Brisbane Baylands Mega Development Plans for Mega Car Traffic

Both of the proposed designs of an 8-lane Geneva Avenue extension include pedestrian-hostile crossing distances of 120 feet at intersections. Image: City of Brisbane
Both of the proposed designs of an 8-lane Geneva Avenue extension include pedestrian-hostile crossing distances of 120 feet at intersections. Image: City of Brisbane

As the City of Brisbane agonizes over how little housing to include in a new mixed-use mega development to be built around a relocated Bayshore Caltrain Station, proposals to sink over $300 million into a new 12-lane Highway 101 interchange and an eight-lane extension of Geneva Avenue remain uncontroversial.

If approved, 7 million square feet of new office and retail space will be built on a huge abandoned rail yard and municipal dump, attracting an estimated 15,500 to 17,500 weekday workers. A proposed 4,434 new residential units would house around 9,900 new residents, although the inclusion of these housing units have proven the most controversial aspect of the plan.

Despite pitching the Brisbane Baylands as a transit-oriented community featuring an “improved street network to minimize traffic volume,” city planners assume that even in 2030, 80 percent of the development’s work trips and 70 percent of non-work trips will be made by automobile. 80 percent of visitors arriving at a 17,000-seat entertainment arena are also expected to arrive by car.

These mode shares are based on recent travel patterns observed around other Caltrain stations, which Brisbane simply assumes will remain unchanged for the next 14 years. Such an assumption ignores the reality that faster and more frequent electric trains, which Caltrain hopes to be running by 2021, will shift more trips to transit. Continued bike improvements will also contribute to mode shift.

A new 12-lane Highway 101 interchange to accommodate auto traffic planned for the Brisbane Baylands and Candlestick Point developments would cost over $200 million. Image: SFMTA
A new 12-lane 101 interchange, to accommodate auto traffic planned for the Brisbane Baylands and Candlestick Point developments, would cost over $200 million. Image: SFMTA

Brisbane’s Baylands plan maximizes auto traffic by building mostly wide, mutli-lane streets within the new development, expanding major intersections within Brisbane, and by connecting a wide new Geneva Avenue to a massively overbuilt Highway 101 interchange. On top of crossing eight lanes of auto and bus traffic spanning 120 feet on Geneva Avenue to reach the future Bayshore Intermodal Transit Station, and climbing a new overpass on Geneva Avenue to cross the Caltrain tracks, people walking or bicycling will face a number of other built-in barriers and hazards.

“If the Geneva Extension/Overpass is intended as the main bicycle and pedestrian connection to Caltrain, this would force these vulnerable modes to use a wide, heavily-trafficked arterial and contend with voluminous on-ramp and through traffic of freeway-bound cars and trucks,” wrote the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) in its comment letter on the Bayland’s draft environmental review.

Even the development’s narrowest residential streets will be 64 feet wide, nearly twice as wide as traditional walkable neighborhood streets located near other Caltrain stations in San Mateo County. Sidewalks vary in width from six to 10 feet, while standard (non-buffered or separated) bike lanes between five and six feet wide are specified, located in the door zones of parallel parked cars.

A new 12-lane Highway 101 interchange and 8-lane extension of Geneva Avenue will help ensure an auto-dependent future for the Brisbane Baylands neighborhood. Image: City of Brisbane
A new 12-lane 101 interchange and eight-lane extension of Geneva Avenue will help ensure an auto-dependent future for the Brisbane Baylands neighborhood. Image: City of Brisbane

According to estimates [PDF] in the Bi-County Transportation Study of 2011, the proposed 12-lane interchange at Harney Way on the San Francisco-San Mateo border will cost $195 million, while building a new eight-lane Geneva Avenue from that interchange to Bayshore Boulevard will cost $90 million. A new $58 million Bayshore Intermodal Transit Station will be built south of today’s Bayshore Caltrain Station, to be served by Caltrain, an extended T-Third Street Muni Metro line, and express buses running between the Balboa Park BART Station to the west and the Hunters Point Shipyard to the northeast.

After discussing the Brisbane Baylands Plan at 24 separate meetings over the past year, the city’s Planning Commission is scheduled to issue its final recommendations to the City Council at its final review on August 25. City Council meetings to review the plan are not yet scheduled.

  • RichLL

    Wait, there are bus lanes, bike lanes, a new CalTrian station, a streetcar extension, express busses connecting to BART and the city, and you’re still not happy?

  • baklazhan

    “12-lane Highway 101”

  • RichLL

    101 is already 12 lanes in places anyway. That isn’t the change being proposed. The idea here is to expand Geneva along with its interchange with 101.

    I-5 in LA has 22 lanes before I-405 splits off. There’s a freeway in Houston with 24 lanes.

  • Ziggy Tomcich

    The real problem with this development is that it’s going to make our housing crisis worse. Providing 15,000+ new jobs while only adding 4,400+ new homes will make housing even more expensive and hard to find in the coming years. It’s not just Brisbane. Every city in the bay area is doing this. Anyone who thinks our housing is expensive now, just wait. The way things are heading, housing supply is going to get much worse.

  • SF Guest

    If you haven’t figured out what happiness means in this forum it occurs when bike lanes average moving faster than cars.

  • Rob

    as pointed out, the 12 lanes thing is the interchange. i am not sure how they get to 12 but i guess it is the sum of the number of lanes in all the on and off ramps.

    i think when counting lanes they only consider auto / bus traffic. i guess the bike lane doesn’t count as a lane nor do the sidewalks.

    there seem to be a couple of things to be unhappy about. As the article and Ziggy point out the lack of housing compared to office space — and it is unclear if there will be any housing in the final plan. while the author argues that the wide streets and limited routes to the train is not convenient for transit riders, the 30 year projection is that even in this transit community the number of people taking transit in the future is no better than it is now. here’s to 30 more years of gridlock — how can you be happy about that?

  • RichLL

    Not every city. The East Bay has made a speciality of providing more homes than they need for their workers. Overall there is balance.

    And if in the end we have higher quality residents – less welfare recipients and more elites – is that so much of a problem?

  • mx

    This is truly the worst take on the Bay Area’s housing situation I’ve ever seen. We keep adding jobs and build nowhere near enough homes to match. You really believe there’s no problem because we have “higher quality residents?”

    Fully unpacking that statement requires far more effort than you’re worth, but let’s just peek at the corners of it. I work in an office. As if by magic, somebody comes and cleans that office on a regular basis. That person, who as a human being is at least as “high quality” as me, requires a place to live, and needs to be able to afford food and other necessities after paying for housing. And since this is a transportation blog, we’ll mention that she needs to be able to get to/from work somehow, which is a problem when even small apartments hours away are so expensive.

    San Francisco cannot function as a city solely of programmers and lawyers and doctors. The city, the Bay Area as a whole, needs to work not just for “elites,” but also for a much broader group of people, including the army of workers who do things like clean and cook and stock shelves and load baggage into airplanes.

    And yet your worry is that if we build more housing, it will somehow be taken up by low quality welfare recipients.

  • Adam Klafter

    This whole article is pointless. This land is slated to become a maintenance yard for the new high speed rail project. The fact that this is not more widely known is crazy to me, especially since I have known about it for at least 6 years! It would actually be worth your time to write an article about how poor the HSR Authority and Caltrain have been in their outreach to communities on the peninsula. The fact that this land has not already been appropriated by the HSR Authority is practically criminal- If they had used eminent domain 6 years ago it would probably have cost a lot less to purchase the land– the value of land that is fully entitled for a major development will be much higher, right? Transit-oriented development is pointless and maybe even damaging in the long-term if it steals resources needed to actually improve transit.

    The Chronicle 2 months ago:

  • Ziggy Tomcich

    Horrifying! Most people don’t measure the quality of a person by their wealth. Only wealthy people do that. Yes our housing crisis is a problem that’s going to get worse because of elitist attitudes like this.

  • RichLL

    Looking at the housing situation purely in terms of San Francisco is misleading. The real city is the SF Bay Area, and “the city” is really just a part of that. I’m tempted to call it the downtown of the Bay Area although I’m conscious that San Jose has more people and Silicon Valley is the engine room of the local economy.

    So if SF doesn’t house all its workers then that isn’t necessarily a problem. Most downtowns don’t do that. Likewise if SF has very expensive housing that may not matter either because people can live elsewhere and commute – and 500,000 people do exactly that each day.

    So do we need your cleaner? Yes. Does he/she have to live in Nob Hill? No. It follows that SF can be home to mostly elites, along with those lucky enough to have a rent-controlled deal or to have bought decades ago with a very low Prop 13 basis.

    As for what kind of residents we want, reasonable people can disagree about that. But generally cities try and expand their tax base, and for that purpose knowledge workers score higher than janitors, and jobs count higher than residents. Emeryville is a good example – it has a massive tax base from all the businesses there coupled with a low population. It has the highest cop-to-resident ratio of anywhere in the East Bay (Piedmont aside, perhaps). Compare that to, say, Oakland which is adjacent and historically similar.

    There are places in the Bay Area with more homes than jobs – the East Bay. And then there are prime areas closer to the coast with more jobs and HNWI’s. But overall things are much more in balance. Nitpicking which township has too much or too little housing isn’t very helpful.

  • SF Guest

    I can’t tell if you read the link to the Brisbane article, but many Brisbane residents oppose the idea of building housing due to the toxic legacy of the property, which formerly held a rail yard and landfill and is contaminated with lead, arsenic and other toxins.

    I wouldn’t live there, and if housing is built at a toxic site there could be multiple lawsuits in the future.

  • gneiss

    This argument is spurious. The Mission Bay redevelopment project in San Francisco is similarly been built on top of an old railyard. Let’s not forget that in this location, the city has built a large hospital as well as office space and homes. The issues related to contaminated soil and water can be mitigated using engineering controls.

  • Wow, something to aspire towards…

  • 15,000-17,000+ daily workers? Come on. Talk about ridiculous projections.

    Even if you get a few thousand additional workers at this location, as someone pointed out in an earlier thread, many will be commuting from all over the Bay Area because of the higher cost of living in/near SF proper. The development going in isn’t going to attract VC firms, financial services companies, major tech firms and the like. And most of these people will drive because it’s simply easier to travel by car then navigate multiple modes of public transit.

  • RichLL

    I wasn’t judging people personally. But businesses and institutions do apply the Pareto Principle to their client base, otherwise known as the 80/20 rule. In transportation terms that means that airlines make about 80% of their profit from the 20% of passengers who sit in first or business class. When it comes to residents and taxpayers, the 20% wealthiest residents probably contribute about 80% of all taxes, as well as consuming less in expensive services.

    So I don’t blame Brisbane for skewing development in this way. And don’t forget that it was Brisbane that was tempting Twitter away from SF, causing the city to give them a tax break to stay.

    Competition between different Bay Area cities and counties can be beneficial, even though it also leads to piecemeal politics and laws, and a fragmented transit network. You see this in housing too – the subject of my comment below.

  • Jimbo

    this is awesome!! bring it on.

  • Jimbo

    101 definitely need to be widened as well

  • Jame

    Let’s forget about the characterization of the “east bay” in your arguement and talk about logistics alone. The places in the “east bay” that are most affordable to lower income workers are pretty far out. Even if you are able to afford to live in the “inner” east bay, getting to Brisbane is not an easy commute. Transit options would take at least 3 transfers and a lot of time. The highly congested drive isn’t any better.

    It makes zero sense to put all of the housing 30 miles away from the job centers, no matter what sort of housing and what sort of jobs they are. We already have a ton of traffic and congestion here. We need to make sure we can concentrate housing and work close together. Today much of the Peninsula has a 2-3 job / 1 housing unit ratio. San Mateo County is literally pushing off its share of housing to the rest of the region, contributing to traffic, pollution and income inequality. This should be unacceptable.

  • Jame

    120 feet streets of any form are a pretty terrible experience for anyone not in a car. It’ll take what, 3 minutes to get across the whole thing? If you have to walk 3 minutes to get across the street, are you going to want to walk? It doesn’t even look like you’ll have a place to wait if you can’t cross the street during that light cycle.

  • RichLL

    It’s not always true that the cheapest parts of the Bay Area are further out. Solano County is probably the cheapest and is the furthest away. But there are parts of Richmond and Oakland, both closer in and served by BART, whose housing costs per square foot are half of what they are in SF.

    The real problem is the Balkanization of the Bay Area which I discussed above. Each town can play beggar-thy-neighbor by outsourcing housing to other places, while competing aggressively for businesses. It is in their financial interest to do so, and most voters want more and better jobs close to where they live, but don’t want new housing sub-divisions in their back yard.

    What’s lacking is regional planning and a single unitary regional government. You’ve got nine counties and dozens of cities all competing with each other. The capitalist and libertarian in my loves that but if the goal is regional co-operation on housing, it doesn’t happen. It happens a little with transport – the freeway system is truly regional and BART serves several counties. While the rest remains a patchwork, hence all those transfers that you cited.

    But if the Bay Area ever became one urban area for the purpose of government, then that would be hundreds of politicians and thousands of bureaucrats who would lose their gravy train and their generous pensions. So that will never happen.

    Absent that, who can blame Brisbane for trying to boost tax revenues while minimizing the cost of providing services which, typically, is proportional to the population in your catchment area.

  • RichLL

    The problem with 101 is that the number of lanes varies. Most traffic jams happen where the number of available lanes merges either by design, because of construction, or an accident.

    So if 12 lanes is the right number let’s ensure that is for the entire length, aside from interchanges where there would have to be more.

    But as this story tells us, even 50 lanes sometimes isn’t enough as with the China example cited:

    The problem? You guessed it. The 50 lanes narrowed to 20.

  • RichLL

    There are two eight-foot central medians shown in the diagram, which is where people crossing Geneva would presumaby wait if they can’t get across in one go.

    I guess that is also where bus riders will wait given that the schematic shows the bus lanes in the center.

    Presumably anyone hoping to catch a bus will have to cross half of that 120 feet anyway. And then wait in the middle of a de facto freeway. Doesn’t sound very pleasant, I’d agree. The palm trees will look nice though, I’m sure 😉

    Presumably some pedestrian bridges would be installed?

  • murphstahoe


  • murphstahoe

    What’s going on in Brisbane has zero to do with taxes.

  • RichLL

    Seems unlikely that you are correct there, since potential and actual revenues are always considered. Can you prove that “zero” number?

  • mx

    I can assure you that decent housing in Oakland in reasonable proximity to BART is far too expensive for many workers to afford. Or do you think people are commuting from Solano County just for fun?

  • RichLL

    My research indicates that housing in Oakland is about 40% cheaper, on a per square foot basis, than San Francisco. So while you are correct that not everyone can afford Oakland, there must be a fairly large number who can afford Oakland but cannot afford San Francisco.

    The Capital Corridor service has a number of stops in Solano County and the outer part of Contra-Costa County, with more stations planned. A brief look at some apartment complexes there indicates rents starting at about $1,000 a month for a 1-bedroom. That should be affordable to those making 30K a year and up.

  • Jimbo

    it would be awesome if SF were to usurp brisbane 7×10 much better than 7×7 , and we could upzone the entire area

  • Jimbo

    great location to live for commuting to silicon valley

  • Jimbo

    oakland is pretty damn cheap for bay area

  • Jimbo

    i love pedestrian bridges. they really are cool from an aesthetic perspective

  • Jimbo

    12 lanes on 101 all the way from SF to LA would be amazing. lets do it!!!

  • mx

    They’re even better from a pedestrian perspective. Who doesn’t want to climb up a great big ramp, cross over, then climb down another one, just to get where they’re going? Everyone loves big “no pedestrian” signs guarding off intersections (and everyone always obeys said signs). Let’s build them at every intersection, wall off the sidewalks, and then drivers will never have to encounter pesky pedestrians again.

    Or, you know, we could build a place where crossing the street doesn’t require a whole set of special infrastructure.

  • RichLL

    Well, I only meant as far as Gilroy or so. And maybe south of Santa Barbara. Even I-5 only has 4 lanes where it goes through, well, nowhere.

  • RichLL

    Fair point. But if HSR ever arrives won’t we need similar pedestrian bridges to safely convey people across the HSR ROW?

    “we could build a place where crossing the street (railroad) doesn’t require a whole set of special infrastructure”. Are you saying we shouldn’t build HSR?

  • p_chazz

    Who takes the 101 to LA?

  • p_chazz

    Robots will replace most low wage jobs in the next couple of decades.

  • Rob

    why does HSR require a ped bridge where a normal train does not? In both cases the person crossing the track is dead if hit.

  • murphstahoe

    Someone who calls it “the 101”

  • murphstahoe

    HSR has to be completely grade separated.

  • davistrain

    I live in the LA area, and when I drive (rather than taking Amtrak) I often use 101–it’s more scenic and less dusty.

  • mx

    Hah! That’s been bugging me. We really need a Bay Area style guide that tells people there’s no “the” in front of highway numbers here.

  • steven meyer

    Who calls it “the 101”?

  • thielges

    I do. The extra hour is worth the nicer drive. And if Amtrak could chop a couple hours off of their run time I’d switch to that. As it is the Coast Starlight is a de facto tourist excursion train, not a serious way to travel.

  • mx

    People from LA.

  • RichLL

    Putting the definite article in front of highway numbers is common in a lot of places. Back in Jersey it was “the 1 and 9”, “the 4”, “the Parkway”, “the Turnpike”, “the Skyway” and so on.

    It’s more that San Francisco is the odd man out, rather snobbishly declining to elevate roads by ascription to a unique status.

  • RichLL

    I’ve done 101 and it’s a nicer drive, I’ll agree, but no way is it just one hour more. Depends where you’re heading from and to, of course, but on a Sunday morning I can get from downtown SF to Santa Monica in 6 hours door-to-door via I-80, I-580, I-5 and I-405. To do it in 7 hours on 101 would take some seriously aggressive and probably illegal driving.

    You’re right about Amtrak though. Ponderous.

  • p_chazz

    The Coast Star-late.

  • Jimbo

    honestly, i do like crossing them and think they are aesthetically pleasing. nice to do something different than a normal crosswalk, and my kids love them


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