Caltrain corridor updates for Millbrae, San Mateo, Redwood City

Here are this week’s updates on transit-oriented development and station access on the Caltrain corridor. If you have reports from any of these meetings, or if there are items we missed, please post in the comments.

Millbrae Station Area Plan

On Thursday, May 15, 6-8pm, there is a community workshop at City Council Chambers about a new Station Area Plan for Millbrae. The plan will provide guidelines for major new developments being proposed for sites near the Caltrain/BART stations, including bicycle and pedestrian access to the station area. If you are able to attend, please let me know.

San Mateo Station Park Green

In San Mateo, on Tuesday May 13 at 7:30pm, there will be a study session for the long-delayed Station Park Green development on the former KMart site near Hayward Park Caltrain station, which is coming back to life, following financing challenges during the recession.   The site is nearly 12 acres in size, and will have up to 599 housing units, 25,000 square feet of retail space, 10,000 square feet of office space, and two acres of public open space.

To take advantage of the site near Caltrain, developer plans to offer Caltrain GoPasses to residents and employees to encourage transit use, and there will be 12 Zipcar spaces available for the convenience of households and employees who are in the area without their own car, and shuttle service connecting to downtown.  The revived development is smaller than the original proposal, with 4 developed blocks instead of 8, surface parking hidden from view, and larger blocks.

Redwood City Inner Harbor Precise Plan 

Tonight, Monday May 12, the Redwood City City Council and Planning Commission are holding a study session on the Inner Harbor Precise Plan.   This is an area on the Bay side of 101.  The study session will cover, among other topics, proposed changes and improvements to the bicycle and pedestrian routes that connect the Inner Harbor Area and the Bay Trail to downtown and to Caltrain. The circulation includes several proposals for crossings of the 101 barrier.   Since there is expected to be some more development in the area, it would be helpful for people to be able to get downtown and to/from Caltrain without driving, which will be more healthy and cause less traffic.  If you’re interested, the meeting starts at 7pm – the agenda item might start ~7:30pm. 

Posted in Adopt-a-Station | 1 Comment

May 7 – San Jose Diridon Plan up for Planning Commission review; City Council May 20

The City of San Jose is reviewing the Diridon Station Area plan for approval.  Wednesday May 7th it’s at Planning Commission, and May 20th it’s before City Council.   If you live in San Jose or use Diridon Station, you can help.

San Jose wants to make the area around Diridon station into a walkable, bikeable, urban extension of the downtown.   But there are risks to making the plan successful.

1) Don’t double the parking!  SAP Arena is insisting on doubling the amount of parking, creating enough parking for 80% of people do drive – not just for the Arena, but for everyone in the Plan area, for the entire lifetime of the plan.  This would defeat the goal of creating a place that is walkable, bikeable, where people use transit.  Instead, the city would work with the arena to phase in a transition for parking,

2) Strong incentives for less driving.  The Diridon Station Area Plan has a very good provision calling for a “Transportation Management Association” to provide benefits like shuttles, carpool programs, transit pass discounts to encourage people to get to the area without driving. (Historically, cities have provided subsidies in the form of subsidized car parking)  This is part of a trend in the region to have cities provide benefits like the big employers do to drastically reduce driving. To make this successful, San Jose will need to make sure that it is funded, and has transparent public reporting.

3) Transit integration. Design the transit improvements, including the new BRT services, BART, and in the long term High Speed Rail so that making connections is quick and easy (the preliminary designs don’t do this yet).

4) Prioritize the good bicycle and pedestrian improvements, and make sure they get funded.  Include the option to daylight Los Gatos Creek and extend the trail, and work to fund it.

5) Housing affordability. There is so much more demand for housing in walkable, bikeable, transit-rich areas that prices are skyrocketing.  San Jose should increase housing in the plan area, and foster affordability through smaller units, providing 20% dedicated affordable

6) Support Caltrain electrification and capacity improvements.  This isn’t an issue in the plan per se. But San Jose Council members are on the VTA board and have a lot of influence on the Santa Clara County ballot measure that could help fund Caltrain capacity and grade separations.  The plan predicts that 10000 people will use Caltrain, and 10,000 people will use BART.  Tell San Jose leaders they should support Caltrain in addition to BART to acheive the goals of the plan.

The most important thing will be to have many people at the Council meeting – save the date, May 20 at 7pm.   For a reminder, and a sample letter to customize, sign up here for the Diridon Station Area.

For extra help, send a note to planning commission by 4pm tomorrow. Say who you are, where you live, how you use Diridon, why you want the plan to be successful, and one or more of the points above. Send your note to Michael Brillot, Michael.Brilliot at by 4pm.

If you have enough time tomorrow, come tomorrow night to San Jose Planning Commission starting at 6:30 pm, speak in support of the plan, and urge the Planning Commissioners to move it forward and address one or two of the concerns below.  If you’re coming to speak, let us know, friends at to help coordinate.

Posted in Adopt-a-Station, San Jose | Leave a comment

Caltrain corridor update: news and actions in San Jose, Palo Alto, Redwood City, and San Francisco/Bayshore

San Jose Diridon Plan up for approval in May – you can help – prep session tomorrow April 29 .  Coming up in May, San Jose Planning Commission (May 7) and City Council (May 20) will review the Diridon Station Plan and Environmental Impact Report for Approval.  The plan intends to evolve the area around the Diridon Station into a walkable urban neighborhood that takes advantage of the transit hub.  But smooth sailing is not guaranteed – the SAP Arena is making demands to double the parking in the entire plan area, so 80% of all area users – not just Sharks fans – can drive. Planning Commission and Council will need to hear from people who walk, bike, and use transit, to give them confidence to move away from the traditional vehicle-dominated planning.

Tomorrow, April 29, Sierra Club is sponsoring a workshop to learn more about the plan and prepare to speak at Council.  If you’ve been following the Diridon Plan all along, this will be familiar to you.  If you’re new to the Plan and to making public comments at a Council meeting, come tomorrow night to learn more and get ready.  Tuesday, April 29, 7pm, Martin Luther King Library, Room L67 (Lower Level).  150 E. San Fernando Street, San Jose. Food will be provided, RSVP to

Palo Alto business registry proposed to gather transportation info; events on demographics and housingOn Tuesday the 29th (not Monday) Palo Alto City Council is reviewing a proposal (agenda item #12 ) for the city to adopt a business license registry.  This registry is critical for the city’s new vehicle trip reduction plans.   To succeed at this, the city will need fundamental information like how many employees work downtown – information that the city has been sorely lacking. The goal is not to raise revenue but to cover the basic cost of data gathering. To support the registry, send a note to

As Palo Alto works on a update of its Comprehensive Plan, the City is putting on a series of events. Last week there was a standing room only event moderated by Institute for the Future, discussing the changing face of Palo Alto, with over 70 people learning from experts in demographics and the school system. The event was videotaped and will be online shortly - we’ll share a link when the video is online.  These demographic changes are fostering changes in transportation preferences. At a recent Housing Element meeting, Jessica Epstein from the Silicon Valley Realtors Association reported that new residents under 40 and over 60 want to be living in walkable communities, with easy access to services and amenities.  The Committee suggested walkability as a criterion for housing sites.

Next,  on Wednesday, April 30, 2014, 6-8 p.m at the Elks Lodge, 4249 El Camino Real, there will be a panel discussion on housing affordability.   Click here for more info on the housing event.

Monday April 28 – Redwood City Parking Policy – can it help reduce driving? On Monday night (tonight), agenda #9, Redwood City is reviewing its downtown parking program for some modifications.  Since parking is tight with the loss of spaces due to construction,  the staff is proposing to cut down on new permits and to increase the core hourly parking rate to $1.00 and the hourly rate for the periphery at $.25, while moving forward on plans to increase signage to find the parking.

Also the staff report recommends starting to assess opportunities for new parking garages on the Main lot or Caltrain/SamTrans lot.  But the city is NOT yet following the direction set by Palo Alto and San Mateo – to invest in programs to reduce driving, which reducing the need to spend money on $15-$20Million parking garages.    Redwood City has a TDM pilot with ZipCar spots, shuttles, and vanpools – and no funding to continue the program when grant runs out.  San Mateo is planning to use its downtown parking revenue to help reduce driving – can Redwood City?

If you think that Redwood City should follow the path of nearby cities, to invest in reducing driving to reduce the need to build parking garages – send a quick note to the City Council.

New development with over 1600 apartments slated for Bayshore Caltrain area

San Francisco just announced a development package for the the old Schlage Lock site near Bayshore Caltrain, with over 1600 housing units and a grocery store.  The development received $2 million in Proposition K  funds for transportation improvements including direct east-west route that will allow people to walk through the development from Bayshore Boulevard to the Bayshore Caltrain Station.  Are you interested in participating in review of the details including station access? Let us know at


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Sierra Club hosts workshop to prep for San Jose Diridon Plan Review

Coming up in May, San Jose Planning Commission (May 7) and City Council (May 20) will review the Diridon Station Plan and Environmental Impact Report for Approval.  The plan intends to evolve the area around the Diridon Station into a walkable urban neighborhood that takes advantage of the transit hub.

But smooth sailing is not guaranteed – the SAP Arena is making demands to double the parking in the entire plan area, so 80% of all area users – not just Sharks fans – can drive. Planning Commission and Council will need to hear from people who walk, bike, and use transit, to give them confidence to move away from the traditional vehicle-dominated planning.

Tomorrow, April 29, Sierra Club is hosting a Diridon Workshop to learn more about the plan and prepare to speak at Council.  If you’ve been following the Diridon Plan all along and participating, the material will be familiar to you.  If you’re new to the Plan and to making public comments at a Council meeting, Diridon Workshop to learn more and get ready.

Posted in Adopt-a-Station, San Jose | Leave a comment

Over 60 merchants support first ever Silicon Valley Bike to Shop Day

May is the traditional time to celebrate Bike to Work month.  But 80% of trips are shopping and other nonwork trips. This year, the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition is sponsoring Bike to Shop Day, to celebrate and reward people who use bikes for errands on a regular basis, or who want to try it out bike shopping first time.
Bike to Shop Map
Over 60 merchants, from San Mateo to San Jose and places in between are providing promotions and discounts to people who arrive by bicycle.
Just a few of the participating merchants:
Nichi Bei Bussan in Japantown San Jose, Mariettes Chocolates in Willow Glen San Jose, Asian Box and Empire Vintage in Mountain View,  Forest juice bar in Los Altos, , Izzy’s, Street Bike, and Patagonia in Palo Alto,  multiple locations of Footwear etc and Diddams, and many more – explore the map complete with bike parking tips.
When cities plan bicycle improvements, merchant support is critical. Bike to Shop day also helps merchants appreciate how many of their customers shop by bike.
Follow along with the Bike to Shop day blog which has expert tips on topics such as outfitting your bike for everyday shopping  and getting a bike trailer for bulkier errands.  Also check out the Facebook page  for tips on bike shopping, photos and updates.
Bike shopping challenge.  In addition to all of the promotions and discounts, people who share a photo of themselves shopping by bicycle will get tickets for a prize drawing.   Send photos by email to or upload them to the Bike to Shop Day Facebook page. Or upload them on another social media (like Instagram or Twitter or Flickr) and email a link to it. Include your first name and home city plus a caption to make it more interesting. Deadline is Sunday, May 24.  Click here for challenge.
Check it out at the Bike to Shop day website, and get ready to enjoy bike shopping on Saturday, May 17.
Posted in Bicycling | 1 Comment

SAP Arena seeks to double parking in Diridon Station Area

In its comment on the Diridon Station Environmental Impact Report,  the SAP Arena urges the City of San Jose to nearly double the amount of parking in the plan area, compared to the amount proposed in the plan.

SAP predicts total demand will be in the low 20,000s of spaces for about 26,000 residents and workers once the plan area is built out.  This is enough parking for about 80% of people to drive.

With its Diridon Station Area Plan, the City of San Jose is seeking to transition the area over time to a walkable, urban extension of the downtown, with offices, entertainment, and new homes. The goal over the next 25 years of the General Plan is to have only 40% of the areas residents and workers commute by car.  The city’s goal is for the area to take much better use of existing and new transit, with existing Caltrain and light rail service, plus BRT lines, and BART coming in from the East Bay.

However, the SAP Arena currently has most of its customers driving, many from suburban areas with poor access to transit.  It is logical that they would be concerned that restricting parking would harm their business.  But in the interest of protecting their own current business model, SAP Arena are also proposing to negatively impact the value of future offices and homes that would benefit from being in attractive walkable neighborhoods rather than seas of parking lots and parking structure edifices.

When the Giants moved from Candlestick Park (where 90% of fans drove to ballgames) to AT&T Park on the waterfront near downtown, the City of San Francisco worked with the Giants and neighboring businesses to develop a new set of transportation plans that allow at least 50% of fans to get to the ballpark without driving.  Those plans have been successful, and the area around the ballpark is a revitalized, thriving urban neighborhood.  The SAP Arena isn’t moving, of course, but the area around is is changing. Hopefully the City can work with the Arena to work out plans to transform the access strategy over time, to support the sports and entertainment center and the city’s evolution to a walkable urban, more transit-oriented place.

Surface parking surrounding SAP arena








In its comment letter, SAP Arena also included a request to add vehicle capacity on Bird (where there is currently a proposed bike lane) and listed other concerns about vehicle capacity that may pose challenges to plans to make the area more walkable and bikeable.

The San Jose Diridon Station Area Plan is scheduled to reviewed by San Jose Planning Commission on May 7 and by City Council on May 20.

If you are interested in seeing the area fulfill the plan’s goals of becoming a walkable, bikeable area that makes use of the Diridon Station’s transit, please plan to attend these meetings.  This is a substantial transformation for the City of San Jose, which grew up as a suburban, car-dominated place.  Support will be needed to help city leaders make the decisions to follow through on the planned changes.



Posted in Adopt-a-Station, San Jose | 2 Comments

Upcoming decisions in San Jose, Mountain View, Redwood City, Belmont, San Mateo

This week multiple cities on the Peninsula Corridor are reviewing Caltrain station area policy and access decisions. From South to North, here’s what’s going on in San Jose, Mountain View, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo.

San Jose Community Meeting, Diridon Station Area Plan

On Monday, April 7 starting at 6:30pm, the City of San Jose is hosting a community meeting laying out the next steps for the Diridon Station Area Plan, which is expected to be reviewed for approval by the Planning Commission and City Council over the next several months.  City Council faces a major turning point with the Diridon Plan – will it make the tough decisions to actually make the area walkable, bikeable, and transit-supportive, fullfilling the city’s General Plan goals? Or will it revert to the vehicle-dominant default, conceding to SAP Arena’s requests to have enough parking for more than 80% of people to drive?

If you want to help encourage San Jose to make the Diridon Station Area a walkable urban place that takes advantage of the transit, and want to catch up on what’s happening, this is a good meeting to attend.

Mountain View Shoreline Transportation Study

On Tuesday April 8 starting at 5pm, Mountain View City Council is reviewing interim results of the Shoreline Transportation Study.   The study covers proposals for improving the transit and bike connections between downtown Mountain View and North Bayshore (where Google is), in order to achieve Mountain View’s drivealone goal.

Mountain View Mode Share Goal

Good proposals include:

  • Protected bike lane on Shoreline (several options)
  • Several options to speed the shuttles, which currently take ~30 minutes to travel the 3 miles from Caltrain
  • Short-term, a bike/ped light cycle for the gnarly Castro/Moffett/Central intersection

Less good proposals include:

  • Pedestrian overcrossing of Central.   Pedestrian crossings should be designed as part of the Castro/Central grade separation that will be needed for more rail capacity
  • A parking garage with more spaces to meet the needs of growing transit ridership. Only about 35% of Mountain View Caltrain users park at the station today (Figure 2.9).  Given the high share of non-driving already, Mountain View should work with Caltrain and the Transportation Management Association to work on further reducing driving before investing in more parking capacity.

If you use Mountain View Caltrain station and go to North Bayshore, fill out this survey if you haven’t done so already.

Monday: Redwood City Climate Action Plan needs stronger transportation goals

On Monday night, Redwood City City Council is getting an update on progress on the City’s Climate Action Goals.

The good news is that the City is making progress on energy efficiency, where the city has strong and clear goals. The City is also taking some helpful and incremental steps on transportation, including implementing carshare with 613 participants and bikeshare with 140 participants, making tweaks to parking pricing, and marketing these programs with temporary grant funding.

But the city has weak goals to reduce carbon emissions for transportation – 8% overall, with no specific goals for the downtown area and key employment centers such as Redwood Shores. By contrast, Mountain View has set a goal of a 45% drivealone rate for the North Bayshore area, where Google is, and Palo Alto is about to set specific goals for the Downtown Area.

Redwood City has been doing very well with downtown infill development, and putting a price on parking. Nearby cites are realizing that this is not quite enough – it is important to have clear goals, stronger use of transit pass discounts so that transit is cost-effective compared to driving, shuttles and bikeshare for locations 1-2 miles from downtown, and a pro-active program to market the program and manage to the goals.

If you live in Redwood City and want to see the city set stronger transportation goals, send a note to Redwood City City Council.

Tuesday, April 8, 6pm: Belmont City Council reviews flawed recommendations for Ralston Corridor

On Tuesday April 8, Belmont City Council will be holding a study session to review a set of flawed proposals for Ralston Corridor which do not go far enough to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety. If you live in Belmont and/or use the Belmont Caltrain station please come to this meeting if you can and give public comment

Here are some of the problems with the current proposal:

Need to Reduce speeds - The current proposal does nothing to slow car traffic on Ralston, despite traffic speeds of 45+ in school areas, an accident rate 2x the state average, and speed being the primary cause of collisions on Ralston.  The Council should take action to:  1)  lower speed limits on Ralston, and 2) narrow vehicle lanes, which would would reduce vehicle speeds and increase space for bicycle lanes.

The traffic consultant has acknowledged that the City can lower speed limits on Ralston given the high accident rates, abundance of schools and elderly homes, steep grade, bicycle traffic, and afternoon glare.  However, Council is claiming that they have no power to lower vehicle speeds because most people are speeding already (the 85th percentile guideline).  Exceptions are possible given the aforementioned objective factors.

Install continuous bicycle lanes - The current proposal has few additional bike lanes on Ralston.  As a result, the majority of Ralston will still be without bike lanes, forcing cyclists to mix with traffic moving 40 mph faster.  This increases the likelihood of vehicle vs. bike collisions and slows car traffic caught behind cyclists.

Keep parks safer - The current proposal recommends that cyclists get off Ralston and instead bike through the heart of Twin Pines park.  This is dangerous given numerous of small children in the park at playgrounds and birthday parties.

Invest in safe pedestrian crossing and save money on parking.  The current proposal does not adding back the midblock crosswalk on Ralston connecting the downtown area, which would be a major improvement for pedestrians and people walking bicycles to get from one side of the downtown area to the other.   Belmont is considering investing large sums of money to build more parking supply on the logical south side of Ralston. There is plenty of parking on the other side, but people don’t know it’s there, and don’t feel safe crossing the street.  Having the long uphill walk between crosswalks is antithetical to the city’s goals to have a more walkable downtown area.

Monday, April 7, 7pm. San Mateo City Council set for final review of downtown parking plan

On Monday, April 7 at 7pm, the San Mateo City Council is set to review the Downtown Parking Plan for final approval.   The plan was developed with extensive community outreach, study, and Council review leading to a good proposal with strong community support from business  and residents.

Key elements in the plan include

  • increasing the price of parking
  • changing the price to incent use of structures and free up valuable onstreet spaces
  • encouraging demand-based adjustments along the lines of SFPark
  • signage and technology to make better use of existing space
  • investing in transportation demand management via a Downtown Transportation Management Association to reduce demand for parking

The TDM provision is particularly helpful in that it can enable the City to reduce downtown trips, which will help the City to do infill development in a transit-rich and walkable downtown.  For example, the proposed Essex apartment building, which is triggering fears of traffic among some residents, could to contribute to the downtown TMA, providing transit passes, carshare and bikeshare to help reduce trips, not only from residents, but others in the neighborhood.

The City of San Mateo is having a harder time filling areas that are more auto-oriented.   To meet the needs of today’s businesses, and to provide enough housing to avoid displacement of existing residents, it will help for San Mateo to be able to do infill development in the downtown area while reducing traffic and parking challenges.

If you live or work in San Mateo, send a note to the City Council, via the City Clerk thanking them for the good work on the parking policy, and encourage them to take the next steps to reduce vehicle trips downtown.


Posted in Adopt-a-Station, Belmont, Mountain View, Redwood City, San Jose, San Mateo | 4 Comments

Sunnyvale speaker predicts the decline of the office park

The Sunnyvale of today was designed for the industrial era, with factories located far from homes, retail malls built for freeway access and free parking, and cheap gas to drive from home to work to stores. All of these things are changing, according to Erik Calloway of planning firm Freedman Tung Sasaki, at a presentation for Sunnyvale Cool. These changes are transforming the places people prefer to work, shop, and live.

Separated zoning for the industrial era

Separated zoning for the industrial era








The business parks that emerged in the mid-20th century were designed to be standalone centers for industrial manufacturing, far from homes and stores. They have plenty of landscaping, but no public space – the activity is inside the complex.

Screen Shot 2014-04-03 at 3.58.45 PM


Today the largest companies can still be self-contained – companies including Apple, Facebook, and Google are building internally focused headquarters – see Facebook HQ below.

Screen Shot 2014-04-03 at 4.25.15 PM

But a greater proportion of the economy is taking place among networks of collaborating business partners.

Screen Shot 2014-04-03 at 4.14.40 PM

Increasingly, people prefer public spaces to interact and collaborate.

Screen Shot 2014-04-03 at 4.25.28 PM






Many of the free-way-located shopping centers and arterial strip malls developed in the mid to late 20th century are now past their useful life, and no new malls are under construction for the first time since the 1950s.   More shopping is taking place online, so not all of the old retail space will be replaced.

Screen Shot 2014-04-03 at 3.59.09 PM

So there is demand for workplaces that have public space, and that have access to restaurants and services that people like to have nearby.

Screen Shot 2014-04-03 at 4.52.18 PM







The shift in workplace preferences is accompanied by a shift in the places where people many prefer to live.   More people prefer places where they need to drive less.  During the “great recession”, homes in urban areas maintained value more strongly than homes in remote suburbs.

Screen Shot 2014-04-03 at 4.12.12 PM


Driving is declining, in an age of more expensive gasoline and changing preferences.

Screen Shot 2014-04-03 at 4.53.06 PM


Because of these preferences, a much greater share of startup companies are starting to locate in center cities and walkable suburban downtowns, according to a new report highlighted in Atlantic Cities.

Screen Shot 2014-04-03 at 4.20.10 PM


Skeptics in Sunnyvale and other Bay Area suburban communities argue that there is no need to create new development, because the existing area is “built out.”  The presentation by Erik Calloway suggests that much of the existing building stock no longer meets today’s needs, so changes will be needed to keep up with how people want to live, work and shop.

An alternative, of course, is to continue to lose market share to more highly preferred walkable places with public space.

The full video is online, with many more insights on the evolution of Sunnyvale and Silicon Valley.


The slides from the presentation are online here:

Posted in Planning, Sunnyvale | 3 Comments

Proposed 8-story apartment building in downtown San Mateo – can the city use its new tools to limit traffic?

On Tuesday the San Mateo Planning Commission held a study session about a proposed apartment building at 5th and El Camino downtown, on a site currently used as a surface parking lot. The developer is proposing ~117 units in an 8 story building. They are proposing 165 parking spaces for residents, plus an additional 95 spaces to replace the spaces on the surface lot.

The place has a 94 walkscore, with groceries, downtown amenities, and Caltrain in walking distance, and the Hillsdale mall is a 15 minute bus ride. It is a great place to live without a car or with less driving, especially if the place provided carshare to complement the transit access.

But many of the community comments have focused on providing *more parking* (and then fearing the traffic generated as a self-fulfilling prophesy when everybody drives).

The City of San Mateo has been developing and implementing tools and policies to help reduce driving in transit-rich, pedestrian-friendly areas, including a Transportation Management Association for downtown. One key question is whether the City will be willing to use the new tools to reduce driving, alleviate traffic and parking fears, and help bring needed housing to the downtown area.

At the Commission meeting, there were about 15 public comments, half for and half against. Most supported the additional housing, with some concerns about having enough affordability, as well as traffic and parking.

Commission members made suggestions including real-time parking signs to indicate available space in the garages (a strategy that is part of the city’s proposed new parking plan), and creating safer street crossings to Central Park.

Reducing vehicle trips

The City of San Mateo has a Transportation Management Association for the downtown, to help reduce vehicle trips and parking demand. By requiring the development to join the TMA, with funding, reporting, and required trip reduction, the city could ensure that this development generates lower traffic and helps the neighborhood drive less. Measures could include unbundled parking helping residents rent as much parking as they need, giving out transit passes to residents, provided carshare spaces for residents and neighbors, and improving bike and pedestrian connections.

A blank wall facing the street

The pedestrian-friendliness of the building is marred by a blank wall proposed to face the street on 5th, covering parking spaces for residents and to replace the 95 spaces currently in the private surface lot. Even if there is architectural detail and landscaping, blank walls facing the street are ugly and would make the street less appealing for walking.

Paseo view, proposed Essex apartments in downtown San Mateo. Note parking area in the first 3 stories on the left.

Paseo view, proposed Essex apartments in downtown San Mateo. Note parking area in the first 3 stories on the left.

There are several ways the developers could solve the problem.
They could “wrap” the parking and put apartments on the outside (a design called a “Texas Donut.”) They could even seek to buy one of the two neighboring properties – a Sleep Train store facing El Camino, or a small strip retail center facing 4th. This would provide more space to accommodate parking without having the parking facing the street. In Mountain View, Planning Commission made a similar recommendation to a developer building on El Camino Real with a similar issue. That developer was successfully able to buy the adjacent property and improve the design. With unbundled parking and vehicle trip limits, the could provide less parking. They could use stacking technology to compress the amount of space taken up by the parking. A blank wall facing the street should be unacceptable in a pedestrian-friendly downtown area and the developer should come up with an alternative solution with a more active street face.

Height for housing

The developer is asking for permission to exceed the city’s 55 foot hight limit, to 75 feet. According Measure P, a ballot measure passed in 2004 extending Measure H passed in 1995, the building is required to provide 10% affordable housing units as well as other public benefits in order to exceed the height limit. Whether to grant permission, and what public benefits, will be the subject of debate.

San Mateo downtown is an increasingly popular place for startup companies. Job growth is exceeding housing growth, pushing up housing prices. The developer has applied for a State density bonus of 30% more units than allowed in exchange for including 10% low-income units. Beyond the dedicated low-income units, adding housing supply helps to relieve pressure on existing housing stock, and helps more people get to work without long drives. It is feasible to have a walkable, transit-friendly place within the City’s current height limit. How much should the city trade off improvement to the jobs/housing balance to alleviate rising prices and long commutes?

Posted in San Mateo | 4 Comments

Lawrence Expressway at Lawrence Station – help needed for a neighborhood-friendly, transit-friendly plan

Update: Here are the latest designs from Santa Clara County which were presented very briefly to Sunnyvale Planning Commission on Monday February 24. The material will presented in more depth, with more opportunity for questions an input, at the upcoming meeting on Monday March 3 (see below for detail). On March 3 the County will also present more detail on how the changes will affect Caltrain access and  bicycle access, responding to questions at the Sunnyvale Planning Commission.


Santa Clara County is gathering community input on how to update Lawrence Expressway at the Reed/Monroe and Kifer intersections near Lawrence Station, as well as the Arques. They have been listening to the community and have started to incorporate community ideas in the plan. However, there are still significant concerns about creating neighborhood-friendly streets that can be accessed by Caltrain, walking, and bicycling, and that help the station area feel more like a “place” to live work and shop, supporting the goals of the City’s plans for the station area. There are a few key opportunities to learn about the latest plans and make your voice heard in the next few weeks.

If you care about making sure that the Lawrence Expressway will support – and not undermine – the city’s goals to make the Lawrence Station Area a friendlier neighborhood that supports walking, biking, and transit, please make your voice heard.  Santa Clara County cares a lot what Sunnyvale residents and decision-makers think. Input is needed and will make a difference. Here are the key opportunities:

* 2/24 Planning Commission study session on the latest proposed designs starting at 7pm at Sunnyvale City Hall, West Conference Room

* 3/3, Santa Clara County Public Meeting at 6:30 pm at Briarwood Elementary School (1930 Townsend Avenue, Santa Clara)

* 3/18 Sunnyvale City Council Study Session, time TBD

Posted in Adopt-a-Station, Sunnyvale | 5 Comments