Mountain View Voice

Opinion - July 20, 2012

Housing call shows need for real transit solution

Now that the City Council has decided that housing is not an option for the tech-rich North Bayshore area near Shoreline Park, Google and other employers located there need to begin thinking of other options.

And the very first item on the agenda should be developing a mass transit people-mover system that can span the Bayshore Freeway and deliver passengers to the downtown transit hub. If Google commuters could step out of their offices, board a pod car, light rail or other transit option, and within minutes make the short trip to Caltrain, the need for North Bayshore housing would diminish.

During last week's discussion and vote on whether to open Google's neighborhood to housing development in the new general plan, council members Ronit Bryant and Jac Siegel expressed major concerns about permitting housing near the sprawling Google workspaces.

"One thousand units of single-occupancy rooms, that's not a community, that's dorms," said Bryant. "It's done a lot in China. Huge factories, huge apartment blocks. I don't think everyone lives happily ever after."

Siegel said, "Housing by companies went out with mining towns." Referring to Google, he said, "This is not a university. People need to grow up and they need to go out," away from their workplace.

With 17,000 employees clogging North Bayshore's two freeway on-ramps every workday, a small housing project would have been hard-pressed to make a dent in the evening exodus from the Google campuses. Siegel and Margaret Abe-Koga said they had been told many times that it would take at least 5,000 homes in a neighborhood to support basic retail services like a grocery store, a number that has not been achieved on Castro Street.

Even Google, with its incredible wealth and ingenuity, would be hard-pressed to build a new city from scratch north of the Bayshore freeway. It would take years and many, many millions of dollars.

Instead, the daily traffic crunch is a problem that Google engineers should be able to solve. Just a few years ago the city was talking to Moffett-based Unimodal Inc. about its SkyTran system of small cars or "pods" that move automatically on a network of rails. In February 2010 the council unanimously supported the "general concept of of an automated personal rapid transit (PRT) system in Mountain View.

Mayor Mike Kasperzak actually borrowed the pod car concept in his failed effort to convince his colleagues to support Bayshore housing by using pod cars to connect the area to downtown as a way to resolve the traffic problem. He said such a transit system could be made a requirement of building housing and that it could spur companies in the area to to implement such a system.

If Google and other North Bayshore companies continue to grow, it will be paramount for the city to seek help developing a mass transit system to cover the two miles between North Bayshore and downtown. In 2010, the costs of building pod cars was only $10 million per mile, compared to $100 million per mile for the light rail and shuttle services suggested over the years for Shoreline Boulevard. Even if an entire pod car system cost $100 million, the price could be split among Google and other firms, as well as the city, perhaps with funds from the Shoreline District.

Now that housing is off the table, it is time to begin serious discussions about other options for the North Bayshore traffic crunch.

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