee base to reduce vehicle trips.”

Under Redwood City’s TDM ordinance, businesses with 50 or more employees would have to figure out a way to reduce solo driving.

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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.

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Streetsblog USA
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Five Key Lessons From Europe’s Vision Zero Success

Cross-posted from the Vision Zero Network

Berlin, Germany

From the moment that Vision Zero began capturing attention in American cities, we’ve heard many admiring references to its success in Europe, particularly in its birthplace of Sweden.

I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to research those experiences and their lessons for the growing number of American communities working to eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries. As part of a fellowship with the German Marshall Fund, I’m spending two months visiting Stockholm, Sweden; Rotterdam, Netherlands; and Berlin, Germany to interview experts and observe first-hand their approaches to traffic safety. The goal of my research: to gather and share replicable lessons for American communities, particularly in urban areas, where we’re seeing the most momentum for Vision Zero.

First, a disclaimer: I’m still actively researching and interviewing, so it’s too soon to share my sense of the “full story.” Please consider these early impressions.

And, second, a clarification: What the Swedes — and to a lesser extent the Germans — call Vision Zero, the Dutch call Sustainable Safety. While there are many similarities to what can generally be termed a “safe systems approach” to transportation, there are more differences than I realized between their efforts. (But more on that in a future post…)

So what have I observed thus far? Here are five initial  takeaways, focusing on areas that seem relevant to the U.S. experience and worthy of more exploration.

1) Managing speeds — and speed differentials — is a top priority

In all three of these countries, the leaders of traffic safety efforts emphasize that managing speed is the number one determinant in their successes in improving safety.

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Supe Kim, SFMTA Get Tips From Copenhagen on Creating a Bikeable City

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Supervisor Jane Kim (left) rides in Copenhagen with SFMTA officials. Photo: People for Bikes

Supervisor Jane Kim and SFMTA officials took a trip last month to learn about best practices from two leading bike-friendly cities: Copenhagen, Denmark, and Malmö, Sweden.

“I’d assumed that [Copenhagen] always had a bike culture,” Kim told Streetsblog. “I was surprised to learn that they also had a cars-first culture through the 60s and 90s. They’ve actually spent the last 25 years working to shift that.”

Kim joined a delegation including SFMTA Chief of Staff Alicia John-Baptiste, Communications Director Candace Sue, Livable Streets planner Mike Sallaberry, and board member Gwyneth Borden. The trip was organized by the national advocacy group People For Bikes.

“Not only are senior citizens getting around in a healthier way,” noted Kim, “they feel safe doing it. And that’s exciting.”

The delegation met with Copenhagen planning officials and a former mayor to learn about how the city made bicycling the most convenient way to get around.

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Today: VTA Board Could Enshrine Road Expansions in Sales Tax Measure

Santa Clara County’s proposed 20-year sales tax could go toward making dangerous mega-wide roads like the Lawrence Expressway even wider. Photo: Santa Clara County

The Valley Transportation Authority Board of Directors today could enshrine road widenings in its 20-year transportation sales tax, proposed for the ballot in Santa Clara County in November 2016.

The agenda for today’s 5:30 p.m. board meeting includes approval of the sales tax measure language, which includes goals [PDF] to “provide congestion relief” and “relieve roadway, highway, and expressway bottle necks and minimize traffic in residential neighborhoods.”

“In the past this goal was met with roadway widening,” wrote Gladwyn d’Souza, transportation committee chair for the Sierra Club’s Loma Prieta chapter, in a letter [PDF] to the VTA board stating the organization’s concerns about the language. “Subsequent analysis has shown that the relief is temporary due to induced driving.”

The sales tax proposal, called Envision Silicon Valley, would fund at least two decades of transportation infrastructure projects in the South Bay, including the BART extension to San Jose, a network of bus rapid transit lines, a county-wide trail network, and safety improvements for walking and bicycling.

But widening Santa Clara County’s already-dangerous expressways to “relieve bottle necks,” even as traffic declines, would work against San Jose’s goals to reduce driving and end traffic fatalities, as called for in San Jose’s Envision 2040 General Plan and Vision Zero plan. Ninety-three percent of traffic fatalities occurred on major city streets and county expressways last year.

“It’s a fact that our transportation systems have been designed in the past to move cars efficiently,” SJ Transportation Director Hans Larsen told the City Council when it approved the Vision Zero plan on May 12. “This is a change in paradigm to say that safety is the top priority.”

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It’s Coming: MTC Approves 10-Fold Expansion of Bay Area Bike Share

Bay_Area_Bike_Share_Launch_in_San_Jose

San Jose city officials test riding Bay Area Bike Share at the system’s launch in August 2013. Photo: Richard Masoner

On Wednesday morning the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) approved contract terms with Motivate International to expand the Bay Area Bike Share system from 700 bikes to more than 7,000 bikes by November 2017. When the expansion wraps up, the Bay Area’s system is expected to be the second-largest in North America, after Citi Bike in New York City.

In addition to massively expanding the bike-share networks in SF and San Jose, the plan will bring bike-share to the East Bay for the first time, with stations in Oakland, Berkeley, and Emeryville.

San Francisco will receive the lion’s share of new bikes: 4,500. San Jose will get 1,000 bikes, and 1,400 bikes will go to the East Bay cities.

The mid-Peninsula cities of Mountain View, Palo Alto, and Redwood City, which had appeared to be in jeopardy of losing their small allocation of stations set up under the initial Bay Area Bike Share pilot program, will together end up with 300 bikes if they all choose to remain part of the system under less favorable contract terms.

“This is incredibly exciting, that we’re going to extend to the East Bay and expand in San Jose,” said MTC Commissioner and SF Supervisor Scott Wiener at the board meeting. “In San Francisco, going from 350 to 4,500 bikes — we’re going to have a true city-wide bike share network.”

“We hope that by tying the program with successful outreach and education programs, and continuing to build a network of safe and comfortable bikeways, we will see many more riders, and especially new riders,” said Bike East Bay Project Manager Cynthia Armour.

Motivate initially proposed a 7,000-bike system that it would construct and operate using private funds entirely. The company agreed to add 155 bikes in the three Peninsula cities if the cities opt in to the program by contributing their own funds.

In addition, MTC staff recommended allocating $4.5 million in public funds to “emerging communities” to pay for improving their bike infrastructure and making them more bike-share ready. These funds would be awarded via a competitive grant program.

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East Palo Alto Bay Trail Will Be Built. Will Current Residents Benefit From It?

Ravenswood Bay Trail Map

The missing 0.6-mile segment of San Francisco Bay Trail through East Palo Alto requires crossing SFPUC property and protected wetlands. Image: Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District

The pieces are in place to build a key link in the San Francisco Bay Trail, providing a continuous bike route through East Palo Alto and Menlo Park. Given the trail’s proximity to Facebook and the lack of housing close to the company’s campus, East Palo is also looking to strengthen its affordable housing policies to ensure that current residents can afford to stay in the city and benefit from the new path.

Local officials from five different agencies met on Monday to iron out the details of an agreement that fully funds the San Francisco Bay Trail through East Palo Alto, filling in the 100-mile network of off-street trails connecting Redwood City and Union City with downtown San Jose, Mountain View, and central Santa Clara.

“This is one of the most difficult gaps in the Bay Trail to complete,” said San Mateo County Parks Director Marlene Finley, whose department will manage funds for the project. “It’s wonderful that all the project partners are able to come together and get this done.”

The missing section lies within both East Palo Alto and Menlo Park, and is subject to a number of regulatory agencies where the trail will cross protected wetlands in the Ravenswood Open Space Preserve. The multi-jurisdictional nature of the project and complex political environment has delayed it for decades while every other section of the San Francisco Bay Trail in the mid-Peninsula region has been built or improved. The network of continuous off-street trails now stretches nearly from the Union City BART Station to downtown San Jose, except for this remaining gap.

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Via Streetsblog California
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Talking With Matt Nichols, Oakland’s New Transportation Policy Director

Matt Nichols is Oakland’s newly hired policy director for infrastructure and transportation. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf created the position to shepherd her proposed reorganization of transportation planning, design, engineering, and construction into one department, and to oversee the creation of a cohesive transportation policy. Nichols has been in his new job for about two months, and he’s excited about this chance to formulate policies to guide infrastructure.

MattNichols1

Matt Nichols, Oakland’s new policy director for transportation and infrastructure. Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog

“It’s a new way to ask the question for Oakland,” he said. “Up until now, transportation has been a maintenance issue. Arguments for changes on the city’s streets have come from the grassroots/advocacy level, and gone upwards. To have the mayor directing transportation policy is a great thing.”

“You can transform cities just through policy,” said Nichols. “It takes a bigger vision of the city–this isn’t just about carrying out projects.”

Last week Mayor Schaaf submitted a budget proposal that, among other things, would create a new Department of Transportation. The proposal lists principles for the new department: safe streets for all, great neighborhoods, transportation options, economic development, and sustainable infrastructure. Supporting these principles will mean creating bike-friendly, pedestrian-friendly, transit-friendly streets — where now many Oakland streets are wide roads that parallel freeways and present unsafe conditions for people who are not in cars. Supporting these principles will require a major shift away from business as usual.

“One thing we have learned,” said Nichols, “is that you just can’t build enough car infrastructure. That’s because, one, there’s not enough money, and two, it doesn’t work anyway.”

His first two goals are to create a more effective system for delivering transportation projects, and to find new resources. The two goals are interconnected, as the creation of a “project delivery pipeline” will help the city obtain more funding.

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