Skip to content

Posts from the "Peninsula" Category

9 Comments

Santa Clara County Still Plans to Widen Expressways, Despite Lower Traffic

Traffic congestion has worsened on Lawrence Expressway over the past decade, but has remained steady or lessened along Santa Clara County’s other urban expressways. Photo: Santa Clara County

Santa Clara County is still operating under plans that assume it can build its way out of traffic congestion by adding more lanes of traffic, plus new overpasses and underpasses, to the county’s 62 miles of expressways — dangerous arterial roadways that were “upgraded” decades ago with freeway-like ramps and overpasses. This is in stark contrast to the 21st-century approach taken by other cities and transit agencies in the region, which are planning for reduced traffic volumes by centering future urban growth around transit corridors and high-quality networks for walking and bicycling.

The county is still in the preliminary stages of its Expressways Plan 2040 — a long-term plan to “improve” the county’s system of eight 1960′s-era expressways, which “were designed to relieve local streets and supplement the freeway system.” The current expressways plan is a 2008 update of a 2003 planning study, which identified and prioritized among a long list of highway expansion projects that could meet “expressway needs.” Those “needs,” of course, consisted of reducing traffic delays at intersections for drivers.

“The Santa Clara County Expressway Master Plan has historically promoted additional auto capacity and grade separations (separating cars from local cross-traffic to increase their throughput), with limited accommodation for other types of travelers,” SPUR stated in its July report on strategies to improve transportation in the South Bay. “Future expressway master plans should aim for a multi-modal expressways system that is integrated with local efforts to grow sustainable, multi-modal communities.”

Santa Clara County maintains a network of eight expressways, and is coordinating plans to widen and extend Santa Teresa Boulevard and Hale Avenue to Gilroy. Image: Santa Clara County

“Going back to the 1960′s, the expressways were built with the intention of carrying automobiles,” said Santa Clara County Transportation Planner Dawn Cameron. “For over two decades, we’ve been working at what is basically retrofitting an expressway system that was built fifty years ago.”

The 2003 and 2008 plans did recommend new sidewalks, better crosswalks, improved signal timing, and striping changes, all of which would reduce hazards for walking and biking across or along the expressways. Long crossing distances and high speed traffic make the expressways inherently dangerous to walk or bicycle along, or even just to cross.

Twenty-six-year-old Daniel Campbell was killed in April while walking across Capitol Expressway at Seven Trees Boulevard in south San Jose, in what KTVU called a “hit and run accident.” In June, 51-year-old Richard Yanis was severely injured after being struck by a hit-and-run driver just two miles away, on Capitol Expressway at Silver Creek Road.

Despite this clear danger, projects to reduce hazards for people walking or bicycling remain a low funding priority for the expressways, comprising three percent of the estimated $2.5 to $2.8 billion in capital program funding needs identified by the 2008 plan.

In comparison, sound walls and landscaping would receive four percent of funds, and the remaining 93 percent of funds would be spent on increasing vehicle capacity.

Meanwhile, traffic congestion seems to be going away on its own, without billions of dollars in new construction.

Read more…

1 Comment

San Jose Candidates Campaign, Pitch Public Safety at SJ Bike Party

Mayoral candidate Sam Liccardo greets voters just before the start of San Jose Bike Party’s “Stars and Stripes Ride” on July 18. Photo: Andrew Boone

San Jose Mayor or City Council candidates Sam Liccardo, Raul Peralez, and Don Gagliardi all made appearances at last Friday’s San Jose Bike Party, pitching improvements to bicycling conditions on the city’s streets as integral to public safety. An estimated 2,500 Bike Partiers rolled out from Arena Green Park in downtown San Jose on the 18-mile, patriotically-themed “Stars & Stripes Ride” through the city’s East Side.

The June 3 primary election narrowed the field of 30 candidates down to eight candidates, competing for four seats on San Jose’s City Council: Mayor and Districts 1, 3, and, 7. Council races for Districts 5 and 9 were determined on June 3: Challenger Magdalenda Carrasco received 53 percent of the votes cast in District 5 (eastern San Jose), and incumbent Donald Rocha won 74 percent of the votes cast in District 9 (south San Jose), each above the 50 percent threshold to avoid a runoff election on November 4.

“I look forward to bringing back our public services that we’ve lost over the years — bring back our public safety,” announced Peralez, the District 3 Council candidate who finished first in the June 3 primary with 28 percent of the votes cast. Peralez touted his position as a San Jose police officer, and his work “with our youth at Juvenile Hall to try to help better them.”

Read more…

61 Comments

Initiative to Stop Downtown Menlo Park Growth Lands on Ballot

Stanford University has proposed to build this residential building and a public plaza at El Camino Real and Middle Avenue. Image: Stanford University

On Tuesday evening, Menlo Park’s City Council reluctantly forwarded to the November 4 ballot an initiative that would reject two proposed developments that would replace largely-vacant auto dealerships with walkable offices, retail space, and apartments, and slow or stop future development along El Camino Real.

The proposed developments would boost transit ridership by bringing thousands more people within a ten-minute walk of the city’s downtown Caltrain station. They would improve the city’s pedestrian and bicycle networks with new, 15-foot wide sidewalks along the east side of El Camino, safer pedestrian crossings for El Camino, and a new ped/bike tunnel under the Caltrain tracks at Middle Avenue.

The anti-growth initiative, titled the “El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan Area Livable, Walking Community Development Standards Act”, was drafted by the volunteer group Save Menlo and qualified for the city-wide ballot by collecting nearly 2,400 voter signatures by mid-May, more than 1,780 signature requirement. 65 percent of the signature-gathering campaign’s $30,000 budget was donated by Atherton resident Gary Lauder, who serves on the neighboring town’s Transportation Committee and fears ”congestion, urban canyons, and related unintended consequences” from continued development in Atherton’s vicinity.

If approved, the initiative would make significant changes to the El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan that the city adopted in June 2012, which guides downtown Menlo Park’s development over the next 20 to 30 years. The plan envisions a mix of office, retail, hotel, housing, and open space, with a maximum of 680 units of residential and 474,000 square feet of non-residential development. The initiative would introduce additional caps on commercial development, including 100,000 square feet of office space per project and 240,820 square feet of office space in total. It would also require voter approval to override those caps.
Read more…

1 Comment

Will San Mateo County Make Real Changes for a Safer Middlefield Road?

Pedestrians face long crossing distances everywhere along Middlefield Road in North Fair Oaks. Photo: Google Maps

Residents of North Fair Oaks have made it clear that they want a safer Middlefield Road with wider sidewalks, but San Mateo County has yet to commit to a redesign that could make a real difference on this important commercial street.

On Tuesday, county officials presented the results of a community survey on the $12.5 million streetscape project for Middlefield Road between Fifth Avenue and Pacific Avenue in North Fair Oaks. The wide, four-lane street is home to most of the local businesses serving this densely-populated, 1.25-square-mile unincorporated area east of El Camino Real and south of downtown Redwood City.

“The common themes found in the survey’s results, how residents and workers want Middlefield Road to be… were safety, accessibility, attractiveness, and a more active and vibrant urban area,” said Deputy County Manager Peggy Jensen.

A summary of the Middlefield Road Redesign survey results. Image: County of San Mateo

More than 2,100 people responded to the survey, conducted in April and May. Despite strong support for wider sidewalks and bike lanes, the county has still not committed to a road diet on Middlefield Road that’s needed to create space for them. Planners are instead opting to keep the street’s current four-lane configuration on the table, awaiting a recommendation on the street’s design from the North Fair Oaks Community Council expected at their August 28 meeting.

Middlefield Road’s outdated design presents serious hazards for anyone walking across or bicycling on the street, and it even poses difficulties for car access and parking. The long crossing distances for pedestrians prevent many children and seniors from walking across the street at all, especially at unsignalized intersections. With angled parking in most places, drivers’ view of pedestrians stepping from the sidewalk into the street is often blocked by parked vehicles, and drivers can’t see approaching traffic while backing out of a parking space.

The street’s five-foot-wide sidewalks, narrowed even further by power line poles, make walking in groups uncomfortable and don’t allow restaurants and cafes to provide outdoor seating as in the neighboring downtowns of Redwood City, Menlo Park, and Palo Alto. Utilities were placed underground and sidewalks widened in the downtown retail districts of those cities long ago to attract shoppers and diners.

A four-to-three lane conversion would open up room for wider sidewalks and bike lanes. Since the center lanes are often used by left-turning vehicles in the current design, converting them into one center left-turn lane should actually help traffic flow more smoothly, since drivers won’t have to weave as much.

Read more…

1 Comment

San Jose Candidates Seek Bike Votes in Tomorrow’s Primaries

An estimated 1,800 people participated in the most recent San Jose Bike Party, seen here on Hedding Street’s buffered bike lanes, on May 16. Photo: Andrew Boone

Tomorrow, San Jose voters will choose which of the candidates running for mayor, or for five of the city’s ten council seats, will proceed to run-off elections in November. San Jose’s growing bicycle advocacy community has put the spotlight on which candidates have made commitments to a bike-friendlier city, and many candidates have responded by courting the increasingly influential “bike vote.”

Six candidates, or their representatives, spoke to the crowd at the San Jose Bike Party on May 16 to tout their pro-bike credentials: Don Gagliardi, Sam Liccardo, Dave Cortese, Pierluigi Oliverio, Kathy Sutherland, and Susan Marsland. The San Jose Bike Party, the Bay Area’s first Bike Party, rolls out on the third Friday of every month and attracts about 1,000 to 4,000 participants.

To help voters determine which candidates would do the most to improve conditions for walking and bicycling in San Jose, I helped to moderate a volunteer initiative called I Walk I Bike I Vote, which used a questionnaire to evaluate and endorse candidates. Richard Masoner at Cyclelicious has also published endorsements based on traffic safety and bicycling issues and includes his own predictions for the June 3 primary election.

Read more…

55 Comments

Clipper Card Upgrade Could Bring Seamless Regional Travel, Or Not

Transit riders can transfer between BART, Caltrain, and SamTrans bus services at the Millbrae Transit Center, but riders must pay each transit agency’s full fare. Photo: BART

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission will soon renew its contract for Clipper, the Bay Area’s “all-in-one transit card.” Transit advocates are urging MTC to use the opportunity to create a more seamless fare system, and remove barriers that could allow Clipper payments on both the region’s transit agencies and “first-and-last-mile” trip services.

Transit riders can currently use the Clipper card to pay fares on the Bay Area’s seven largest transit agencies (Muni, BART, AC Transit, VTA, Caltrain, SamTrans, Golden Gate) and the San Francisco Bay Ferry, and it’s set to include several other smaller transit agencies by 2016. While using a single card is certainly more convenient for customers whose trips take them across seemingly arbitrary transit agency service boundaries, it hasn’t made those trips faster or more affordable.

“Take the trip from U.C. Berkeley to Stanford: important destinations that are both inherently walkable places with daytime populations in the tens of thousands,” SPUR Transportation Policy Director Ratna Amin wrote in a blog post last week. “It’s logical to think they’d be linked by high-quality transit connections. But even during the morning rush hour, this trip takes nearly two hours.” It also costs $10.10, or about $400/month for a weekday commuter.

Clipper transit card reader

Clipper transit card reader. Photo: Dan Honda/San Jose Mercury News

“In other regions where transit works better, you don’t have to think about what brand of transit you’re taking or who operates it,” said Adina Levin, co-founder of Friends of Caltrain. “And you don’t pay a lot extra to take different brands.”

Even many shorter trips are either cost-prohibitive or time-prohibitive on transit. A one-way trip during rush hour between Daly City and Menlo Park, located 25 miles apart in San Mateo County, takes under an hour via BART and Caltrain, but costs $8.80. SamTrans’ ECR route is available for just $2, but takes about 2.5 hours. By car it takes just 45 minutes during rush hour, and for less than half the BART + Caltrain fare in gas money. Residents who can’t afford $17.60/day in transit fare and also can’t afford five hours of travel time drive instead for such trips, adding significantly to traffic congestion on the Bay Area’s highways.

“The Bay Area needs a regional transit fare policy… that doesn’t penalize customers who transfer between systems,” wrote Egon Terplan, SPUR’s regional planning director, as part of the urban think tank’s “Six Ideas for Saving Bay Area Transit.”

One proposal by MTC that would at least reduce the transfer penalty is a standard 50-cent fare discount that transit riders would receive when transferring between transit agencies. Although such a small discount won’t boost transit ridership, it would at least remove one barrier to regional fare integration by making discounts the default type of fare agreement between transit agencies in the Bay Area. Another MTC proposal is to enable future Clipper cards to charge passengers daily and/or monthly fare maximums. This would be similar to existing daily and monthly passes, except that riders wouldn’t have to “commit” to any minimum number of trips, or even sign up to receive a discount for heavy transit use. This concept could be expanded to apply to trips between transit agencies, thus creating creating daily and monthly regional transit passes.

Read more…

10 Comments

Eyes on the Street: East Palo Alto’s First Sharrows

Sharrows on Woodland Avenue in East Palo Alto

New sharrows installed on part of Woodland Avenue in East Palo Alto are the Woodland neighborhood’s very first bicycle infrastructure. Photo: Andrew Boone

When East Palo Alto repaved Woodland Avenue between Newell Avenue and West Bayshore Road in late March, one half-mile of the city’s bumpiest pothole-filled street was suddenly transformed into its smoothest one, complete with new striping and well-placed sharrows on top. City planners hope the sharrows will help residents bike and drive more predictably on Woodland’s streets, almost all of which are too narrow to accommodate both parallel-parked cars and bike lanes.

They may just be stencils, but the new sharrows are the first in East Palo Alto, and the very first bicycle infrastructure of any kind in the high-density Woodland neighborhood west of Highway 101. Most of the city’s multi-family housing has been built in this narrow slice of land that San Mateo County allowed developers to build without sidewalks, before the area incorporated and became part of East Palo Alto.

High population density, poor transit service, narrow streets, and missing sidewalks mean that people walking or bicycling must share the road with car traffic volumes that are very high for a residential neighborhood. Woodland Avenue carries 3,300 cars per day, including a significant proportion of cut-through traffic comprising drivers seeking a faster route to Highway 101 than University Avenue during the evening rush hour.

Woodland Avenue, East Palo Alto, Before March 2014 Repaving

Woodland Avenue east of Newell Road was full of potholes and had no stripes or markings of any kind before its resurfacing in March 2014. Photo: Google Maps

Read more…

No Comments

Silicon Valley’s First “Bike to Shop Day” Set for May 17

Bike Trailer at Trader Joes

It’s rare for cities in Silicon Valley to accommodate cycling shoppers with adequate parking. Photo: Janet Lafleur

Planning to build on the wave of enthusiasm for bike commuting generated each May by Bike to Work Day, transportation and health advocates in Silicon Valley are promoting a spin-off called Bike to Shop Day on Saturday, May 17, to encourage people to shop by bike at local businesses.

Retail businesses offering discounts to bicycling customers are shown on a smartphone-friendly map on the event’s website. organizers expect many more to sign up in the three weeks remaining before the event. Any retail business located in San Mateo County or Santa Clara County that can offer some type of discount to customers who arrive by bicycle is eligible to participate. Shoppers are encouraged to upload photos of their bikes in action – carrying groceries or other items — to win gift certificates and other prizes.

“For the past 20 years, Bike to Work Day has achieved huge success motivating people to hop on bikes for their work commutes, including me,” said bicycle lifestyle blogger Janet Lafleur, who created Bike to Shop Day in collaboration with the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition (SVBC). “Now it’s time to do the same for their shopping and errand trips that are shorter and easier for most people than commuting to work.”

Lafleur, a marketing professional who writes two urban cycling blogs, Bike Fun and One Woman, Many Bicycles, called for a National Bike to Shop Day last month to promote shopping by bicycle. She came up with the idea after it became clear that Mountain View was simply disregarding the need to improve access and parking for bicycles as part of expansion plans for the San Antonio Shopping Center.

“I can’t see people biking to shop here,” said a planning commissioner at a city meeting on the project. ”Shopping is all about driving your SUV to the store and filling it up.”

Read more…

37 Comments

What Drives the Google Bus?

Forget measuring carbon emissions and counting blocked Muni buses. The real meaning of the Google bus is the deeper illness it reveals – a co-dependent relationship in which sprawl and gentrification reinforce each other.

The Google campus in sprawling Mountain View. Photo: Austin McKinley/Wikipedia

Tech companies don’t run buses just to please their city-loving engineers. Silicon Valley land use makes them do it.

The Valley’s upscale towns welcome prestigious firms like Google and Apple. Their offices yield ample tax revenue, and residents like the short commute. But housing those who work there is another matter. Zoning keeps apartments out – they would dent the exclusivity of single-family suburbs – and new hires are forced into long commutes.

This building pattern creates a transportation problem. In sprawling suburbs transit attracts few riders on its own; it’s rarely as convenient as the automobile. But the roads couldn’t handle all the traffic if everyone drove long distances to the big office complexes. Local governments insist that companies must make active efforts to entice their employees out of cars.

Thus the Google bus. But the bus can’t go just anywhere. Sending it to Los Altos Hills or Atherton would be a wasted effort, because houses there are too far apart for riders to gather at a stop. Mass transit needs masses, and the bus travels to the densely packed neighborhoods of San Francisco.

There’s no conspiracy here. Younger software engineers, like lots of people their age, enjoy urban living, and they’re moving to the city on their own.

What the bus does is let Silicon Valley keep this trend at bay. The Valley preserves the suburban look of its towns by building offices without housing their occupants. The workforce, unable to find the walkable neighborhoods they want near their jobs, flocks to the ones in San Francisco.

The influx drives city rents up, turning run-down districts into islands of affluence. City-dwellers, attacking the symptom of the disease rather than the cause, limit new building and send housing prices even higher. An exclusionary arms race ensues, and a growing population is pushed into the farthest reaches of the metropolis

Gentrification enables sprawl, and sprawl begets more rapid gentrification. Neither can be controlled without breaking the cycle. City and suburb alike should embrace the urbanism that is in such great demand and in such short supply by creating walkable neighborhoods for everyone who wants to live in one.

Ben Ross is the author of the new book Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism. He will speak at a SPUR lunchtime forum about his book on May 1.

103 Comments

Longer Trains May Be No Match for Growing Caltrain Crowds

Caltrain’s rush hour trains have never been more crowded, which isn’t just uncomfortable for riders — it also discourages potential commuters who instead drive along Peninsula highways, and makes rides more difficult for elderly passengers and riders with disabilities. Commuters could see some relief in 2015, when Caltrain plans to extend the length of some of its trains, but the crunch won’t end any time soon if ridership trends continue.

During a typical weekday on Caltrain, the number of trains with more passengers than seats (with passengers left standing) has increased from just two during summer 2010 to over ten trains in summer 2013. The agency estimates that standees account for 10 to 20 percent of passengers on the busiest winter trains, and 30 to 40 percent during the summer.

Caltrain lacks dedicated areas for standing and has no rails or handles to hold on to, so standing on Caltrain is more difficult than on other rail transit systems such as BART. Caltrain’s cars are designed to maximize seats, with about 650 on each train, making it easy for commuters to read or work on laptops.

With Caltrain attracting about 4,300 new weekday riders every year since 2010, ridership will reach almost 60,000 on weekdays this summer, and could surpass 75,000 by 2018.

Read more…