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Better Bike Parking Options Can Alleviate Crowding On-Board Caltrain

Caltrain bike cars frequently fill up on rush hour trains, bumping passengers wishing to board with bikes to the next train.

Facing a continuing surge of nearly 5,000 additional weekday passengers each year, Caltrain is looking into better bike parking to alleviate overcrowding on the trains while improving access to its stations. The agency was awarded a $150,000 state grant in early April to write a bicycle parking management plan that aims to prioritize the next phase of bike improvements at stations.

Current bike parking facilities include standard bike racks at 29 stations, bike lockers that can only be rented out by a single person at 26 stations, shared bike lockers at 10 stations, and indoor bike parking areas at three stations, including attended bike parking at San Francisco’s Fourth and King Station. The addition of more bike parking has lagged behind demand, with the number of passengers with bikes more than doubling from 2010 to 2015. Caltrain now logs over 6,000 bike boardings on an average weekday, accounting for between 11 and 13 percent of the agency’s total weekday ridership, which has grown by 60 percent in the same five-year period.

In a survey Caltrain conducted last year [PDF], 49 percent of passengers who bring a bike on-board said they would consider using “secure bike parking in a self-serve locker,” 39 percent would consider “convenient bike sharing kiosks,” and 47 percent would consider “a shuttle or other means of transit.”

Last December, Caltrain’s Bike Plan Implementation Strategy [PDF] reported “mixed progress” on bike parking improvements since 2008, citing inadequate funds and the ad-hoc nature of the many small city-led projects that are completed only as grant money and staff time become available. The new plan recommends investing $2 million in 500 new electronic bike lockers at Caltrain’s nine busiest stations, and $1 million on various access improvements, including new ramps and stairs at a few stations.

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To Expand Bike-Share on the Peninsula, Cities Will Have to Support It

One of two Bay Area Bike Share stations located within two blocks of Palo Alto’s University Avenue Caltrain Station. Photo: Andrew Boone

Bay Area Bike Share’s ten-fold expansion announced last Thursday will vastly increase the usefulness of bike-share in SF, the East Bay, and San Jose at no cost to the public. Peninsula cities, however, won’t be sharing in the bounty unless they chip in some of their own funds. Without public support, the 20 existing stations in Mountain View, Palo Alto, and Redwood City are in jeopardy of being relocated.

None of the Peninsula cities which received bike-share stations as part of the initial pilot program are slated to get new bikes under the terms of the draft contract with Motivate, the bike-share operator [PDF]. However, the contract does keep the door open for those cities to negotiate expansions with Motivate.

Motivate plans to expand the current Bay Area allotment of 700 bikes to 7,000 by November 2017, with 4,500 bikes in San Francisco, 1,000 in San Jose, 850 in Oakland, 400 in Berkeley, and 100 in Emeryville. The contract says those cities were selected because that’s where ridership is expected to be highest. An additional 150 bikes will be sited somewhere in the system, according to the same criteria, with 50 of those reserved for the East Bay.

It will be up to Motivate to decide what to do with the existing bike-share stations on the Peninsula. “The proposal does not call for the removal of any bikes from the Peninsula cities,” said John Goodwin, spokesperson for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which took over public administration of the program last year from the Bay Area Quality Management District. “Upon the execution of an agreement however, Motivate could choose to remove bikes from those cities.”

The new Motivate proposal will also render moot a plan to expand in San Mateo, which was previously included in a 2,500-bike system envisioned under a now-defunct MTC agreement last year. According to an MTC staff report [PDF], that plan included Oakland, Berkeley, Emeryville, and San Mateo.

Advocates see the value in expanding elsewhere in the region but hope the Peninsula cities don’t get left behind. “We’re excited for the expansion in San Jose, the East Bay gets the expansion they’ve long deserved, and San Francisco’s high demand warrants a major expansion there,” said Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition Deputy Director Colin Heyne. “But we regret that the Peninsula cities are not included, especially since it could end up undoing what is now a low-cost first-and-last-mile commuting solution.”

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Facebook Expansions Could Spur Dumbarton Rail in Menlo Park

Facebook wants to develop new housing, office, and retail within walking distance of two potential Dumbarton Rail stations. Image: City of Menlo Park

Long-delayed efforts to restore train service on the Dumbarton Rail Corridor, which links the mid-Peninsula to the East Bay, could get a boost as Facebook looks to add housing and offices along the tracks in Menlo Park.

This spring, the San Mateo County Transportation Authority will study how to bring service to a 4.5-mile segment of the Dumbarton tracks between the Redwood City Caltrain Station and Willow Road in Menlo Park, as recommended by the Dumbarton Policy Advisory Committee. Restoring service to that segment would not require the replacement of sections of the Dumbarton Rail Bridge or major track reconstructions. (Both would be needed to restore service on the full 20.5-mile Dumbarton corridor between the Redwood City Caltrain and Union City BART stations.)

Facebook is rapidly expanding its “East Campus” headquarters in Menlo Park, where roughly 4,600 employees now work. The campus is located within walking distance of a proposed Dumbarton Rail station at Willow Road, a source of potential ridership unforeseen in a 2011 study of the project [PDF]. The company still has room to grow to 6,600 employees at the East Campus and add another 2,800 at its nearby West Campus. One parcel over, Facebook plans to add another 1,500 employees at a refurbished warehouse on a ten-building, 59-acre site purchased in September.

Facebook wants to develop up to 3,500 housing units on its East Campus parking lots and at the adjacent 56-acre Menlo Science and Technology Center, a sprawling 21-building commercial site purchased from Prologis in February. The company sees these sites, as well as another another site owned by developer David Bohannon near Marsh Road to the west, an opportunity to create mixed-use neighborhoods within a half-mile walk of potential Dumbarton Rail stations.

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Fantasizing About Self-Driving Cars, Sunnyvale Opposes El Camino Bus Lanes

Between Palo Alto and San Jose, traffic congestion delays trips on VTA’s “Rapid 522″ skip-stop express up to 30 minutes, making bus trips twice as long as driving during rush hour. Photo: Andrew Boone

The Sunnyvale City Council voted 4-3 last month to oppose dedicated bus lanes that could cut transit riders’ trips nearly in half along the length of El Camino Real, making bus trips almost as quick as driving. More than one council member said the city shouldn’t invest in transit because self-driving cars are going to make it irrelevant.

The city’s “officially preferred alternative” for the Valley Transportation Authority’s future El Camino Real bus service would include new bus stations on sidewalk bulb-outs, but not bus lanes anywhere between Palo Alto and San Jose.

This “mixed flow” option, which would leave buses stuck in traffic, would shave just 4 to 5 minutes off the current 70- to 85-minute bus trip during morning and evening rush hours. By comparison, bus-only lanes on El Camino Real would slash rush-hour trip times by 25 to 35 minutes, according to the project’s Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR).

Converting two of the street’s six traffic lanes to exclusive bus lanes would bring 6,000 new weekday passengers to VTA’s El Camino Real buses in 2018, and another 12,000 on top of that by 2040. The Bus Rapid Transit project is the longest of three BRT lines planned by VTA to span Santa Clara County, converging in downtown San Jose.

“The travel time savings from a bus today to a dedicated lane bus would be so significant that it would make it an alternative for people who don’t see it as an alternative today,” Sunnyvale Public Works Director Manuel Pineta testified at the City Council meeting.

VTA expects weekday traffic volumes on El Camino Real to drop by up to 4,500 vehicles in Sunnyvale and 5,600 vehicles in Mountain View if the dedicated bus lanes are built, as some drivers shift to transit, bicycling, or walking, and others choose different routes. Car congestion on the redesigned El Camino would increase only slightly, with rush-hour driving trips from Palo Alto to San Jose taking 37 to 44 minutes instead of today’s 36 to 40 minutes.

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Widening El Camino Real in Menlo Park Won’t Cut Traffic, But Bike Lanes Will

El Camino Real facing south at Middle Avenue. Widening the street to six continuous lanes through downtown Menlo Park will attract more traffic and worsen congestion, according to a W-Trans study. Photo: Google Maps

Redesigning El Camino Real to squeeze in more cars will cause more cars to squeeze into El Camino Real, warned the consultant working on a redesign of the street in downtown Menlo Park last week. But creating a safe street for people to get around without a car can actually cut traffic.

At a community meeting last Thursday about the design options for Menlo Park’s stretch of El Camino Real W-Trans Principal Mark Spencer said that widening the street from four to six traffic lanes through downtown would increase traffic volumes dramatically and worsen congestion. Adding buffered or curb-protected bike lanes instead, as recommended by the city’s Transportation Commission in November, would reduce both traffic volumes and congestion slightly, according to the study.

With the six lane option, “traffic volumes on El Camino would go up because it would open up that pipeline to push more traffic through,” Spencer said. “Because of that induced demand, we’re seeing travel times [for car drivers] getting longer.”

A 2008 community-led Vision Plan for El Camino Real in Menlo Park set several goals that street safety advocates say should disqualify the four-to-six lane expansion from consideration. Among those objectives are “maintain a village character,” “provide greater east-west, town-wide connectivity,” and “provide an integrated, safe, and well-designed pedestrian and bicycle network.”

To help meet these community goals, planners recommended maintaining the existing four-lane cross-section for vehicle traffic while adding buffered or protected bike lanes. But with the adoption of the El Camino Real / Downtown Specific Plan in 2012, the City Council also ordered that a six-lane expansion of El Camino be analyzed as well, in the belief that the city might be able to build its way out of congestion.

W-Trans estimates that due to induced demand, widening El Camino Real to a continuous six lanes through downtown Menlo Park would add between 10 and 45 percent more traffic at Ravenswood Avenue, the city’s most congestion intersection. Most of that traffic would be pulled from parallel routes, including Highway 101 and Middlefield Road.

“This option worsens the pedestrian environment as it places fast moving traffic near pedestrians,” wrote Fehr & Peers Principal Jane Bierstedt in a March 2012 report [PDF]. Even without the effect of induced demand, which its preliminary traffic study did not account for, Fehr & Peers found that the maximum travel time savings for car drivers would be 17 seconds at Ravenswood Avenue.

“With induced demand, the delay reduction would be less and operations would likely mimic the four-lane alternative,” concluded Bierstedt.

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San Mateo Adopts Vision Zero and LOS Reform With Sustainable Streets Plan

A future four-lane El Camino Real through downtown San Mateo with wider sidewalks and raised bike lanes, as envisioned by the city’s new Sustainable Streets Plan. Image: City of San Mateo

With the adoption of its Sustainable Streets Plan on Tuesday, San Mateo’s City Council has embraced several major transportation policy reforms, including Vision Zero and reforming car-oriented street design and development practices.

The Sustainable Streets Plan lays out detailed design guidelines for complete streets, envisioning “a transportation system that is sustainable, safe, and healthy and supports a sense of community and active living, where walking, bicycling, and transit are integral parts of daily life.”

San Mateo is now the third city in California to adopt a Vision Zero policy (after San Francisco and Los Angeles), committing to eliminating traffic deaths in near future.

Typically, between two and four people are killed and 40 people are injured by car drivers while walking in San Mateo each year. Most collisions occur in “hot spots” at major intersections downtown and along El Camino Real.

“No loss of life is acceptable,” said City Council Member Joe Goethals. “We can do better, and this plan is the road to doing better… My biggest criticism is the talk about this taking decades and decades. It can happen faster than that.”

Under Vision Zero, San Mateo staff are instructed to review the locations and causes of traffic collisions every year, and propose street and/or sidewalk modifications “to improve walking and bicycling conditions at intersections with the highest rates of collisions.”

The plan also calls for some specific street redesigns, including a sweeping overhaul of El Camino Real from 2nd Avenue to 9th Avenue through downtown San Mateo.

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Daly City Votes to Continue Subsidizing Residential Parking Permits

Willits Street two blocks south of the Daly City BART Station. Only residents are allowed to park vehicles in the street on weekday mornings, and each residence may receive up to three free permits. Photo: Google Maps

Daly City’s City Council shot down a proposal last month to charge $40 a year for residential parking permits near the city’s BART station. The permits, which give resident car owners privileged access to on-street parking, are currently free.

The proposed fee, which amounts to 11 cents per day, elicited raucous opposition from public commenters at the council meeting. The fee would have applied only to a household’s third and fourth parking permits, leaving the first two permits free. The maximum number of permits each household could receive would be capped at four vehicles, up from the current three.

“The proposed fee would encourage driveway and off-street parking; reduce traffic congestion; create a safer pedestrian environment in the affected neighborhoods; recover the costs for processing parking permits and a small portion of the cost for parking permits enforcement,” wrote Daly City Director of Finance and Administrative Services Lawrence Chiu.

The argument to stop subsidizing parking quite so much didn’t get very far. City Council Member Judith Christensen called the proposal “outrageous.”

“That would be 1,039 people who will be paying $40 for something that for 20 years was free,” she noted, pointing to the city’s data on how many households are now parking a third or fourth vehicle in the street.

“I’m absolutely opposed to the raising of parking permit fees… we should disapprove any fee whatsoever,” said Council Member David Canepa.

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New Bike Lanes in Sunnyvale Could Be Just the Beginning for El Camino Real

camino_bike_lane

The first bike lanes installed on El Camino Real, in Sunnyvale, are six feet wide and run unprotected next to 14-foot wide traffic lanes. Photo: Andrew Boone

To build a bike network, you’ve gotta start somewhere, and on El Camino Real, it started in Sunnyvale last month. The first bike lanes on El Camino Real are six feet wide, striped along the curb with no protection from traffic, running half a mile from Sunnyvale Avenue to Fair Oaks Avenue/Remington Drive, near the city’s downtown.

While it may not be all-ages bike infrastructure, the new bike lanes still set an important precedent for the 43-mile-long street-level highway connecting San Francisco and San Jose. James Manitakos, former chair of the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission, has called the project “a good first step.”

Now several other towns on the Peninsula are considering safer, better bike infrastructure — including protected lanes — for key segments of El Camino.

Sunnyvale chose to replace car parking with bike lanes on this section of El Camino Real only after commissioning a study [PDF] to ensure that the parking was barely used, so as to not inconvenience drivers. This despite the city’s 2008 Policy for Allocation of Street Space [PDF], which states that “safe accommodation for all transport modes takes priority over non-transport uses,” and that parking “shall not be considered a transport use.”

According to the city’s study, only one of the roughly 134 parking spaces on El Camino’s curbs were used at peak hours on average, and city staff counted 3,337 spaces in the seven parking lots along the street.

Other sections of El Camino Real along the Peninsula could get bike lanes soon, though cities approve them on a piecemeal basis. Mountain View, to the north, approved six-foot wide buffered bike lanes on its 1.2-mile stretch from Calderon/Phyllis Avenue to the border with Sunnyvale at Knickerbocker Drive. That project was approved with the adoption of Mountain View’s El Camino Real Precise Plan in November.

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Atherton Joins HSR Opponents to Sue Caltrain; Menlo Park Drops Its Suit

The Town of Atherton alleges that the review of the Caltrain/High Speed Rail Blended System’s environmental impacts cannot be segmented into two separate environmental impact reports. Image: CAHSR

Last week, the Town of Atherton teamed up with opponents of California High-Speed Rail to file a lawsuit against Caltrain [PDF]. The City of Menlo Park, meanwhile, dropped threats to file a similar lawsuit, one week after listing five issues that the city wants Caltrain to resolve.

Caltrain must complete its electrification project before it starts sharing track, in what’s known as the blended system, with high-speed trains, which are scheduled to start running in 2029The lawsuit from Atherton and two groups opposed to CAHSR asserts that Caltrain violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by conducting environmental impact reports of electrification and the blended system separately, rather than a single project.

“If the project is truly a stand-alone project — independent of serving as a precursor to the blended system – it is hard to understand why providing electrical infrastructure compatible with the blended system should be a major project purpose,” states the lawsuit.

The suit argues that the impacts of several changes for the blended track system weren’t disclosed in the electrification EIR: The reconstruction of curved sections of track for 110 mph trains, the cumulative traffic impacts on at-grade crossings when high-speed trains overtake Caltrain trains, and how high-speed trains sharing the tracks could limit the expansion of Caltrain service in the future.

Caltrain officials said that because the electrification and CAHSR each have “independent utility,” the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) allows them to be analyzed in separate environmental documents.

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Pedestrian Access to South San Francisco Caltrain Station Gets a Boost

Passengers currently have to access the South San Francisco Caltrain station via the Grand Avenue overpass and walk across the tracks to board trains. Photo: Andrew Boone

The South San Francisco Caltrain station is set to get better walking connections to downtown and a more spacious boarding area after the San Mateo County Transportation Authority (SMCTA) Board awarded a grant for station reconstruction last Thursday.

The $59 million project will widen the center platform and build a pedestrian tunnel re-connecting the station directly to the east end of downtown’s Grand Avenue. Passengers will no longer need to climb an overpass to get to the station or walk across train tracks to board. Instead they will be able to get to the station’s center platform via ramps connecting to a tunnel underneath the tracks.

“This is a vast improvement in safety that will also increase connections to businesses nearby,” said SMCTA Board member and Burlingame City Council member Terry Nagel at the meeting.

Currently the only access to the Caltrain station is from the west side of the train tracks, via a Grand Avenue overpass that spans the tracks directly above the station itself. This overpass requires a long and uncomfortable detour for people walking and bicycling, who have to cross the highway-like, six-lane Grand Avenue and descend either a tall metal staircase or a long frontage road on-ramp.

The overpass and its retaining walls also create a gloomy and unwelcoming area for passengers to wait. With the Caltrain station wedged in between the tracks and Highway 101 and access only available from the west side, passengers arriving by bus or car must also follow circuitous routes to reach the platform.

Walking to the South San Francisco Caltrain requires passing under Highway 101 (upper left), up a long sidewalk on the Grand Avenue overpass (upper right), and down a tall metal staircase (bottom). Photos: Andrew Boone

“The current configuration is a major barrier for residents and employees since it hinders those who need to walk or bike from downtown or BART to our major biotech employers on the east side of the city,” wrote the South San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and representatives of several biotech and real estate companies in identical letters of support.

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