News

A car-less Googletopia in the works?

A unique vision coalesces for Google's neighborhood

Imagine a futuristic bay-front enclave for Google and Microsoft employees where no cars are allowed, buildings have green roofs and no carbon footprint, people travel in automated pods and live in apartments among the office buildings.

That is a vision that shimmered before City Council members and planning commissioners during a brainstorming session June 28 about how the city and Google could create a futuristic campus worthy of the company's avant-garde reputation.

Google's headquarters dominates the area north of Highway 101 known as "North Bayshore" and the city is updating that neighborhood's blueprint for future development in what is known as the city's general plan update.

A car-less future?

"What if we just didn't have cars" in North Bayshore? said council member Laura Macias. "What if we found a way to do it without that? We're all going to find a way to drive, if we can. But if we all have to park our car, who knows? Maybe it could be a model for other cities."

With traffic problems a serious concern on the two streets in and out of North Bayshore, the council and commission appeared to seriously consider Macias' comments. It wouldn't be major departure from Google's culture, as Google already shuttles employees in from numerous locations, including San Francisco and Mountain View's downtown train station. And Google places hundreds of unlocked bicycles around North Bayshore to facilitate the mobility of its workers.

"Saying no cars at all -- I agree with you but that means more parking downtown and using a shuttle," said Mayor Ronit Bryant. "It means we have to build huge parking lots. There are no easy answers."

Bryant pointed to the model of Stanford University, which is allowed by the city of Palo Alto to add buildings as long as car traffic does not exceed 1989 levels. So the University pays its employees not to drive to work and operates a shuttle system. "They are growing and growing and traffic is not growing," Bryant said.

Google already has more employees than parking spaces typically required by the city per employee, and the company continues to grow. But most agree that adding parking lots and large parking garages in the Shoreline area would be a mistake.

"We make people build parking garages, we can make them build a transportation structure instead," said council member Mike Kasperzak, who added that "It's not efficiency to only use half the land, half the time" for a parking lot.

Councilman Jac Siegel said the city needed to be "specific" about how it would deal with traffic in the Shoreline area, either by not allowing cars or by building a personal rapid transit system. The Council has already passed a resolution supporting the concept of a system of automated pods that ride on dedicated guideways on the ground or overhead. A NASA Ames-based company, Unimodal, has said it would fund such a system in Mountain View if the city stepped up to be the company's first.

Or the city could leave its options open.

"Maybe it's a good place to allow for some experimentation, trying different concepts out," said council member Margaret Abe-Koga.

Whatever the city does, Google's real estate director Dan Hoffman said he was "inspired" by the discussion and a young Google employee and resident said it gave him "faith" that the city's plans for Google's neighborhood were headed in the right direction.

A second downtown?

Kasperzak said the city didn't need another downtown, and that he was unsure what a neighborhood of Google offices, stores and housing would look like. Some envisioned college-style dorms. A city staff report mentions a "campus" feel as being important to Google.

Councilwoman Abe-Koga asked why Google couldn't build housing above offices. Meanwhile, famous architect William McDonough, who inspired the council with a presentation in April, advocates for buildings that can be easily switched between office and housing use.

"We don't want it to look like all the other business developments with tall, strange buildings and empty areas with benches nobody would ever want to sit," said Mayor Bryant. "Any intensification needs to go hand-in-hand with green roofs and much more focus on public transit."

Bryant's comments about green roofs alluded to an idea advocated by McDonough that involves growing vegetation on roofs to insulate buildings and make use of storm water, as is done on Google's YouTube buildings in San Bruno.

Google had previously hired McDonough as a consultant and he created in 2008 the "McDonough master plan," a general plan for the neighborhood which includes stores and homes along Shoreline Boulevard south of Charleston Road and a transit hub at Shoreline Boulevard and Charleston Road.

Similarly, Google sent a letter in February to the city pushing the city to allow homes and stores in the area so that North Bayshore could "continue to be the center of sustainable development for Google's HQ campus."

However, council members are hesitant to put housing in the area, which they said would permanently eat away the city's valuable industrial land and potentially block industrial development nearby.

"Five thousand units we were told, minimum," Council member Siegel said of the housing Google wants. "That seems to be a bit of an issue for me."

Commissioner Rachel Grossman disagreed, saying, "Locating housing out here is a way to have a more complete neighborhood. People can walk and bike."

It's a way to solve the "traffic challenges we have," she said.

Kasperzak believes a lack of housing for Google's 10,000 Mountain View workers has driven up the cost of the city's housing. "If you have to drive from Tracy to work here, it really isn't a sustainable project."

No high-rises for Google

Dan Hoffman, Google's real estate director, reassured the city last Monday that at Google "we're not into building 10-story high-rises" in North Bayshore. The Council has already expressed support for allowing office buildings up to seven stories tall in the area, citing the need for flexibility in the future.

"We do like the views of the mountains and Shoreline Park," Hoffman said.

What Google wants to build may look more along the lines of the design Google submitted to the city in 2008 for a five-story, amorphously sleek 310,000 square foot building that incorporates nearly every innovation in green design. The plans have been on hold, but city planner Nancy Minicucci called the building "extraordinary" and architect Yvonne Farrell said it had the potential to be the greenest office building in the world. And while high density might be allowed under proposed zoning changes, the building hardly dominates the nine-acre lot it sits on.

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by OMV Mom
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 8, 2010 at 2:29 pm

It's great to visualize new possibilities. But who pays for this? Is it Google? Or does the City fund this vision with the Shoreline District tax money instead of sending it back to our local public schools (where potential North Bayshore residents would be sending their kids)? Today 50% of our local kids are enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program, K-3 class sizes are increasing to 25 students, teacher lay-offs have already begun, and state funding is decreasing at a continually rapid clip. City Councilmembers--please keep the practical reality and needs of Mountain View residents today in mind as you visualize possibilities for the future. Don't overlook our kids!!!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by eric
a resident of another community
on Jul 8, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Am I the only one concerned that our Council is spinning its wheels on such unrealistic fantasyland stuff but cant decide how to address the very real HSR issue in front of it?

Adding housing and adding office space will NOT decrease traffic. It will increase it in two different directions. This has been proven time and again. This aint Allentown. People change jobs around here-- often. A rolling supply of housing for a single employers workers makes no real world sense at all.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Give It A Chance
a resident of The Crossings
on Jul 8, 2010 at 3:29 pm

We're at "peak oil," folks, so imaging a world where we drive as much as we do now is, in my opinion, less realistic than what Google and the city are considering. I'm proud to live in a city that thinks ahead.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Tom
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Jul 8, 2010 at 4:57 pm

Light Rail already exists on the north side of 101 at Ellis Street. A line could be extended from that point through Moffett, over to the Shoreline Amphitheater and Google area. In this way, the future Moffett projects, the Amphitheater and Google can be served. Riders would be able to go directly to and from the Caltrain Station.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Rodger
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Jul 8, 2010 at 5:38 pm

I don't really care what Google does as long as we get them paying more taxes, it seems they are not paying their fair share, and don't restrict in any way the area including the shoreline and the present park in anyway for those of us who live in Mountain View.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Marvin
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 8, 2010 at 8:54 pm

The vision makes sense if only employees are allowed in the housing. If not, we'll have residents commuting to SF and Blossom Valley, while workers come in from Campbell and Tracy. Housing must be linked to the job for this to work.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by USA
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 8, 2010 at 10:27 pm

USA is a registered user.

"our Council is spinning its wheels on such unrealistic fantasyland stuff but cant decide how to address the very real HSR issue in front of it"

Eric, HSR is fantasyland stuff.

This video of a recent town hall meeting explains the concept: Web Link


 +   Like this comment
Posted by eric
a resident of another community
on Jul 9, 2010 at 9:19 am

USA, I dont disagree at all. The point is, the council cant even decide how they want to deal with the potential HSR that COULD impact the city (yeah, if it gets built), but they can engage in their little Mountain-View-as-Epcot-West stupidity.

Love it, hate it, think it will never happen, HSR is an actual issue that the council has an OBLIGATION to address decisively. Building a Google theme park isnt.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Amy
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 9, 2010 at 10:34 am

These are all noble ideas the council and Google are mulling over, but they may not be practical. For the pod-people movers to work, Google employees need to live next to their office. If I were a Google employee (unfortunately I am not) I am not sure I'd want to live so close to work and be so isolated from everything else. Once you have a few kids, you want to be near schools, parks, library, dance class, soccer practice etc... It would be best if the people pods connected the Shoreline area to the rest of Mountain View. That would serve all of Mountain View, not just Google and Microsoft.

Sadly, Google will not be there forever. We moved to Mountain View because SGI was at Shoreline and my husband rode his bike down the trail to work. That seems like a lifetime ago, but it is only 10 years ago. Then just 7 years ago all those company signs along Shoreline read "office space for lease." There will be another tech down turn and those expensive people-pods will fall into disuse and disrepair. Better just keep the shuttles. Look at the BART extension into SFO? Total waste of money when the free shuttle bus worked just fine, but don't get me started on that one!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by ben
a resident of Monta Loma
on Jul 9, 2010 at 12:46 pm

I have lived long enough to have heard it all. Now we have the SkyTran pod fantasy. There was the transportation promise of the helicopter in every driveway in the late 1940's. Disneyland monorail system will be built throughout the nation because it is the transportation system of the future. Bart promised a transportation system with 9o second headways (a train ever 90 second – no waiting). The Santa Clara County transit system was supposed to prevent traffic congestion in the future. Dial ride was supposed to transport the elderly around town. Now we have the SkyTran pod system and High Speed Rail (HSR).

While serving on the Santa Clara Transit Goals Committee in 1972, I predicted that if land use planning was not going to be implemented to restrict growth to a manageable level we would be looking at the unimaginable company store and housing, which is now being suggested by some. At that time, I said, if we keep growing without land use planning, the only open space we will have left is the airstrip at Moffett field.

Politicians cannot present the serious negatives of any futuristic system. The sky train prod system of has many negatives and this type of system has been proposed long ago but has not been accepted because it does not fit into the present transportation system plus there are engineering difficulties with such a system. (Monorail, magnalev and hanging pods systems have engineering problems and have never really been accepted or else they would have been built long ago.)

SkyTran system faults and problems:
Violates handicap wheelchair laws.
No bicycle access for pod system.
Backup congestion problems when a large number of people want to go to the same point – limited capacity.
System does not interface with other transportation systems carrying capacities.
(Imagine 100 people getting off Caltrain and trying to access the SkyTran lined up pods, if they are available.)
Social problems of sitting next to somebody like a homeless person riding the system to be out of the cold.

Why do we have to grow beyond are carrying capacity for resources such as water schools and city services. Uncontrolled growth results in the next bubble, bust, and recession, where there will be many more unemployed compared to the previous recession. When will we learn that overpopulation and overdevelopment is the basis for all of our headaches, HSR included.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Will
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 9, 2010 at 1:28 pm

No cars, but Brin and Page will presumably still have their private jets fly in and out of Moffett Field...


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Greg Perry
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jul 9, 2010 at 1:32 pm


If we don't build here, where do you think people will live?

They will live east of here, and drive their cars long distances to their jobs.

I don't think they will all walk or take magic pods. Disney's employees drive to work, and so will Google's- with or without futuristic transit.

But, if they live in silicon valley, they will drive 25 miles per day. If they live east of Pleasanton, they will drive 100 miles per day. Those 75 miles per employee per day make a huge difference.



 +   Like this comment
Posted by OMV Mom
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 9, 2010 at 2:42 pm

@ Rodger--Google does pay property tax at the same rate as all of the rest of us do. It's just that instead of going toward all the things our local property taxes support, a percentage of what Google (and other property owners in North Bayshore) pays goes back to the Shoreline District. That percentage adds up to some pretty serious dollars, some of which would otherwise support our schools.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by USA
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 9, 2010 at 2:52 pm

USA is a registered user.

Eric, the city should keep an open mind and consider all ideas including the fluffy ones like pod movers and HSR, though I don't think they should be *obligated* to do so.

Amy, agreed. Google is a good neighbor, but they can disappear as fast as they arrived. In making public policy and spending decisions, we need to keep in mind that we have a very dynamic economy and workforce.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Howard Goodell Jr.
a resident of another community
on Jul 10, 2010 at 9:31 pm

Hi --

Response to Ben from someone also old enough to have seen a good bit ;-) Traffic has gotten far worse since I grew up on the Peninsula in the 1960's and 1970's -- it's time to look at new ideas. I have studied Doug Malewicki's (MS Aerospace Engineering from Stanford BTW) SkyTran intensively and talked in depth with him and his partners about the design. Basics:
* 200-pound 2-person "pod" cars ride 1'-wide "guideway" 20-30' overhead.
* Tiny stations 10' above sidewalks or attached to building upper floors.
* 200-MPG equivalent; no pollution; easily all-renewable power (solar panels above tracks and/or renewable sources anywhere on grid; charge electric cars parked at suburban stations with surplus.)
* Quieter than a bicycle (small+aerodynamic+no wheel noise+elevated).
* System footprint = utility pole/30 feet (+station stairs & handicap elevators/1 mile). => quick to build; won't disrupt neighborhoods.
* Computer-driven "people Internet": work/surf/sleep instead of drive.
* Extremely safe => follow closer => expected passenger capacity > 3-lane freeway.
* Cheap to build & operate + high capacity => PROFITABLE at current Caltrain fares => systems could be privately financed with zero tax burden as Unimodal proposes.

OK; your specific issues:

You worry about handicap access, but I was actually drawn by SkyTran's handicap-accessibility. Wheelchair elevators at stations and special pods will accommodate most wheelchairs; system profits can pay to upgrade equipment/provide alternative transport for the remainder.

What people don't think about is that SkyTran being computer-driven will let MILLIONS who can't drive today because of handicaps, age (when my parents were both unable to drive, I called it "house arrest"), or other reasons (e.g. someone who's drunk/high) -- use it safely. If my youngest son, who had moderate-severe retardation and health issues, had lived to adulthood, I think it would have changed his life by letting him reach jobs and social and recreational opportunities safely without always needing a family member or hired driver. I helped write this proposal for SkyTran handicap access: Web Link .

On today's mass transit, you can't avoid homeless people (you were too polite to say muggers, drug pushers, etc.), because its design forces you to ride and wait with strangers. Not SkyTran. There's no waiting at SkyTran stations -- instead vehicles wait for you like computer-driven taxicabs -- you just get in. You don't need to change at intermediate stations, because all trips are point-to-point. Finally; since the cars hold one or two persons, and you will need a wireless billing token to ride them, you only ride with someone you choose to.

Passenger volume -- SkyTran handles this by decentralizing. Tracks are are much cheaper than highways; so there will be more of them -- about a 1-mile grid. People will get on near their homes or offices without needing to concentrate at a few points. Wherever there is a concentrated passenger load, there will be many of the tiny, cheap stations -- directly on multiple floors of a big office building or stadium, for instance. Building 10 SkyTran stations to accommodate your 100 arriving Caltrain commuters quickly would cost far less than providing parking -- plus no traffic jam when 100 cars hit the roads at once.

Second seat + storage area will take most bicycles if you pop the front wheel or buy a folding model -- have you seen VW's bik-E that folds into the spare-tire well(!)? Or just park one at each station like I did riding the SPRR to SJ State College (as I knew them back then;-) A 1-mile grid of SkyTran tracks and a station every mile at the midpoint between intersecting tracks is at most .5 miles (.25 miles=2-3 blocks on average) from any address -- draw it out if you don't believe me! So most bikes/cars are probably for suburban spurs; within the grid most people will probably walk. Not a bad idea, especially for folks like us who are old enough to have seen a lot ;-)

Take care!
Howie


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Charles
a resident of another community
on Jul 11, 2010 at 6:32 am

I live in Santiago Villa in North Bayshore. To say I can't use my property which I have paid for where I live I am sure is against the Constitution. I am sure the taxpayers don't want to pay for the city to transport me and my family to every place I want and need to go.

You keep hearing of cities making budget cuts to police and fire. I don't hear Mountain View making such cuts. You should thank God that Microsoft and Google are located here.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Charles
a resident of another community
on Jul 11, 2010 at 6:46 am

I know you guys want to forget there ever was a Constitution but old veterans like me and the armed forces are sworn to protect the Constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Charles
a resident of another community
on Jul 11, 2010 at 8:03 am

To me transportation is freedom and it is a freedom I take very seriously. I pay a lot of money to maintain that freedom.

I am sure all of the employees at Google and Microsoft who went to the best universities in the country in order to work there love their freedoms too.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by John
a resident of North Whisman
on Jul 11, 2010 at 7:38 pm

Linking housing to your job seems amazingly stupid. So when Google lays you off, or you get a better job, you have to move? Fail.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Old Ben
a resident of Shoreline West
on Jul 12, 2010 at 1:03 am

What are you people smoking? This thing is every bit as stupid as the HSR idea. SHOW ME THE MONEY.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Clyde
a resident of The Crossings
on Jul 12, 2010 at 9:07 am

They're smoking medical marijuana.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Ben
a resident of Monta Loma
on Jul 12, 2010 at 11:53 am

Howie is a pro transit person. They typically ignore the engineering problems with his seemingly positive statements about the pod system. They also typically ignore the negative social implications of people's transportation need. It is useless to point the negatives, because they simply will not accept any negative aspects of their perceived ideal systems

Two pod cars are going to accommodate a family of four so their children have to be split up between two pods - not very desirable. One child rides in one pod with one parent while the other chilled rides in another pod with the other parent, but what if you have a third child, is it going to be in a plot by itself, or a single mother with two children. How are these persons going to be accommodated?

Where is a wheelchair going to be placed in the two-passenger pod system?

Most of the Howie's all statements if examined closely are really negatives or impractical. You can only realize this if you have listened to transit experts (Talks by transit experts at the Santa Clara Transit Goals Committee meetings in 1972 – people's attitudes and lifestyles have not changed much since then.) In fact, the automobile has even gotten to have more appeal since 1972.

GPS systems to get you to the exact address with the music of your choice, a shopping cart full of groceries and two car seats for babies along with the dual seat stroller – almost door to door. (I could go on and on with the problems that the transit systems dreamers have totally ignore and will not address with their ideal systems that are not practical for the majority. The auto works until overpopulation and over development saturates the system, because it has developed to supply the needs of most people. The pod system will never accommodate these needs and the problems they face with the mass transit systems that never more that 5 to 10 percent of the people.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by ben
a resident of Monta Loma
on Jul 12, 2010 at 12:44 pm


Greg Perry posted this:
If we don't build here, where do you think people will live?
Well Greg, how much of the world's future population can we place since Santa Clara Valley or California without overwhelming the governmental services and environment. The there is the fact that we consume 25 percent of the world resources.
Mexico City metropolitan area population is 21.2 million. California Population 36,961,664 - Jul 2009. Mexico City Area can overpopulate the Central Valley in about 20 years. That would result in the loss of the most farms and we would have to import most of our food.
I agree where people will live is a big problem. Greg seems to be ignorant of the worldwide overpopulation problem and does not consider the problems with over-development. The government limits the number of people in meeting rooms, restaurants, etc. for the welfare and safety of the citizens. It seem that we should limit our growth for the same reasons, before we get into situations like of some regions of the world – burning forest for producing charcoal so they can cook there food – Clearing forests for food production and increasing global warming.
Gong green is not going to work in the long run if the city doubles the population because ask where are these people going to live.
The basic problem is not that there are too few jobs there are too many people for the society to support and too few resources to sustain an overpopulated society.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Steve Raney - Palo Alto
a resident of another community
on Jul 13, 2010 at 9:35 am

As Councilman Seigal proposes, PRT to connect Google campus to downtown would be amazingly effective at removing cars.

Google co-founder Larry Page's May 2 2009 University of Michigan commencement speech: "When I was here at Michigan, I wanted to build a personal rapid transit system on campus to replace the buses. It was a futuristic way of solving our transportation problem. I still think a lot about transportation — you never lose a dream, it just incubates as a hobby. Many things that people labor hard to do now, like cooking, cleaning, and driving will require much less human time in the future. That is, if we 'have a healthy disregard for the impossible' and actually build new solutions."

ULTra is a battery-driven, 200-mpg-equivalent, elevated personal rapid transit (PRT) system with many four-person vehicles. First deployment is scheduled for London Heathrow Airport in 2010, to serve Heathrow's new Terminal 5. Working as circulator transit for office parks, airports, universities, and other major activity centers, ULTra is faster than a car. In these applications, ULTra makes carpooling, Caltrain, HSR, VTA light rail, VTA bus, and Google Bauer bus more effective, by solving the "last mile problem." PRT also enables longer bike commutes and shopping trips. Google's "transportation platform" (Google Transit, Google Ride Finder, Android GPS phones, etc) can help glue all the green transportation options together. Peer-reviewed market research for two other Bay Area transit-served major job centers, Palo Alto's Stanford Research Park (SRP) and Pleasanton's Hacienda Business Park, forecasts a PRT-induced commuting mode reduction from more than 80% single occupancy vehicle (SOV) down to 45% SOV. In these two studies, carpooling increased to more than 30% and transit increased beyond 15%. Such commuting shift could free more than 50 acres of surface parking for higher use. The PRT system should be part of VTA's transit system, with seamless fare box/fare gate integration.

"There is so much development going on right in this area. In 5 or 10 years we'll have gridlock on (recently expanded) Highway 101/85 merge. We'll need an alternative. The proposal to connect Google, NASA, and Caltrain makes sense as an alternative. PRT will be like a dam breaking. We're all frustrated with current transit in the area." - Google employee.

PRT system sketch with costing: Web Link

ULTra system:
* ADA compliant
* bikes fit easily
* UK safety certification is compatible with ASCE Safety Standards
* One MV Councilmember has already toured the Heathrow ULTra system
* ULTra station design to interface with MV Caltrain station provides high capacity, low-wait transfer
* Even better than 1972 PRT designs


 +   Like this comment
Posted by ben
a resident of Monta Loma
on Jul 13, 2010 at 10:24 am

Steve Raney and many other are oblivious and ignore the message. Uncontrolled growth is bad. The more we growth the more resources are used up – less resources for future generations. The more we grow her harder it will be for future generations to achieve a sustainable study state. How long can we grow at the present rate considering the rapid growth of the middle class in China and India? Will the these societies last for another 100 or 1,000 years before they crash like Easter Island did (ran out of trees – lumber to build boat to feed the growing population – the population crashed – we never learn from history)?

When will we run out of oil, water, farmable land, and then there is global warming? Never according to people like the delusional dreamers (Raney and Greg Parry) – build, build, build!

Raney wrote: "We'll need an alternative. The proposal to connect Google, NASA, and Caltrain makes sense as an alternative. PRT will be like a dam breaking. We're all frustrated with current transit in the area." - Google employee.

The braking dam will drown us all – the alternative is stop growth - go steady, sustainable, and stable state!


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