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South Bay Cities Build Region’s First Separated Bike Lanes

A 15-foot wide path marked for walking and bicycling is under construction on the north side of Chilco Street in Menlo Park. Photo: Andrew Boone

A 15-foot wide path marked for walking and bicycling is under construction on the north side of Chilco Street in Menlo Park. Photo: Andrew Boone

New on-street bike lanes separated from auto traffic are nearing completion in Palo Alto and Menlo Park, and a handful of neighboring cities have plans to install them too. Separated bike infrastructure gained traction among local planners after Caltrans approved Class IV Separated Bikeway design standards [PDF] in December 2015. The first protected intersections were built last year in a handful of North American cities.

A new traffic-separated paved path is nearing completion along Chilco Street in Menlo Park, where a speeding drunk driver hit Balbir and Kamal Singh from behind while they were walking their dog in October 2013, killing them. With no curbs or sidewalks, two 90-degree curves, and poor nighttime lighting, the street’s former design encouraged speeding and crashes involving drivers exiting the roadway.

“I am elated to see how quickly this project has moved forward. The design looks fabulous,” said resident Sheryl Bims of the new Chilco Street when it was approved by the City Council in February.

The new paved path, 15 feet wide and separated from the street’s two traffic lanes by a one-foot concrete curb topped with yellow soft-hit posts, is marked for two-way bike and pedestrian traffic. It will extend for one half mile on the north side of Chilco Street from the Dumbarton Rail tracks to Constitution Drive, where the path will transition to existing standard bike lanes. A standard bike lane, but no sidewalk, was installed on the south side of Chilco Street.

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Budget Busting Interchange Expansions on Track Despite State Funding Cuts

An expanded partial cloverleaf interchange at El Camino Real and Highway 92 (bottom) will allow more car traffic during rush hours compated to today's full cloverleaf (top) Image: Caltrans

An expanded partial cloverleaf interchange at El Camino Real and Highway 92 (bottom) will allow more car traffic during rush hours compared to today’s full cloverleaf (top) Image: Caltrans

Desperate to keep expanding San Mateo County’s highways for more auto traffic, the Transportation Authority (SMCTA)’s Board of Directors voted last week to advance $16.3 million in local highway funds to avoid delaying the construction of two major interchange reconstruction projects.

County highway planners were counting on this year’s State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) to contribute $10.4 million to rebuild the Willow Road and Highway 101 interchange, and $5.9 million to rebuild the El Camino Real and Highway 92 interchange. But lower gasoline sales taxes and revenues forced California to postpone awarding $754 million in transportation projects statewide. Rather than wait, SMCTA opted to fill the funding gap with its own surplus Measure A Highway Program funds, to be repaid by the STIP in future years.

“The advancement of funds through this process will fully fund these two projects and allow them to begin construction in late summer or early fall [of this year],” reported SMCTA Director Joe Hurley at last Thursday’s Board meeting.

Both interchange reconstruction projects are full cloverleaf to partial cloverleaf conversions, which replace free-flowing on ramps and off ramps with signalized intersections on both sides of the highway. The updated designs accommodate more rush hour auto traffic on widened ramps and reduce the hazards posed by free-flowing auto traffic to people walking or bicycling. Read more…

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San Mateo Holds First Bike Ped Advisory Committee Meeting

San Mateo County's new Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee meets quarterly at San Mateo City Hall. Photo: Andrew Boone

San Mateo County’s new Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee meets quarterly in San Mateo City Hall Conference Room A. Photo: Andrew Boone.

San Mateo County’s new Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee kicked off its first meeting on Thursday evening at San Mateo City Hall. Ellen Barton, San Mateo’s Active Transportation Coordinator, proposed that they develop criteria for safer street striping ahead of the county’s annual resurfacing program. Other projects they discussed included establishing bike parking standards, evaluating progress of the county’s 2011 bike/ped plan [PDF], developing Safe Routes to Schools programs, and supporting the county’s annual bike and pedestrian count.

“It’s an American dream that you can bike or walk to school,” said 17-year Woodside resident Susan Doherty, who represents Safe Routes to Schools efforts on the committee. “And we’d like it to be a dream as opposed to a nightmare.”

“The county presents a tremendous challenge because it’s both rural and urban,” said Redwood City resident and long-time safety advocate Bob Page, one of only two members of the public in attendance. “I hope that the advisory committee will play a vital role in fostering communications and cooperation within and among the cities in developing safe regional bikeways.” Read more…

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Bay Area Transit Agencies Build on Parking Lots

202 housing units are now under construction on Caltrain's former San Carlos Station parking lot. Image: City of San Carlos

202 housing units are now under construction on the former San Carlos Caltrain Station parking lot. Image: City of San Carlos

Last Thursday representatives from Caltrain, the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), and Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) presented [PDF] current plans for building housing and offices on top of station parking lots, at the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) in downtown San Jose. Rail station parking lots offer the ultimate in “Good TOD” – Transit Oriented Development that guarantees new transit riders while providing housing and commercial space that can be conveniently reached car-free.

“There are many beautiful sites along Caltrain that could be ripe for development and become a revenue generating source for Caltrain,” said Caltrain Principal Planner Jill Gibson. “Often developers goals are in direct conflict with transit needs…so it’s imperative that we identify long-range transportation goals early on.”

Caltrain is working with those cities that have already completed station area redevelopment plans and adopted appropriate TOD zoning near stations to support mixed-use developments. The long-debated San Carlos Transit Village, now under construction, will bring 202 apartments to the former San Carlos Caltrain Station parking lot along with 26,000 square feet of commercial space. The project was scaled down in multiple iterations from a proposed 453 apartments.

A long-term lease agreement is now being negotiated with Sares Regis Group to develop 100 to 150 apartments on the Hayward Park Station parking lot, along with at least 50 parking spaces available to Caltrain passengers, 29 electronic bike lockers, and space for six SamTrans buses.

BART and VTA are developing real estate at their stations on a much larger scale than Caltrain. BART has already built several major developments on its parking lots [PDF] and is “engaged in 18 transit-oriented development projects at its stations, representing over $2.7 billion in private investment” according to the agency’s property development website.
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VTA Sales Tax Promises Transit Lanes On Highway 85

The Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) estimates capital costs for Bus Rapid Transit service on Highway 85 - bus stations and transit lanes in the median - at $1.2 billion.

The Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) estimates capital costs for Bus Rapid Transit service on Highway 85 – bus stations and transit lanes in the median – at $1.2 billion. Image: City of Cupertino

After planning for the past decade to install express lanes on Highway 85, the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) is now pitching its $350 million sales tax funding request to widen Highway 85 as “transit lanes.” On June 24, the VTA Board of Directors [PDF] struck any reference to “express lanes” from the Highway 85 project description that they had approved on June 2 along with $6.3 billion in transportation projects:

This category will To fund a managed lanes project that includes an express lane new transit and congestion relief projects on SR 85, in each direction, and a new transit lane in each direction on SR 85, including a new transit lane from SR 87 in San Jose to U.S. 101 in Mountain View. Additionally this category will fund noise abatement along SR 85 and will provide funding to study transportation alternatives that include, but are not limited to, Bus Rapid Transit with infrastructure such as stations and access ramps, Light Rail Transit, and future transportation technologies that may be applicable.”

Express lanes are free for buses and carpools, but charge a toll to solo drivers during congested hours of the day to keep the lane free-flowing. Transit lanes would allow only transit vehicles – buses or light rail – but not carpools or solo drivers. VTA installed express lanes on short sections of Highways 237 and 880 in 2012 and has been planning since 2007 to convert the existing carpool lanes on Highways 85 and 101 to express lanes, completing Santa Clara County’s portion of an envisioned 550-mile network of San Francisco Bay Area Express Lanes.

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Menlo Park El Camino Real Bike Lanes Delayed Again

This proposed expansion of El Camino Real to six lanes at Ravenswood Avenue was cancelled in early May, freeing up $1 million for other transportation projects in Menlo Park. Image: City of Menlo Park

This proposed expansion of El Camino Real to six lanes at Ravenswood Avenue was cancelled in early May, freeing up $1 million for other transportation projects. Image: City of Menlo Park

Menlo Park’s plans to fix El Camino Real’s safety hazards were postponed yet again by a city council that is now split on whether to go ahead with the installation of even a bike lane pilot project. Proponents continue to demand that the city take action to prevent injuries suffered by residents in traffic collisions.

“The goals of Menlo Park roadway infrastructure changes should be to serve more people and to make our roadways safer for everyone,” said Bicycle Commission Chair Cindy Welton at the May 3 City Council meeting. “Our status quo street design that we’ve inherited is not working. No one is served by our high collision rates.”

Citing concerns the city is making too many safety improvements too fast, and under continued pressure from the Menlo Park Fire Protection District to cancel the ambitious project altogether, the council voted to postpone it until after the city installs bike lanes on Oak Grove Avenue later this year. A total of 112 car parking spaces will be removed for the Oak Grove bike lanes.

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VTA Sales Tax With Massive Highway Expansion Program on November Ballot

The Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) hopes to use $350 million in new sales tax revenue to widen Highway 85 with new express lanes, free for buses and carpools but charge a toll to solo drivers. Image: VTA

The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA)’s half-cent “Envision Silicon Valley” transportation sales tax is now headed to the November 8 general election ballot in the county, after receiving the unanimous approval of the transit agency’s Board of Directors on June 2.

The new sales tax would fund a massive highway expansion program, spending $1.85 billion on expressway and highway projects over the next 30 years, along with $1.5 billion to extend BART to Santa Clara, $1.2 billion to repave streets, $1 billion for Caltrain upgrades, $500 million for VTA bus and light rail operations, and $250 million for pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements.

“I love driving my car, and I think 97 percent of our population does as well,” said VTA Board and San Jose City Council member Johnny Khamis at the June 2 meeting. “More than 52 percent of this budget is dedicated to transit and less than 48 percent is dedicated to roads. In the meantime, 97 percent of population uses roads, whether you’re on the bus, or a car, whether it’s hybrid or electric, or on a bicycle, you need a road. We don’t float on air.”

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SPUR Talk: Dancing on the Grave of “Level of Service”

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Sarah Fine and Jeff Tumlin talked about the implications of the life and welcome death of “Level of Service.” Photo: Streetsblog.

Wednesday evening, SPUR, the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association, sponsored a talk entitled “Reconsidering Transportation to Create Better Urban Spaces” at their new downtown Oakland location. The talk focused on the history and damage done by the almost mindless adherence over the years to Level of Service (LOS) on urban spaces throughout California.

“We’re wearing black,” joked Jeff Tumlin, Principal and Director of Strategy with Nelson\Nygaard, “because we’re talking about the death of LOS.” LOS, for Streetsblog readers who might not be aware, is a way to measure traffic impacts of development projects that made its way into California environmental law. Although ostensibly designed to protect the environment, most livable streets advocates blame it for destroying urban spaces and actually making traffic and air pollution far worse.

Tumlin explained that LOS wasn’t originally part of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). “It was something the courts came up with,” he said. “They fixated on this single metric that measures the average seconds of delay that a car experiences—just in the peak fifteen minutes of the peak hour.”

In other words, if an intersection is all but unused, but analysis shows that a project would cause delay during the most congested fifteen minutes of the busiest hour of the day, the project would have to do something to mitigate that delay—typically, widen the nearby intersection. The result is well known to livable streets advocates—the state is now littered with streets that are wide and unwalkable. Meanwhile, thanks to induced demand, traffic has only gotten progressively worse. Read more…

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SPUR Talk: Connecting the Foot of Lake Merritt

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"The Living Room" of Oakland, Lake Merritt, is somewhat disconnected from Oakland's institutions. Photo: SPUR

“The Living Room” of Oakland, Lake Merritt, is somewhat disconnected from Oakland’s institutions. Photo: SPUR

Wednesday afternoon, at SPUR’s Oakland office, a crowd of some fifty people came to hear a panel discussion about knitting together the various attractions at the foot of Lake Merritt in Oakland.

At the southern end of Lake Merritt, Oakland’s street grid funnels around several big institutions there, including the Oakland Museum of California, Laney College, and the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center. All are poorly connected to the lake. SPUR is promoting an initiative to connect the whole schmear through art and better pedestrian linkages.

The panel was composed of Lori Fogarty from the Oakland Museum of California, Kelley Kahn from the City of Oakland ‎Department of Economic and Workforce Development, and Walter Hood from the Hood Design Studio. Benjamin Grant, Urban Design Policy Director for SPUR, kicked off the discussion with the definition of “Place Making” from the National Endowment for the Arts:

In creative placemaking, public, private, not-for-profit, and community sectors partner to strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighborhood, town, tribe, city, or region around arts and cultural activities.

From that definition, he gave several examples from other cities of how planners and policy makers can re-activate quiet and often forgotten areas of a city with art. He cited the Pearl Street Project in Philadelphia, the Waterfire Project in Providence, Rhode Island, the Project Row Houses in Houston, Texas, and the Wynwood Walls of Miami, Florida.

All of these are fascinating examples of urban revitalization and Streetsblog readers should check out their websites. But the Wynwood Walls project seemed a particularly good approach for the institutions of Lake Merritt. Miami did a global search and brought urban artists from all over the world to paint the walls of a warehouse district. The effect was to draw people in and create an enlivened and connected urban space. Of course, Lake Merritt is already the home of the Oakland Museum of California, with its walls and multiple levels acting as an urban tableau.
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El Camino Real to Remain Deadly

San Jose reconstructed the southern 0.5-mile end of El Camino Real with wide medians, pedestrian refuges, and sidewalk curb extensions in October 2014.

San Jose reconstructed the southern 0.5-mile end of El Camino Real with wide medians, pedestrian refuges, and sidewalk curb extensions in October 2014.

On Tuesday, Menlo Park’s City Council postponed a pilot project to replace parallel car parking with buffered bike lanes on El Camino Real, deciding that neighboring Palo Alto and Atherton should also agree on a common design for bike lanes before proceeding with the permitting process required by Caltrans. Despite strong community support to fix the urban highway’s safety hazards, the city remains content with today’s configuration, after 11 public meetings held since April 2014 on the topic.

In late 2014 Atherton approved a similar conversion of two of El Camino’s six lanes through the town into bike/ped paths physically separated from auto traffic. But Atherton’s Town Council put the critical next step to conduct a traffic study with Caltrans of the proposed six-to-four lane conversion on hold in February 2015–just four months after approving it. The Menlo Park Fire Protection District remains staunchly opposed to bike paths and bike lanes on El Camino Real, claiming they’ll threaten residents’ lives by slowing emergency vehicles.

El Camino Real remains the most hazardous street on the San Francisco Peninsula, killing five and severely injuring 20 people in car crashes each year between 2005 and 2014, according to the Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System (SWITRS). A traffic safety report published by the San Mateo County Health System last month showed that 18 percent of all collisions involving pedestrians and bicyclists occur on El Camino Real, despite the street making up only one percent of total roadway miles in the county. Read more…