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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.
Read more…

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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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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…

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Pedestrian Safety Still Starved for Funding in San Mateo County

Funds for over two miles of new bike lanes on California Drive in Burlingame were cut by the SMCTA at the final approval of this year's $4.9 million for pedestrian and bicycle safety projects. Image: City of Burlingame

Funds for over two miles of new bike lanes on California Drive in Burlingame were cut by the SMCTA upon the final approval of this year’s $4.9 million for pedestrian and bicycle safety projects. Image: City of Burlingame

On March 3, the San Mateo County Transportation Authority (SMCTA) awarded $4.9 million to ten pedestrian and bicycle safety projects – $1 million less than the agency awarded two years ago. Agency staff had revised up the amount of funding for this year’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Program to $5.7 million in February, but explained in the Board’s March 3 report [PDF] that they had “corrected an error in calculation of the prior estimate.”

As a result, a project to install two miles of standard bike lanes on California Drive connecting the Millbrae BART/Caltrain Station with Broadway Avenue in northern Burlingame was cut from the SMCTA’s draft funding list [PDF]. Money for crosswalks, pedestrian refuge islands, yield lines, curb ramps, and sharrows on streets leading to Sunshine Gardens Elementary School and El Camino High School in South San Francisco was also reduced from $504,000 to $461,464, leaving the city to make up the difference.

Cities submitted applications for twenty safety projects totaling $9.3 million. SMCTA chose ten of those to split the $4.9 million in available funds, in awards ranging from $200,000 to $1 million.

“We’re thrilled that a number of worthy and much-needed bike and pedestrian improvements will move forward due to Measure A funding,” said Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition Policy Manager Emma Shlaes. “However, the number of applications received and amount of projects that did not receive funding once again underscores the need for increased funding for bike and pedestrian projects in San Mateo County.”

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San Mateo County Still Thinks the Wider the Better

Highway 101 facing north from Ralston Avenue in Belmont, part of a 14-mile segment planned since 2009 by San Mateo County traffic engineers to be widened to ten continuous lanes. Photo: Andrew Boone

Highway 101 facing north from Ralston Avenue in Belmont is part of a 14-mile segment that may be widened to ten lanes. Photo: Andrew Boone

San Mateo County’s City/County Association of Governments (C/CAG) is leaving an expansion of Highway 101 with new carpool lanes on the table, even after the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) concluded they will jam up with traffic the day they open. If constructed–by 2024 at the earliest–a 14-mile section of the highway from San Bruno to Redwood City would be widened from eight to ten lanes at a cost of up to $250 million.

MTC says traffic will move faster in all lanes, and carry more people in fewer vehicles, if the existing left-most lanes are converted to Express Lanes instead. Free for buses and carpools, and available to solo drivers for a toll, express lanes have cut traffic on Highways 680, 880, 580, and 237 by maintaining a congestion-free lane even during rush hours. On Highway 101 such lanes could help pay for express bus and van services. The express lane conversion could be completed in three years and cost $110 million less than the carpool lane expansion favored by C/CAG.

“It would be a huge missed opportunity if we can’t use innovative strategies to cut traffic by moving more people in fewer vehicles along the Bay Area’s most critical transportation corridor,” said TransForm Community Planner Clarrissa Cabansagan. TransForm published a study in 2013 [PDF] making the case for converting existing lanes to express lanes on Highway 101 rather than widening it.
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South Bay Cities Still Have the Asphalt Bug

Santa Clara County want to depress a two-mile segment of Lawrence Expressway below grade to increase auto traffic capacity at a cost to taxpayers of $540 million. Photo: Andrew Boone

Santa Clara County wants to depress a one-mile segment of Lawrence Expressway below three intersections to “address existing and forecast traffic congestion” at a cost of $440 million in future sales tax dollars. Another $100 million is proposed to depress Lawrence Expressway under Homestead Road. Image: Santa Clara County

“Induced demand” is the idea that building and widening roads doesn’t make traffic better–it makes it worse. Late last year Caltrans finally acknowledged that, yeah, it’s probably true that all the work they’ve been doing for the past few decades has been for naught.

Not everyone got the memo. The Valley Transportation Authority (VTA)’s proposed half-cent sales tax, which is supposed to fund everything from buses to Caltrain to bicycle routes, could also open the floodgates to billions of dollars in continued highway expansion. That’s because Palo Alto, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Cupertino, Campbell, Saratoga, Los Gatos, and Monte Sereno have included a total of $1.5 billion in auto traffic capacity expansion projects in their draft proposals on where to spend the money [PDF]. That means $1 billion will go to county expressways and another $500 million on state highways and local arterial roadways.

San Jose’s funding priorities [PDF] include $650 million countywide for reconstructed highway interchanges “to support economic development,” including $320 million for six expanded interchanges. Even more money could be sunk into traffic capacity expansions on city streets via a “local streets and roads” category intended for repaving but which also can include lane additions and signal modifications. The North County and West Valley cities have proposed $1 billion for local streets and roads, while San Jose has proposed $1.8 billion.

In other words, more and more asphalt.

“As a voting member of the VTA Board of Directors, I think expressways are extremely important,” said San Jose City Council member Johnny Khamis at the city’s February 9 review of the sales tax. “I take an expressway every single day to work because I can’t get on Highway 87 because it’s too congested!”
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