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Redwood City Approves Farm Hill Road Diet, Complete Streets Committee

Photo: Andrew Boone

On Monday, the Redwood City Council unanimously approved a two-mile road diet with bike lanes for Farm Hill Boulevard. The City Council also approved the formation of a Complete Streets Committee, which will consist of volunteers (“daily users of the streets”) who will advise city staff and the council on street design issues.

The approvals are a sign of progress at the City Council, which had previously rejected both the committee (in 2009) and road diet (in 2012).

The five-member Complete Streets Committee “is the next step in ensuring the city considers the needs of all roadway users,” said Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition Policy Manager Emma Shlaes.

Redwood City Management Analyst Susan Wheeler wrote in a report [PDF] that a Complete Streets Committee “will strengthen the city’s position when applying for bike/ped project grants, leading to potential financial savings and enabling bike/ped project opportunities and enhancements that would not otherwise be financially feasible.”

Back in 2009, the council decided that getting informed feedback about walking and biking accommodations in street design projects wasn’t worth an estimated 20 hours per month in additional staff time. Redwood City has 13 other advisory committees that weigh in on public policy ranging from housing to mosquito control.

In recent years, the SVBC had organized quarterly meetings with city staff in lieu of an official advisory committee. Participants agreed the meetings have helped the city implement safer street designs as roads are resurfaced. But the meetings have been focused primarily on bicycling issues, and advocates worry that more diverse opinions aren’t being voiced.

“It’s really much better to have publicly-noticed meetings so that people can find out about it — it’s very helpful for public participation,” said Friends of Caltrain Director Adina Levin at Monday’s City Council meeting.

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Momentum Builds to Eliminate Dangerous Gap in SF Bay Trail

Officials hope to secure funds from San Mateo County’s 2012 Measure A program to extend the San Francisco Bay Trail through Menlo Park and East Palo Alto, eliminating a stressful detour. Photo: Andrew Boone

Prospects for a safer and more convenient San Francisco Bay Trail are looking brighter as momentum builds for strengthening environmental protections along the bay in San Mateo County.

On Tuesday, Menlo Park planning staff reported that the city, in partnership with neighboring East Palo Alto and Palo Alto, as well as the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD), will seek approval from the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) to designate their many San Francisco Bay shoreline parks and wildlife refuges as a new priority conservation area.

The designation was created by ABAG in 2007 “to attract funds to support the long-term protection of regionally significant open spaces about which there is broad consensus for long-term protection.” The conservation area would include Bedwell Bayfront Park, the Ravenswood Salt Pond Restoration Area, the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, the Ravenswood Open Space Preserve, Cooley Landing, and the Baylands Nature Preserve.

One upshot of this development could be a better Bay Trail. “The PCA designation would expand funding opportunities for enhancing the current Bay Trail around Bedwell Bayfront Park and connections from the Belle Haven neighborhood to the Park,” wrote Menlo Park Assistant Community Development Director Justin Murphy in a report presented to the City Council [PDF].

Murphy cited the long-planned $2.2 million Ravenswood Bay Trail, a missing 0.6-mile section of the San Francisco Bay Trail from University Avenue to the Ravenswood Regional Open Space Preserve in East Palo Alto, as a high-priority regional project more likely to receive county and regional grants with the PCA designation. This gap in the Bay Trail forces pedestrians and bicyclists on a detour along a section of busy, four-lane University Avenue that includes narrow bike lanes but no sidewalks.

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Redwood City Interchange Could Get More Dangerous for Walking and Biking

Redwood City’s Woodside Road interchange at Highway 101 has no infrastructure for people to cross by bike or on foot. Photo: Google Maps

Redwood City has begun environmental review on a planned reconstruction of the Highway 101 interchange at Woodside Road, as well as two major intersections on either side of the highway — projects designed to move more cars. Some of the proposed designs would retain existing traffic ramps that are hazardous to people walking and bicycling, and Woodside and Broadway Street would both be widened.

“That’s where the fatalities are, especially with truck drivers,” said Redwood City resident Matthew Self. “These are the high-risk points where cars are speeding up to freeway speeds.”

Alternatively, a design favored by bicycle and pedestrian safety advocates would replace all the on-ramps and off-ramps with large signalized intersections. All of the proposed designs include two multi-use paths, one sidewalk, and bike lanes.

City and county transportation officials say the $60 to $90 million highway expansion project is needed to “alleviate existing and projected peak hour traffic congestion” in the area. If the project is approved, the interchange would carry more cars with new traffic lanes, intersections, bridges, and possibly a tunnel on Woodside.

“The project purpose is to alleviate existing and projected peak hour traffic congestion in the area, and to enhance mobility and safety,” said Scott Kelsey, Senior Transportation Manager for URS, the consulting firm hired by Redwood City to guide the project through the required environmental reviews. “There’s also the lack of adequate bicycle and pedestrian accommodations, we are going to fix that too.”

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Coming to Caltrain: Longer Trains With More Room for Bikes

Caltrain Bombarier Bike Car With Folding Bikes

Caltrain’s Bombardier trains currently only carry 48 bikes each. With trains receiving a third bike car, 72 bikes can fit on board. Photo: John Woodell/Twitter

Caltrain will add a third bike car to all six of its Bombardier trains, Executive Director Michael Scanlon announced at the transit agency’s monthly board of directors meeting last week. With the new cars, bike capacity will increase from 48 to 72 on each of the Bombardier trains. But it could take up to one year to place the six-car trains into service.

The new bike cars are part of a larger $15 million project to acquire and refurbish 16 used rail cars from Los Angeles Metrolink, adding about 2,000 seats across Caltrain’s fleet. The agency’s 15 older gallery-style trains already carry 80 bikes each, since seats are not placed in the center of the two bike cars on those trains, and will not receive more bike capacity.

Crowding on Caltrain is becoming increasingly severe during the morning and evening rush. A record 61,670 passengers packed into the agency’s five-car trains on an average weekday in October 2014, and “standing room only” is now the norm during peak hours. With ridership growing more than 10 percent each year since 2009, the trend shows no sign of stopping. New office space and housing construction in San Francisco, along El Camino Real in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, and within walking distance of Caltrain stations are also quickly filling up any remaining passenger capacity even on trains running outside the traditional commute times.

The number of passengers bringing bicycles on Caltrain has grown four times faster than overall ridership since 2008. Strong growth in the Bay Area’s tech and finance economies continues to bring thousands more workers every year to suburban office developments located far from any practical rail or bus services — making train-plus-bike the only feasible alternative to commuting by car.

Caltrain officials were initially leaning toward adding refurbished rail cars to the Bombardier fleet with total seating for about 650 passengers but no spaces for bikes. That would have actually cut the share of passengers who can bring a bike on board compared to the status quo, even as bike-plus-train trips continue to outpace overall Caltrain ridership growth.

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Caltrain Struggles to Meet Bike Parking Demand at 4th and King Station

Caltrain’s Bike Hub facility will soon give commuters a choice between valet or self parking. Photo: Yelp.

The Caltrain Bike Station parking facility outside its terminal at Fourth and King streets is set to be remodeled and slightly expanded to accommodate the growing number of Peninsula train commuters who are arriving by bike. But demand from bike-to-Caltrain commuters may continue to overwhelm the small, staffed bike station.

Paltry funding over the years proved insufficient for Warm Planet Bikes, the original parking station operator, even after Caltrain approved an additional $50,000 in 2012. Warm Planet operated the space as both a bike shop and parking station from 2008 until last year, but parked bikes blocked merchandise and cut into their revenue.

Within the first six months, the facility was already over its capacity. “When we opened the facility, we knew that the space was smaller than the original project required,” said Kash, the owner and president of Warm Planet Bikes, now operating as a full-time bike shop on mid-Market Street.

In 2013, Caltrain selected BikeHub through a competitive bid for a 3-year, $245,000 contract to operate the space. Despite a doubling of capacity to 200 spots, demand has not let up. Josh Carroll, who manages the bike station, says he has squeezed in up to 250 bikes on the busiest days.

Caltrain now intends to remodel the bike station to accommodate more overflow bike parking, said Caltrain spokesperson Christine Dunn. The remodeled facility will offer a combination of valet and self parking for Caltrain commuters, allowing riders to park their own bikes while the station is unstaffed, whether early in the morning or late at night.

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SamTrans Plans For Rapid Buses on El Camino Real, Just Not Anytime Soon

SamTrans’ ECR route runs every 15 minutes on weekdays and every 20 minutes on weekends along El Camino Real between Daly City and Palo Alto. Photo: munidave/Flickr

Last week, SamTrans released its first study of potential Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service along El Camino Real in San Mateo County, from Daly City to Palo Alto. BRT could reduce travel times for bus passengers by up to 25 percent thanks to express skip-stop service and transit signal priority. Faster bus service would attract 3,100 to 5,600 more riders by 2020, depending on how much additional bus service is added.

But adding new service would cost money — anywhere from $5.7 million to $10.3 million annually — and without any additional operating funds, SamTrans isn’t expected to launch such express bus service anytime soon.

In the meantime, the transit agency will set the stage for faster buses by pursuing $2.4 million in capital grant funds for transit signal priority. If implemented, that will allow buses to extend the green phase of 120 traffic signals along El Camino by a few seconds, avoiding delays for bus passengers.

“We would love to get the traffic signal priority in for the existing ECR route,” said SamTrans planner Barrow Emerson. “What it does is really improve the reliability of a bus service, because you’re staying on schedule.”

SamTrans officials say dedicated bus lanes on most of El Camino Real aren’t feasible, because the street is too narrow for four lanes of auto traffic and bus lanes. Image: VTA

The study, conducted by Emerson over the past year, also included an analysis of a long-term “Full BRT” scenario, including dedicated bus lanes and enhanced bus stops with level boarding and similar to proposals from other transit agencies in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Full BRT would slash trip times by another 25 percent, on top of the savings provided by express skip-stop service. Only 11 miles of bus lanes were included in the scenario, keeping at least four lanes for car traffic along all of El Camino Real. Ridership would reach 34,000 each weekday by 2040 under this scenario, and building dedicated bus lanes and enhanced bus stops would cost about $150 million.

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VTA Cuts Alum Rock and Santa Clara BART Stations From Funding Plans

An artist’s rendering of the proposed Five Wounds Urban Village, which would redevelop an industrial site with new housing, office, and retail space around a new Alum Rock BART Station. Image: Taeker Planning & Design

Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) officials announced on October 6 that they would not seek federal funds in 2015 to construct Alum Rock and Santa Clara BART stations planned as part of the transit system’s extension through downtown San Jose. The move sparked an outcry from neighborhood leaders and elected officials, who have worked in community planning efforts for over a decade to anchor new compact, walkable urban centers with the transit stations.

A $2.3 billion, 10-mile extension of BART to Berryessa in northeast San Jose, from its current terminus in Fremont, is currently under construction and scheduled to open in late 2017. Another $4.7 billion is needed for an extension from Berryessa to Santa Clara’s Caltrain Station, through downtown San Jose, which had earlier been slated to have four stations. VTA planners say the extension would get a better chance of winning a $1.1 billion New Starts construction grant from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) by cutting the $1.3 billion cost of the Alum Rock and Santa Clara stations from the grant application.

“This is a radical change from what we understood from VTA for the last nearly-15 years,” said Terry Christensen, the Friends of Five Wounds Trail’s executive director and long-time resident of the Five Wounds/Brookwood Terrace neighborhood. VTA first proposed the Alum Rock station for that neighborhood in 2001.

The locations of future BART stations planned for the rail transit system’s extension to Santa Clara, through downtown San Jose. Image: Valley Transportation Authority

While FTA’s policy guide for scoring New Starts transit projects requires that funded projects ”be supported by an acceptable degree of local financial commitment, including evidence of stable and dependable financing sources,” cutting the two stations still leaves the BART extension $1.7 billion short of its construction budget. Cutting the stations also hurts the project’s ratings on other factors FTA scores on: mobility improvements, particularly for car-free households; economic development effects, or the likelihood of attracting transit-supportive development;, environmental benefits like reduced vehicle miles traveled; and congestion relief.

VTA is now pursuing a “phased station implementation”, first constructing BART stations only at Diridon and Downtown by 2025, and later adding the Alum Rock and Santa Clara stations when an additional $1.3 billion for their construction somehow becomes available. VTA planners are also proposing to relocate the proposed Alum Rock Station, if and when it is ever built, to Santa Clara and 23rd streets to trim another $165 million in tunneling costs from the project.

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Voters Back Downtown Growth in San Bruno and Menlo Park

Simulated view at San Mateo Avenue and El Camino Real in San Bruno of retail and office developments that are now possible. Image: Yes on Measure N

Tuesday’s election saw large majorities of San Bruno and Menlo Park voters approve plans for substantial new downtown development. The plans could potentially transform both downtowns by bringing several thousand more workers and residents within walking distance of the two Peninsula cities’ Caltrain stations, both improving transit ridership and making the downtowns livelier, more livable places.

San Bruno’s Measure N, approved by 67 percent of voters, raises height limits for new buildings on the city’s downtown commercial streets. Menlo Park’s Measure M would have slowed growth by placing new restrictions and caps on future downtown development, but it was rejected by 62 percent of voters.

Both cities grew up with traditional downtowns centered around railroad stations, and both have a grid of pre-war streets centered on their Caltrain stations and El Camino Real, the Peninsula’s historic main street and a major bus corridor. Neither San Bruno nor Menlo Park have attracted higher density, mixed-use development to their downtowns, unlike larger cities in San Mateo County like San Mateo or Redwood City.

“I believe our planners have done sound work to revitalize our downtown, and surrounding neighborhoods, as a vibrant mixed-use area with jobs, housing, new shops and beautiful public places in close proximity to our Caltrain station,” said San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane of the city’s Transit Corridors Plan, which required Measure N’s passage before it could be implemented, according to city officials. “We need housing, and we need it desperately,” said Ruane.

City planners expect that the passage of Measure N, and the recent relocation of San Bruno’s Caltrain station to San Bruno and San Mateo avenues, will spur major office development north of the station. Photo: Andrew Boone

Measure N repeals several provisions set forth in Ordinance 1284, a 1977 initiative which slowed commercial and residential development in San Bruno by requiring that voters approve plans for any building exceeding 50 feet (or three stories) in height. Voters have approved two such construction projects since then: the Tanforan indoor shopping mall in 1984, and The Crossing, an 835-unit, five-story residential development, in 2001.

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Committee Punts San Jose Sidewalk Cycling Ban to City Council

Seniors, most in favor of an ordinance to prohibit cycling on sidewalks in downtown San Jose, wait to address the city’s Transportation & Environment Committee on Monday afternoon. Photo: Andrew Boone

After hearing over an hour of public comments on Monday afternoon both strongly supporting and opposing a ban on cycling on sidewalks in downtown San Jose, the city’s Transportation and Environment Committee chose not to recommend to the City Council any ordinance that would restrict sidewalk cycling. Seniors, speaking in favor of banning cycling on downtown sidewalks, far outnumbered younger residents, who urged enforcement against reckless cycling rather than an outright ban.

“This March, our friend Ms. Nee was walking in the morning and was hit by a bike, and she died the next day,” said former Senior Citizens Commissioner Margaret Young, who also described a September 2013 incident in which another senior was hospitalized after being struck by bicyclist while waiting for a city bus. “I’m asking you to protect our seniors. Give us a safe sidewalk and a safe San Jose.”

“The [Senior Citizens] Commission strongly urges an ordinance prohibiting bicycle riding on a defined section of the streets in downtown San Jose,” said Chair Joyce Rabourn. ”There are signs all over the place, ‘Walk Your Bike’, and they totally ignore it,” complained downtown resident Ann Webb.

Despite the signs, San Jose’s existing ordinance regulating sidewalk cycling does not prohibit it, but states instead that the operator of a bicycle shall, “upon approaching a sidewalk or the sidewalk area extending across any alleyway, yield the right-of-way to all pedestrians approaching on said sidewalk or sidewalk area,” (San Jose Municipal Code 11.72.170).

Buses and other vehicles often park in and block San Fernando Street’s buffered bike lane, which is partly located in the door zone of parked cars. Photo: Richard Masoner

The ordinance, suggested by Department of Transportation (SJDOT) Director Hans Larsen, would prohibit anyone over age 12 from riding a bicycle on the sidewalks along a total of ten miles of city streets in the “Greater Downtown area.” Most of those streets have bike lanes, except for busy Santa Clara Street, which has five lanes, no bike lanes, and no plans for bike facilities. The proposal would also set a citywide speed limit of 5 mph for bicycling on any sidewalk.

Opponents of the ban at the meeting agreed that fast bicyclists should ride in the street, but that motor vehicle traffic is a much greater hazard, and that a ban would punish bicyclists who ride on sidewalks to avoid unsafe traffic conditions.

“I’ve been hit while riding in the street three times by cars — once I was in a bike lane,” said downtown resident Melanie Landstrom. “It’s dangerous to be shoving bikes into the street.”

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Caltrain and High-Speed Rail Pursue Level Boarding, Compatible Platforms

California High-Speed Rail (foreground) and Caltrain (background, right) will have to share Transbay Center platforms. Image: CAHSR Authority

Correction 10/8: Caltrain and the CAHSRA haven’t agreed to create a joint specification for train cars, but will explore options for platform compatibility.

Officials representing Caltrain and the California High-Speed Rail Authority recently announced that they’ll work closely together over the next several months to explore what options are available from train car manufacturers to allow for level boarding, examine the potential benefits of platform compatibility, and the impacts on the operation of each transit system of doing so.

The cars would allow both systems to board trains from high-level, shared platforms at the future SF Transbay Transit Center, Millbrae, and San Jose stations. The announcement was made last Monday at a meeting hosted by transit advocacy group Friends of Caltrain in Mountain View.

“Level boarding,” so called because passengers will be able to walk directly from platforms onto trains without any steps, maximizes passenger capacity by speeding up boarding. It’s crucial that these three stations have platforms that work for both Caltrain and CAHSR, to maximize flexibility and to reduce redundancy.

Still, many transit advocates remain skeptical that the CAHSRA is sincere about pursuing shared level platforms. The agency issued a Request for Expressions of Interest on October 1 specifying single-level train cars with a floor height of 51 inches above the rails, incompatible with most of the available bi-level electric commuter trains that Caltrain is considering. CAHSR officials insist they have not ruled out alternative platform heights, but say that trains operating at speeds of 220 mph work best with a floor height of around 50 inches.

Average weekday ridership on Caltrain has doubled since 2004 to 59,900 passenger trips in June of this year, fueled by robust employment growth in both San Francisco and throughout Silicon Valley. Rush-hour crowds continue to grow, and up to one-third of passengers are unable to find a seat on the most popular trains and instead pack into aisles and vestibules.

“I’ve heard stories of standees crowding three or four into a bathroom because there are not enough seats on these trains to handle the volumes of customers we have,” stated Caltrain Modernization Project Delivery Director Dave Couch.

Development at San Francisco’s Transbay Center will add thousands of Caltrain passengers every day. Image: Transbay Transit Center

About 20 percent more seats will be available on many rush hour trains by mid-2015, after a $15 million project to lengthen trains from five to six cars, using 16 surplus train cars purchased from LA’s Metrolink.

But Caltrain’s ridership growth shows no signs of letting up, as cities located along the rail line increasingly focus commercial and residential development within walking distance of Caltrain stations along El Camino Real.

“We’re anticipating to take on 200,000 new jobs and another 94,000 units of housing by 2040, primarily along the Caltrain corridor and Market Street,” said Gillian Gillett, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee’s transportation policy director. “People want to live here, and companies want to stay here and grow here.”

Capacity on an electrified Caltrain could eventually double from today’s levels, to over 9,000 passengers per hour, if eight-car trains were run eight times an hour, according to an analysis conducted by Friends of Caltrain. But running such frequent service requires both level boarding and shared platforms, so that Caltrain could use any of the Transbay Center’s six proposed platforms even after CAHSR service starts in 2029.
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