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Santa Clara County Still Plans to Widen Expressways, Despite Lower Traffic

Traffic congestion has worsened on Lawrence Expressway over the past decade, but has remained steady or lessened along Santa Clara County’s other urban expressways. Photo: Santa Clara County

Santa Clara County is still operating under plans that assume it can build its way out of traffic congestion by adding more lanes of traffic, plus new overpasses and underpasses, to the county’s 62 miles of expressways — dangerous arterial roadways that were “upgraded” decades ago with freeway-like ramps and overpasses. This is in stark contrast to the 21st-century approach taken by other cities and transit agencies in the region, which are planning for reduced traffic volumes by centering future urban growth around transit corridors and high-quality networks for walking and bicycling.

The county is still in the preliminary stages of its Expressways Plan 2040 — a long-term plan to “improve” the county’s system of eight 1960′s-era expressways, which “were designed to relieve local streets and supplement the freeway system.” The current expressways plan is a 2008 update of a 2003 planning study, which identified and prioritized among a long list of highway expansion projects that could meet “expressway needs.” Those “needs,” of course, consisted of reducing traffic delays at intersections for drivers.

“The Santa Clara County Expressway Master Plan has historically promoted additional auto capacity and grade separations (separating cars from local cross-traffic to increase their throughput), with limited accommodation for other types of travelers,” SPUR stated in its July report on strategies to improve transportation in the South Bay. “Future expressway master plans should aim for a multi-modal expressways system that is integrated with local efforts to grow sustainable, multi-modal communities.”

Santa Clara County maintains a network of eight expressways, and is coordinating plans to widen and extend Santa Teresa Boulevard and Hale Avenue to Gilroy. Image: Santa Clara County

“Going back to the 1960′s, the expressways were built with the intention of carrying automobiles,” said Santa Clara County Transportation Planner Dawn Cameron. “For over two decades, we’ve been working at what is basically retrofitting an expressway system that was built fifty years ago.”

The 2003 and 2008 plans did recommend new sidewalks, better crosswalks, improved signal timing, and striping changes, all of which would reduce hazards for walking and biking across or along the expressways. Long crossing distances and high speed traffic make the expressways inherently dangerous to walk or bicycle along, or even just to cross.

Twenty-six-year-old Daniel Campbell was killed in April while walking across Capitol Expressway at Seven Trees Boulevard in south San Jose, in what KTVU called a “hit and run accident.” In June, 51-year-old Richard Yanis was severely injured after being struck by a hit-and-run driver just two miles away, on Capitol Expressway at Silver Creek Road.

Despite this clear danger, projects to reduce hazards for people walking or bicycling remain a low funding priority for the expressways, comprising three percent of the estimated $2.5 to $2.8 billion in capital program funding needs identified by the 2008 plan.

In comparison, sound walls and landscaping would receive four percent of funds, and the remaining 93 percent of funds would be spent on increasing vehicle capacity.

Meanwhile, traffic congestion seems to be going away on its own, without billions of dollars in new construction.

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San Jose Candidates Campaign, Pitch Public Safety at SJ Bike Party

Mayoral candidate Sam Liccardo greets voters just before the start of San Jose Bike Party’s “Stars and Stripes Ride” on July 18. Photo: Andrew Boone

San Jose Mayor or City Council candidates Sam Liccardo, Raul Peralez, and Don Gagliardi all made appearances at last Friday’s San Jose Bike Party, pitching improvements to bicycling conditions on the city’s streets as integral to public safety. An estimated 2,500 Bike Partiers rolled out from Arena Green Park in downtown San Jose on the 18-mile, patriotically-themed “Stars & Stripes Ride” through the city’s East Side.

The June 3 primary election narrowed the field of 30 candidates down to eight candidates, competing for four seats on San Jose’s City Council: Mayor and Districts 1, 3, and, 7. Council races for Districts 5 and 9 were determined on June 3: Challenger Magdalenda Carrasco received 53 percent of the votes cast in District 5 (eastern San Jose), and incumbent Donald Rocha won 74 percent of the votes cast in District 9 (south San Jose), each above the 50 percent threshold to avoid a runoff election on November 4.

“I look forward to bringing back our public services that we’ve lost over the years — bring back our public safety,” announced Peralez, the District 3 Council candidate who finished first in the June 3 primary with 28 percent of the votes cast. Peralez touted his position as a San Jose police officer, and his work “with our youth at Juvenile Hall to try to help better them.”

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Is LADOT’s New SF-Imported Chief the Antidote to LA’s Defeatist Attitude?

Seleta Reynolds (left) goes for a walk in DTLA with out-of-towner Janette Sadik-Khan. Photo: ##http://www.gjel.com/blog/los-angeles-hires-seleta-reynolds-what-it-means-for-walking-and-biking-in-socal.html##GJEL Accident Attorneys##

Incoming LADOT General Manager Seleta Reynolds (right) goes for a walk in downtown L.A. with out-of-towner Janette Sadik-Khan. Photo: @JSadikKhan Twitter

Should Mayor Eric Garcetti have hired someone with more Los Angeles experience to run Los Angeles’ Department of Transportation? With San Francisco’s Seleta Reynolds chosen as the incoming department head, there’s been a small buzz that only someone with direct experience with our region can handle making L.A. a better place to live. It has to be someone with local experience, they say.

As someone who is not from the area originally, and was only an Angeleno for six months when I became the first editor of Streetsblog Los Angeles, allow me to say that idea is complete hogwash.

For some reason, people that live and drive in Los Angeles have sat through so many traffic jams that they have come to believe that idling in endless traffic is a natural phenomenon.  They also believe a harmful corollary: that things that have worked in other areas to make people’s commutes better will not work in Los Angeles. Because “this is Los Angeles.”

It’s the reverse of exceptionalism.

Because over the last six and a half years, we’ve heard that Los Angeles, and Angelenos are so enamored with our vehicles that we will never be able to walk, much less ride a bike or ride transit, even though wild dogs can learn to ride transit. Following the passage of Measure R, many are starting to accept that transit is a viable option in Los Angeles, although the anti-transit theory it still pops up in some cities on the Westside.

Nowadays, we hear some mix of theories from “smart growth won’t work in Southern California,” to “road diets won’t work in Southern California” to “people won’t bicycle in Southern California.” These sort of self-defeating prophecies sap the energy out of transportation reformers, jade community activists, and generally have a corrosive impact on those seeking to make our streets safe for everyone.

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Initiative to Slow Downtown Menlo Park Growth Lands on Ballot

Stanford University has proposed to build this residential building and a public plaza at El Camino Real and Middle Avenue. Image: Stanford University

On Tuesday evening, Menlo Park’s City Council reluctantly forwarded to the November 4 ballot an initiative that would reject two proposed developments that would replace largely-vacant auto dealerships with walkable offices, retail space, and apartments, and slow or stop future development along El Camino Real.

The proposed developments would boost transit ridership by bringing thousands more people within a ten-minute walk of the city’s downtown Caltrain station. They would improve the city’s pedestrian and bicycle networks with new, 15-foot wide sidewalks along the east side of El Camino, safer pedestrian crossings for El Camino, and a new ped/bike tunnel under the Caltrain tracks at Middle Avenue.

The anti-growth initiative, titled the “El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan Area Livable, Walking Community Development Standards Act”, was drafted by the volunteer group Save Menlo and qualified for the city-wide ballot by collecting nearly 2,400 voter signatures by mid-May, more than 1,780 signature requirement. 65 percent of the signature-gathering campaign’s $30,000 budget was donated by Atherton resident Gary Lauder, who serves on the neighboring town’s Transportation Committee and fears ”congestion, urban canyons, and related unintended consequences” from continued development in Atherton’s vicinity.

If approved, the initiative would make significant changes to the El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan that the city adopted in June 2012, which guides downtown Menlo Park’s development over the next 20 to 30 years. The plan envisions a mix of office, retail, hotel, housing, and open space, with a maximum of 680 units of residential and 474,000 square feet of non-residential development. The initiative would introduce additional caps on commercial development, including 100,000 square feet of office space per project and 240,820 square feet of office space in total. It would also require voter approval to override those caps.
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Sup. Kim Gives Warm Send-Off to SFMTA’s Seleta Reynolds, Headed to LA

Soon-to-be LADOT General Manager Seleta Reynolds speaks before the Board of Supervisors on July 8. Watch full video here, Reynolds’ item begins at 00:43.

For a quick preview of what Seleta Reynolds has to offer Los Angeles as the new chief of its Department of Transportation, watch this video of her commendation appearance before the San Francisco Board of Supervisors this week. Reynolds’ item begins at 00:43.

Supervisor Jane Kim, in a glowing speech, praised the departing San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency manager. Kim states, in part:

We will really miss your leadership, but mostly your passion advocating for residents here in San Francisco. And, we want to honor you today for the incredible groundwork that you have done that we will continue to push on to effect a culture change at the city level. Thank you for putting us on the map for pedestrian and bike safety.

Reynolds’ response includes:

I’ve been working on safety for pedestrians for 16 years. It’s really hard to compete with some of the cool, glamorous things that we have in transportation, things like bike share and cycle tracks and SFPark and smart signals, but I am so so thankful that pedestrian safety is finally getting its day.

Watch and listen to the full exchange starting at 00:43 here.

Seleta Reynolds was nominated by Mayor Garcetti to become General Manager of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. She was recently confirmed by the City Council’s Transportation Committee and by the full Los Angeles City Council. She is expected to begin her tenure at LADOT on August 11.

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Will San Mateo County Make Real Changes for a Safer Middlefield Road?

Pedestrians face long crossing distances everywhere along Middlefield Road in North Fair Oaks. Photo: Google Maps

Residents of North Fair Oaks have made it clear that they want a safer Middlefield Road with wider sidewalks, but San Mateo County has yet to commit to a redesign that could make a real difference on this important commercial street.

On Tuesday, county officials presented the results of a community survey on the $12.5 million streetscape project for Middlefield Road between Fifth Avenue and Pacific Avenue in North Fair Oaks. The wide, four-lane street is home to most of the local businesses serving this densely-populated, 1.25-square-mile unincorporated area east of El Camino Real and south of downtown Redwood City.

“The common themes found in the survey’s results, how residents and workers want Middlefield Road to be… were safety, accessibility, attractiveness, and a more active and vibrant urban area,” said Deputy County Manager Peggy Jensen.

A summary of the Middlefield Road Redesign survey results. Image: County of San Mateo

More than 2,100 people responded to the survey, conducted in April and May. Despite strong support for wider sidewalks and bike lanes, the county has still not committed to a road diet on Middlefield Road that’s needed to create space for them. Planners are instead opting to keep the street’s current four-lane configuration on the table, awaiting a recommendation on the street’s design from the North Fair Oaks Community Council expected at their August 28 meeting.

Middlefield Road’s outdated design presents serious hazards for anyone walking across or bicycling on the street, and it even poses difficulties for car access and parking. The long crossing distances for pedestrians prevent many children and seniors from walking across the street at all, especially at unsignalized intersections. With angled parking in most places, drivers’ view of pedestrians stepping from the sidewalk into the street is often blocked by parked vehicles, and drivers can’t see approaching traffic while backing out of a parking space.

The street’s five-foot-wide sidewalks, narrowed even further by power line poles, make walking in groups uncomfortable and don’t allow restaurants and cafes to provide outdoor seating as in the neighboring downtowns of Redwood City, Menlo Park, and Palo Alto. Utilities were placed underground and sidewalks widened in the downtown retail districts of those cities long ago to attract shoppers and diners.

A four-to-three lane conversion would open up room for wider sidewalks and bike lanes. Since the center lanes are often used by left-turning vehicles in the current design, converting them into one center left-turn lane should actually help traffic flow more smoothly, since drivers won’t have to weave as much.

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Berkeley Bike Station Contract Extended — For Now

Downtown Berkeley Bike Station in the Shattuck Hotel Building

Downtown Berkeley Bike Station on Shattuck Street

Buried in Tuesday evening’s Berkeley City Council agenda was a resolution to extend the contract on the Downtown Berkeley Bike Station for one more year, at its current terms.

The station moved to its current street-level storefront location in the historic Shattuck Hotel building in 2010 after extensive renovations to the former retail space, and this month is coming up on the end of the five-year initial lease agreement between BART, the City of Berkeley, and the building owners.

According to the city, the contract extension is necessary because “the property manager and BART have not been successful in negotiating a renewal of the lease at or near the current lease rate,” which is considerably lower than the current market rate for retail spaces in downtown.

The current Bike Station was designed and constructed with funding from BART and the city of Berkeley, and the two entities continue to split the costs of operating the service. BART contributes around $130,000 per year for operations, staffing, utilities, and some rent, and the city of Berkeley pays $60,000 a year for rent.

BART has already signed the contract extension with the property owners at the original terms, and the city council approved the contract as part of its consent calendar Tuesday evening.

Also approved at the meeting was a request to apply for funding to expand the Bay Area Bike Share into the East Bay.

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Speaking With SFMTA’s Seleta Reynolds, Nominated to Head LADOT

Seleta Reynolds (center, blue scarf) speaking about pedestrian safety improvements planned for San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, during a 2014 Walk to Work Day event. Photo courtesy of Walk San Francisco

Earlier today, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti nominated Seleta Reynolds to be the new general manager for LADOT. Streetsblog announced the nomination earlier today via this brief article, which includes the mayor’s press release.

Reynolds currently works for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), where she leads three teams in the Livable Streets subdivision responsible for innovation, policy, and coordination for complete streets projects citywide. Reynolds also serves on the Transportation Research Board’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Committees, and the WalkScore Advisory Board. She is a past president of Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals. Prior to joining the SFMTA, Seleta managed the San Francisco and Seattle offices of Fehr & Peers, and worked for the City of Oakland Public Works Agency.

Streetsblog caught up with Reynolds on the phone this afternoon. Reynolds described herself as a “long time reader of Streetsblog L.A. and the Streetsblog family” and “really excited” to be coming to Los Angeles.

We asked her to name some of the accomplishments she’s most proud of from her work at SFMTA:

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Seleta Reynolds of SFMTA Livable Streets Named Head of LADOT

Seleta Reynolds (right) then serving as President of the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals (APBP) giving a 2010 award to Leslie Meehan of Nashville. Photo: APBP

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has nominated Seleta Reynolds to be the new general manager for the city’s Transportation Department (LADOT.) From preliminary research on Reynolds’s background, this looks like great news. Reynolds currently works for San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) where her focus had been livable streets, with a focus on building more equitable streets.

Reynolds’ Twitter feed @seletajewel celebrates great bike and walk facilities.  Reynolds is featured in Streetsblog San Francisco articles explaining Bay Area Bike Sharepushing Caltrans on standards for protected bicycle lanes, and arguing for better motorist education for bicyclist safety.

Streetsblog will update this post with some additional detail on Reynolds in the near future.

Mayor Garcetti’s full press release follows after the jump.

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San Jose Diridon Area Plan Could Add Parking, Lose Trail, Pass Council Tues.

SAP Arena’s existing surface parking lot. San Jose has already agreed to expand the parking available to Arena visitors by over 900 spaces in the Diridon plan. Photo: Google Maps

Just four days before San Jose’s City Council was expected to approve the Diridon Station Area Plan, a four-year-old community-based plan to guide the next 30 years of transit-oriented redevelopment around the Diridon Caltrain Station, city officials released a memo on June 6, proposing numerous amendments in response to City Council questions and public comments made at the council’s preliminary review of the plan on May 20.

These amendments include adding a “Parking Policy 9″ to the plan’s Implementation Strategy Report, developed in close collaboration with SAP Center. The sports and entertainment arena has requested that over 20,000 car parking spaces be constructed in the Diridon Station Area — double what the city’s recommends based on its projections of parking demand — and has criticized the city’s plans to improve transit as “unlikely to allow convenient transportation.”

Development projects within 1/3-mile of the Caltrain station or SAP Center would be affected by Mayor Reed’s June 10 proposal. Image: City of San Jose

The city’s memo recommends adding new conditions to future commercial development within the Diridon Station Area. Shared parking, which would allow SAP Arena visitors who arrive for events to park in the parking lots of future office buildings, would be a required for all development projects located within 1/3-mile of the Caltrain station, “if necessary to mitigate the loss of parking” of new buildings constructed on existing parking lots.

Mayor Chuck Reed, who is also represented on the San Jose Arena Authority’s Board of Directors along with City Council members Pierluigi Oliverio and Kansen Chu, proposed additional development conditions in his own June 10 memo [PDF]. City Council members Sam Liccardo and Pierluigi Oliverio voiced support for the Mayor’s proposals in a June 13 memo [PDF].

Mayor Reed’s new development conditions would give SAP Center control over any future city plans to reduce the existing parking supply, proposing that the implementation of the Diridon plan include ”a goal to maintain the current parking availability until the City and Arena Management agree that transit ridership is robust enough to reduce parking supply without negatively impacting SAP Center operations.” (emphasis added)

The Reed-Liccardo-Olivero proposal would also expand the required parking studies to all projects located within 1/3-mile of SAP Arena, in addition to those located within 1/3-mile of the Diridon Caltrain Station as proposed by city staff. These parking studies would need to “identify the impacts of the project on the existing parking supply within the Diridon area, and suggest ways to mitigate the impact if it is deemed significant,” possibly resulting in the construction of surplus parking spaces, the cost of which would be borne by developers and passed onto tenants in the form of higher rents.

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