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.