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San Mateo County Officials Insist on Failed Strategy of Widening Highway 101

San Mateo County wants to add two more lanes to Highway 101, a strategy that has failed to reduce traffic congestion. Photo: Andrew Boone

San Mateo County officials are moving forward with plans to widen Highway 101 in a futile attempt to pave their way out of traffic congestion.

The City/County Association of Governments (C/CAG) has dismissed a more effective and less costly proposal to avoid highway expansion by converting two existing traffic lanes to high-occupancy toll lanes, also known as express lanes.

“If we build more capacity for cars, what we’ll end up with is more cars,” said Joseph Kott, vice president of Transportation Choices for Sustainable Communities and a former transportation planning manager for C/CAG. “We’ll have spent a lot of money to get more cars, and will live with all the consequences of having more cars. It’s just not very sensible.”

Rather than convert two of Highway 101’s eight lanes to express lanes between San Bruno and Redwood City, C/CAG wants to keep all existing lanes free for solo drivers while expanding the roadway to 10 lanes.

C/CAG plans to conduct an environmental review that will only evaluate the addition of carpool lanes, which could then be converted to express toll lanes. The agency’s board passed a resolution greenlighting the study on June 11.

But according to a 2013 report from Kott and TransForm called “Innovation Required: Moving More People with Less Traffic,” converting existing lanes to express lanes would move 75 percent more people on 101 using 10 percent fewer vehicles, at far less cost, compared to building new, un-tolled carpool lanes. Even C/CAG admits that widening Highway 101 would increase driving and air pollution, and result in less transit ridership.

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Redwood City’s Plan for Wider Roads Will Confound Its Bid to Cut Traffic

Redwood City’s vision for a dense, walkable downtown would be undermined by its plans to induce more driving. Image: Redwood City

As Redwood City plans to develop a more compact, walkable downtown, the city is ramping up efforts to encourage transit, bicycling, walking, and carpooling to avert the surge in car traffic that many residents fear would come as a result. At the same time, the city plans to spend tens of millions of dollars on infrastructure that will pump more car traffic into downtown.

Redwood’s new Transportation Demand Management (TDM) Ordinance, expected to be approved by the City Council this summer, would place stricter requirements on large companies to reduce driving by their employees. But Redwood City also plans to spend big on widening roads, which would induce more car traffic.

In December, the City Council considered increasing allowable office space downtown from 500,000 square feet to 670,000 square feet while reducing space for housing and retail development, but hasn’t gone through with the proposal.

Aaron Aknin, Redwood City’s director of community development, said the city can accommodate this growth without increasing traffic. “In the long run there is a way to maintain or even reduce vehicle trips,” he told Streetsblog. “We can minimize traffic resulting from new office projects, and we can draw on our existing employee base to reduce vehicle trips.”

Under Redwood City’s TDM ordinance, businesses with 50 or more employees would have to figure out a way to reduce solo driving.

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Google “Bike Vision” in Limbo After Mountain View Rejects Office Expansion

Northern Santa Clara County's many streets with "moderate to high traffic stress" and hazardous intersections discourage many local commuters from bicycling. Image: Alta Planning + Design

Northern Santa Clara County’s many streets with “moderate to high traffic stress” and hazardous intersections discourage many local commuters from bicycling. Image: Alta Planning + Design

Google’s “Bike Vision Plan” [PDF], which calls for a network of bike-friendly streets in and around its Mountain View campus, may not become a reality if the Mountain View City Council rejects the company’s plans to expand office space.

On May 5, the council approved just one office building, at Landings Avenue, and held off on approval of the other three expansion sites. Without those approvals, Google won’t cover the costs of several major improvements for walking and biking.

Image: Google Bike Vision Plan [PDF]

Image: Google Bike Vision Plan [PDF]

Google envisions a regional network of low-stress “Bicycle Priority Corridors” in Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Altos, Sunnyvale, and western Santa Clara that would enable 20 percent of its employees to bike to work, up from 10 percent today.

“Bicycle networks should be safe enough, complete enough, and comfortable enough for people of all ages to ride on them,” Google’s Bike Plan says.

“Google is committed to reducing single-occupancy vehicle trips and encouraging healthy transportation options for their employees,” the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition wrote of the company’s proposal, which aims to keep the current number of car parking spaces available to employees and visitors fixed as Google expands in Mountain View’s North Bayshore office district.

As tech company campuses grow, the SVBC “recognize[s] the tremendous impact their land use decisions can have on changing every day behavior,” the organization wrote on its website:

As the saying goes, if you build it they will come — A company that builds a sprawling campus with ample amounts of car parking will perpetuate a car culture and continue to apply the brakes to our ability to create a community that values, includes, and encourages bicycling for all purposes for all people.

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Today: VTA Board Could Enshrine Road Expansions in Sales Tax Measure

Santa Clara County’s proposed 20-year sales tax could go toward making dangerous mega-wide roads like the Lawrence Expressway even wider. Photo: Santa Clara County

The Valley Transportation Authority Board of Directors today could enshrine road widenings in its 20-year transportation sales tax, proposed for the ballot in Santa Clara County in November 2016.

The agenda for today’s 5:30 p.m. board meeting includes approval of the sales tax measure language, which includes goals [PDF] to “provide congestion relief” and “relieve roadway, highway, and expressway bottle necks and minimize traffic in residential neighborhoods.”

“In the past this goal was met with roadway widening,” wrote Gladwyn d’Souza, transportation committee chair for the Sierra Club’s Loma Prieta chapter, in a letter [PDF] to the VTA board stating the organization’s concerns about the language. “Subsequent analysis has shown that the relief is temporary due to induced driving.”

The sales tax proposal, called Envision Silicon Valley, would fund at least two decades of transportation infrastructure projects in the South Bay, including the BART extension to San Jose, a network of bus rapid transit lines, a county-wide trail network, and safety improvements for walking and bicycling.

But widening Santa Clara County’s already-dangerous expressways to “relieve bottle necks,” even as traffic declines, would work against San Jose’s goals to reduce driving and end traffic fatalities, as called for in San Jose’s Envision 2040 General Plan and Vision Zero plan. Ninety-three percent of traffic fatalities occurred on major city streets and county expressways last year.

“It’s a fact that our transportation systems have been designed in the past to move cars efficiently,” SJ Transportation Director Hans Larsen told the City Council when it approved the Vision Zero plan on May 12. “This is a change in paradigm to say that safety is the top priority.”

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It’s Coming: MTC Approves 10-Fold Expansion of Bay Area Bike Share

Bay_Area_Bike_Share_Launch_in_San_Jose

San Jose city officials test riding Bay Area Bike Share at the system’s launch in August 2013. Photo: Richard Masoner

On Wednesday morning the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) approved contract terms with Motivate International to expand the Bay Area Bike Share system from 700 bikes to more than 7,000 bikes by November 2017. When the expansion wraps up, the Bay Area’s system is expected to be the second-largest in North America, after Citi Bike in New York City.

In addition to massively expanding the bike-share networks in SF and San Jose, the plan will bring bike-share to the East Bay for the first time, with stations in Oakland, Berkeley, and Emeryville.

San Francisco will receive the lion’s share of new bikes: 4,500. San Jose will get 1,000 bikes, and 1,400 bikes will go to the East Bay cities.

The mid-Peninsula cities of Mountain View, Palo Alto, and Redwood City, which had appeared to be in jeopardy of losing their small allocation of stations set up under the initial Bay Area Bike Share pilot program, will together end up with 300 bikes if they all choose to remain part of the system under less favorable contract terms.

“This is incredibly exciting, that we’re going to extend to the East Bay and expand in San Jose,” said MTC Commissioner and SF Supervisor Scott Wiener at the board meeting. “In San Francisco, going from 350 to 4,500 bikes — we’re going to have a true city-wide bike share network.”

“We hope that by tying the program with successful outreach and education programs, and continuing to build a network of safe and comfortable bikeways, we will see many more riders, and especially new riders,” said Bike East Bay Project Manager Cynthia Armour.

Motivate initially proposed a 7,000-bike system that it would construct and operate using private funds entirely. The company agreed to add 155 bikes in the three Peninsula cities if the cities opt in to the program by contributing their own funds.

In addition, MTC staff recommended allocating $4.5 million in public funds to “emerging communities” to pay for improving their bike infrastructure and making them more bike-share ready. These funds would be awarded via a competitive grant program.

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East Palo Alto Bay Trail Will Be Built. Will Current Residents Benefit From It?

Ravenswood Bay Trail Map

The missing 0.6-mile segment of San Francisco Bay Trail through East Palo Alto requires crossing SFPUC property and protected wetlands. Image: Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District

The pieces are in place to build a key link in the San Francisco Bay Trail, providing a continuous bike route through East Palo Alto and Menlo Park. Given the trail’s proximity to Facebook and the lack of housing close to the company’s campus, East Palo is also looking to strengthen its affordable housing policies to ensure that current residents can afford to stay in the city and benefit from the new path.

Local officials from five different agencies met on Monday to iron out the details of an agreement that fully funds the San Francisco Bay Trail through East Palo Alto, filling in the 100-mile network of off-street trails connecting Redwood City and Union City with downtown San Jose, Mountain View, and central Santa Clara.

“This is one of the most difficult gaps in the Bay Trail to complete,” said San Mateo County Parks Director Marlene Finley, whose department will manage funds for the project. “It’s wonderful that all the project partners are able to come together and get this done.”

The missing section lies within both East Palo Alto and Menlo Park, and is subject to a number of regulatory agencies where the trail will cross protected wetlands in the Ravenswood Open Space Preserve. The multi-jurisdictional nature of the project and complex political environment has delayed it for decades while every other section of the San Francisco Bay Trail in the mid-Peninsula region has been built or improved. The network of continuous off-street trails now stretches nearly from the Union City BART Station to downtown San Jose, except for this remaining gap.

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Design of High-Speed Trains Threatens to Diminish Caltrain Capacity

When High Speed Rail begins operating in 2029, passengers will access Caltrain via the upper set of doors (blue) at stations shared with high speed trains, and via the lower set of doors (yellow) at all other stations. Image: Clem Tillier

When High Speed Rail begins operating in 2029, passengers will access Caltrain via the upper set of doors (yellow) at stations shared with high speed trains, and via the lower set of doors (blue) at all other stations. Image: Clem Tillier

The insistence of California High Speed Rail officials on running trains with floors 50 inches above the tracks threatens to reduce the capacity of Caltrain and hamper the benefits of level boarding for the commuter rail agency.

Last Tuesday, Caltrain officials gave an update on the electric trains the agency plans to purchase next year, which will begin operating in 2021 [PDF]. To enable level boarding for Caltrain passengers before and after CAHSR raises platforms to be compatible with its 50-inch floor trains, the new design has two sets of doors at different heights. This way, both Caltrain and high-speed trains will have level boarding at every station.

High Speed Rail Authority officials insist on the high-speed train industry standard floor height of 50 inches above the tracks. Building trains compatible with this specification, however, will diminish both the speed of Caltrain service and its capacity, though the scale of these effects has yet to be determined.

In order to achieve level boarding fully compatible with High Speed Rail, Caltrain will need to allow passengers to board at the 50-inch height. But a lower 25-inch floor height above the tracks is needed for the main section of each car in order for the trains to have both a lower and upper level, like today’s newer Bombardier models, without being too tall to operate.

This will require passengers to navigate sets of internal stairs on the lower level. This will increase the length of time people spend boarding and alighting, especially people carrying bicycles or luggage. Mechanical lifts will also be needed for passengers in wheelchairs to get between the 25-inch and 50-inch levels. The overall effect will be to lengthen the amount of time trains spend at each station (the “dwell time”) compared to trains with a single lower-level floor height.

That delay hasn’t yet been estimated by either agency, but it will affect Caltrain’s schedules. “The reason to go to level boarding for Caltrain is dwell time,” said Friends of Caltrain Director Adina Levin. “So the question of how much the internal stairs extend dwell time is a very important question about the benefits of level boarding.”

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San Jose to Adopt Vision Zero But No Target Date to End Traffic Deaths

Vision Zero San Jose As Soon As Possible Logo

San Jose’s Vision Zero plan doesn’t set a target date to eliminate traffic fatalities, only declaring a goal of “ASAP” — as soon as possible. Image: City of San Jose

The San Jose City Council is expected to adopt a Vision Zero plan [PDF] tomorrow, making it the third major city in the Bay Area and the tenth in the nation to commit to ending traffic deaths. But San Jose isn’t setting a timeline to achieve this goal.

“For years, San Jose created a roadway system exclusively for cars — not for people on bikes, pedestrians, or transit,” said Mayor Sam Liccardo in a statement. “Vision Zero is San Jose’s commitment to prioritize street safety and ensure all road users – whether you walk, bike, drive, or ride transit – are safe.”

Unlike San Francisco and New York City, which adopted ten-years goals, San Jose’s version of Vision Zero doesn’t include a target date. Instead the plan calls for an end to traffic fatalities “ASAP”:

Vision Zero San Jose purposely has avoided setting a particular timeline as a practical matter and has instead chosen to pursue Vision Zero goals, as soon as possible (ASAP). The history of change particularly with regards to state and federal policy makes 10-years seem “unrealistic.” However, the urgency for safe streets makes a 10-year goal seem “too slow.” For now, our goal is to continue to make progress with advocacy, action and results, ASAP!

“While we understand concerns that a 10-year timeline may be too ambitious,” said California Walks Planning and Policy Manager Jaime Fearer, “we need to commit to a date for our goal, even if it is 15 or 20 years.”

Elijah Alvitre, 3, was killed in a crosswalk at Vine and Oak streets. The driver who struck him faced no legal penalties. Photo: Legacy.com

Dozens of supporters, including friends and relatives of people killed by reckless drivers, packed a committee meeting last week to plead for an end to the city’s traffic violence.

“Anything that can be done to improve safety should not only be considered but embraced, to help prevent this from happening to anyone else,” said Jenny Alvitre, whose 3-year-old grandson Elijah was killed in November 2013 by the driver of a pickup truck. The driver was not cited or charged for failing to yield to the 13-year-old girl pushing Elijah’s stroller in a crosswalk, hitting both of them, as well as a six-year-old girl holding the older girl’s hand.

Just hours later, 14-year-old Bianca Valdez was killed by a driver while walking across White Road near Hyland Avenue in east San Jose. A week later, 17-year-old Anthony Garcia was killed by an SUV driver while riding his bicycle on Branham Lane in south San Jose.

The death toll on San Jose’s dangerously-designed streets has risen in recent years, and a growing proportion of victims are killed by drivers while walking and biking. In 2013, 44 people were killed on San Jose streets, and 42 in 2014. In both years, 21 of the victims were killed while walking. Most fatal crash victims in SJ are now people walking or biking. That wasn’t the case between 2008 and 2012, when an average of 31 people were killed each year, 46 percent of whom were pedestrians or cyclists.

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Money Abounds for Highways, Not Safe Crossings, at San Mateo County TA

The proposed expansion of the Highway 101 interchange at Holly Street will make a dangerous area more hazardous, but the SMCTA won’t use highway funds to provide a safer crossing. Image: City of San Carlos

The San Mateo County Transportation Authority is still throwing tens of millions of dollars at freeway widenings in a futile attempt to build its way out of traffic congestion. But when it comes to building a safe passage for people to cross a frightening interchange, don’t expect the agency to spend a dime.

The planned expansion of the Highway 101 interchange at Holly Street is San Carlos will cost $11 million, most of which is slated to come from the SMCTA’s $60 million-a-year Highway Program. But the agency won’t use that pot of money to fund a $5 million bridge for people to walk and bike safely across the wider interchange. If the money for the bridge isn’t secured by late next year, the freeway expansion could be built by mid-2017 without a safe crossing.

To design the bridge, San Carlos plans to spend scarce “active transportation” funds from another county agency. But the bridge wouldn’t be necessary without the dangerous cloverleaf interchange, which was built 28 years ago — and city planners know it.

“There’s a very small sidewalk on one side of the interchange, it’s a very dangerous situation for bicycles,” explained San Carlos Associate Engineer Kaveh Forouhi in a February review of the bike/ped bridge design [PDF]. “People don’t use the interchange because they’re fearful of it.”

“Even experienced, skilled cyclists are intimidated by the combination of multiple turn lanes, short merge sections, high automobile speeds, and poor sight lines,” wrote San Carlos Public Works Director Jay Walter. The proposed bridge “directly addresses inadequate sidewalks, lack of bicycle facilities, and an overall lack of pedestrian/bicycle connectivity.”

Because the SMCTA keeps its money in “silos” for limited purposes, the agency has repeatedly rejected highway-related projects that would encourage walking and bicycling, even though those projects can help reduce congestion by making driving less necessary.

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Santa Clara OKs Road Diet, Bike Lanes on “Ludicrously Overbuilt” Tasman Dr.

Even with two fewer auto traffic lanes, Santa Clara’s Tasman Drive could still carry more than twice the number of cars it handles during rush hour. Image: Google Maps

Santa Clara’s City Council unanimously approved a road diet last week on the city’s 1.5-mile section of Tasman Drive. Tasman, east of Great America Parkway, will have two of its six traffic lanes re-purposed for wide buffered bike lanes and permanent median fences to protect Valley Transportation Authority (VTA)’s light-rail tracks. West of Great American Parkway, where Tasman was has four lanes, only striped bike lanes would be added.

Tasman is “ludicrously overbuilt,” Cyclelicious author Richard Masoner wrote in a blog post the day before the vote. Masoner wrote at the time that the council seemed “reluctant” to approve the project at a meeting in late March. “There is literally no downside for this project no matter which mode of transportation you use, so what’s the problem?,” he wrote.

The council approved the project unanimously and without discussion last Tuesday.

At the March meeting, Council Member Patrick Kolstad asked if transportation planners would consider removing the Tasman bike lanes in 10 years if there are more cars to move. Council Member Lisa Gillmor claimed the road diet is “going to be a nightmare during traffic hour,” pointing to Pruneridge Avenue, where one of four traffic lanes was removed to add bike lanes in late 2011.

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