Mountain View City Council intends to build on Downtown parking lots

In a study session on Tuesday night, Mountain View City Council told staff to solicit bids for a hotel and parking on twin parking lots, and to come back to review concepts for housing on another, larger downtown lot at Bryant between California and Mercy.  The council members brainstormed a number of ideas for housing, including senior housing, subsidized affordable housing, and housing on top of ground floor retail.   The most common public comment at the study session was in favor of adding housing supply, including affordable housing.

Council members including Clark and Kasperzak talked about the city’s past strategy to acquire the land and “bank” it as parking, with the intention of future development.  In Council Member Siegel’s words, it makes no sense to use downtown space for surface parking, given the value of land.

In order to build on lot 12, the Council briefly discussed the potential to use Castro Street, the downtown main street, for the city’s large and successful farmer’s market.  The farmers market currently uses parking lot 12 on football game days, when the Caltrain/light rail lots are used by football fans.   Castro is already closed to cars for a variety of downtown events and festivals.

The site proposed for a hotel and parking includes lots 4 and 8, adjacent to Evelyn which fronts the transit center, on either side of Hope.

Maintaining parking and access

The city’s policy is to replace any parking at least at a 1:1 ratio.  In soliciting hotel proposals, the city will ask for projects that could potentially add more parking.

The city is working on a number of initiatives to use existing parking more efficiently.  At times, on street parking is full, while spaces remain in parking structures. The city plans to install signs showing where space is available, and update its 2011 parking study.  With the leadership of the Downtown Committee, Mountain View is also starting to explore paid parking.  Longterm garage parking for employees requires a permit fee, but on street and lot parking is free (i.e. fully subsidized).

While Mountain View has aggressive plans to reduce driving in the North Bayshore area, there are not yet initiatives to reduce driving in the downtown area.  Meanwhile, Palo Alto and San Mateo are moving ahead with initiatives to reduce the share of driving downtown, and Redwood City Council is expected to consider a similar initiative shortly.

Later this year, Mountain View will start to consider potential changes to the transit area, including the use of land currently used for surface parking.

Lot 12, 1.5 acres being considered for housing

Mountain View Parking Lots 4 and 8 across from Transit Center

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Tonight, Wednesday 1/14 – Redwood City investments in transportation, housing

On Wednesday night at 7pm at the Main Library on Middlefield, Redwood City is hosting a meeting gathering feedback on a community benefits program that is being developed. The City collects funding from developers to support community needs and is deciding how the money will be spent.

 There has been a lot of new development – more than 2000 housing units and offices for 3000 or more workers are under construction or in the pipeline.

  • Should Redwood City invest in bike and pedestrian safety, shuttles, transit passes and other transportation programs to prevent a big parking and traffic crunch when the buildings open up?
  • Average rents have gone up by over 50% over the last 4 years, and an average apartment requires over $50 per hour, pricing out many longterm residents. Should Redwood City use some of the funding to support affordable housing?

For more ideas about investments, see http://redwoodcity.org/rwcForum. If you live, work, or play in Redwood City, come on Wednesday night in person, or share your thoughts online. If you go, please let us know how it went, and we’ll blog the story.

On Sunday, Friends of Caltrain participated in a panel discussion at Back Yard Coffee about big picture Bay Area housing and transportation issues, how they are affecting San Mateo County and Redwood City, and upcoming decisions for RWC. The slides are online here.

 

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Housing and Transportation in Redwood City

How are transportation and housing costs related?  What decisions Redwood City about to make regarding housing and transportation?  This weekend, Sunday afternoon at the Back Yard in Redwood City, come learn, discuss, and get involved.

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Back Yard Coffee Co – 965 Brewster Avenue, RWC
Sunday January 11 – 4-5:30 pm
Panelists:  Adina Levin – Friends of Caltrain.
Diana Reddy – Peninsula Interfaith Action.  Josh Hugg – Housing Leadership Council.  Moderator: Jessica Margolin

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New draft San Mateo Sustainable Streets Plan has lessons for other cities

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

Clearly-explained goals

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.

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 4.16.26 AM.png

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.

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Mountain View Council considering study of downtown grade separation

At tonight’s Mountain View City Council meeting, the Shoreline Corridor Plan that is up for approval includes an important new recommendation regarding potential transformation of the Downtown transit center.   In addition to the expected thoughtful and robust set of improvements to Shoreline Corridor connections between the Caltrain station and North Bayshore for shuttles, cyclists, and pedestrians – which are up for Council approval tonight – the report queues up a major 12-18 month study of the transit center.
Update: City Council approved the plan, including the study of the transit center – exploring the potential for grade separations, and building on the parking lots.
Mountain View Transit Center
Topics to consider in the study, include grade separation at Castro to enable much higher transit volumes with increases in the use of Caltrain, VTA light rail, and High Speed Rail well as the potential to build on the parking lots, potentially adding parking structures, housing, and/or commercial buildings.   The proposed study would include a methodical process for the community to to review how to use the space currently used for surface parking.
Later in the meeting, the Council will review the much-debated North Bayshore Precise Plan, which sets strong trip goals, and does not currently include housing.  Several newly elected incoming Council members support adding housing to the North Bayshore plan to help alleviate the city’s housing shortage, and reduce commute times for some. But the current Council, which has voted against housing in North Bayshore, is schedule to review the housing-free plan for approval tonight.
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East-West or North-South improvements for VTA? Network is best

Data from VTA’s new Environmental report for its its Bus Rapid Transit project on the El Camino line, the most heavily used transit route in the VTA system, shows that if the project is built with dedicated bus lanes, it will make taking the bus time-competitive with driving, for the first time in Santa Clara County history.   Currently, taking even the express 522 bus is nearly twice as slow as driving. Many people choose to drive, since driving is the most practical option.   Making transit 25-30 minutes faster would cost 2-3 minutes for drivers

AM Peak Westbound

PM Peak Eastbound

Auto

43

44

Current bus

71

85

Dedicated Lane BRT

47

52

However, the project version with the best transit outcomes faces several challenges

Obsolete environmental rules make the best transit project look bad

Under obsolete rules, the Environmental Impact Report finds that the version with minimal transit improvements appears as the “environmentally preferred alternative”  The El Camino BRT project is one of the last projects that is being reviewed under obsolete rules that measure “transportation impact on the environment” using metrics of automotive delay.  Last year, the state legislature passed a law to change these metrics, which don’t actually measure harm to the environment.   The new metrics being developed will be be based on Vehicle Miles Traveled per capita.  A project that reduces VMT will be seen as environmentally favorable.  See this web page for more information.

East-West or North-South?

Meanwhile, city council members and community members have asked logical questions about whether El Camino Real BRT will help improve access to the major corporate employment centers.

In Santa Clara County, El Camino Real travels roughly East West, but the major employment centers are to the North, such as Google campus in Mountain View, and Moffett Park in Sunnyvale, and to the South, such as Apple Campus in Cupertino.  When the project was being reviewed earlier by city councils on the corridor, some council members and community members raised a logical concern.   Currently, the buses traveling North/South are infrequent and indirect. Wouldn’t it be better to improve North/South transit, instead of East/West?  VTA listened, and prepared a set of potential improvements to the North/South routes.

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We wanted to test the assumption that North-South improvements would have a greater benefit to job access than East/West improvements.   So we used “transitshed analysis” to see which combination improvements did the best job of connecting residents to job centers. What is a transitshed?  Based on the term “watershed”, which means the area that is drained by a system of rivers and streams, a “transitshed” is the area that is can be accessed by a transit network.

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For example, this picture shows the area that can be accessed from Palo Alto, at 8am, within a commute time of 45 minutes in dark gray, and the area that can be reached in 90 minutes in light gray.

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Comparing East/West and North South improvements

The tool lets you visually observe whether a given service change would allow a resident to get to a key employment destination within a reasonable commute time (e.g. 45 minutes).  And it shows the total number of residents who have access to the total number of jobs.  The tool can be set for any commute time.  In this diagram, the gray color represents the area that can be reached from a given starting point under current conditions, and the light orange color represents the area that can be reached with a set of transit improvements.

The sample employment destinations are:

  • Google campus in Mountain View
  • Moffett Park in Sunnyvale
  • Apple campus in Cupertino

Starting at El Camino and Fair Oaks in Sunnyvale – currently you cannot reach Google campus in Mountain View within a 45 minute commute, and you certainly can not reach downtown Palo Alto within that time. North/South improvements help somewhat, but provide access for 37,000 more people to 17,000 more jobs.

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The version with North/South improvements and dedicated Lane BRT does by far the best job at connecting residents to jobs, allowing over 150,000 more residents have access to 200,000 more jobs, including robust access to the job centers of North Bayshore in Mountain View, and Downtown Palo Alto.

 

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Residents

Jobs

Current

378,000

169,000

N/S improvements only

415,000

185,000

N/S + Mixed Flow

434,000

288,000

N/S + Dedicated Lane BRT

543,000

374,000

Starting at at El Camino Real and Showers in Mountain View – a heavily populated neighborhood, currently you cannot reach Apple campus or Moffett Park in Sunnyvale within a 45 minute commute.   VTAs proposed N/S improvements help a little bit, providing access for 10,000 more residents to 9,000 more jobs.

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The mixed flow version allows 319,000 residents to reach 167,000 jobs.  And the version with both dedicated lane BRT and North/South improvements allows 430,000 residents to reach 233,000 jobs.   That’s over 100,000 more residents, given access to over 75,000 more jobs – by far the strongest access improvement.

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El Camino And Showers

Residents

Jobs

Current

294,000

140,000

North/South Only

303,000

149,000

North/South and Mixed Flow

319,000

167,000

North/South + Dedicated Lane

430,000

233,000

Starting at El Camino and Scott in Santa Clara, a location that is being developed with substantial housing – currently you cannot reach Google campus or Moffett Park effectively within a 45 minute commute.

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While North South improvements help somewhat, the version with dedicated Lane BRT does by far the best job at connecting residents to jobs, allowing 200,000 more residents have access to 70,000 more jobs.

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El Camino and Scott

Residents

Jobs

Current

376,000

270,000

North/South improvements

402,000

297,000

North/South and Mixed Flow

519,000

334,000

North/South and Dedicated Lane

598,000

344,000

Conclusion – Network provides the best commute value

While it seems that North/South bus improvements are the critical missing element to address job center access, this analysis tells a different story. North/South improvements are helpful, but alone they do not solve the problem. A combination of much faster El Camino Real BRT and North/South improvements do the best at connecting employees to jobs.

Credits: the software development for the TransitShed visualization tool was done by Ian Rees, using OpenStreetMap and OpenTripPlanner.   Data regarding the transit schedule improvements is from VTA.  You can experiment with the tool here: http://cloud.ianrees.net/vtabrt/ - feel free to ask questions in comments.

 

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Three Peninsula Cities consider protected bike lanes on El Camino

Last week, Menlo Park Transportation Commission unanimously supported a proposed design with cycle tracks – bike lanes that are protected with a physical barrier, such as curbs or planters – as well as protected intersections that help prevent collisions between vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians.  The Bicycle Commission also strongly supported this option. Based on the feedback, consultants will flesh out the designs, present material at a community meeting in December, and for City Council review in January.  Decisions will also be informed by a study of vehicle parking, which is not yet complete.

According to a survey, Menlo Park residents resoundingly favor improved pedestrian and bicycle safety for El Camino.  81% of respondents desired improve pedestrian safety, while 72% supported bicycle lanes, and only 17% sought faster vehicle speeds on El Camino. The most prevalent use of El Camino was shopping, with 69% using El Camino to patronize local businesses.

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The San Mateo Sustainable Streets Plan lays out a goal to increase multi-modal access for people of all ages and abilities, and specifically to increase the combined bicycle and pedstrian mode share to 30% for trips one mile or shorter by 2020.   El Camino is part of the vision.

Sections of protected bike lanes on El Camino San Mateo

Sections of protected bike lanes on El Camino San Mateo

In the San Mateo Sustainable Streets Plan, was presented for Council review last week,  to positive council and community response, proposes designs for El Camino that include Cycle Tracks from 2nd Avenue to 9th Avenue, the segment closest to downtown.  The proposed improvements also include high-visibility cross-walks and pedestrian refuge islands to make it easier to cross the street.   The plan lays out a longer vision that would need further review with the community and with CalTrans, the state agency that has official control of the road, but has been making progress toward approving people-friendly designs for populated areas. (see page 4-3 for the section on El Camino).

Survey results in San Mateo, with over 600 responses, also show strong support for better pedestrian and bicycle facilities.     The preferences for better pedestrian and bike safety hold even when residents are asked to make tradeoffs.  “Residents expressed the strongest support for investing in bike, pedestrian, and transit facilities at the expense of road expansion” (page 5)

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In Mountain View, the draft El Camino Precise Plan allows for bicycle lanes or cycle tracks along El Camino Real, focusing on areas that are needed to close gaps in the bicycle networks, that have long gaps between commercial driveways, where onstreet parking is less critical for local businesses.  The draft plan includes a longterm goal of reducing the need for onstreet vehicle parking as buildings on El Camino are developed.  The plan calls for an implementation phase study of planning and engineering options for bicycle facilities on El Camino, including relationship with onstreet parking, bus and pedestrian facilities.

Originally used as a highway traversing the state, the role of El Camino Real role for long-distance travel has been supplanted by freeways 101 and 280.  The street is used for retail businesses, as a main bus route, and increasingly for housing with access to transit.  Communities are moving toward appreciating the role that can be played by walking and bicycling in supporting local commerce and reducing traffic.

According to Ellen Barton, the San Mateo County bicycle/pedestrian coordinator, 70% of all trips are non-commute trips, and even during peak commute periods, perhaps 50% of all trips are for purposes such as shopping, errands, and recreation.   Marketing and education programs to shift short trips less than 2 miles to bicycling and walking could help reduce peak hour congestion.

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All of these proposed changes are works in progress. In Menlo Park, a more fleshed out draft will be presented at a community meeting in December, and presented for City council review in January for approval in Q1.   In San Mateo and Mountain View, the proposals will need further study and community review, and only cover parts of El Camino Real.   While more planning and review will be needed for all of these changes, the proposed transformations of El Camino Real reflect a substantial shift from the road’s car-centric past.

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Palo Alto Council to review El Camino Bus Rapid Transit, which would make the bus time-competitive with driving

The VTA Bus Rapid Transit project would make the El Camino bus time-competitive with driving, including in Palo Alto. This evening, Palo Alto City Council will review the project at a study session starting at 5pm.

VTA ECR BRT

For the El Camino route as a whole San Jose to Palo Alto, people using the bus would travel over 30 minutes faster, and a driving trip would be 3-4 minutes slower.  But, almost nobody travels on ECR from Palo Alto all the way to San Jose – most trips are 5-7 miles long, whether driving or taking the bus.

The proposed project has two main options – so-called mixed flow,which would have upgraded bus stops that allow people to pay before boarding, and dedicated lane, which would use a lane of El Camino exclusively for bus use.  If none of these changes were made (the so called no build alternative), VTA would still increase bus frequency from every 13 minutes to every 10 minutes.

For a more typical example – to travel from downtown Palo Alto to the San Antonio area in Mountain View, without any bus service changes, driving will take ~10 minutes and the express bus will take 22 minutes in 2018.  The mixed flow version saves only 1 minute in bus travel time.  With the dedicated lane version, the bus will take 10 minutes and driving will take 11 minutes.  So, at the cost of 1 minute in drive time, we get bus service that is time-competitive with driving!

Making the bus time-competitive with driving is *the* factor that attracts choice riders and causes ridership to increase.  When Caltrain introduced the Baby Bullet service, that’s when ridership spiked, increasing well over double in the following decade.   Recent BRT projects in Eugene, Oregon, Cleveland, and Los Angeles show that projects that made the bus much more time-competitive with driving exceeded their ridership projections.

El Camino BRT would be complementary with Caltrain.  Stops are closer together:  BRT will make 15 stops on El Camino Real and the Alameda, providing access to more destinations.  Caltrain electrification will enable more frequent service – potentially a BART-like 20 minute schedule. BRT service will still be more frequent, coming every 10 minutes.

Yes, some intersections would be worse for drivers with dedicated lanes.  Out of the 1 minute longer drive time, 20 seconds would be extra delay at Oregon and Page Mill. The dedicated lane version would divert some trips away from El Camino Real and add traffic to some side street intersections, but those impacts can be mitigated according to the EIR.  For example, Alma and Meadow would get 2 seconds slower, and by 2040 it would be 15 seconds slower.  Is that tradeoff worth creating a bus route that is 10 minutes faster, and time-competitive with driving?

Currently, Palo Alto’s land use plans include El Camino Real as a site for more housing.  If we want to use ECR as a site for more housing, a time-competitive bus would be extremely valuable to enable El Camino residents to have fewer cars, generate less traffic, and have a more attractive, safer streetscape with better pedestrian and bicycle accommodations.

TRAVEL TIME (2018) – UNIVERSITY AVE (Palo Alto) TO SHOWERS DR (Mountain View) – PM

No Build

Mixed Flow

Dedicated Lane

BRT (522)

22.1

20.9

9.7

Auto

10.2

10.2

11.1

Update: at the city council meeting, council members Scharff and Burt expressed skepticism about the plan.  Sharff was surprised that the VTA’s environmental impact report included a version with dedicated lanes all the way through to Palo Alto, although Palo Alto Council had opposed that option earlier.   Council Member Burt expressed a preference for using the VTA EcoPass bulk discount program to increase the use of the existing express bus service, rather than supporting making the service faster.   Council Member Berman acknowledged community concerns and expressed an interest in reviewing the information in the environmental report.   Chief Transportation Official Jaime Rodriguez mentioned concern about the impacts on side street intersections, such as Alma and Charleston.

During public comment, one community member expressed concern that there would be little ridership in Palo Alto because bus riders are lower income on average, while another community member described her family’s frequent bus use while living in Vancouver, where bus service was more convenient.

No council members drew connections between the potential relationship between time-competitive bus service, and the city’s transportation demand management initiative to reduce traffic and parking demand, although a recent downtown intercept survey showed that about 10% of respondents used public buses, with 4% reporting VTA and 6% reporting SamTrans.

As a next step, staff will analyze the proposal and present a letter for Council to weigh in.

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SamTrans considers El Camino Real bus speedup

SamTrans has published a study about the potential to speed up El Camino Real bus service by up to 25%.  ECR is the highest ridership line in the system, with over 13,000 daily weekday boardings.   Ridership on the ECR line has increased about 15% since frequency has been increased to every 15 minutes (as of August 2014)

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The changes being considered are similar to features that created the VTA 522 Rapid service, which has “signal priority” allowing the bus to get a green light, and has fewer stops than the local 22.

SamTrans studied various options for the speedup – doing an “overlay” adding a route with fewer stops, on top of local service that would continue run but less frequently, and a “hybrid” concept that removes up to 50% of stops across the line.   SamTrans’ analysis shows that the changes would increase ridership by up to 35%.

As cities continue to add development along El Camino Real following the principles of the Grand Boulevard initiative, better bus service is likely to help the area handle more people with less driving.  All of the improvement options would increase ridership, but would cost more money.

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Current

Overlay (keeps local) in 2020

Hybrid (eliminates local) in 2020

Ridership

16,600 daily

19,000 to 22,000

17,700 to 22,500

Ridership % change

+ 19% to 34%

+ 6% to 35%

Cost

$14.5 Million

+ $5.7m to $10.3M

+ $1.3M to $8.4M

Cost % change

+ 34% to 59%

+ 8% to 51%

What SamTrans calls the “hybrid” option would be relatively less expensive to run.   But it wouldn’t have any close-together local stops. According to SamTrans’ analysis for its strategic plan, elderly people will represent an increasing share of ridership as the baby boom generation ages. People tend to outlive their ability to drive by 7-10 years. Elderly people with less mobility tend to prefer closer stops; eliminating local service entirely would be a problem for these riders.

A “Rapid” service could also transit signal priority, which would reduce travel time by 15 minutes over the line, and improvements to bus stops to provide a better rider experience.

Enhanced bus stops

Canopy, benches, windscreen, lighting, realtime info

$11 million

Transit signal priority

Reduces travel time by 15 minutes

$2.4 million

Improvements to the ECR route would complement Caltrain. Although though the routes are parallel and close together across much of the line, the bus stops will continue to be closer together. The ECR line has over 100 stops in each direction. The proposed Rapid service would have 37 to 76 stops.  Caltrain has only 11 stops in San Mateo County.

SamTrans is not considering a dedicated lane for the bus, unlike the Bus Rapid Transit project in Santa Clara County, which would make bus travel time-competitive with car travel. But slowing car travel, even by 3 minutes over the distance from San Jose to Palo Alto, is running into significant political pushback.

The proposal builds on the traditional highest performing North/South route on the Peninsula Corridor, and doesn’t area’s chronic weakness, east-west connectivity. The draft SamTrans strategic plan proposes using “pulse” scheduling to enable connections to less frequent routes, as well as continuing to experiment with on-demand service that might help with connectivity in lower density areas.

SamTrans will be taking public input on the proposed changes at a meeting on November 18 at SamTrans HQ in San Carlos at 6pm, as well as meetings of the Grand Boulevard Task Force and Working Committee on November 19 and December 15, the SamTrans Citizens Advisory Committee on December 3, and other groups on request.

What do you think about this idea to beef up El Camino Real bus service in San Mateo County?

 

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VTA Bus Rapid Transit environmental report shows bus could be time-competitive with driving

VTA has recently released the environmental impact report for its its Bus Rapid Transit project on the El Camino line, the most heavily used transit route in the VTA system. The report shows that if the project is built with dedicated bus lanes, it will make taking the bus time-competitive with driving, for the first time in Santa Clara County history.   Currently, taking the express 522 bus is nearly twice as slow as driving.   Making transit 25-30 minutes faster would cost 2-3 minutes for drivers.

Travel time AM Peak Westbound PM Peak Eastbound
Auto

43

44

Current bus

71

85

BRT Dedicated Lane

47

52

However, obsolete environmental rules make the best transit project look bad, by measuring its transportation impact terms of vehicle delay, so saving 3 minutes for drivers outweighs saving 30 minutes for people taking transit.  Last year, the state legislature passed a law to change the rules; starting next year, a project that reduces vehicle miles will be seen as environmentally favorable.  For more information about the project – see TransForm’s blog post

If you are interested in learning more and commenting, there are several upcoming meetings:

  • Sunnyvale Council study session on November 11 at 5:15pm at City Council Chambers, 456 W. Olive Ave., Sunnyvale, CA 94086

  • VTA community meetings in Mountain View on November 20, 8:30am to 10:30 am and 5:30pm to 7:30pm at Mountain View City Council Chambers, 500 Castro Street

  • VTA community meetings, Wednesday, December 3, 8:30 to 10:30am and 5:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. at Santa Clara City Council Chambers, 1500 Warburton Avenue, Santa Clara, CA.

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