There is a way to defeat gridlockMountain View is suddenly realizing that along with the glow of Google and other high tech companies that have settled in the North Bayshore area comes a massive problem — moving more than 50,000 vehicles a day in and out of the area, including the shuttle buses headed to and from the downtown Caltrain station.
The near gridlock during the morning and evening commute caused by workers trying to travel the last mile to their job is becoming more and more serious. With only two access points from the Bayshore Freeway — at Shoreline Boulevard and Rengstorff Avenue — just getting into and out of the North Bayshore is nearly as bad as the entire ride home for many commuters.
The City Council recognized the problem last week when members agreed to shell out $325,000 to hire a consultant to examine the options for improving the level of service at the two main intersections with the freeway. That rating is now F, which essentially means the streets are at capacity. The consultant, William Hurrell of the firm CDM Smith, admits that, "It probably isn't realistic to think you will be able to pull them to C or D levels or even E. When they are at capacity, you essentially cannot move additional traffic. You have to look at alternative ways to move people in and out of the area."
It is clear that the time is ripe to think "outside the box," including two futuristic options already pitched to the city in 2009 by SkyTran and Advanced Transit Systems, which was working on a project that was to be installed at London's Heathrow Airport in 2010. Both systems are expensive, with a cost of up to $15 million a mile, but both have the capacity to move thousands of riders between downtown and the North Bayshore.
Unimodal developed the Sky Tran system and had a demonstration unit at NASA Ames, where it hopes to build a network of its 1,200-pound electric vehicles using overhead rails. The cars would float on the overhead rails using magnetic levitation or "maglev" technology instead of wheels, and get the equivalent of 500 miles per gallon. The developers say one Sky Tran line can support as much traffic as a three-lane freeway and that power could come from rail-mounted solar panels or wind turbines.
The 2009 proposal made by Advanced Transit Systems included a route starting at the downtown transit station, heading down Stierlin Road and over the Shoreline Boulevard/Highway 101 overpass, and end at the front door of the Googleplex, a five-minute trip. The battery-powered ATS trains are computer controlled and ride on dedicated cement pathways.
Either system would be costly, but unless something new comes along, it is likely that the city will have to consider such a system and then figure out how to pay for it. Certainly it is in the interest of Google and other North Bayshore companies to participate in funding such a system. And it is possible that the city could dedicate some of the unspent Shoreline Community funds to such a project, although more work must be done, first by the consultant and then by city officials, who should take the lead on such a large project.
With Google already committed to developing a large complex at Moffett Field, possibly including residential units, it will be even more important for the city to include such rapid transit solutions in its plans. Without such an investment, the long backups to get into and out of the North Bayshore will only get worse.