In a city where job growth never seems to quit, a growing number of workers commuting to Mountain View is causing a problem.
In a study session Tuesday, April 8, it was revealed that more than a few of the city's streets have recently reached the lowest possible grade for traffic -- an "F" -- while the downtown transit station is seeing 57 different employee shuttle services during rush hour, lining Evelyn Avenue and using space in the station's bus turnout.
Council members were surprised to learn that many of the shuttles don't even serve Mountain View, prompting council member Ronit Bryant to suggest they be charged a use fee. Cupertino-based Apple and Los Gatos-based Netflix are among the companies that take advantage of the Mountain View station's proximity to Highway 85.
"When the transit center was designed it wasn't anticipated it would have this level of service," said a consultant with Nelson Nygaard.
The study session focused on how to get downtown train station users to Google headquarters and the surrounding North Bayshore, a 1.5-mile trip on infamously gridlocked Shoreline Boulevard. The trip is said to be taken by 900 to 1000 transit users a day.
Proposals from consultant Nelson Nygaard showed improved bike-ways up Stierlin Road and Shoreline Boulevard, as well as a dedicated transit lane on North Shoreline Boulevard and bypass bridges over Highway 101 to prevent shuttles from being stuck in Shoreline Boulevard gridlock near the Highway 101 offramps.
Also proposed was a raised walkway over Central Expressway from the train station for cyclists en route to North Bayshore and shuttle riders, who may one day be picked up at shuttle stations on the north side of the expressway to alleviate gridlock at the downtown transit station.
Some frustrations were expressed by council members and others about whether such measures were enough.
"We aren't going to solve the enormous traffic problem we have by putting in more transit and bike lanes," said Lenny Siegel, founder of a campaign to balance Mountain View's job growth with housing growth so employees can live near their jobs. "I think we need to be more imaginative. It looks like we are rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic."
For the first time Tuesday, Google went on record supporting personal rapid transit (PRT), the controversial automated people-mover technology in which council members have expressed both a serious interest -- and more recently -- major skepticism. Council member John Inks stressed that the idea wasn't dead yet.
"Most of the study devoted to applications of existing technologies," said Kevin Mathy Google's transportation manager. "We need to have an eye towards PRT systems and self-driving cars that are coming closer to fruition in the U.S. every day."
Mathy also suggested the "reconstruction of Shoreline offramps" at Highway 101, presumably so that shuttles can avoid Shoreline Boulevard traffic and fixes for "Caltrain beyond (the) 2019 electrification process."
He said Google "applauds" the proposals so far, especially the bridge crossings and transit lanes, "but we hope that the study (examines) extending these lanes to HOV (high occupancy vehicle) users. People who carpool should be recognized for that effort."
Google has already taken major effort to reduce car traffic, and city officials report that solo vehicle trips are already low - representing only about 60 percent of all North Bayshore commute trips. The city's goal is to reduce it to 45 percent.
"I was hoping this study would make bicycling so attractive that Google would have bicyclists coming from all around," said Google employee and Mountain View homeowner Aldona Majorek. She added that new bike lanes should be as safe as possible.
"Please don't just design it for adults, it should be safe enough for my 10-year-old to go on and not be too scared," she said.
Consultants said that there are now several hundred bicyclists who ride from the transit center to North Bayshore, and that the number would have to go to 1,000 or 1,500 to meet city goals.
Two different proposals were presented for alleviating the bottleneck on Shoreline Boulevard at Highway 101. One showed a new dedicated shuttle lane running up the center of Shoreline Boulevard, reversible in direction, combined with a new bridge from Terra Bella Avenue over 101 for transit, bicyclists and pedestrians, making use of Caltrans property and some private property on the south and north sides of the freeway. Another option showed the bridge alongside a second new bridge allowing shuttles and pedestrians to go both north and south while bypassing the gridlock on the existing 101 bridge.
As for the shuttle traffic at the transit station, council member Ronit Bryant said she saw many shuttles with only a few people in them, as the goal appears to be to meet at least every bullet train that arrives at the station.
"One small Intuit van was completely full. The others were much much bigger and there were two to three people inside," Bryant said.
She said she believed that the new Mountain View Transit Management Agency, which major employers are forming to share shuttles and other car trip reduction efforts, would help solve the transit station shuttle traffic and "will actually bring relief to the downtown pretty much instantaneously."
"Once we have the TMA I think that problem is solved," Bryant said.
Council member Mike Kasperzak, who once called himself "the pod car mayor" adamantly raised the issues of pod cars (PRT). Council members backed away from the idea a few weeks ago, expressing concerns about helping to fund the development of a high-tech PRT system under development at NASA Ames called SkyTran. He said the city could have a system based on existing technology up and running in as little as five years, as it costs significantly less per mile than light rail.
"There's at least four around the world," he said of existing systems, including one that's operated in in Morgantown, West Virginia since 1975. "We can find out what they're doing. If we don't start talking about this now we're going to be making blind decisions without really knowing what our options are."
Council member Bryant opposed the idea, saying she doubted that her neighbors would "look happily at elevated PRT systems. The technology sounds exciting -- it's almost like science fiction. But think of what it basically is. It may not be that positive." She raised the example of PRT at Heathrow Airport in London, saying "Heathrow is not a 'sit down with a cup of coffee and enjoy the garden'" kind of place. "This is our city and it's not an obvious solution."
Consultants said they would return with more proposals and by the end of the year present a complete plan for mitigating traffic from North Bayshore, with a goal of reducing solo car trips to 45 percent. City Manager Dan Rich said that there will also be estimates on general transit costs, including a request for how much it could cost to extend light rail from the NASA station to North Bayshore.