San Mateo County Supes Vote to Fund Bike/Ped Coordinator, SamTrans

Redwood City - San Carlos Border
Heading north on Old County Road in Redwood City, this bike lane ends abruptly at the San Carlos border. Piecemeal bicycle routes such as this are common in San Mateo County. Image: Google Maps

The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to approve $10 million to boost SamTrans service and $156,000 to create a new full-time bicycle and pedestrian coordinator position over the next two years. The funds come from Measure A, a ten-year, half-cent sales tax approved by voters last November, which is expected to generate $64 million this year.

The approval will allow the San Mateo County City/County Association of Governments (C/CAG) to hire a full-time bike/ped coordinator to oversee the implementation of the county’s Comprehensive Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan, which was adopted in 2011.

Advocates have long pointed to the lack of coordination among the county’s 20 cities and towns as a major barrier to implementing improvements for walk and bicycling in San Mateo County. Former C/CAG Executive Director Richard Napier, who retired in December after 17 years of leading the agency, had been opposed to hiring a bike/ped coordinator because, he argued, the existing level of staffing was sufficient to support active transportation projects.

“Cyclists want to see bike routes that are contiguous, and designs that are consistent,” said Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition Deputy Director Colin Heyne, adding that the future bike/ped coordinator would provide a “single, accessible resource to explain and move forward funding, design, and coordination priorities” for bicycle and pedestrian projects. In a letter to the Board of Supervisors, the SVBC pointed out that Alameda, Marin, San Francisco, and Santa Clara counties all “employ staff in a similar bicycle/pedestrian coordinator capacity.”

Bob Page, a Woodside resident who has commuted by bicycle in San Mateo County for 40 years, says that cycling has become more difficult over time as traffic has increased and cities have install more traffic signals and wider roads while bicycling conditions go neglected. “The county, with its 21 jurisdictions, makes it difficult to develop regional bikeways,” he said. “A coordinator at the county level can do a lot to facilitate and promote inter-jurisdictional facilities, which are badly needed.”

San Mateo County Key Corridors
Many gaps remain in San Mateo County's "Key Corridors" -- routes identified as high priorities for installing bicycle facilities -- which prevent most residents from bicycling for transportation. Image: 2011 San Mateo County Comprehensive Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan

At the board meeting, Adrienne Tissier was the only supervisor who commented on the proposal to fund the position. “What’s really important to me is [to hire] somebody that really understands the bicycle community, understands the routes, knows our cities, and can help cities design things are safe,” she said.

The board also approved $10 million in Measure A funds for SamTrans over the next two fiscal years. With major budget deficits over the past several years, the agency could have faced a complete shutdown of service by 2015.

“SamTrans continues to struggle with a budget shortfall, despite cost-cutting measures,” wrote County Manager John Maltbie in a staff report. “Without a subsidy, it would face the elimination of fixed bus routes as well as reductions to other services, including paratransit.”

In order to avoid massive cuts to its bus services in 2011, SamTrans stopped contributing funds from its operating budget to Caltrain, and has since then only contributed those funds generated by a half-cent county sales tax that are designated for Caltrain. The commuter rail service has been able to avoid its own service cuts by using a variety of one-time funds which are not expected to be available next year.

In SamTrans current $124 million operating budget, the agency has whittled its structural budget deficit down to $1 million through a variety of other measures, including reductions in employee benefits, hiring and salary freezes, and the refinancing of long-term debt.

Samtrans Bus
Samtrans officials say the agency needs additional funding to avoid cutting bus service in the future. Photo: Saito S/Flickr

“SamTrans’ primary responsibility is to provide bus service in San Mateo County,” said Christine Dunn, a public information officer for the agency. “We have to be able to do that, and balance that charge with also being a responsible partner in Caltrain.”

SamTrans will provide more frequent bus service – every 15 minutes along El Camino Real beginning August 12 – and will implement several other changes to its bus routes next January, eliminating routes with very low ridership, consolidating routes, and increasing service on more popular routes. SamTrans hopes these changes will increase ridership and provide the agency with a more stable financial future.

With the additional $10 million in funding allocated on Tuesday, SamTrans expects to avoid making any cuts to its bus or paratransit services in the near term, and may be able to restore its contribution to Caltrain as well, although those budget decisions will not be finalized until next June.

“This doesn’t solve all of SamTrans’s problems, and therefore Caltrain’s problems,” said Mark Simon, SamTrans executive officer for public affairs. “But it puts us in a better a position to deal with those problems.”

  • Anonymous

    Speaking of the upcoming Samtrans service changes, I just took an ECR (weekend only) bus from SoSF to Burl’ – upon alightighting, I read at the bus stop that the ECR will replace the 390 and 391, so it becomes a seven-day a week bus. Good news – one schedule instead of three!

  • Sarah Funes

    Cutting the small routes will make paratransit aka readiwheels more overwhelmed because people with disabilities that had been able to make connections using those smaller routes will no longer be able to. Readiwheels is a broken system. No matter how much people who usecomplain nothing changes. As forECR running 7 days a week I’m still concerned that it does not stop in SSF BART nor San Bruno BART. it’s a safety concern and too far to walk to El Camino.

  • Andy Chow

    I’ve been serving on the SamTrans CAC for the past 9 years (and recently left the committee). I think the consolidation to a single El Camino route is a good thing despite the compromises that had to be made.

    The reason that there are multiple routes on El Camino is because for decades, there are separate bus routes running up and down El Camino, partly due to the legacy of the Greyhound routes prior to SamTrans. However these separate routes cause rider confusion and create operational difficulty. On the other hand, there’s no easy way to consolidating those two routes without making compromises and testing it on riders.

    The first part is how to route the bus to serve the Mission Street/Evergreen bus stop and Daly City BART. The Mission Street stop is important because of the Muni 14/14L/14X connection. The route finally chosen is not perfect but acceptable (adding a few minutes for riders to and from Daly City BART). Riders will have more frequent connection either at BART or Mission Street.

    As a part of that, service to SF will have to be discontinued. However there’s plenty of options along the corridor, and SamTrans isn’t productive there because it can’t carry local trips in SF.

    As for not stopping at the bus bays at SSF and San Bruno BART, it is one of those compromises that have to be made. The current 390 and 391 arrangements isn’t really better. There are 5 BART stations along the route and 3 of them would have direct transfer. Daly City and Colma both have far more bus connections. At SSF station, bus transfer is inconvenient (because some of the buses stop on the other side of the BART station separated by fare gates). The BART station in San Bruno has too many stop lights away from El Camino and adds too much travel time. Other buses serving those stations also have stops closer to El Camino where bus to bus transfers can be made.

    Yes it requires a walk from the BART stations but the stop would be served by all the buses. The current arrangement requires you to read the schedule and then decide where to go, and sometimes you get to one stop and see a that you could take not serving your stop.

  • Anonymous

    No wonder we all “need” cars… with useless transit like this.

  • Andy Chow

    El Camino routes are the most productive routes in the SamTrans system. What the agency is doing is to make it better. Compared to Muni, SamTrans buses are cleaner and better maintained, and actually have published schedules that it can stick to.

  • Elizabeth

    I live in San Mateo county… at least Tuesday through Friday, and work in Santa Clara county. In the past week, I have cycled in Menlo Park, Redwood city, Palo Alto, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Berkeley, and San Francisco.

    It’s ironic that Redwood city is shown in the photo as an example of bike infrastructure since that city is the worst for bicycling. Redwood city is less than 0.5 % bike commuters and with good reason. If redwood city has a bike plan, I cannot find it. Bicycling from Menlo Park north to Redwood city, also in San Mateo, is difficult. I’d like to go to Redwood city for restaurants, the library, and the movies, but it’s not easy to get to downtown. It’s too far to walk and I am tired of driving. Parking is plentiful but it’s confusing and I even got stuck inside one of their parking lots even though I had paid, it would not let me out. Buses are infrequent and they even took the bus route number off the nearest bus stop although I’ve heard it still stops there? Buses are free for me from my company, but I rarely use it. Bicycling is easier. I’ve considered bicycling to the Menlo Park caltrain, then taking the train to Redwood city, but that seems silly since the Redwood city station is about the same distance from my house.

    On the other hand, Palo Alto has 10% bike share, and both Menlo Park (and Berkeley) have about 9%. Parts of San Mateo and Santa Clara county have a much better chance of gaining 20% bike share than San Francisco. Mountain View is about the same as Portland, but is trying to catch up to Palo Alto. It’s fairly easy to bicycle from Menlo Park to Palo Alto and then on to Mountain View. I saw a woman with a cargo bike and two little girls recently in Menlo Park and think that’s great.

    Hopefully, they hire someone very good such similar to Mia Birk or Janette Sadik-Khan. El Camino is a death trap for pedestrians and bicycles crossing it, so that should be the first priority. Caltrans, which controls El Camino, apparently does not care about public safety. As San Mateo county has 700,000 + people and Santa Clara County has 1.8 million, perhaps a coordinated effort will allow them to have more bargaining power to stop the state of California from creating road conditions (too fast, too wide streets, badly timed/controlled traffic lights) that are more likely to get people simply crossing the street killed. Middlefield has the potential to be a truly great place to bicycle in Redwood city, but no effort has gone into it. it’s very wide and would have lots of room for a protected bike path. But there is nothing, so people cycle on the sidewalks.

  • Elizabeth

    Andy, they took 296 off some of the bus stop signs on Middlefield. I assumed it no longer stopped there. However, someone told me they called and 296 does still stop there. Why on earth would they take 296 off the sign? it makes no sense. Bicycling is more fun anyway and takes a little less time, but I may still need to use the bus every once in a while.

    I once asked a bus driver why they were so much nicer than Muni drivers. He said that San Francisco gets the same number of people in a day as other bus companies farther south get in a month.

  • Anonymous

    Compared to Muni, SamTrans buses are cleaner and better maintained.

    Not a heavy lift when a single MUNI route has more ridership than the entire SamTrans system.

    And actually have published schedules that it can stick to.

    Oh yes, it does. I arrive at Redwood City Caltrain and know that the bus I want to transfer to will be promptly on schedule. 28 minutes from now, on the dot!

  • Anonymous

    “I’ve considered bicycling to the Menlo Park caltrain, then taking the
    train to Redwood city, but that seems silly since the Redwood city
    station is about the same distance from my house”

    Not to mention that the fare from Menlo Park to Redwood City is $5 to go what, 3 miles?

    Middlefield has the potential to be a truly great place to bicycle in
    Redwood city, but no effort has gone into it. it’s very wide and would
    have lots of room for a protected bike path. But there is nothing, so
    people cycle on the sidewalks.

    Well now you just sound like Mike Sonn.

  • Elizabeth

    If you have a monthly caltrain, an extra trip costs no more. Who is Mike Sonn?

  • Andy Chow

    You can always contact SamTrans customer service to report it, or contact the CAC.

  • Ted King

    At SSF station, bus transfer is inconvenient (because some of the buses stop on the other side of the BART station separated by fare gates).

    I agree with the word “inconvenient”. But there is a walkway and ramp combination at the northwestern end of the station, about halfway to McLellan Dr. So you don’t have to go through the fare gates unless you want to pay an excursion fare.

    Google Maps search string : bart station,south san francisco,ca
    P.S. You may have to zoom in a lot to see the station. Streetview wasn’t available – no data.

  • mikesonn

    Middlefield does suck, but that part is unincorporated county, not Redwood City

  • Andy Chow

    I know there’s a walkway, but that walkway is quite far from the faregates and where the buses stop. The point is that for those people who are transferring between buses, they can and should transfer somewhere else close that are more convenient. If you have to pick one of the BART stations to skip to maintain travel time this would be one of them.

  • Ted King

    That’s why I agreed with the “inconvenient” part. But there was an implication of no connection between the two sides of the station in your comment (separated by fare gates vs. separated by fare gates requiring a pedestrian dogleg to the NW).

    I also agree with trimming the loops at SSF and SB stations. Those loops, especially the SB one, wasted quite a bit of time for only limited convenience.

    P.S. I’m a long time rider of SFMuni and neighboring systems. I remember the Greyhound depot on Seventh Street in San Francisco. IIRC the predecessors to the 390 / 391 were the 5M and the 7B.

  • Elizabeth

    Thank you. I went over there to look yesterday and the sign had been corrected at some point.

  • Elizabeth

    It’s possible that you know San Mateo County geography better than I do. However, I thought it was unincorporated county between 8th and the train tracks, and then Redwood city after that? I may try a route using the pedestrian bridge over Woodside, but it’s roundabout.

  • Elizabeth

    Actually, you are partly right. Redwood city is a different zone, and an upgrade midweek would be $2.

  • mikesonn

    The other option is to go all the way up to Bay, which is a joke. Middlefield needs to be addressed.

    Elizabeth, contact Warren Slocum. He is your supervisor and it sounds like he wants to really work with the North Fair Oaks community to improve Middlefield.

  • Andy Chow

    Actually 390 was 5L and 391 was 5M, and 292 was 7B. Before 2002, there was a single timetable for both routes. Before the Colma BART opened in 1996, every trip on the 5M went to Downtown San Francisco. During day time, 5M ended at Hillsdale. 5L didn’t operate at night so at those times 5M went to Palo Alto, which meant that at those times you could ride on a single local bus from downtown SF all the way to Palo Alto. Until 2002, 5M was operated by contract drivers and 5L was directly operated. Some of the contract drivers played games by running late and running behind the 5L and had the 5L drivers picking up passengers.

  • Ted King

    Thanks for the refresher course.

    When exactly did SamTrans come up its neat sector system (1 through 8 going down the peninsula, 9 for multi-sector) for bus route numbering ? Do you have any links to renumbering announcements ? (It’s one of my gripes about the web that there’s a scarcity of in-house archives.)

    I remember living in San Bruno during the 1990’s and having a direct connection from Long’s Drugs on ECR (just off So. Spruce) over to San Bruno Ave. near 3rd Ave. and then grumbling over the distances between stops while hauling groceries home. That and the fun of reverse commuting to San Carlos, sometimes by Caltrain, other times by SamTrans.

  • Andy Chow

    In 1999 when SamTrans made a large service change, partly prompted by the BART SFO extension which was under construction. The numbering system is good so it should stay for the next big system change scheduled for this summer and next January.

  • Elizabeth

    Thanks Mike. That’s a good idea.

  • mikesonn

    If we get residents to stand up and ask for change, we have a good shot at getting it. Really, I should be thanking you, Elizabeth.

  • Anonymous


    This is a cool new app with real time information and location of trains for caltrain


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