Traffic plan: Council zeroes in on North Bayshore
A host of options for relieving traffic near Google headquarters were presented to the City Council on Feb. 5, including new freeway ramps, tunneling Charleston Road under Highway 101 and a "cycle track" to make Shoreline Boulevard a bike-friendly street.
The options were presented in a transportation study that is a precursor to a major redevelopment of the area north of Highway 101 by Google, which owns or occupies most of the real estate there. The study recommends $192 million worth of transportation improvements over the next 10 years as Shoreline Boulevard is already operating at capacity during rush hour. The area has 17,100 employees occupying 7.3 million square feet of offices north of Highway 101, according to the study.
Traffic could be eased considerably with new street connections, highway ramps and bike lanes, consultants said. The improvements could accommodate additional 3.4 million square feet of development allotted in the city's new 2030 General Plan, and go even further, accommodating as much as 14.3 million total square feet of office in a "mid growth" scenario in the study. It still would not accommodate the 17.3 million square feet under a "high growth" scenario, however.
Because of the impact on nearby wildlife habitat at Shoreline park, where the rare burrowing owl at Shoreline park is threatened by strays dogs and cats, City Council members were not fans of all the suggested changes to allow growth in the area — especially a bridge Google has proposed over Stevens Creek at Charleston Road where a rare colony of egrets lives.
"We have 17,000 employees there and we are already clearly at capacity," said council member Ronit Bryant of the roads in North Bayshore. "How will we possibly add another 10,000 under the 2030 general plan scenario? It seems to me the high growth and medium growth are impossible if we want to protect what we have in terms of wildlife along the bay."
Better bike route
A Shoreline Boulevard cycle track — a two-way bike lane along the west side of the street — was a popular option among council members, but plans showed it veering off Shoreline Boulevard and up Terra Bella Avenue — where Google owns property suggested for an "intercept" commuter garage — before hitting a bridge over Highway 101. The study recommends that it be built within six years at a cost of $11 million. After ten years, shuttles going between Google and downtown could follow the same route over a new transit bridge to avoid the busy Highway 101 and Shoreline Boulevard interchange.
Bryant questioned the route of the cycle track.
"I think people like to go in a straight line rather than go sideways and do detours," she said.
The study suggests financial incentives for transit users and bike riders, including cash payouts to employees in exchange for not using company parking spaces, free bike maintenance and bike valet parking. It presents a goal of having 8 percent of the area's employees bike to work, though some council members wanted the goal to be even higher as a third of the area's employees live within biking distance.
New roads, ramps, tunnels
A majority of council members expressed interest in capping the number of car trips allowed in and out of the area. "'No net new vehicle trips into North Bayshore' is a very clear statement to make," Bryant said.
"There's no way to not increase traffic a little bit in the short term," said member Chris Clark. "I think it's important we have realist goals in that sense. I think we can set a goal — we cap net autos and bring that down over time with various strategies."
To accommodate all the employees expected to come in on Caltrain, the study suggests a bridge over Central Expressway to allow shuttles to avoid downtown traffic, picking up employees at a stop on the north side of the expressway. It recommends spending $10 million within six years and $40 million within 10 years on improvements to the train station shuttle stop.
For cars and buses, a slew of changes to the area's road network are proposed to improve access and circulation within North Bayshore. A slight modification to an existing off ramp could allow Highway 101 traffic to go straight onto La Avenida, relieving traffic on the busiest portion of Shoreline Boulevard, and providing a new way for 1,700 Microsoft employees to get to work.
New streets could run around the perimeter of Google's properties near Space Park Way, Shorebird Way and Stevens Creek, keeping traffic off of gridlocked Shoreline Boulevard.
"The idea of having a ring road in North Bayshore at the edge of the park itself is very unattractive to me," Bryant said. "I see no reason why we need to make it really easy for buses or for cars to drive around North Bayshore."
New on ramps and off-ramps for high occupancy vehicles could run from the carpool lanes on Highway 101 directly up to new stoplights at the top of freeway overpass for San Antonio Road (in Palo Alto) and another could go in at the Ellis Street overpass for shuttles going to and from the south.
A tunnel under Highway 101 to bridge the ends of Charleston Road could provide a much needed third road connection between North Bayshore and the rest of Mountain View. Such a tunnel wouldn't be needed for 10 years, however and the cost is not listed in the study.
The cost of a tunnel and many of the other projects is likely to run into the hundreds of millions, paid for from various, city, state and federal sources and from Google and other North Bayshore companies.
'No new bridge'
Some council members were still hesitant to move forward on allowing Google to study the environmental impacts of a bridge over Stevens Creek. Google officials have asked to begin the study soon, as a delay of even a few months could keep it from opening the year Google's new campus is finished on the other side of the creek. Council members said two weeks prior that they wanted to wait until the transportation study was done to see what options need to be examined in the environmental study.
Council member Jac Siegel went as far as to say, "No new bridge."
Member Margaret Abe-Koga said the city might have to find other ways to fulfill its obligations to provide fire and police services to the new Google campus on the east side of the creek, as the bridge would connect the area to a nearby firehouse.
"I am personally very cautious about creating access and allowing more vehicles into the Shoreline area, especially (with) the wildlife sensitivity in the area," Abe-Koga said.
Some members said they wanted to know more about the impact of the bridge and how it may be used.
"It's not just small project, it could change North Bayshore completely," Bryant said of the bridge. "The more we talk about it, the more it seems like it is a major deal. It needs serious analysis. People are already talking to me from Sunnyvale about how we can improve the bridge so they can use it."
City Manager Dan Rich chimed in, saying "that's what an environmental study does, it provides detail and analysis. We can't really do that on our own."
"I'm frustrated by the sense of, 'It's a a hot potato, what do we do with it?'" said council member Mike Kasperzak of the bridge. "We've got to deal with it, so let's stop putting it off. We have the transportation study."
Faced with plenty of options to consider, council member couldn't come to a clear direction forward after the four-hour study session, and decided to have another meeting on all the issues, to "get some clarity as to what we're doing," as Bryant said.
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