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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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Alta’s Mia Birk Helps Mountain View Kick Off Its Latest Bike Plan

Mia Birk describes some of the keys to Portland’s success in dramatically boosting the use of bicycles for transportation at Mountain View City Hall last Monday evening. Photo: Andrew Boone

How bikeable can Mountain View become? Last Monday, the city welcomed Alta Planning + Design President Mia Birk to help kick off an update to its 2008 Bicycle Transportation Plan. Birk had plenty to share about how Portland transformed itself into one of the best cities for biking in North America.

Birk was hired as the city’s bicycle program manager in 1993. Back then, “people thought of the bicycle as one of two things: it’s either a sport or a toy,” she said. “Those things are true. But bicycling can also be a serious means of transportation — if we take it seriously.”

Portland gradually built an extensive network of “low-stress bikeways” that helped boost cycling dramatically, especially in central neighborhoods where trips tend to be shorter than in the city’s sprawling suburbs. Planners estimated in 2008 that Portland’s entire bikeway network had cost roughly $60 million to construct, accounting for less than one percent of what the city spent on transportation.

Portland’s bike traffic grew faster after various education and encouragement programs were expanded in the early 2000′s. Image: City of Portland

Birk credited Portland’s education programs with boosting the use of bicycles as much as its expansive bikeway network. ”You’ve got to have to infrastructure, but you’re going to be significantly more successful when you encourage people to bike and walk in ways that are meaningful to their daily lives,” she said.

The city’s “personalized travel encouragement programs,” combine materials promoting bicycling and transit with community events like car-free street “block parties” and bike safety education classes.

“We find that we switch 10 to 13 percent of drive-alone trips to bicycling, walking, or transit for about $20 per household,” said Birk. “There have been analyses of these programs years later, and they stick.” Birk also stressed the importance of effective Safe Routes to Schools programs. “These are all about transforming the next generation to just thinking that bicycling and walking is just normal. It’s just how we get around.”

Roughly twice as many people are getting around Mountain View by bicycle since the city’s current Bicycle Transportation Plan was adopted in 2008, according to U.S. Census data. The most recent data available (2013) showed that over 7 percent of the city’s 40,000 employed residents used a bicycle as their primary mode of transportation to work, although one-year estimates have a high margin of error. Data averaged over three years (2010 – 2012) found this figure to be 5 percent for Mountain View residents, having risen from 3 percent just three years earlier (2007 – 2009).

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Sidewalk Cycling Ban Again Proposed for Downtown San Jose

Cyclist_on_Sidewalk_with_Peds

A bicyclist navigates between pedestrians on a downtown San Jose sidewalk. Residents have complained of reckless behavior by cyclists on sidewalks for years. Photo: City of San Jose

San Jose Department of Transportation (SJDOT) officials announced at a community meeting Wednesday evening that a downtown sidewalk cycling ban is again under consideration, explaining that the “Walk Your Bike” signs and banners installed in December 2013 had largely failed to convince bicyclists to ride in the streets rather than on sidewalks.

Three members of the city’s Senior Citizens Commission spoke in support of a ban, describing the serious safety hazards that some bicyclists riding on downtown sidewalks have posed to pedestrians.

“I’ve been hit twice on Santa Clara Street,” said Commissioner Martha O’Connell. “If I get hit by a bike, it’s a serious thing for me and a lot of other seniors. Bikers come so close to [pedestrians] that they actually touch their jackets when they pass them.”

O’Connell and other commissioners have diligently documented with photos and written statements the hazard posed by cyclists riding too fast and swerving on downtown sidewalks. ”Adult bicyclists continue to ride recklessly on the downtown sidewalks while the bike lanes remain largely empty,” O’Connell wrote in March 2013, in support of a ban on sidewalk cycling.

Walk_Your_Bike_Sign

One of 140 “Walk Your Bike” signs installed on sidewalks in downtown San Jose in June 2014. Photo: City of San Jose

In an effort to shift bicyclists from the sidewalks, SJDOT blanketed downtown with “Walk Your Bike” signs: 140 green signs and 170 blue pavement markers. No city ordinance was passed requiring cyclists to walk bikes on sidewalks, though. Educational banners installed downtown also encouraged cyclists to walk on sidewalks and ride in the streets. But SJDOT counts taken at three locations showed no significant shift in sidewalk cycling between December 2013 and August 2014.

“At this point we really haven’t accomplished enough behavior change to say it’s successful,” summarized Active Transportation Manager John Brazil. “Now we’re looking at recommending some type of ordinance to the City Council’s Transportation & Environment Committee.” Under the proposed ordinance described by Mr. Brazil, anyone 13 years and older could be ticketed by the police for cycling on any sidewalk in San Jose’s “Downtown Pedestrian Priority Zone”, a high pedestrian traffic area bounded by Almaden Boulevard, 4th Street, St John Street, and San Salvador Street.

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VTA: No, We Won’t Cut Train Service to Move More Cars at Levi’s Stadium

Image: CBS 5

Santa Clara County’s Valley Transportation Authority says it does not plan to reduce light-rail service in order to move more cars at Levi’s Stadium during the post-game traffic crunch.

“Transit is not the problem; transit is a solution,” the agency wrote in a blog post yesterday, countering a report from the San Jose Mercury News on Monday.

As fans left the new Santa Clara stadium’s first 49ers game on Sunday, the Mercury reported that drivers “were trapped in their [parking] lots up to two hours as a constant stream of pedestrians and trains blocked their paths.” Jim Mercurio, the 49ers vice president for operations, told the Mercury that “his team will look at slowing down train service, perhaps to every seven or eight minutes, to let more vehicles through.” Trains were run every five minutes after Sunday’s game.

VTA spokesperson Colleen Valles was quoted in the article saying, ”We have extra capacity,” giving the impression that the agency would go along with the idea.

But apparently not. As Cyclelicious reported yesterday, Valles penned a “strong response” to clear things up in a blog post titled, “Slowing down trains will build up gridlock”:

A recent assertion that light rail was impeding traffic and that the frequency of light rail service to the stadium needs to be decreased to allow more cars through may have raised the concern of some of our riders: is VTA really considering slowing down trains to benefit cars?

The short answer is no.

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Can VTA’s Bus Route Changes Keep Up With Suburban Office Park Growth?

Sunnyvale’s Moffett Park office park, where office development is attracting thousands of new commuters while transit service remains unchanged. Image: Jay Paul Company

Office development is booming in Santa Clara County. As the number of jobs increases, will the Valley Transportation Authority ramp up bus service to keep pace, or will streets become overrun with traffic?

VTA hosted a public meeting last week to present a set of proposed changes to its bus service that the agency calls its North Central County Bus Improvement Plan, designed to adapt to commuting patterns created by the recent growth of large office parks in areas that lack transit. About 70 people, mostly seniors and residents of Sunnyvale, attended the meeting at Sunnyvale’s City Hall.

“We’ve seen a lot of changes in land use in these four cities,” said VTA Transportation Planner Adam Burger, who pointed to major office developments that are expected to bring several thousand more commuters through the region in coming years. Campuses are growing for Google and Intuit in Mountain View, Apple in Cupertino, Moffett Towers and LinkedIn in Sunnyvale, and the Levi’s Stadium area in Santa Clara.

“All these land use changes create new travel demand,” said Burger. “So we have to adapt our bus system to match the new travel patterns that people use.” VTA aims to provide major office developments with better transit and connect them to the bus rapid transit routes coming to El Camino Real in 2018 and Stevens Creek Boulevard in 2019.

But VTA only proposes improvements on a single north-south route that would help a significant number of passengers transfer to and from buses on the BRT routes. A new Bus 354 would supplement the existing Bus 54 with limited-stop service along a similar route on Mathilda and Hollenbeck Avenues between the Lockheed Martin Transit Center in Moffett Park and De Anza Community College in Cupertino. Despite large and growing concentrations of jobs in Moffett Park, along Mathilda Avenue, and in downtown Sunnyvale, Bus 54 still only runs every 30 minutes on weekdays and every 45 minutes on weekends.

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Mountain View Council Candidates Split on Building Housing Near Google

All nine Mountain View City Council candidates answered questions on housing and transportation issues at a community forum held September 2. Photo: Andrew Boone

A crowded field of nine candidates campaigning for three available seats on Mountain View’s City Council aired their disagreements at a community forum on Tuesday evening about whether new housing within the sprawling North Bayshore office park would be a practical solution to traffic congestion and rapidly rising rents.

Candidates Lenny Siegel, Pat Showalter, Jim Neal, Gary Unangst and Ken Rosenberg expressed support for a proposal put forth by city planners in 2011 to allow housing units to be included in future development projects along Shoreline Boulevard, as a way to reduce the need for so many North Bayshore employees to drive to work. Candidates Margaret Capriles, Lisa Matichak, Mercedes Salem, and Ellen Kamei disagreed, stating that North Bayshore lacks sufficient transit and other services that support residential neighborhoods.

The booming office district, located between Highway 101 and the Bay at Mountain View’s northern end is home to Google, LinkedIn, Intuit, and a number of smaller tech companies, bringing over 17,000 workers — one-fourth of all jobs in Mountain View — every weekday. The city’s 2012 General Plan allows an additional 3.4 million square feet of commercial development in North Bayshore, which would bring an estimated 10,500 additional weekday commuters to the area if built.

The North Bayshore Precise Plan calls for concentrating development along Shoreline Boulevard, and investing in improved transit connections to downtown Mountain View. Image: City of Mountain View

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San Jose Merchants Object to Parking Removal for Bike Lanes on Park Ave

San Jose DOT Deputy Director Paul Smith explains a proposal for buffered bike lanes on Park Avenue. Some merchants have opposed the removal of 168 car parking spaces to make the bike lanes safer and more comfortable. Photo: Andrew Boone

About 150 residents attended a community meeting last Wednesday hosted by the San Jose Department of Transportation in the Willow Glen neighborhood to introduce plans for new bike lanes and sharrows on six streets west of downtown. The projects would complement four less extensive bikeway projects on streets east of downtown which were presented on August 6.

While some merchants opposed the removal of car parking to make the bike lanes safer, SJDOT officials say the improvements are critical to providing a more complete bicycle network in central San Jose, where the city is most dense.

“This circle shows a four-mile radius from the center of downtown San Jose,” explained SJDOT Deputy Director Paul Smith, pointing to a map showing existing and planned bikeways. “It’s about one-quarter of the land area of the city but contains 47 percent of the population and 57 percent of all the jobs in San Jose.”

SJDOT is aiming to create a high-quality east-west route across the city “to support higher numbers of bicyclists of various skill levels” running through downtown as the backbone of its network of “Primary Bikeways.” New conventional and buffered bike lanes, proposed on a 2.8-mile stretch of Park Avenue from the Santa Clara city limit near Newhall Street to Market Street, would connect to the green and buffered bike lanes installed last year on San Fernando Street from the Diridon Caltrain Station to 10th Street.

A total of three miles of new bike lanes are also planned for Lincoln Avenue, Stockton Avenue, and Julian Street, while a route of sharrows would extend 1.5 miles along Scott Street and Auzerais Avenue from MacArthur Avenue (near the 880/280 interchange) to the Los Gatos Creek Trail.

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