On Thursday January 30, a couple of dozen people came to SPUR offices in downtown San Jose for a workshop organized by Greenbelt Alliance on how to comment on the Diridon Station Area Plan’s Environmental Impact Report. People attended from nearby neighborhoods, and from groups that are interested in bicycling (Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition) , public transit (Friends of Caltrain, TransForm), housing (Public Advocates), business (Silicon Valley Leadership Group), labor (Working Partnerships), and wildlife issues (Sierra Club).
The deadline to submit comments on the Environmental Impact Report is February 13. You can comment to help reduce the plan’s environmental impacts – see suggested comments below.
The biggest risk to the plan is implementation – San Jose will need strong policies to fund and implement transit, biking and walking improvements and incentives. The plan is expected to be reviewed by San Jose’s Planning Commission in May, and City Council in June. Support will be needed to ensure strong implementation, not the least with San Jose leader support for Caltrain.
Overall people at the meeting expressed support for the plan, which is intended to create a more walkable urban area around the station, with about 23,000 jobs and about 2700 homes. The City’s General Plan sets an ambitious goal to reduce driving to 40% of trips; the Diridon Station Area Plan is intended to take advantage of the area’s public transit resources, land use patterns, bike and pedestrian routes, parking guidelines and other policies in order to achieve this 40% goal.
At a time when many cities in the Bay Area are ambivalent about infill development near transit and about accommodating the region’s population growth, and some cities are hesitant to set clear and ambitious goals to increase sustainable transportation, San Jose is enthusiastic and ambitious.
But people attending the Diridon Workshop were concerned about how well the plan will be implemented, with longtime residents expressing some of the greatest concerns. The city has made other exceptions to policies and plans. For example, to encourage large developers to build office complexes in North San Jose, the City has recently waived development fees that are charged to pay for needed infrastructure. Another recent example of an exception to a plan: a new development in the Tamien station area is being proposed that will remove and not replace parking, potentially reducing Caltrain ridership rather than taking advantage of it.
Participants at the workshop called out gaps in the transit and bike/pedestrian networks. Candice Stein, who lives near the Diridon area without a car, pointed out gaps in transit connectivity, especially north – south. The Market Center on Coleman, the San Jose Airport, even Valley Fair Shopping Center, are not easy to reach by public transit if one is leaving from Diridon Station. There are also gaps in the proposed bike and pedestrian network. The Autumn parkway that is being built now will have no bike lanes. The city proposes the Guadalupe River Trail as the recommended route for walking and bicycling, but the Trail is closed at night, creating a gap.
Another gap in the transportation network is Bus Rapid Transit – express bus lines that have fewer stops, speedy boarding and ticketing, and possibly dedicated lanes. VTA is planning to add two BRT lines that will pass near the Diridon Station, potentially bringing workers to jobs in the station area, and to transit connections to jobs via Caltrain and BART. But the San Carlos line will be about half mile away, discouraging people to make the transfer. The El Camino line may be impacted by a lane diet on the Alameda, the section of the route nearest Diridon, which could prevent the construction of a dedicated lane, slowing travel time. The EIR’s transportation analysis doesn’t even include BRT in the set of transit services that are expected to reduce vehicle trips to the station area.
To help achieve the 40% mode share goal, the City is planning to create a Transportation Management Association to fund and implement programs and benefits like shuttles, carpool programs, and transit pass discounts for employees and residents in the area. Th plan will require strong implementation to be successful, including ongoing funding, transparent regular reporting of trip and mode share results, strong collaboration between city and transit agencies, and feedback mechanisms to ensure that the goals are achieved.
Another concern raised was housing affordability. Chris Lepe of TransForm recommended increasing the amount of affordable housing. Lower-income residents tend to drive less, which would help mitigate traffic and greenhouse gas environmental impact. Another question is the amount of housing in the plan. While San Jose has more housing than jobs overall, prices have been steeply rising in walkable neighborhoods near transit, as demand for this type of housing exceeds supply. Should San Jose add more housing in the newly created walkable areas near Diridon?
Participants raised some basic questions about land use. The plan assumes that a baseball stadium will be built in the Diridon Area, but the city and Major League Baseball are embroiled in legal action, and the stadium may not materialize. Michele Beasley of Greenbelt Alliance suggested that the city should create a scenario for the Diridon Station Area if the stadium is not built. Rather than assuming that vibrancy will be created by a single, massive project, the city should create spaces that are attractive and enjoyable. For example, the High Line trail in New York has become a regional attraction and popular public space.
The California Environmental Quality Act requires an agency creating a project or plan to disclose environmental impacts, and to mitigate the impacts if possible. Comments on an Environmental Impact Report process can result in stronger mitigations of environmental impacts. The EIR process is also a political process – impacts are required to be disclosed, enabling residents and stakeholders to educate and urge politicians to take steps to improve the project, and to implement the mitigations after the plan is approved.
Comment on the plan
Based on the workshop and discussions with other groups working on the plan, Friends of Caltrain is planning on commenting on the following topics.
Mitigating environmental impacts
The heart of the EIR process is making comments to mitigate environmental impacts. Here are ways that the plan can mitigate more impacts:
- Include Bus Rapid Transit ridership in the transit services that will reduce vehicle trips, and make it easier to transfer between rail and BRT
- Improve North/South transit, bicycle, and pedestrian connections
- Phase out the arena surface parking lot (which will enable more density and walkability, and fewer vehicle trips)
- Add more support for affordable housing, and more housing in the plan area (Friends of Caltrain is following the lead of local partners with this recommendation). Even though San Jose has a lot of housing overall, demand for walkable housing is outstripping supply, causing prices to spike downtown.
- Require reporting on vehicle trips and transportation mode share – this is the one step that can be approved by City Council up front, without working out more of the implementation details
The plan’s biggest potential weaknesses are in implementation. It is also ok to make written comments on the plan and its implementation, and will be important to emphasize these comments when the plan is reviewed by City Council this Spring.
- Fully fund the proposed Transportation Demand Management and require strong Transportation Demand Management programs, creating programs and incentives for people to get to and from the Diridon area without driving
- Implement effective TDM measures including paid parking, unbundled parking and parking cashout
- Fund the bicycle and pedestrian improvements, including rail and creek crossings
- Design the new BART and High Speed Rail station areas to reduce transfer time between transit services, including Caltrain and bus services
- Help fund transit capital improvements to increase service, speed, and reliability
- Partner closely with the transit agencies to provide well-coordinated frequent service
Do you more have thoughts about how the impacts of the Diridon Station Area Plan can be mitigated or the plan can be improved?
Share your ideas in blog comments here, and please send comments to the city by February 13 here. And if you want an alert when the plan goes to San Jose City Council for review and approval, sign up here.