Council members decided Tuesday night not to spend a few million dollars improving access to an isolated light rail station.
The council was presented with various options for running a more direct path along Ellis Street to the NASA Ames light rail station. It was prompted by the approval of nearby office projects, including one for over 1,200 Samsung employees at 625 Clyde Avenue.
Access from the office sites now requires an indirect route, on the wrong side of Ellis Street, to the Moffett Field gate and across a desolate part of Moffett Field, though station users apparently brave several illegal crossings of streets and light rail tracks to beat a more direct path across a large vacant lot just north of Highway 101. That path traced the route of a proposed walkway.
The city's public works department staff proposed various solutions to make it easier to cross numerous obstacles, proposing new crosswalks, traffic controls and even an elevated walkway over the light rail tracks where they run under Highway 101. Costs ranged from $1.3 million to $4.7 million for the preferred alternative, which would have put new walkways on both sides of Ellis Street north of Fairchild Drive. A bridge and elevator to the station was found to be too costly.
Council members eventually agreed with member Ronit Bryant, who said women would feel safer walking to the Middlefield station than the "completely desolate" NASA Bayshore station. She had taken light rail to the NASA station, and said it wasn't much further to take a "very pleasant walk" to the Middlefield Road station from the Samsung site. She said she phoned the public works director immediately and had a long conversation about why the project was necessary.
According to Google maps, the NASA station is a .7 mile walk from the Samsung campus to be built at 625 Clyde Avenue, while the Middlefield Road station is a .6 mile walk.
City staff members said the NASA Bayshore station is the least-used station on the light rail line, with only 100 riders a day. In comparison, the nearby Middlefield station sees 300 riders a day, while the downtown stop sees 1,100.
"If the station was moved it would have a lot more people using it," Bryant said. Council asked city staff to speak with NASA Ames about that possibility.
"If you work at NASA Ames, how would you even get there?" Byrant said. "It's outside the fence. It's just plunked there."
Resident Patrick Moore said the station is also avoided by several women who use the nearby Hacker Dojo on Fairchild Drive, a community space for computer programmers.
"In my opinion, for $3 million to $4 million we might be able to get easements or right of way through the east Whisman neighborhood" to the Middlefield station, Bryant said. As for the NASA station, "I can't imagine myself walking there."
Bryant added that would rather spend money on retaining walls under the Middlefield Road Highway 237 underpass to allow for new walkways from new office development on the east side of Highway 237 to the Middlefield Road light rail station.
"To me that's more important," she said.
The NASA station was built in
anticipation of the development of the NASA Ames Research Park, a massive development on over 70 acres that would have included upwards of 1,000 homes and a major college, office and research and development campus. The plan has been delayed for years, and the group leading the project, University Associates, has been silent on its status.
Council members declined to vote on the Moffett station project, essentially tabling it while other options are explored.