Santa Clara County’s segment of El Camino Real is on the cusp of major changes.
All of the cities along El Camino targeted the corridor to accommodate future growth in a manner that is far different from the status quo. Santa Clara is taking the lead by embracing the Grand Boulevard Initiative and spearheading the transition from ugly expressway to multimodal promenade. The city plans for wide sidewalks, bike lanes and storefronts built right to the street.
Critical to this vision is frequent, fast and reliable transit. Along with the bike, pedestrian and urban design improvements, Santa Clara is facilitating robust transit service by replacing two of the six auto lanes with dedicated bus lanes and light rail-like stations.
While this proposal was broached among local authorities, it parallels Valley Transportation Authority’s overall vision to bring bus rapid transit service to the county’s stretch of El Camino Real between San Jose and Palo Alto. This project will bring much-needed improvements to VTA's highest ridership corridor with 10-minute frequencies and a 30 percent travel time reduction from local service. Dedicated bus-only lanes are key to maintaining reliability and mobility in the worst traffic congestion.
Unfortunately, at a meeting last Tuesday, the Mountain View City Council was much more tepid on exclusive bus lanes than their Santa Clara counterparts.
Following a presentation from VTA staff that proposed two dedicated bus lanes, four auto lanes and two bike lanes for El Camino, the majority of council members questioned the need for exclusive lanes and said they felt auto throughput was paramount in mobility considerations for the corridor.
Councilman Tom Means described his ambivalence to dedicated lanes as “a question of equity.” In reality, mobility investments in Santa Clara County and Mountain View are dedicated almost entirely to private automobiles. An oversupply of parking is required by city codes, and the region is crisscrossed by massive arterials and freeways. Dedicating two lanes to transit on El Camino would go a long way to making mobility more equitable, not less.
Other opposition revolved around misguided concerns about traffic congestion. Councilwoman Laura Macias said, “objectively, I think mixed flow works for us.” An objective deduction from the traffic data leads one to conclude that dedicated lanes are a superior option, compared with the six-lane status quo.
Valid are the concerns of redirected traffic. VTA's model predicts increased traffic on surrounding streets under the four-lane option. However, the city can implement design mitigations on the peripheral streets that will maintain the quality of life for nearby residents.