Council lukewarm to major bus upgrade on El Camino Real

City Council members were hesitant to embrace a VTA proposal Tuesday that would bring dedicated bus lanes to El Camino Real for a system similar to light rail.

The Valley Transportation Authority is set to build a bus rapid transit line that would extend from Palo Alto to San Jose along El Camino Real. In Mountain View, VTA proposes two so-called BRT lanes down the middle of El Camino Real, with two bus stations located on the median, one at Castro Street and one at San Antonio shopping center.

BRT buses would run every 10 minutes, 18 hours a day. The buses would beat car traffic through the use of sensors that give buses priority at traffic lights. To make boarding times quick, tickets would be bought at stations, and at the same flat bus fare, now $2. VTA is set to purchase new diesel hybrid buses for the project, which include tables inside and WiFi Internet service.

VTA officials said Tuesday that having a dedicated lane for the buses in each direction would nearly double daily ridership on the line by 2035 from 12,085 to 22,717, and decrease travel times. But in Mountain View, that would mean reducing El Camino Real's six lanes to four lanes, and council members didn't welcome that idea at the Tuesday, June 21, meeting.

"We don't have the space on El Camino Real that Santa Clara does," said Laura Macias, one of the council's bigger critics of the idea, noting Santa Clara's support for dedicated lanes. "We have to do what fits for us."

Five audience members spoke in support of the dedicated lanes, while one person opposed them because car drivers would resent the exclusive use of two lanes on El Camino Real for buses that travel only every once 10 minutes. Downtown resident Aaron Grossman said he used BRT in Ecuador, where he was surprised how quickly people got on and off, and said it was faster than a taxi. Resident Jarret Mullin said the system would increase property values along the corridor.

The reduction to four lanes could mean calmer traffic on El Camino Real and a more walkable environment along the lines of the Grand Boulevard initiative most council members say they support. But concerns about impacts on traffic appeared to trump those benefits in the minds of most council members.

"I'm a huge fan of BRT, it's good, I've used it in other cities," said Mayor Jac Siegel. "But it's got to fit your area."

It appeared that council members Ronit Bryant and Margaret Abe-Koga may be the idea's only potential supporters, but even Bryant noted that traffic could increase on the downtown street she lives on. A map of streets near El Camino Real showed red to indicate increased traffic, including on Central Expressway, Middlefield Road and Church Street, among others.

"One of those red lines is the street I live on," said Bryant.

Macias wanted to make it clear to VTA officials that she heard opposition from five of seven council members.

"I want to encourage you to stay open minded," VTA planning manager Chris Connolly told the council.

The VTA is expected to return with more data on traffic impacts for another go at persuading the council.

VTA senior planner Steve Fisher assured the council that the VTA would not build the dedicated lanes in Mountain View without the council's consent. Caltrans owns the El Camino Real right of way, and "we have to approach Caltrans with a consensus decision," Fisher said. "If there is conflict, they do nothing."

Connolly said councils in Sunnyvale, Los Altos and Palo Alto had "mixed opinions" about the BRT lanes.

Without dedicated lanes, BRT buses would use regular traffic lanes, VTA staff said, but BRT stations would require special "bulb outs" on the side of the street at Castro Street and San Antonio shopping center.

More room could be made for BRT by removing the 16-foot median on El Camino real, but, as Connolly noted to the council, "your staff really likes that median."

Mountain View also has the opportunity to have VTA pay for bike lanes, which are lacking on El Camino Real, if the BRT lanes are built. On-street parking could also be removed. East of Ortega Avenue, 5.5 percent of El Camino Real is used for parking. West of Ortega, the number is over 50 percent.

VTA staff said a trip from Palo Alto to HP Pavilion on the line would take BRT 52 minutes, while it could take 60 minutes by car and 67 minutes by the current express bus line 522, which would be replaced by BRT.

BRT is also slated for Alum Rock Avenue and Stevens Creek Boulevard. The project will cost between $200 million and $250 million, mostly in Measure A funds.


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Posted by gcoladon
a resident of North Whisman
on Jun 24, 2011 at 2:27 pm

gcoladon is a registered user.

I couldn't agree more with the argument that dedicating one third of ECR's lanes to a bus that runs once every ten minutes is poor utilization of our public roadways.

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Posted by duckyones
a resident of Gemello
on Jun 24, 2011 at 2:57 pm

I think that whomever suggested this from the VTA should drive down El Camino between 2 and 5 pm any week day when there is roadwork or anything occurring that narrows it down to 1 lane. They would realize what a very poor idea this is. Any slight disruption on Mtn Views current 2 lane on each side of the median creates havoc. I cannot imagine what would happen if it was everyday. No matter how hard VTA wishes for it, people who drive in this area are not going to take the bus to their jobs, errands etc. or they would already be doing it. City council please shelve this terrible idea ! Thank you

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Posted by Steve
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Jun 24, 2011 at 3:00 pm

This is nuts. No one wants to spend 52 traveling on a bus from Palo Alto to San Jose on El Camino any more than they want to spend 60 minutes driving down El Camino. They woud just drive down 101 to 87 in 15-20 minutes.

Look, either connect BART or Light Rail, or forget it. But leave the three lanes each way.

The people proposing this have obviously never traveled through El Camino and Grant/Castro/Shoreline at 8AM or 5PM.

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Posted by Sophie
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Jun 24, 2011 at 3:12 pm

Hm. Give up 1/3 of the lanes for a bus that goes 23% faster than the current express bus.

The BRT would take 52 minutes and a car would take 60 minutes because the cars would have 1/3 fewer lanes than today.

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Posted by Waste of Money
a resident of St. Francis Acres
on Jun 24, 2011 at 3:27 pm

We already have dedicated lanes for public transit: Caltrain. We already have dedicated lanes just for cars: Central Expressway. We already have bike boulevards running in that direction. All of this within a few blocks from El Camino, the Caltrain stops in Mountain View are even identical to the ones VTA proposes for BRT.

If VTA has so much money to spend, invest it in improving CalTrain, Central Expressway and the bike boulevards that run parallel to El Camino.

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Posted by FarmerFrog
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jun 24, 2011 at 6:05 pm

"VTA staff said a trip from Palo Alto to HP Pavilion on the line would take BRT 52 minutes, while it could take 60 minutes by car and 67 minutes by the current express bus line 522, which would be replaced by BRT."

Well THERE is your answer right there! You're only saving us 8 minutes? That is not near worth the pain of reducing 2 lanes on ECR. Traffic would be a nightmare. Business would suffer. You'd punish those that have to drive their cars to work.

A miniscule impact on helping the environment and no impact on saving time. Horrible idea.

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Posted by Saejin
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 24, 2011 at 6:54 pm

This will happen because people with common sense sit back and assume rational thinking will prevail while special interests staff all the city committees and continue with the displacement of our quality lifestyle with a high density city. These Fascists believe they are saving the planet by overpopulating the area through subsidized housing, and reduction of car viability. Welcome Nanny goverment.
Wasted Money nailed it above.

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Posted by tommygee54
a resident of Rex Manor
on Jun 24, 2011 at 7:09 pm

How about just running BART up and down El Camino Real? But that "should have" happened 50 years ago...ready for the population and car growth...

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Posted by Political Insider
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 24, 2011 at 7:35 pm

Another wasteful idea by VTA. Made up stats without any benefit cost analysis and do you really think they can afford to run bus's every 10 minutes. Could you imagine a private bus's run by Google requesting exclusive use of a lane.

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Posted by RealityCheck
a resident of Rex Manor
on Jun 24, 2011 at 8:45 pm

Thae last thing we need is more traffic on Central Expressway. Maybe after they get rid of the mess caused by the Caltrain grade crossings, this might be acceptable. In other words, never ...

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Posted by Ron 2012
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Jun 24, 2011 at 8:56 pm

I would enjoy better if either BART or VTA light rail would run along the middle of El Camino instead. I would prefer BART since they already have the necessary infrastructure to sustain such a development. All our county would be doing is running lines up to SFO and badabim badabom our bay area will get a whole lot efficient at commuting.

The whole high speed train im still undecided. I honestly would love if we could somehow make trains run down the middle of 101. Obviously we would also need to expand freeway lanes and i would support such an idea. Lets think down the road about our future transportation problems, not just alleviating immediate effects.

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Posted by eric
a resident of another community
on Jun 27, 2011 at 9:18 am

We have too many council members that don't WORK in our community. They simply don't understand what it is like to be a commuter. El Camino is a CRUCIAL commute corridor and is already badly impacted. This boondoggle will not significantly reduce the number of cars on that road, just slow down the commute for everyone.

Other "features" of this proposal include fewer crosswalks for pedestrians and cyclists, and reduced ability to make left turns into neighborhoods.

I think very highly of Margaret Abe-Koga in particular, but I believe that she is a stay-at-home mom with absolutely no clue about what its like to be a commuter in our town.

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Posted by Laura Macias
a resident of St. Francis Acres
on Jun 27, 2011 at 2:49 pm

To add to what Daniel wrote: Dedicated flow ( preferred by VTA staff ) along El Camino is designed in a linear traffic mode-- how fast to get the bus from point A to C. This means that also proposed are elimination of left turn lanes on Clark, Ortega, and Escuela. The first iteration that I saw on the BRT VTA subcommittee that I serve on, also limits cross bike and ped traffic across El Camino. It is hard to see the benefits. VTA's own traffic projection showed worse traffic grades on all but 2 of 16 Mtn View intersections with the ded implementation.
Mixed flow BRT as VTA calls it, is using the BRT and regular bus svc shared with regular traffic lanes That is doable. We can and should see about installing bike lanes. VTA has stated that there will be no bike lane funding without ded flow BRT.

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Posted by Just say no...
a resident of St. Francis Acres
on Jun 27, 2011 at 3:34 pm

@Laura Macias

The loss of all these left turns is reason enough to tell VTA to not waste another dollar studying dedicated bus lanes.

A very large number of Mountain View residents and kids (all the high schools and all the Los Altos School District elementary schools are South of El Camnino) need to cross El Camino EVERY day.

Re: bike lanes. Improve the existing bike boulevard instead. Biking along El Camino will never be safe unless you build dedicated and separated bike lanes (not proposed, not likely and redundant if you build up the existing bike boulevards).

re: mixed flow BRT. How would it be different from what we have now?

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Posted by James Hoosac
a resident of another community
on Jun 27, 2011 at 8:02 pm

VTA is the Bernie Madoff of public services.

They can never make ends meet. So they always try to come up with something bigger in order to get funds to cover the ever increasing financial holes.

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Posted by VTA Staff
a resident of another community
on Jun 28, 2011 at 2:05 pm

We appreciate all the comments from interested community members and ask that people take the time to understand this issue completely before making any judgements. Please look for future community meetings and visit the project web site at to read up on project studies for yourself.

In the interest of accurate information, we'd like to make some clarificiations and corrections. Some posts have stated that the project will close left turns -- it will not. The project is able and willing to preserve all left turn movements and even add new ones if that is the community desire. Also, the project would improve pedestrian crossings by adding signals, crosswalks and sidewalk bulbouts where currently they do not exist. Finally, the VTA traffic analysis states that Level of Service would remain the same or actually improve at 12 of 14 intersections on El Camino with the dedicated lane scenario, not the other way around.

The BRT project is prepared to invest more than $200 million in El Camino communities such as Mountain View and VTA wants to hear from residents and stakeholders on the best form for this investment.

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Posted by eric
a resident of another community
on Jun 28, 2011 at 3:32 pm

VTA Staff-

We are not interested in your internal studies that seek to justify your continued funding.

El Camino is an important commute corridor for DRIVERS. It is absolutely inconceivable that this project would even make a dent in car traffic. Reducing available lanes by a third for a nominal increase in bus ridership is a bad deal.

I have heard independently of Ms Macias that left turn lanes and pedestrian crossings are at risk. In the same paragraph you first say the project "will not" impact these important access features and then that you "are willing" to preserve "left turn movement"-- these are conflicting statements (and the use of the phrase 'left turn movement' is suspicious) and it conflicts with what our cities elected official has seen first hand-- she also provided very specific left turn closures-- is she lying? Can she not read? Unlikely.

$200M "investment"-- how will that money be "invested" in Mtn View? Please be specific

Laura, please maintain steadfast in your opposition to this boondoggle!

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Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Jun 28, 2011 at 4:09 pm

We need to create and plan for future transit needs that can carry as many fast and cheap. Transit must be faster then the car, be able to handle the needs, ever changing landscape. It must be for all ages, blue and white collars, students and seniors.

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Posted by gcoladon
a resident of North Whisman
on Jun 28, 2011 at 5:13 pm

gcoladon is a registered user.

@ VTA Staff:

Hello, welcome to our community. Thank you for going out on a virtual limb and posting to the comments here. I hope we MVers remain civil hosts to our guests.

I have pored over the information at, but thus far have been unable to find any information about the federal dollars that I believe I heard are available for projects like BRT. At the study session, VTA staff mentioned that the BRT project had to be under the $250m threshhold in order to quality for some type of funds. Could you (or anyone reading this who's in-the-know) please provide a URL with which I can educate myself about that aspect of the BRT project?

Thank you

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Posted by gcoladon
a resident of North Whisman
on Jun 29, 2011 at 9:22 am

gcoladon is a registered user.

@Laura Macias:

Dear Ms. Macias, I too would like to see bike lanes on ECR. You mention that VTA isn't interested in setting up bike lanes unless it is part of a package including dedicated BRT lanes. I am under the impression that replacing ECR street parking with bike lanes is primarily a matter of repainting the lines on the street, which I would expect to be quite inexpensive. Am I off base? If it's relatively inexpensive to convert street parking spots to a bike lane, perhaps MV should just pay for it itself rather than considering a way to get the VTA to pay for it as part of a BRT deal.

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Posted by NO to Bike lanes on ECR
a resident of St. Francis Acres
on Jun 29, 2011 at 10:30 am


I'm an avid cyclist and I simply can't see how biking along ECR will ever be safe without dedicated and separated bike lanes.

Simply painting a bike lane in between 3 car lanes and parking/bus stops won't make biking along ECR any safer. To the contrary, it will give a false sense of safety to the bikers and aggravate the car/bus drivers who will have to constantly cross the bike lanes to park, turn or pick up passengers.

Save that money (VTA or City) and work on improving the existing bike boulevards and crossing ECR.

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Posted by gcoladon
a resident of North Whisman
on Jun 30, 2011 at 2:28 pm

gcoladon is a registered user.

@ NO to bike lanes on ECR,

I am no transit expert, but wouldn't both a bike lane and space to separate the bike lane from the rightmost lane for auto traffic both fit in the space currently used for parking spots along the right hand side of the roadway?

Your further point to not "aggravate the car/bus drivers who will have to constantly cross the bike lanes to park, turn or pick up passengers." seems to be an argument against have any bike lanes at all, anywhere?

I am also all for improving existing bike boulevards (if they need improving, do they?), and improving ECR crossings (if they need improving).

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Posted by Just thinking out loud...
a resident of Rex Manor
on Jun 30, 2011 at 2:44 pm

How much would it cost to buy the additional real estate to widen ECR, to add 2 new dedicated bus lanes to the existing 6 lanes?

That is the value of the 2 lanes that VTA expects Mountain View to give up. Are dedicated lanes for VTA's proposed "522 on steroids" service worth that much?

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Posted by Try thinking harder
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 30, 2011 at 5:21 pm

@Just thinking out loud --

El Camino is not owned by the City of Mountain View, or any of the other cities along the way, it is owned by Caltrans, i.e., the State of California. So those lanes you are trying to put a $$ value on are not Mountain View's to "give up". VTA is going through this process with Mountain View and the other cities, as it should, to consult with them and try to build consensus for how to improve the road. But Caltrans will have the ultimate say over what happens to El Camino.

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Posted by Just thinking out loud...
a resident of Rex Manor
on Jun 30, 2011 at 7:12 pm

Yes, I realize that ECR is a state highway, that MV doesn't own it, and that technically it isn't MV that is giving up the 2 lanes requested by VTA for the BRT system. But regardless, those 2 lanes have a value, and VTA wants us (via Caltrans) to set aside those 2 lanes for the exclusive use of its BRT system.

Is the BRT worth it? Would we (via Caltrans, VTA, and/or the cities along ECR) be willing to pay the cost to expand ECR to add 2 new lanes for the exclusive use of the BRT?

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Posted by Political Insider
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 30, 2011 at 8:35 pm

VTA did say they would reduce left turn lanes. They also said they would continue to study the BRT lane even though a clear majority of council did not support this option. VTA is arrogant. They want this to benefit themselves and do not care about hurting the local community. Can you imagine Google with its extensive bus system asking for an exclusive lane on ECR. They would be laughed out of the building.

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Posted by Jarrett
a resident of Castro City
on Jul 1, 2011 at 5:34 am

@ Political Insider

No, I can't imagine Google asking for an exclusive lane on El Camino because they are a private company and provide transportation exclusively to their employees. VTA provides public transit for the county that anyone can use and it's pretty common for transit providers to have dedicated bus lanes in high ridership corridors to maximize transportation choices.

@ Thinking out loud

VTA discussed expanding the right of way to accommodate 6 auto lanes and 2 BRT lanes but they were wary of this because it would require eminent domain which would add expense to the project and create potential conflicts. From a city standpoint, the exclusive lanes give us an opportunity to create a really pleasant boulevard style environment and calm traffic. Remember, much of the city's residential growth is targeted for the El Camino corridor and the General Plan calls for 60-70 units per acre around the BRT stops. All of these new residents need reliable transportation options to mitigate the increased demand for travel. BRT in dedicated lanes is an excellent way to achieve this goal.

@ NO to Bike Lanes

The proposed cross sections for the 4 auto /2 bus configuration leaves enough room for an 8' bike lane with no parking to get in the way. This is more than enough room for a 2' painted buffer between the cycle lane and moving cars. With the reduction in lanes, car speeds will probably be reduced which will make the street much more enjoyable to cycle on. For additional protection, VTA could install soft hit posts between the bike lane and the auto lane.

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Posted by Political Insider
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 1, 2011 at 11:00 am

@ Jarret, "it's pretty common for transit providers to have dedicated bus lanes in high ridership corridors to maximize transportation choices."

You mean maximize VTA's choices. Seems to me, some choices are restricted to some people by giving them exclusive use of a lane. So you are OK with a public monopoly exclusive use of the lane (open to all paying passengers) versus a private monopoly, which I bet would offer free rides to anyone if the city gave them exclusive rights to a lane on ECR.

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Posted by Try thinking harder
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 1, 2011 at 3:17 pm

@Political Insider --
I read your postings on these boards on the Voice and often find that I agree with you and I appreciate the pragmatic perspective you bring amidst lots of often ridiculous NIMBY posts. But in this case I think you're pushing a theoretical argument way out of proportion.

First, how is VTA a monopoly? It does not prevent or seek to prevent others from operating transit in the county - in fact, as far as I can tell it welcomes the help that the Googles and Apples provide in carrying tech workers since VTA can't meet that demand themselves.

Second, if the 'private monopoly' you are referring to is the Google shuttle system, you are sorely mistaken in thinking that they would offer free rides to everyone if given a lane. Google, like most of the Valley's tech companies, is extremely protective of its employees and the info they have in their brains/on their laptops. The last thing they want is to mix their lifeblood in with the masses. Most tech companies feel the same way - that's why they rarely pool together on shuttles - that's why they create separated campuses and don't want their employees mixing with others in the cafeteria, at Starbucks, etc.

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Posted by Political Insider
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 1, 2011 at 3:37 pm

@ Try. Let me clarify. Exclusive use of a lane is like a monopoly. VTA would be the only user.

VTA does have monopoly rights as a company though they do compete with other forms of transportation. They have exclusive use of public streets and sidewalks to pick up/drop off passengers. Suppose Google told their employees to go to VTA bus stops to get picked up. Do you think VTA would allow this? If Google or any other company offered to run a public bus system using public streets and setting up their own bus stops, VTA would assert their monopoly rights.

In terms of allowing the public on Google bus's you have a good point. My point was even if they offered free rides on Google, I wouldn't provide them exclusive use of a lane any more than VTA.

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