Better buses in the South Bay transit network?

At the Mountain View City Council Candidates Forum on Housing and Transportation last week, Council candidates mentioned Caltrain, shuttles, light rail, walking and bicycling as key parts of their vision for improved transportation for Mountain View.

Unfortunately, none of the candidates mentioned the VTA public bus as part of their vision for the future of the city’s transportation system, even though VTA buses carry many riders today. In Mountain View, the El Camino Real bus routes carry about 40% of Caltrain’s ridership, and in Sunnyvale, Caltrain and the 522/22 carry about the same number of riders.   The buses do a better job of handing short trips of 5 miles or less, and will increasingly serve people living on El Camino, as land use plans in Mountain View, Sunnyvale, and the Grand Boulevard initiative are implemented to add housing along the transit route.

All of the Mountain View candidates said they were against VTA’s plan for Bus Rapid Transit with dedicated lanes – even though a preview of VTA’s transportation study has strongly positive results – the dedicated lane version option will speed bus service by 50%, while causing only one intersection to degrade in performance!  The bus service would probably be even better with more frequent north-south connections

This week, there are two meetings in Sunnyvale where you can learn about proposed improvements to the bus network.

* on September 9 at 5:30pm, VTA is hosting a community workshop at Sunnyvale City Hall where they will share the results of a study of proposed improvements to North South routes intersecting with El Camino Real.

* on September 11 at 6pm, TransForm is hosting a panel discussion about VTA’s plans for Bus Rapid Transit along El Camino, at the Sunnyvale Heritage Museum. Click here to learn more and RSVP.

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This week: Mountain View Candidates Forum and Land Use/Transportation Decisions

On Tuesday, September 2, at 6:30pm, come hear Mountain View City Council candidates answer questions and share their views at a Candidates Forum on Housing and Transportation. Mountain View faces key decisions in the coming years regarding land use and transportation. Housing prices are skyrocketing as companies increase hiring and new housing isn’t keeping up; more people are walking, bicycling, and using transit and seeking improvements. There are nine City Council Candidates running for three seats on the council to make these decisions.

The event is co-sponsored by Friends of Caltrain, Community in Action Team (CAT), Safe Mountain View, Greenbelt Alliance, Great Streets Mountain View and Bicycle Exchange.

The event will be held at Rengstorff Community Center Auditorium, 201 S. Rengstorff Ave, Mountain View. Rengstorff Community Center Auditorium, 201 S. Rengstorff Ave, Mountain View. Please email Wendeec@gmail.com by Monday, September 1st, to reserve a childcare space. There is additional space to park your bike in a side yard. Click here if you need to register to vote?

Want to hear about the candidates views on other issues? There are other candidates’ forums coming up as well, click here for information about additional forums.

North Bayshore Precise Plan – Wednesday, September 3

On Wednesday, September 3, 2014 the Mountain View Environmental Planning Commission is scheduled to hold a study session on the North Bayshore Precise Plan, and Council will review the plan on Tuesday, September 9. The Plan has strong transportation goals to reach 45% nondrivealone mode share, and the city has been moving forward on initiatives to achieve the goal, including a transportation management association, and better connections for transit shuttles and bikes.

BUT – the draft Plan calls for 3.4 million square feet of new office space and no housing. The area is expected to bring in over 15,000 new jobs, and Mountain View is planning for less new housing in the entire city. When more jobs are added than housing, housing prices go up, and longtime residents are forced out. The current City Council has decided against housing in North Bayshore – but would a new council change direction?

Local advocates of sustainable land use and transportation are divided on the question of housing in North Bayshore. Mountain View Coalition for Sustainable Planning supports adding housing in North Bayshore to create a neighborhood, so fewer people will need to drive to work. Sierra Club is concerned about the endangered burrowing owls, and fear that residents will bring cats that will pose even greater hazards than the current population of feral cats. What do you think? Share your thoughts on this blog post.

Update: Sierra Club clarifies that they had additional reasons to oppose housing in North Bayshore, including that the initial proposed development was 1100 housing units, not large enough to support neighborhood services, distance from transit (though there is a regular Caltrain shuttle), and sea level rise (which will also impact workplace uses), and the proximity to amphitheater noise.

Sierra Club strongly supports improved jobs/housing balance in Mountain View, just not in North Bayshore.

Update: At the last MV City Council meeting, Google representative John Igoe said in response to a Council member question that they would be willing to support a 5000 unit development which would have better ability to support neighborhood services.

Will El Camino Real Precise Plan include transportation goals?

On Wednesday, August 28, the Mountain View Environmental Planning Commission reviewed the paln and made some helpful recommendations on Transportation and Housing. Unlike other Mountain View Plans, the El Camino Draft Plan doesn’t have any goals or goal-setting process for transportation. With feedback from Friends of Caltrain and Mountain View Coalition for Sustainable Planning, the commission recommended investigating potential goals. Encouragement to Council will be needed to make this happen!

Thanks to support from Greenbelt Alliance, PIA, and other groups, the EPC also recommended an affordable housing goal (which can help reduce driving, and support the needs of lower-income workers and elders.) Another important Council decision will be prioritizing Community Benefits, such as transportation demand management and affordable housing.

Council will need to hear from folk in Mountain View to ensure strong transportation policies. Pencil these dates: Study Session Sept 29, EPC review of plan and EIR, November 13, Council November 18.

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Community benefits to help Redwood City grow into its new skin

Downtown Redwood City is full of cranes and construction gear and streets downtown are bustling, as the city moves forward with the downtown plan approved in 2011.

photo credit: Walking Redwood City

With more people flocking downtown, there isn’t as much room for people to drive, but there are also more opportunities for people to get around without driving.   Investment in public and spaces can fosters social life and nature in the city.

Meanwhile, rising prices driven by the region’s economic growth present challenges for lower income workers and for seniors who rent.  Workers who can’t afford housing often drive from far away, causing traffic and parking problems. A recent study by TransFrom shows that people who live in affordable housing near transit drive much less, which helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

To help the city grow and mature into its new form, Redwood City is working on a Community Benefits policy that will use funding from developments to pay for infrastructure and services.  The city is asking for input about what the money should be used for.

According to guidance from city council earlier in the year, potential uses of money include:

  • transportation investments and benefits that can help residents and workers get around without driving (like transit passes, carpool, and carshare programs)
  • streetscape investments that make it safer and more pleasant to walk and bike, and spend time
  • open space improvements that can be enjoyed by residents, workers, and visitors
  • support for affordable housing

Other potential community benefits include “living wage” requirements, local hiring policies, and support for local nonprofits.   The selected community benefits will  ultimately become part of a “menu” which would be updated on a periodic basis.

To share your thoughts about what should go into the menu of community benefits, go online here:

To learn more about housing and affordable housing in Redwood City, there is a City Council and Planning Commission study session on Monday, August 25 at City Hall at 7pm.   The agenda will be here later today.

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Wednesday 8/27: Growth Without Gridlock Panel in Sunnyvale

The economic boom in the area is bringing traffic jams, parking challenges, and fears of worsening problems. Meanwhile, a trend toward cities taking charge of traffic and parking in the Silicon Valley area is picking up speed.

Sunnyvale has been an early leader with the Moffett Park Business and Transportation Association coordinating among participants to reduce vehicle trips in the area. San Jose is moving toward creating a Transportation Management Association (TMA) for the Downtown/Diridon area to reduce vehicle trips. Mountain View is getting its TMA under way for the North Bayshore and Whisman areas, and Palo Alto is moving forward with plans for the downtown and California Avenue areas to reduce trips and parking demand. TransForm is coming out with rich new data showing the effectiveness of transit oriented development practices at reducing parking demand, implemented by developers including First Community Housing and many others.

The panel includes those with expertise about how cities, employers, and residential developments are addressing traffic and parking issues.
Trudi Ryan, City of Sunnyvale
Martin Alkire, City of Mountain View
Jeff Oberdorfer, First Community Housing
Ann Cheng, TransForm

Come and learn whether and how it is possible to have “growth without gridlock”.

Wednesday, August 27
7-8:30 PM
Sunnyvale Heritage Park Museum
570 E. Remington Drive, Sunnyvale
Free. Snacks Provided

Click here to pre-register.

Co-hosted by Friends of Caltrain, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and Sunnyvale Cool

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Changing demand for commute services in San Mateo County

John Ford, the Executive Director of Commute.org, reports a sea change in the market for commute services in San Mateo County. Since at least 1997, Commute.org’s customer base came from the large corporations and new developments that were legally required to reduce peak hour vehicle trips with services including last-mile shuttles, carpools, vanpools, and more. Ford is now seeing demand from a new class of customers – property managers who manage and lease existing buildings. “What we’re finding”, says Ford, “is that property managers are getting hip to the idea that providing transportation options to their tenants is good for business.”

Seaport Centre, Redwood City

Reporting at a Grand Boulevard Initiative staff working group meeting, Ford commented that the commute alternatives are starting to be seen as a necessity to attract workers who would rather not drive. In earlier economic cycles, driving and parking were seen as the preferred commute mode. Now, workers and businesses are starting to demand other choices.

One such customer is Seaport Centre (see picture above), an office park in Redwood City, 2.5 miles from Redwood City Caltrain, with over 900,000 square feet. The office complex has multiple tenants in multiple buildings, needing multiple shuttle stops. The property manager works with the tenants in the property to bring a shuttle route, and other services to their tenants. Commute.org can work with a single customer, rather than marketing to many different businesses. According to the most recent ridership statistics as of June 30, the route has 25,984 annual riders to and from the Redwood City Caltrain station, about 100 riders per day, up 6% in the last year. The property manager pays Commute.org for the service, and passes the cost on to tenants in the lease or administrative fees.

Similar to the way that “green building” energy-saving features are now seen as a benefit for tenants, sustainable commuting is now seen as a benefit. This is a major change from previous economic cycles, when non-driving options were seen by many in the real estate field as an anti-business imposition. Of course, vehicle parking has long been a subsidized service provided to office employees; now transit services are seen as a necessary part of the mix.

The new popularity of commute services may raise opportunities for city programs to reduce commute trips via transportation management associations. Cities including San Mateo, Mountain View, Palo Alto, San Jose and others have started or are heading in this direction. A common dilemma facing new TMAs is how to provide support for existing developments that aren’t legally required to pay for transportation services via a development agreement. This is particularly important in areas where new development is a small fraction of the existing developed area. The concern has been that recruiting requiring participation by existing developments would be deeply unpopular. The trend reported by Commute.org suggests that it may be easier to gain participation from existing properties.

The organization that provides commute services for San Mateo County has used Commute.org for its website, a more catchy and memorable name than the Peninsula Traffic Congestion Relief Alliance, the former name of the organization. The organization is now changing its name to match the catchy website.

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North County update: Caltrain corridor news in Millbrae and San Bruno

In Millbrae, the City Council had a study session on the Specific Plan for the Millbrae Station Area. Council will come back after summer break, review the draft plan, and set guidance for the Environmental Impact Report. The ambitious schedule process would have the plan complete by March, 2015.

The current Draft Specific Plan allows for up to 1,500,000 square feet of office space, 220,000 square feet of retail, 1,620 housing units, and 360 hotel rooms.

Concerns include whether the wide and fast section El Camino Real will be traffic-calmed with lane reduction, pedestrian refuges and landscaping, and the design of the bus stop on El Camino to allow connection between bus and rail. The amount of affordable housing is not yet defined, and the proposed development would have about a 3:1 ratio of jobs to employed residents, putting even more pressure on housing prices.

Meanwhile in San Bruno, City Council voted to put a measure on the ballot to lift height limits from 50 feet to 90 feet near the Caltrain station, with lower limits in the downtown and El Camino areas. The current limits were set by a ballot measure in 1977 in order to preserve the character of city and limit density. Today, a vote of the people is needed to build a building taller than 3 stories. A staff report reported that the current restrictions severely limited the economic viability of development project, resulting in deteriorating and vacant properties. The ballot measure was an outcome of San Bruno’s Transit Corridors Plan, approved in 2012, and applies to 155 acres of land covered by the plan.

The South San Francisco Downtown Plan is out – see TransForm’s blog post for more.

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Thursday 7/17: help transform the Millbrae Station Area

On Thursday, July 17, Sierra Club and Friends of Caltrain are co-hosting a free workshop about Millbrae’s plans for major changes to the Millbrae Station Area. The City of Millbrae is working quickly to update the Millbrae Station Area Specific Plan to provide guidance for two major developments being proposed in the station area, on current parking lots, and along El Camino.  The new developments would bring retail, offices, housing, and possibly hotels to the station area.

The Millbrae City Council and Planning Commission will review the plan Tuesday, July 22, 2014 at 7:00 p.m. at the Chetcuti Room in Millbrae City Hall.  The Council will then consider the plan, and may vote to approve it then and there!

To help ensure that the plan and developments have good pedestrian, bike, and bus access, and good policies to foster transit use, come on Thursday night to a free workshop – 7-9pm at Peter’s Cafe, 10 El Camino Real in Millbrae (from the station, head toward El Camino Real and turn left toward Millbrae Ave). RSVP for the meeting to ann.schneider@lomaprieta.sierraclub.org, or call Ann to RSVP at 650-697-6249.

For more background on the Plan, see the Summary from the community workshop on June 26, and Handouts from the Workshop on June 26

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Mountain View Council directs better jobs/housing balance in San Antonio Plan area

Yesterday, July 8, the Mountain View City Council gave direction to improve the jobs/housing balance in the San Antonio Specific Plan area.  The draft plan included office and retail space expected to employ over 4000 workers, while providing 1575 units of housing.   City Council gave direction to change the zoning of some areas to mixed use with retail and housing, and to set thresholds to check that office construction was not getting too far ahead of housing.

Last week, City Council had already directed a major development, which was moving forward in the area in advance of the Specific Plan, to replace one of two good-sized office buildings with housing.

Other changes at last night’s meeting included increasing the priority of affordable housing as a public benefit, and investigating the potential of including residential and multi-tenant mixed use buildings in the city’s transportation demand management programs (not just office).

The Council’s changes responded to the feedback of Mountain View residents who had been organizing and speaking up in favor of improvements to the jobs/housing balance, with the goal of improving housing affordability and reducing traffic and parking impacts.

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Update: Mountain View Council holds San Antonio decision to consider housing

Faced with a room full of constituents raising concern about housing prices, plans to move due to housing prices, wanting children and grandchildren to be able to stay in the area, the need to add more housing and affordable housing, Mountain View City council held off a decision on the San Antonio Precise Plan.  The Council will return in a special meeting on July 8 to decide whether they can make progress on the plan. At least three Council members (Abe Koga, Kasperzak, Clark) wanted information on how the plan could be changed to accommodate more housing.

The Council did not get to details of bicycle and pedestrian accommodations, setbacks, and other specifics, faced with a major shift in community preferences toward housing. The San Antonio Center has long been a regional shopping center.  Considering the prospect of a greater mix of uses, Council members turned to the example of Santana Row as a familiar local example where housing is added on top of retail uses.

Before returning on July 8 to discuss the Precise Plan, Council plans to consider the Phase 2 of the Merlone Geier development which is proposed to contain office, a movie theater, retail, and no housing. The newly formed Campaign for a Balanced Mountain View is threatening seek to overturn the development by referendum, if Council approves the development without added housing.

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Mountain View reviews key decisions for San Antonio Station Area, Shoreline Corridor

Tonight in Mountain View starting at 5pm, City Council will be giving critical direction for the San Antonio Precise Plan, and feedback the Shoreline Corridor.

Shoreline Corridor

At 5pm, Council will review  plans for the Shoreline connection to North Bayshore where Google is.  Good proposals include protected bike lanes on Shoreline for the especially for the 1/3 of employees who live within 5 miles of work, and a dedicated lane for shuttles, which would speed the route to the transit center by up to 45% in the AM Peak and 67% in the PM peak.    Making the connection from the Caltrain station faster for shuttle users and safer people with bikes will make Caltrain and transit a more attractive option.

Mountain View staff expect that these changes will help the shuttle use grow fourfold, from 800- 900 shuttle riders in the morning peak today, to 3,200 riders.

Update: City Council gave direction to staff and consultants to move forward with the recommendations for a dedicated transit lane and cycle tracks on Shoreline, and longer term plan for a bicycle/pedestrian bridge.  In the interim before the larger projects are constructed, Council leaned toward improving the Permanente Creek Trail route with signage and protected bicycle lanes on Middlefield.

Plans for bicycle facilities on Stierlin are in doubt due to concerns about the removal of parking; adding protected bike lanes would cause the removal of over 100 car parking spots, and unprotected bike lanes would also cause the removal of some car parking. Staff and consultants had not yet done any study about the amount of available parking on neighborhood streets, and how the removal would affect the availability of parking.

Shoreline proposed transit lane, cycle tracks

Shoreline proposed transit lane, cycle tracks

San Antonio Precise Plan

Starting at about 8pm, Mountain View City Council will be reviewing the precise plan for the San Antonio area.  Council will set important direction tonight for how successfully the area will evolve from a car-dominant regional shopping center to an area with retail, homes and offices, and a lower share of driving.

While Mountain View has stong transportation goals for the North Bayshore area,to reduce the drivealone rate to 45%, the San Antonio area does not have such goals. (Although individual developments are expected to have individually negotiated transportation plans to reduce driving.)   Strong overall goals would help the area successfully transition to a more compact and less car-centered place. It would help the Council make pro-active decisions about topics like whether and when to start charging for parking, the role of bus and shuttle service in reducing driving, and how aggressively to support better Caltrain service and area-based GoPass programs.

Mountain View has a widening jobs housing imbalance contributing to spiking housing prices and long commutes.  The plan proposes 1575 housing units (including the Merlone Geier Phase 1 project already built) and 3700 to 5000 office jobs (depending on the amount of office space per worker, and not counting retail jobs).  On the one hand, it’s good to have jobs near Caltrain and El Camino bus service;  having a job close to transit is the biggest factor in using transit. But Mountain View overall has a worsening jobs/housing balance; the San Antonio area could shift the balance more toward housing.

A key goal of the plan is to improve bicycle and pedestrian access.  The area, which is currently a sea of parking lots, will evolve a much more bike and ped friendly connected street grid.

San Antonio Proposed Street Grid

San Antonio Proposed Street Grid

Important questions for consideration at tonight’s City Council meeting include bike lanes on San Antonio, the quality of pedestrian and bicycle connections to and from Caltrain, and the safety of bicycle and pedestrian connections across El Camino Real to Los Altos, particularly important for schoolchildren who live in Mountain View and go to school in the Los Altos school district.

One idea that has been discussed and rejected to date has been building a school in the San Antonio Precise Plan area.  It’s complicated because the school district is separate from the cities, and because area landowners have been reluctant to provide land for a school.   Enabling kids to get to school without crossing El Camino would improve safety and reduce area traffic.   Are there opportunities to come up with compromise solutions for a school?

The San Antonio discussion might start late. If you want to come but don’t want to sit for hours in Council chambers, watch the web video and come over when the previous item is finishing up.

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