San Mateo City Council last week gave a favorable review to a Sustainable Streets plan that has been in the works for a couple of years. The plan covers a broad set of policy and design topics intended to evolve the city’s car-centric street network to a multi-modal place over time. The initiative to update streets design has many elements that are potentially of interest to other cities, including:
clear communication of the value of multi-modal streets
a Vision Zero goal to eliminate pedestrian and cycling deaths and reduce injuries
change the city’s method of assessing transportation impacts to Vehicle Miles Traveled, in aligning with the new state environmental law
proposed update to the city’s Transportation Impact Fee so that new development pays for multi-modal improvements instead of mostly road-widening
proposals for major multi-modal improvements on key streets, including El Camino Real
expansion of the city’s Transportation Demand Management policy citywide, including a policy recommending paid parking within a half-mile of good transit
a “green streets” policy promoting the use of street landscaping to reduce water pollution and alleviate flooding
Among the components that may be of interest to other cities is the clear explanation of the reasoning behind the goals of the plan. The clear communication is of a piece with the methodical process of community education that helped to create the plan. A “Taste and Talk” series of lectures and discussions, with snacks from local businesses, covered topics including green streets, bike and pedestrian support, transportation and land use connections, and more. Several participants came to support the plan when it was up for Council review.
The overview section of the report addresses topics such as:
Can multi-modal transportation make a difference in how people travel? “A significant share of the daily trips in the United States are quite short. On urban roads, nearly 30% of trips are shorter than one mile and 50% are shorter than three miles. Distances under a mile are easily traveled by foot or bicycle, and 72% of these trips are taken by vehicles.” Increase bicycling and walking mode share for trips under 1 mile to 30% by 2020.
How can street safety be improved? The draft plan explains that survival rates for pedestrians and cyclists are directly related to the speed of vehicle travel. The speed or travel isn’t just an enforcement issue – drivers tend to drive at the speeds encouraged by street design. Designing streets for slower driving saves lives.
How to avoid making streets less safe? Conventional methods of transportation planning have historically made transportation more and more challenging without a car. Widening roads in an attempt to prevent future congestion is a recipe for more driving and congestion “it takes fewer than five years for additional local roadway capacity to be 90% occupied by new traffic. State highway expansions in California have also shown that new capacity will be about 70% occupied in fewer than five years.’
Peninsula’s first Vision Zero policy
Approval of the draft plan would make San Mateo the first Peninsula city to adopt a “vision zero” policy, following the lead of San Francisco and New York, with a goal of eliminating roadway deaths entirely and cutting the rate of injuries by 50% by 2020. The Vision Zero philosophy is that “any roadway fatalities are unacceptable. Human error is a fact of life, but if we can design our streets to slow cars down, and in the process, reduce the dangers associated with vehicle travel, we can achieve this vision.”
One of the policies to promote safety by design is to change standards for vehicle land width from an average of 12 feet to 10 or 11 feet, freeing space for walking, bicycling, transit, and landscaping. Striping lanes wider than 11 feet will require special permission.
Changing transportation metrics and impact fees
In order to create more sustainable streets, the plan proposes changes to fundamental policies that reduce safety and livability. The draft plan proposes that the City of San Mateo change the way that it reviews development projects and collects fees from developers to improve the transportation system.
Until now, like most other US cities, San Mateo has used automotive delay as the main metric to assess transportation impacts of new developments, and collects fees from new developments to reduce delays at intersections. The sustainable streets plan proposes updating the main to Vehicle Miles Travelled per Capita, complementing the new metrics being used under the California Environmental Quality Act, which are also being changed from auto LOS to VMT per capita.
According to the City of San Mateo’s last Transportation Impact Report in 2009, the city had accrued a $35 million fund, mostly allocated for road-widening, and 1% toward bicycle and pedestrian improvements. The plan states that further study will be needed to update the city’s policy, but proposes that funds be more evenly divided to cover multi-modal and green streets improvements.
Expanding Transportation Demand Management
The City of San Mateo has been one of the region’s pioneers with its Rail Corridor Plan, which setting vehicle mode share and trip goals for the area extending from Hayward Park to Hillsdale Caltrain. To address these goals, the Rail Corridor Plan required the creation of a Transportation Management Association to collect funds from developers to manage TDM benefits such as shuttles, transit pass benefits, carshare, and other trip reduction programs. Since then, City Council has also directed the creation of a TMA operating area for the downtown. San Mateo has also been a pioneer in transportation accountability, requiring annual public reporting to city council for developments with TDM requirements.
The draft Sustainability Streets Plan now proposes to expand TDM requirements across the city – adding requirements for vehicle trip reduction and annual trip reporting within .5 miles of a Caltrain station and El Camino Real, as well as a 10% trip reduction requirement for new developments elsewhere throughout the city. The draft plan includes a recommendation for paid parking in sites within a half-mile access of good transit, unbundled parking, reduced parking minimums and the introduction of parking maximums.
The path to implementation
The trip from draft plan to sustainable streets will not be swift. Many of the specific policy elements of the plan will need to have separate review for incorporation into the city’s various sets of rules, as will individual projects. Based on the city council meeting last week reviewing the plan, the future looks promising. City council members and community speakers praised the plan, and the staff member who has driven the creation of the plan, Ken Chin, was given an award for his service to the city.