San Mateo Adopts Vision Zero and LOS Reform With Sustainable Streets Plan

A future four-lane El Camino Real through downtown San Mateo with wider sidewalks and raised bike lanes, as envisioned by the city’s new Sustainable Streets Plan. Image: City of San Mateo

With the adoption of its Sustainable Streets Plan on Tuesday, San Mateo’s City Council has embraced several major transportation policy reforms, including Vision Zero and reforming car-oriented street design and development practices.

The Sustainable Streets Plan lays out detailed design guidelines for complete streets, envisioning “a transportation system that is sustainable, safe, and healthy and supports a sense of community and active living, where walking, bicycling, and transit are integral parts of daily life.”

San Mateo is now the third city in California to adopt a Vision Zero policy (after San Francisco and Los Angeles), committing to eliminating traffic deaths in near future.

Typically, between two and four people are killed and 40 people are injured by car drivers while walking in San Mateo each year. Most collisions occur in “hot spots” at major intersections downtown and along El Camino Real.

“No loss of life is acceptable,” said City Council Member Joe Goethals. “We can do better, and this plan is the road to doing better… My biggest criticism is the talk about this taking decades and decades. It can happen faster than that.”

Under Vision Zero, San Mateo staff are instructed to review the locations and causes of traffic collisions every year, and propose street and/or sidewalk modifications “to improve walking and bicycling conditions at intersections with the highest rates of collisions.”

The plan also calls for some specific street redesigns, including a sweeping overhaul of El Camino Real from 2nd Avenue to 9th Avenue through downtown San Mateo.

San Mateo’s new Sustainable Streets Plan recommends road diets and bike lanes for several city streets, including El Camino Real (top) and San Mateo Drive (bottom). Image: City of San Mateo

The plan calls for a six-to-four lane road diet on this stretch of El Camino, which is already four lanes wide immediately north of 2nd Avenue. The redesigned street would feature 15-foot wide sidewalks “to provide space for street trees and Green Street treatments” and raised protected bike lanes in both directions.

Road diets are also recommended for San Mateo Drive, Concar Drive, and J Hart Clinton Drive to improve safety for people walking and bicycling by reducing vehicle speeds.

City planners are currently seeking $400,000 from the county’s City/County Association of Governments (C/CAG) for the $1.4 million San Mateo Drive road diet/streetscape project, and will pitch the funding request to the agency on February 26.

Recognizing the long-term negative impacts that “widening roads or adding dedicated turn lanes to increase auto capacity” has on public health, safety, and mobility, the Sustainable Streets Plan also recommends scrapping the city’s use of automobile Level of Service (LOS) in its development and environmental review processes. Similar reforms are on track to become standard in California cities, but San Mateo isn’t waiting.

The plan identifies a specific alternative metric to LOS — the amount people drive per capita. The switch would mean that instead of making more room for cars in a bid to reduce delays for motorists, city policy will focus on minimizing driving. The plan also states that transportation impact fees (TIFs) collected from future commercial and residential development projects will be directed toward traffic safety improvements, and away from expanding roadway capacities for car traffic.

People walking in San Mateo are most likely to be struck by drivers downtown and along El Camino Real, according to the city’s collision data. Image: City of San Mateo

“The old notion used to be that if you had increased congestion on a street, the only answer was to build more street,” said City Council Member David Lim. “It’s something called induced demand — all you do is encourage more people to drive, so you really haven’t solved the problem.”

The Sustainable Streets Plan cites a 2008 report showing that less than one percent of the funds generated by the city’s TIF were scheduled to be spent on bike and pedestrian transportation projects. By assessing the fee based on projections of vehicle trips generated by new development projects, a financial incentive would be created to minimize traffic by providing free transit passes, unbundling parking fees from rent, and providing car-share services. San Francisco is planning a similar overhaul, but it’s been put on hold for the state’s LOS reforms.

“A community thrives when it plans for the future,” wrote Greenbelt Alliance Regional Director Michele Beasley in a letter of support [PDF]. “Recent demographic shifts point to the need to create streets that are safe for people who choose to walk, ride their bike, and take transit.”

Next, city transportation planners are to incorporate the goals and policies of the adopted Sustainable Streets Plan into the city’s General Plan, to be updated after an extensive public planning process beginning later this year.

  • sebra leaves

    This sounds like San Francisco rhetoric. These people don’t want to solve the congestion problem they want to exacerbate it.

  • Sprague

    Are you suggesting that congestion will be solved by building wider roadways? Many car trips are of short distances (ie. a few miles or less) and such short distances are well served by bicycling or walking. Downtown San Mateo and nearby neighborhoods are wonderfully flat and ideally suited to bicycling and walking. El Camino Real and some other San Mateo streets have decent bus service. If more people opt not to drive and choose instead to bike or walk (enticed by a greater sense of safety when doing so), automobile congestion will decrease.

  • Sprague

    Thank you to San Mateo city officials for their work on this plan and their vision to approve it. As I understand the plan, bike lanes will be created on North San Mateo Drive. This is a great bike route and seems like the perfect street to have bike lanes (ideally protected) – including on California Drive, all the way from the Millbrae BART/Caltrain station through Burlingame, which then becomes San Mateo Drive. Automobile traffic on this route always seems rather light, making both a road diet and bike lanes that much more feasible and much less controversial.

  • Gezellig

    Nah, it’s reality-based rhetoric–shared by all those who use actual quantifiable and demonstrable data and metrics to inform public policy instead of misguided and disprovable perceptions:'s_paradox

    Btw, I don’t think he’s from San Francisco.

  • It’s not clear how a program from Sweden that stresses data-driven iterative enhancement and has been adopted in multiple cities is “San Francisco rhetoric.”

    If you need a crash course in what the word rhetoric means, using examples actually from San Francisco, you should review the campaign literature for last November’s massive failure known as Prop L, and try to find any shred of actual substance in it. The part that’s not substance (including an endorsement by an Internet blog commenter’s anonymous handle) is what’s known as rhetoric.

  • Scott

    Congrats to San Mateo! Let’s hope they can see this through relatively quickly!

  • Vision Zero is being adopted by cities around the world to reduce the “number of injuries and deaths caused by reckless, careless drivers.

    Were motorists more careful (just this last Friday a mother and child were hit by a driver in an SUV running a red light) and were not the leading cause of death for children under 5 for four decades then Cities like SF, New York, San Mateo, Seattle, Portland, Boston, San Mateo, etc. wouldn’t need to adopt a Vision Zero policy.

    The most cursory of Google searches turned up this site stating that the three states which have decided to take safety seriously have seen a significant improvement.

    The three U.S. states that have adopted the model – Minnesota, Utah, and Washington – all have experienced a 40 percent or more reduction in traffic fatalities.

  • If anyone’s going to borrow anyone else’s rhetoric, SF could follow Seattle’s lead and reduce the speed limit for traffic, but not for transit.

    This link refers to a segment of Seattle’s light-rail system where the trains have a dedicated right of way in the median and I can imagine something very similar here where Muni lines have their own, separated lanes like the N-Judah on some of the surface or Van Ness BRT will have.

  • DG

    Palo Alto is the setting the paradigm, and Stanford is the best example on the San Francisco Peninsula but personally I only ride if I have to in San Mateo because in the North Central San Mateo area between Claremont and Delaware and First Avenue and Tilton Avenue, (the oldest house sits on 1st Avenue and Delaware), the victorian rooming house still standing on the 00 North Claremont Street, it use to be a rest stop for the pony express), and the streets were all designed and constructed before automobiles and in-fact all the streets around me Tilton Avenue Claremont Street and Delaware and 1st Avenue, the streets are in the oldest part of the city. and because the neighborhood is lower economic, our neighborhood gets short shrift, (they relocated the Downtown San Mateo CalTrain Station closer to our neighborhood (not for the good of the neighborhood but because of the gridlock that it would create in the downtown), they built a large vehicle parking garage at the Caltrain station and we have more automobile circulation which creates more volume of traffic through our neighborhood). San Mateo has hired the Alta group to design a Bicycle plan for the rest of the city but they’ve relocated the station for automobile circulation to run automobiles through our neighborhood.


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