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By Sherry Listgarten

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About this blog: Climate change, despite its outsized impact on the planet, is still an abstract concept to many of us. That needs to change. My hope is that readers of this blog will develop a better understanding of how our climate is evolving a...  (More)

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Local Transit to the Rescue?

Uploaded: Aug 18, 2019
Will better local transit get more people out of cars?

This is the second in a series of posts on using buses to reduce emissions, the first being about inter-city buses.

Effective transit kills two birds with one stone, reducing both emissions and traffic. So I’ve been wondering: If we just had better local transit in our area, would it mean fewer cars as well as lower emissions?

There is no shortage of local transit options.



The Transportation chapter of Palo Alto’s Comprehensive Plan has a partial map of these options on pages 5 and 6.

The Caltrain shuttles and employer shuttles seem to work pretty well. I haven’t looked at them much, but there are many of them, they are funded, and the problem they need to solve is fairly straight-forward. (1)


Commuter shuttles waiting one morning at Palo Alto’s downtown Caltrain station

So this post is going to focus on non-commute traffic. (2) Can we reduce those emissions and traffic by improving local transit?

County buses (VTA and SamTrans) on our public transit routes are pretty infrequent (every 30 minutes or so), except on El Camino. Our counties’ transit agencies are investing more on the well-used routes and leaning on our local shuttles to cover the gaps. (3)

In that context, Palo Alto explored how to improve our local transit in a 2017 Transit Vision document, with a lot of focus on improving the city’s shuttle for non-workers. I’ve taken a few rides on Palo Alto’s Crosstown Shuttle and on Mountain View’s Community Shuttle, and I’m not as optimistic as I used to be. It’s not that the shuttles are bad. They are generally fine at what they do. (4) But it’s hard to compete with the flexibility and speed of a bike or a car in our spread-out neighborhoods.


Palo Alto’s Crosstown Shuttle (left) and Mountain View’s Community Shuttle (right)

To begin with, though, I want to highlight a few differences between the Palo Alto and Mountain View shuttles. For background, Palo Alto’s Crosstown Shuttle goes back and forth on a 30-minute north-south route between University and Charleston. Palo Alto fully funds two vehicles, which operate from 7:30am to 5:30pm.


Source: Palo Alto’s Crosstown Shuttle

Mountain View’s Community Shuttle traverses a one-hour loop around the city, with two vehicles in each direction. Google fully funds the four shuttles that operate in Mountain View from 10am to 6pm.


Source: Mountain View’s Community Shuttle Tripshot integration

Both cities’ shuttles visit about 40 stops in each direction every 30 minutes. Palo Alto averaged 276 rides per weekday (Feb 2016), or about 14 boardings per hour per shuttle. Mountain View averages 687 rides per day (2019 to date), or about 21 boardings per hour per shuttle. (5) So that indicates that the Mountain View shuttle is more successful, despite not running during the busy morning hours. What is going on? Here are some observations.

Destinations: Mountain View’s shuttle includes several busy destinations, such as the San Antonio Shopping Center, the Grant Road shopping center and El Camino hospital, and the downtown Caltrain and city center. These are the busiest stops. (6) Many of Palo Alto’s (smaller) analogous destinations (Town and Country shopping, PAMF) are not on the Crosstown Shuttle’s route. Both routes stop at senior centers, senior housing, and middle schools.

Route length: Mountain View’s shuttle covers much more ground, partly because it is a loop rather than an out-and-back. So it can reach more people and places, though at twice the cost.

Rider demographics: I get the sense from my rides, the shuttle stops, and the vision plan that Palo Alto’s shuttle ridership is largely seniors and middle school kids. Mountain View’s 2016 analysis showed that fewer than half the riders are seniors and fewer than 10% are under 18. Mountain View’s shuttle seems to have broader appeal.

Growth: Mountain View’s shuttle ridership has been growing each year since it started in 2015. It grew 24% in 2017, 8% in 2018, and is on track to grow again this year. Several people on the Mountain View shuttle asked the driver about a stop, indicating they were new to the shuttle. The riders on the Palo Alto shuttle, on the other hand, seemed like old hands. Annual ridership on all Palo Alto shuttles has dropped from 181,259 in 2016 to 152,261 in 2017, and to an estimated 140,000 in 2018. (7) Some of the loss in 2017 was due to dropping an East Palo Alto shuttle in 2016. But I also think the lack of investment is showing.

Cost: Palo Alto’s shuttle costs about $3.49 per boarding. (8) That compares favorably with the cost of the average VTA ride, which is $7.97 according to this chart. We don’t know what the Mountain View shuttle costs because Google funds it. While the shuttles look similar, Mountain View’s are electric, and they have only 16 seats instead of 30. So they may be cheaper to operate.


Seating in Palo Alto’s Crosstown Shuttle (left) and Mountain View’s Community Shuttle (right)

Signage: Palo Alto has worked on improving signage, but I still had difficulty recognizing some stops, especially in downtown. (In contrast, the color-zoned parking signs all over downtown are very easy to spot.)


Left: Can you tell if there is a shuttle stop, from across the street? Middle: How about up close, can you tell? (There is!) Right: Even here it is not so easy to see.

Community: A friendly welcome can make a big difference. As an example, many of the school crossing guards are wonderful with the kids, and put a bright spot in their walk or bike commute. The shuttle drivers do not do the same thing consistently. I did notice the Mountain View driver greeting each passenger and enlivening the bus with jazz music. But the Palo Alto driver was quiet and the bus did not have a particularly cheery feel. I think an effort to greet people and make them feel welcome could make a difference.

So, there is room for improvement, some of it inexpensive. That said, I don’t think we should rely too much on these cross-town shuttles if our goal is to reduce emissions and traffic. Palo Alto estimated it would more than triple the cost of the Crosstown shuttle, from $282K to $864K, just to extend it to the Stanford and San Antonio shopping centers. (9) If true, and the cost is not shared with the centers, it seems hard to justify. The Mountain View shuttle ridership suggests we could increase boardings per hour per shuttle by maybe 50%, not by 3x, so costs per boarding would double. Is the incremental reduction in emissions and traffic worth that? (10)

It’s also not clear to me how many cars these shuttles are removing from the roads. Would younger riders be driven or would they bike if there were no shuttle? The distances are pretty short. And even when the shuttles are reducing car traffic, it’s not clear if they mitigate the worst traffic. The Mountain View shuttle doesn’t even start until 10am, missing the busy morning commute. So while they are reducing emissions, I don’t know if they are reducing congestion so much. (In contrast, the commute shuttles are better positioned to help.) Finally, because Palo Alto has lost a good deal of retail and other residential services, many of the places worth going to are outside of the city, but it’s not clear how we fund a multi-city shuttle. As part of my preparation for this blog post, I took transit from Palo Alto to Cheeky Monkey Toys in Menlo Park, switching from the Crosstown shuttle to the SamTrans ECR in downtown. On the plus side, Google Maps was able to plan this route.


Source: Google Maps mobile app

On the downside, it was a pita, to say the least, and cost $2.25 each way, for which I needed exact change. I am not excited to repeat that odyssey.

I do think the shuttle has a role as senior transit and limited school bus service. That is fairly easy to support at low cost with decent ridership. But given how distributed things are here, a more flexible system seems needed to solve the general problem. So what are some options?

The Transit Vision offers a few in chapter 6 (page 49). The first is subsidizing services like Uber and Lyft. That one surprises me because there is some evidence in cities like San Francisco that they worsen congestion. So I don’t really understand that suggestion. The second option is a flexible shuttle, sort of like Menlo Park’s Shoppers’ Shuttle. However, these can be very expensive. VTA tried a “FLEX On-Demand Transit Pilot” in North San Jose for six months, and a report indicated that it was “an extremely expensive service and not a viable model for reducing service costs. FLEX’s operating cost averaged $200 per passenger over the course of the 6-month pilot with ridership at 0.4 boardings per revenue hour.” Even if that was a particularly bad implementation, those numbers are sobering. A third option is somewhere in between, referred to as “anchored flex”. I don’t really understand it.

I don’t see any estimates in the Transit Vision report for how many cars we can get off the road with each option they suggest. That is an unfortunate gap. But reading between the lines, the report’s authors don’t seem very optimistic about the potential for transit. They view cars as too attractive and easy to use. “While full build-out of a fare-free citywide transit system that serves all residents, employees, and visitors to the greatest extent possible is the ultimate vision, it cannot be fully achieved without complementary policy, behavioral, and built environment changes. For example, a Palo Alto resident with full access to a private vehicle will likely drive to downtown, Town & Country Village, California Avenue, etc. for a shopping or dining trip even with accessible shuttle service because parking is free. For a choice rider, a very low marginal cost of driving begets driving.”

I am not sure I agree that. With all of the traffic these days, cars are no picnic. We have few good options. Short of redesigning our whole city, my reluctant conclusion is that we need to continue to encourage and normalize the use of bikes, ebikes, and other bike variants for local trips. They are fast (enough), flexible, low-cost, higher throughput than cars, and zero emission. Every day I seem to see a new kind of bicycle wheeling past, kids in front, wagon in back, third wheel, etc. It’s a great topic for a future blog post, maybe something to get excited about. But I just can’t excited about local transit in our area making a big dent in non-commute emissions or traffic.

LMK what you think, though. I’d love to be wrong, and there is a lot I don’t know about this topic.

Notes and References

1. You can find a link to the Menlo Park commute shuttles here, to the Mountain View commute shuttles here, and to the Embarcadero Palo Alto commute shuttle here.

2. If you look at Vehicle Miles Travelled (VMT) around the country, two-thirds of it is not work-related.


Source: Bureau of Transportation Statistics

3. This map shows VTA’s planned county-wide routes for later in the year. They are doubling down on the more popular routes and cutting service where inadequate ridership can lead to prohibitive costs, up to $40/ride as shown in this article from the Weekly.

4. The shuttles themselves were reasonably comfortable. The Palo Alto shuttle was air conditioned, but had a poor (squeaky and bouncy) suspension. The Mountain View shuttle was not air conditioned (though they are planning to fix that), and it had a high humming noise, which I was told was from the electric engine.

The Mountain View shuttle had easy-to-access real-time information about shuttle location. I could not get Palo Alto’s real-time information to work. Transportation staff told me that when the shuttle operator contract is evaluated this year, they are looking to ensure they have good technology for real-time tracking and getting accurate ridership counts.

5. Ridership data for the Mountain View shuttle is published here. I could not find similar data for Palo Alto’s Crosstown Shuttle, so I am citing just February 2016 data from page 7 of the vision document.

Mountain View also operates the shuttles on weekends from 10-6 at half the frequency (using just one shuttle in each direction). These achieve about 18 boardings per hour per shuttle.

More generally, the table below shows how these numbers compare with other services in the area. The shuttles are not bad. (The VTA 35 route is similar to an extended Crosstown Shuttle.)



You can see the value of developing density on El Camino, at least as far as transit goes, though it would be helpful to understand which stops are well used, as these are long routes.

6. Data regarding stop usage and demographics for the Mountain View Community Shuttle were shared with me by the staff there. The stop usage data is current, while the demographics are from an earlier survey in 2016.

7. See page 333 of Palo Alto’s 2019 operating budget for these ridership numbers.

8. See page 7 of Palo Alto's Transit Vision for Crosstown Shuttle cost information.

9. See page 45 of Palo Alto's Transit Vision for alternative route costs.

10. Another factor to consider is that Mountain View generally uses more public transit, at least for work, than either Palo Alto or Menlo Park, according to data here, if you click on “Housing and Living”. This same data also indicates that Mountain View has more single-car households. Is that related? Or are the households smaller? It would be interesting to find out.

Current Climate Data (July 2019)

Global impacts (July was the warmest month on record), US impacts, CO2 metric, Climate dashboard (updated annually)

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Comments

 +   3 people like this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Aug 18, 2019 at 8:09 am

Thanks for highlighting the problem. And yes there is a problem when you actually try to use it for something you do regularly.

Getting from say Palo Alto to Foothill College. This is where we have many students, yet there is nothing direct.

Getting to airports, I have often had to drive family or neighbors to an airport often for a 12 hour flight. It would be much simpler to give a ride to a bus stop near 101 rather than have to be stuck in traffic particularly on the leg that is me on my own.

The private shuttles wait for the trains at Caltrain, but shuttles and buses for everyone else need to get people there to catch a train and then wait to pick up riders from the train. Likewise, there are no parking lots at 101 with efficient shuttles and no shuttles from the lot at 280/Page Mill. Exploring the idea of having shuttles serving commuter parking lots at freeways would reduce traffic as well as free up parking in downtown, Cal Ave and other business areas. The Marguerite meets Caltrain, but it could/should be extended to freeway commuter lots.

From my experience, the best people to use efficient shuttle/bus services are commuters. They do the same ride at the same time every day and can adjust their schedule to fit a bus/shuttle schedule. It is much more unlikely that people will use a bus/shuttle for a one off social meeting in downtown or a 6 monthly dentist visit. I think it is imperative that public transit makes for efficient, direct services that provide an alternative to solo driving rather than be seen as an option for those who can't drive. For the commutes in our family, 3 buses taking 2 hours approx for a 20 minute car ride is not an option.

Thanks for this breakdown of what is available. It is good to see. Now is the time to make improvements.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Aug 18, 2019 at 11:33 am

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Resident. Great comments. I am not super happy with this blog post because it just scratches the surface of a very important topic. But I wanted to start somewhere. This post focuses on shorter trips than Foothill and the airport -- it’s really more about investment in our local shuttles -- but it’s great that you brought those trips up. It’s also difficult/impossible to have this conversation without data on where the traffic is at what times of day, and a better sense of which types of trips we need to remove at which times of day. There are just too many problems to discuss without some kind of structure.

That said, that has never stopped our trusty online commenters, so I hope people will still chime in with thoughts on local trips and whether transit is or can be sufficiently efficient.

On a larger scale, I would love to see data-oriented transit planning across the mid-Peninsula, not within each County or city. Anyone have pointers to studies? To your questions, I was wondering, just as we have a Caltrain corridor and an El Camino bus corridor, should we have a 101 bus corridor and shuttles to 101 “stations”? A 280 corridor? A Foothills corridor? I’m sure this has been studied, but where? (It is also not helpful that Santa Clara County transit (the VTA) is apparently not an optimally run agency.)

This problem is way too big for one blog post. But let’s see if we can make a start. Thanks again for the great comment.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Reader XYZ, a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood,
on Aug 18, 2019 at 12:05 pm

I appear to be in the minority in this discussion but considering health and safety is an important topic.

Let's face it: cars are a fact of life.

But any time I have an alternative mode of transportation than my own car, I think about safety.

Riding bicycles on local city streets is not safe around here. In other places (Europe, Asia) there is bicycle focused infrastructure that makes riding bicycles much safer. Also, I think the motor vehicle operators (and pedestrians) are simply more aware that they are sharing the roadways with bicyclists.

There are a handful of cities in California that are decent for bicycling (e.g., Davis).

Here, I get the feeling that a lot of drivers simply don't care about bicyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians.

I know this blog is about the environmental implications about our modern lifestyle but if I can't make it from Point A to Point B in one piece, the environmental cost is moot.

The local cities are going to have to do a *LOT* more before I get on my bike and ride the city streets. I also need to see more awareness from other users of the road that they are willing to share the roadway with cyclists. Right now, I only hop on my bike to ride the Stevens Creek/Shoreline Trail.

You couldn't pay me to ride my bike on local city streets on a regular basis.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Random Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Aug 18, 2019 at 5:33 pm

The lack of an integrated transit system in the SF Bay Area makes it much less useful.

Most big cities I visit in other countries have a single regional transit operator with single ticketing that covers all forms of transit (e.g., all bus, tram, ferries, metro, local commuter trains) -- not this dogs breakfast we have with VTA, Sam Trans, BART, Caltrain, SF Muni, ...
There's no coordinated scheduling here between the services. Try getting to the SF Airport by public transit from the south side of Palo Alto!

Palo Alto gets a raw deal on VTA service (which we're paying extra taxes for) which is mostly centered on San Jose.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Jeff, a resident of Cuesta Park,
on Aug 18, 2019 at 7:15 pm

Nice work. I regularly ride VTA, Caltrain, and a bicycle, and I came to the same conclusions. It's rare that VTA is faster than a bicycle.

Mountain View calls itself a bicycle-friendly community, and by American standards, I totally agree. But I just spent a few days in Amsterdam, and it was amazing. I'd say Amsterdam is a car-friendly community, because bicycles, pedestrians, and public transit own the road. 40 years ago, the Netherlands transport looked just like the U.S., dominated by cars and freeways. It's an amazing transformation in such a short time. They proved it's possible. We can do it too.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Reader XYZ, a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood,
on Aug 18, 2019 at 7:49 pm

One thing for sure, there is far less chance your bicycle getting stolen in Europe or Asia.

Here, any bicycle component that isn't secured by a Kryptonite-style lock has a chance at being lifted: wheels, pedals, seat, whatever.

In Munich, Germany bicycle riders frequently just use a simple rear wheel lock and don't bother locking the bike to a stationary structure. That's right, they'll just leave it free standing in the sidewalk or roadside. In Salzburg, Austria, I'd say about half of the bicycles are unlocked in the downtown district and most bikes parked at private residences are just leaned against a wall.

At least here, cyclists really need to be concerned about vandalism and theft. In rural/suburban Japan, the train stations have big bicycle lots at the train station. Nobody takes their bikes on the train, you just ride from your home to the station, then rely on public transit for the rest of the way.

Here, you might want to haul your bike on Caltrain and schlepp it to your employer just so it won't get ripped off at the station while you are at work.

But none of this changes the fact that SF Bay Area roads are extremely dangerous for cyclists.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde,
on Aug 19, 2019 at 3:44 am

Speaking of "exact change" you apparently misplaced your Clipper Card.
I'd think everyone here has one (or more) by now. Maybe not. Poll?
I reload mine at Walgreen's every few months with $80 or so.
Not a frequent public transit user, but Caltrain and BART can run the balance down.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Aug 19, 2019 at 8:44 am

Sheri I respect your charge about keeping this particular blog entry as local. I understand that there is value in this.

I would like to ask just how many of us who live here actually work here and spend most of our time here? When it comes to local transportation it seems to me that both Palo Alto and Mountain View city transport planners look on both as islands and in particular assume there is a Berlin Wall along San Antonio road that residents of either seldom cross. The reality to me is that we are crossing in and out of city boundaries every day for work reasons as well as other reasons.

I seldom leave my house to go to one place and then return home. Many days I don't use my car but when I have to go somewhere I consider driving distance in say Redwood City or Sunnyvale, I tend to run errands on the way there or back. Occasionally it means I use the Safeway in Redwood City because it is handy, or the Macys in Sunnyvale for example, but quite often it is stopping at the way home to pick up groceries or drop off a library book on my way somewhere. Alternatively I may drive to the Post Office on Bayshore, stop at the library and say Piazzas and the YMCA on one errand run. Driving those errands as one trip makes sense.

So for these reasons I think that getting regular commute trips are the best ways to go. Most commutes that remain in Palo Alto I would guess would be by school children. Although very many of our schoolchildren walk or bike, there are many others who are driven by parents for various reasons. VTA serves Gunn, the shuttles serve Paly, but should Gunn students have to pay for buses whereas Paly gets them free? Is that fair? Both high schools are the same side of the train tracks. That means that approximately 50% (rough estimate if Caltrain divides Palo Alto in half) of all students have to cross the tracks at various places every day. Southeast Palo Alto is not well served by public transit. When the JCC was built it was suggested that bus routes would serve it, that has not happened.

Google and Facebook both have employee shuttle buses, but they are not like the Marguerite that anyone can use them. Should those shuttles be open for other employees who work in roughly the same area?

I personally use a dentist near University Avenue. I rarely go downtown apart from when I have an appointment. I tend to try and make a trip to the dentist part of an errand trip but I usually end up having to drive at school commute times which I normally would try to avoid. School commutes are very evident as being part of the problem. When school is out driving around is a breeze in comparison. Are the schools doing anything other than encouraging bikes to both students and teachers to keep them out of cars? Do schools keep increasing their staff parking spaces or are they trying to encourage the staff to use other than solo driving to get to school?

Thanks for working on this. I think you are doing a much better job than the transport/traffic bods employed by the City.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by An Alternative To Mass Transit, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Aug 19, 2019 at 8:51 am

(1) To go directly from point A to point B, (i.e. ballgames, court etc.) mass transit is an excellent alternative to driving a car...freedom from traffic & parking hassles.

(2) For making pitstops or running basic errands, mass transit is not practical as cars also serve a purpose/function in the storage & transport of goods.

Perhaps one alternative to reducing cars is for a state authorized program which allows people to ask someone if they are headed out to a particular destination and to fulfill this request, the driver ust be fully vested by the DMV & law enforcement.

In return for providing this service, the driver receives a monthly gasoline rebate based on vehicle MPG & reserves the right to refuse ride service.

Neighbors, students, workers who are acquainted with one another could coordinate these ride-share programs among themselves.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by An Alternative To Mass Transit, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Aug 19, 2019 at 8:53 am

^^^^Previously known as 'car-pooling' but with broader applications.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by MP Resident, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Aug 19, 2019 at 9:57 am

There are two elephants in the room on mass transit:

Headways - it's only a usable system for things other than a commute if you don't have to know a timetable. 10 minute headways are okay here, 30 minute are a non-starter. Doubly so since buses tend to be late, so a missed connection meaning an extra 30 minutes wait is really non-viable.

End to end time - In many parts of the Bay Area, short haul end to end transit is barely competitive with walking, let alone a bicycle. In your example, shuttles take almost an hour to replace a 15-20 minute drive or a 33 minute Caltrain+Walk. That's non-viable for anybody but retirees who have time to kill.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Judy B., a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive,
on Aug 19, 2019 at 2:13 pm

The VTA buses are so dirty & the ridership oftentimes unsavory depending on the route. The 22/522 along ECR immediately comes to mind.

As MP resident stated, they are not timely either.

Maybe better to privatize mass transit & hold them to an accurate timetable.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Joseph E. Davis, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills,
on Aug 19, 2019 at 2:19 pm

People who shout on and on about how wonderful public transit is seem to be in a different universe than I am. In my observation, public transit is guaranteed to take two or three times as long as a car per trip under ideal circumstances, and can be far worse than that if there is a system wide delay or a missed connection. One is also exposed to the general public and that can mean uncomfortable situations such as bad smells or even hazardous conditions such as the occasional raving lunatic or drug addled individual. Finally, the transit start and end points usually require an additional walk or bike ride.

The United States and California in particular are bad at providing effective public services. So it is not really a surprise that public transit here is woefully slow, inconvenient, and expensive. Changing that is theoretically possible but probably would require a sea change in the way transit systems are managed, which is very hard to imagine given California's one party state and consequent self-dealing and corruption.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Staying Young Through Kids, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Aug 19, 2019 at 2:53 pm

Staying Young Through Kids is a registered user.

Sherry, You are amazing! You say you're not happy with this post, that is because there is little to be happy about in this data!

Like housing, transportation, locally and regionally, is exceptionally complicated and decisions continue to be made by risk averse and union controlled individuals who are using (without much imagination or creativity) the same lame data you are digging up.

I do believe these people see the problems, and are just as flummoxed about how to make sensible, incremental moves to improve the situation. Add to that we're in a period of transportation disruption and on the cusp of some big changes (10+ years away). Too many seem to be waiting for the next big revolution while ignoring the issues that need solving today.

Trying to make transportation work for the average family in any community is an ENORMOUS task that will take tons of money and a commitment to respect the suburban nature of our communities while using smart civic planning to make it work for all. Cars (and more cars) are going to be the primary part of that solution for many years to come. Preference has to be given to that reality.

Since the days of Horace Greeley we've been a "soil based" nation and that type of ownership remains the American Dream for nearly all who are here and for those arriving every day. Ignoring that fact (and ignoring the 45 or so states in our union where it's an ABSOLUTE way of life) is what makes our area so challenging.

I'm wandering pretty far afield here, but if we move the jobs, couldn't we move quite a bit of the problem?

When IBM moved our family from upstate NY to AZ, and then to MN (with a short stop in Europe) they seemed to choose run of the mill towns where land was inexpensive and families (and IBM) could prosper. At the same time they Companies today seem determined to saturate one area (this area) and ignore their ability to spread their wealth and offer an affordable way of like to their employees. All this in the days of remote working, web conferencing and virtual presence just about everywhere. What has worked in Austin, Denver, etc could just as easily work in Omaha, Baton Rouge, or Louisville.

I guess there's something extra special in the water around here!


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Aug 19, 2019 at 3:42 pm

There are a number of problems with VTA-style buses for a demographic sector that could really make use of public transit-- I mean the frail elderly. I've noticed most people reach a threshold (some at age 60, some at age 90) where they feel too frail to get in to and out of standard buses. In addition, the frail usually aren't willing and/or able to walk more than maybe 1500 feet/10 minutes to a stop. What I've seen recently is a lot of Uber for the very elderly. To make buses work for the frail elderly, the bus routes need to be closer. Perhaps 1000 feet and/or 5 minutes (has someone studied this?) and buses need to be easier for the frail to enter and leave. I'm a senior myself, but, fortunately, don't have mobility problems yet. But, I have friends and relatives that do. As I said: Uber. Regarding easier entry/exit: I don't have a good suggestion.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by BusLand Leaves A Lot To Be Desired, a resident of Community Center,
on Aug 19, 2019 at 7:40 pm

Public Transit is almost a practical necessity in dense urban cities where parking is scarce & streets congested with automobiles. The low-lifes come with the territory.

In suburbia, mass transit leaves a lot to be desired & riders expect more in terms of overall cleanliness & timeliness factors.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Aug 20, 2019 at 12:16 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

I love these comments! Lots of interesting observations about a tough problem. Transit that works would be nice, but at what cost? Bike routes that are safe would be nice, but does that mean less room for cars? And you suggest some ideas.

A couple of responses...

Bike safety. @ReaderXYZ worries about bike safety around here, saying it’s okay in some places like Davis, but not here.

If you want an eye-opener, check out the Bike Safety ratings from California’s Office of Traffic Safety. Our cities do really, really poorly. (Low numbers are *bad* numbers.) As an example, Palo Alto is the #1 worst in the state in terms of bike safety for kids, for cities its size. Menlo Park is #1 worst as well, for kids and in general, for cities its size. Mountain View? Not much better.

But here’s the thing. Davis? Just as bad. Which makes you wonder -- maybe the rankings measure the popularity of biking more than anything else? I checked this with the Office of Transportation Safety, with the Palo Alto Police, and with the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition. Only the former got back to me and the respondent said the rankings take into account many factors. He didn’t know if the number of bikers was one of them or how important it would be.

Safer biking vs car throughput.

Both @ReaderXYZ and @Jeff talk about better bicycle infrastructure in Europe. It sounds like Amsterdam has dedicated a good amount of its public road space to alternative transportation.

But when we try to make roads safer for bikes, car drivers push back, saying that our roads are already congested enough without adding more obstacles. Here’s a resident talking about the changes on Charleston Road to improve bike safety. “I have driven to work every day for 30 years along the Charleston/Arastradero corridor. A major east-west thoroughfare in the city has now been destroyed.” (There is lots more discussion on this nextdoor thread.)

It’s not just us. Read about similar tensions in New York City. “The city wants to carve out more space for cyclists. Opponents say the city is becoming increasingly hostile to drivers.” Sounds like us, except in NYC the drivers are suing!

This deserves its own blog post -- is bike safety inherently in conflict with driving capacity -- but I wanted to highlight the conflict here.

A few more things:
- @ReaderXYZ highlights bike theft (and bike part theft) as an issue. That is a fact.

- A few of you (@Random, @Resident) highlight the need for regional transit. Yup.

- @MPResident very succinctly sums up the two big transit issues. You shouldn’t need a timetable (“headways” need to be small), and end-to-end time can’t be much worse than driving. Yes! And so then the question is, what does it cost to get a transit system like that in our area, and does it have to be expensive? Are there more affordable sub-problems where we should be investing in transit?

- @musical mentions Clipper cards as a convenient way to pay. Yes. Maybe the cities should just send one to all residents with a deep discount for the first rides? I wonder how FasTrak adoption compares to Clipper adoption, just out of curiosity, and how they managed the rollouts.

- @Anon talks about support for the more frail elderly. Do our buses kneel? I don’t know. Walk-wise, many do stop at senior centers, at least…

- Several of you mention the flexibility of cars for going outside of the city and doing multiple errands on a trip. In that vein, @Staying punts on this tough problem, instead suggesting we de-congest the area because at the end of the day only cars are a good answer. But how likely is that, given the State's desire to do precisely the opposite?

This is clearly a tough problem. What would it mean to make our city a better fit for transit? How much should we invest in making the local streets safer for bikers? How much should we invest in transit, and for which problems? And how do we collectively reduce our car emissions to near zero? Those are big questions.


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Posted by sequoiadean, a resident of Los Altos,
on Aug 20, 2019 at 1:01 pm

sequoiadean is a registered user.

A comment about biking: I bike to work from my home in Los Altos to my office in Mountain View, 7 miles each way, every day. I feel very safe doing so - I just don't ride on super busy roads, but have found alternatives that are not very busy at all. Of course you need to be aware of what is going on around you, but I feel that I can see everything very well while on my bike, since I'm up higher than car level. My wife and I often ride when we go out to dinner, movies, shopping, etc, too. Yes, bike infrastructure can be improved, but I think it's pretty good already, and it won't prevent me from biking as much as possible. I even rode (part way) to the Rolling Stones concert on Sunday!


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Posted by Michael A, a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood,
on Aug 20, 2019 at 1:05 pm

I can't imagine myself biking to/from my work: this is just too dangerous. I can easily imagine, however, the Mountain View community shuttle extended and improved enough to make it really useful at least for folks like me, who live and work in Mountain View, and for many others who live close to Caltrain and to El Camino. This doesn't take that much, really. If you look at this map
Web Link
you'll see that Mountain View is pretty compact, and most of its population is concentrated in just a few places. So, we need only a few high frequency (10 minute intervals or less) transit links between high-density areas (Greater San Antonio, West Shoreline) and popular destinations (North Bayshore, Moffett Field, Downtown) operating throughout the day. Also, the routes need to be simplified: direct links, as straight as possible. No long convoluted loops, please! People using public transit can take a 5-minute walk to closest stop on major street, no need to try to cover the whole city area (at least, initially). A simple and streamlined high frequency transit network that can be used any time without consulting maps and schedules would be most convenient and also the cheapest.

The existing shuttle system costs Google $2M annually to operate. Google uses 8 vans (4 in operation, but they are old and not very reliable, hence a need in backup). The improved system would need just 12-15 shuttles to ensure ten minute intervals or less. The shuttles could be leased, and the costs could be fully covered by? Measure P? funds.

My impression from the meeting with Public Works (they are in charge for a study on Mountain View shuttle improvement options) was that they are very committed to the ideas of high frequency and streamlined routes. They are planning to release a report by the end of this year, and they want to move quickly with implementation. So, I'm cautiously optimistic: maybe in a couple of years I'll be able to rely on public transit for most of my commute and use my car only on special occasions.


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Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Aug 20, 2019 at 4:15 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Michael -- Great info, thanks. Are you sure about the $2M cost? If so, that is nearly $10 per ride, more than 2.5x the cost of Palo Alto's shuttle, and more than the VTA average. I'd love to see a breakdown.

For the improved service they are considering, with a wider range and 10-minute shuttles, it'll be interesting to see the costs and the estimated cost per rider.

Palo Alto estimated 3x the cost just to extend slightly beyond the city border on either side, at the same frequency. Hopefully MTV can come up with something that will scale beyond Google's deep pockets for other cities.

Thanks again for this info!


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Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Aug 21, 2019 at 1:47 pm

Mass transit doesn't work around here because we do not have the density that allows us to replace a car with transit.

We also are fighting like the devil to avoid getting to the density where mass transit would work. I lived in NYC for a while and you can, you have to, use the subway to get around because it costs almost as much to house a car as it does to house yourself. In a city mass transit works. In the burbs even ride-sharing doesn't work that well because the taxi or Uber or whatever has to drive often empty from drop-off-point to pick-up-point and takes up space on the road and in traffice while doing it.

We have a bunch of people trying to force us to use a system that doesn't work and really will not every work ( the way it is now at least ) or ride bicycles everywhere and they feel fine in doing this because the alternative is a climate change disaster. There are do-gooders who have bigger mouths than brains.

There is a natural path here, start to build high-density and then tailor mass transit to serve the high-density residents until people start to see an advanrtage to living in high -density. Here is rich Palo Alto, keep ahead of the Joneses that is the last thing we want or want to see. So we do stupid stuff that very few people can use, and to make up for the system not working well - we try to punish everyone else until they leave and are all rich enough to pay the punishment just to be left alone.

Virtually nothing we do works in a holistic symbiotic way.

Same with High Speed Rail. What is needed is a way to connect closeby remote commuter cities to where the jobs are, here. And vice versa. If we did that companies could relocate outward from a working star configuration network -- which it would eventually make sense to connect large urban areas like LA basis, the Bay Area and Sacramento. Instead we try to jump the gun and build something no one will use ... the exact same error we do with local mass transit.


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Posted by Allen Akin, a resident of Professorville,
on Aug 21, 2019 at 8:30 pm

Allen Akin is a registered user.

@CrescentParkAnon: I once read an article by a planner in Melbourne who argued for the opposite -- build the transit system first, and then dense developments will accrete around it. He claimed this was key to the development of effective transit in Japan and in a number of European cities (in both cases, by expanding around heavy rail lines).

In a sense, that's what's happening here. The rail lines (on which Caltrain now runs) came first. Towns expanded around the rails and now there is a conscious effort to extend that process.

The local transit problem arose because an alternative infrastructure (cars and the road network) interrupted the process of increasing density around the rails, and caused highly-distributed development. Now it's difficult and expensive to come up with a local transportation system that supports a viable transition from the current land-use pattern to a completely different one.

If you buy this argument, then you might conclude that the right solution is to build heavy rail out to the Central Valley (and possibly other places). Build at high density along those lines. Then new, expensive local transit systems aren't needed.

When I visited the New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn last year, I noticed a different pattern -- how a succession of separate transit systems (carriages, trolleys, subways, buses, etc.) leveraged the road network. Maybe that could happen here, for example by using autonomous dynamically-routed multi-person shuttles, but increasing the population density before such a solution is practical could leave us deadlocked.


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Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Aug 22, 2019 at 12:51 am

Allen Akin,
I think you are interpreting things wrong. First, there needed to be trains to the ports of the Bay Area, the whole Bay was a mass transit center in itself in the early days with barges going up and down the area. People build cabins and vacation homes along the roads and train tracks, but they did not build the tracks first.

Also, it is too expensive and a gamble to pay for and build a mass transit system .. and where are you talking about building it. It is already here, but no one wants to use it. The thing that proves my point is Cal-Train that people use to go from where they live to where they work. It costs more and so it is not a hangout for vagrants and low-lives. I have been harassed and even attackes on our local buses, plus there are some weirdos in every car. Just waiting for the day that something happens is not for me.

The things that work are the train and BART, but they are not built out, beause we are too spread out. If we built out BART to go to more areas around the bay like it was meant to, and then either expanding it outward in spokes to other local cities we could offload some people who would want to live farther away and maybe ease rents in the Bay Area a little. Then the dynamics you mentioned would work. Housing that people would live in could be build, and jobs created. That is exactly what I was saying that you seemed to want to criticize.

> Now it's difficult and expensive to come up with a local transportation system that supports a viable transition from the current land-use pattern to a completely different one.

Meaning - undoable. I've lived here for 40 years now. I've had to take the bus and the train and even BART. It's not something I enjoyed, plus it did not give me the freedom my car gave me. Mass transit to replace cars around here is a fools errand. Whatever is going on around here is just more of the find any distraction to create a way to funnel money to certain groups. The idea that they are going to try to make me take my bicycle to work or to the store. If I wanted to live in China I'd move to China, and meanwhile China is trying to be more like us.

I think the problem is not technology ...the problem is organization and politics. Palo Alto will fight high density, but high-density is the only way mass-transit really works, like in big cities .... and even then if it is so unpleasant it is not going to work. We need to move homeless, bums and scammers out of transit cars and facilities. Look at people's experiences and ask the customers ... why is this not like any other business .... because the people who run our government think they are the customers, not the rest of us, and they build for their fun and resumes to get even bigger jobs they mess up and more money to waste.


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Posted by Staying Young Through Kids, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Aug 22, 2019 at 11:54 am

Staying Young Through Kids is a registered user.

@Alan Arkin and @CrescentParkAnon

Please bear with this...it really does pertain to local transit...

Does anyone remember the first plan for HSR than was to go from LA to Sacramento with a spur from the Stockton area through Altamont to somewhere Mid-Peninsula? This plan would have allowed greater development of the Central Valley with HSR access to SJ, SF, Sacramento, all of the Central Valley, and into the LA Basin.

Given the state of CA HSR, It's not too late for that plan...

Caltrain would still electrify and provide improved access for the Peninsula. BART could still provide access around the bay (hopefully). And we'd have a new path to the HSR / I-5 corridor which could have provided economic growth to an entirely new region of CA. Ultimately, local companies could expand satellite campuses to the "Real Valley" all the way from Sacramento to Fresno (and beyond).

With Rod Diridon and Jerry Brown gone it's time to push for a route that makes sense for the entire State and not just for a handful of retired politicians who insisted on a plan based on the very worst kind of crony capitalism. Gov. Newsom has proven to be a breath of fresh air. He now has the opportunity to get HSR back on track to grow our state and actually help reduce local traffic

Using sensible local, regional, and statewide transit we have the opportunity to expand our horizons by creating NEW routes not just adding more traffic on the same routes for all types of travel.

This is going to make me sound kinda right wing (ha!), but densification of our area is not the solution. I will continue to argue that densification causes far more problems than it solves and is ultimately antithetical to the American way of life.


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Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Aug 22, 2019 at 6:02 pm

> This plan would have allowed greater development of the Central Valley with HSR access to SJ, SF, Sacramento, all of the Central Valley, and into the LA Basin.

Why not bring HSR into places that already exist and that do not need development? Customers are two remote endpoints are not going to be as numerous as people who already live and commute into the bay area. Is that such a complicated or bad idea? I wonder how much gas in CA is used to fuel commuters back and forth to the bay area ... putting in HSR would probably drop the use of gas and gas prices for everyone.

Get the network build, and then improve on it, maybe get to really high-speed later.


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Posted by Staying Young Through Kids, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Aug 23, 2019 at 12:23 pm

Staying Young Through Kids is a registered user.

@CrescentParkAnon...

With this kind of thinking President Jefferson would have only asked Lewis and Clark to further explore the Great Trading Path and the Main Post Road.

[portion deleted]

Thank goodness for the progressive thinking of our founding fathers lest the United States end at the Wabash River in the North and the Mississippi in the South.


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Posted by ??Michael A, a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood,
on Aug 23, 2019 at 8:18 pm

@Sherry Listgarten
I heard about Google's $2M annual operation costs from more than one source, most recently from Mountain View Public Works. This was a little higher than I'd expect, but this could be because they own twice as many vans as we see on the streets (8 rather than 4) and provide all storage and charging infrastructure for them.
The electric buses aren't that expensive. The prices are in the range of $220K to $400K (see Web Link). BTW, the city doesn't have to own the buses, since leasing them could be much cheaper and would make easier updating the fleet when better technology becomes available.
The biggest costs would be drivers' wages (that's until self-driving technology becomes available), but still even for extended system the development and O&M costs for the city could be in the range $3M to $4M annually, and Measure P "head-tax" could fully fund it.

I agree with multiple comments that mass transit requires high density, but Mountain View already has several clusters of high density (see Web Link), so many people could immediately benefit from inexpensive streamlined high-frequency shuttle system, and consequently many cars will be removed from the streets. Once the backbone of this system is in place, it will catalyze more high-density housing that in turn will justify further expansion of mass transit.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Aug 24, 2019 at 11:21 am

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

I love this discussion. A couple of questions…

Isn’t it a lot easier and cheaper to build transit first and then encourage density around it? It is a risk, but I expect one you could mitigate with incentives. But maybe it’s politically more difficult because you are spending a ton of public money on tracks to nowhere.

One related question is, do we want sprawl, from a climate/planet point of view? Is sprawl good for our ecosystems? What about for our economies?

To @Allan’s point about how transit evolved in NYC, I was interested to read about the rise of e-rickshaws in India. They are somewhere in between an e-bike and a shuttle bus. Presumably they work there because labor is inexpensive and safety regulations are more relaxed. But it illustrates how green transit can evolve on existing infrastructure. Autonomous driving could address the cost, but the safety might need to be something more, particularly with so many bikes in our area. I wonder about having dedicated lanes/roads for different types of vehicles, with more investment/personnel at intersections.

@Michael -- Thanks for the great pointers! I expect the city can reduce the cost of the spare shuttles by using them in a V2G (vehicle-to-grid) system, as people are starting to experiment with. I wonder if they are configured for that. It’s not a huge financial win from what I can tell, but a nice idea, and it helps some.

Re transit costs in general, I understand that we can use our tax money to pay for these shuttles. But what do we want to be paying for each ride, if they are publicly funded? Should we pay $20 for a person’s 5-mile commute to/from work each day? Probably not. Should we pay $10? Or build a bike lane? Offer e-bike leases? It’s kind of funny, because the more we get people to use bikes, which is the best idea imo, the less effective transit in that area can be. So maybe we divide up the problem, and say bikes are for 0-5 miles, and transit is for longer distances? Right now the shuttles overlap with bikeable routes and distances, which makes me less optimistic about them.

Anyway, great comments and thoughts...


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Posted by Michael A, a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood,
on Aug 24, 2019 at 2:30 pm

@Sherry Listgarten
What to build first - transit or housing, this is a classic chicken vs. egg problem that has a classic solution: do both, starting from what you have, in a way that would create positive feedback loops bootstrapping the process. In Mountain View we already have several high density areas, major business districts (North Bayshore and Moffett Field), Caltrain, and VTA 522/22 route on El Camino. So, why not to connect them first with clean shuttles? This does not require building tracks to nowhere, or even providing dedicated lanes (they can come later if needed). Just connect these popular destinations with shuttles and then adjust and expand the system as the need arises. Then, when the city decides where to build more high-density housing, a proximity to this system will naturally become one of most important factors.

From a climate/planet point of view, sprawl is evil. Urban areas have lower environmental footprint per capita, largely due to better energy efficiency of large buildings and public transit.

Mountain View shuttle is free for the riders, and I believe it should remain free for several reasons:
1. even VTA collects only 10-15% of their budget in fares (and this is in good years!)
2. collecting fares requires extra expenses in equipment and enforcement
3. one city after another in Europe make their public transit free
4. if our goal is to allure people to switch to public transit and stop using their cars then providing a free alternative would be the best option, at least initially. The city can start collecting fares later if population is OK with this.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Aug 25, 2019 at 12:27 am

> With this kind of thinking President Jefferson would have only asked Lewis and Clark to further explore the Great Trading Path and the Main Post Road.

Staying Young Through Kids ... that is a really whole comment, and yes, I mean really a whole comment.

[portion deleted due to deletion of referenced portion]

The Lewis and Clark Expedition from May 1804 to September 1806, also known as the Corps of Discovery Expedition, was the first American expedition to cross the western portion of the United States top survey the new territories of the Louisanna Purchase. There is no analogy at all to 21st century HSR in CA.

The golden spike (also known as The Last Spike[1]) is the ceremonial 17.6-karat gold final spike driven by Leland Stanford to join the rails of the First Transcontinental Railroad across the United States connecting the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads on May 10, 1869

Note that L&C was not to build a High Speed Rail or anything of the sort ... the transcontental railroad, did not come about until over 60 years later, and there were plenty of places and there was a reason to connect the two ends of the country. Also development was not so expensive back then either.

Back then they were smart enojugh to go with the flow, and most travel and shipping was by river to places that already existed.

I see no reason why the tax-payers should foot to the bill to build HSR to places that do not exist so speculators can find out where it is going and buy up the land and make windfall profits from it. [portion deleted]

There are plenty of customers in towns outward from spokes from the Bay Area that would save a lot of time and money and traffic, gas, and CO2 emissions if we just connected them.

[portion deleted, reiterates that hopeful speculation can prove expensive for taxpayers]


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Aug 25, 2019 at 12:47 am

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Michael, I think the MVGo shuttles (mvgo.org) are working to connect the business districts in Mountain View with Caltrain. They are funded by the member businesses. Seems like a good model for a commute shuttle, no?

I am a fan of free shuttles, but the question is for what, and paid for by who, at what cost? School commutes are a good analog to business commutes in some ways, and school buses proved expensive enough that Palo Alto opted instead to invest in "safe routes to schools" for bikes, such as crossing guards at major intersections. This program has worked very well and saved millions of dollars each year. You would think businesses would want to encourage local commuters to bike for the same reason. $20 per day per worker (using today's cost of Mountain View's community shuttle) is a lot for a business or the local taxpayers to pay.

I believe there is a role for these intra-city shuttles, but it is narrower than I used to think. Cars are often a better fit for longer inter-city rides, and bikes are often a better fit (plus more cost-effective and climate-friendly) for intra-city rides. Shuttles do have some advantages over bikes -- no need to allocate parking, fewer concerns about safety and theft -- so we will see how things shake out. But I'm not putting as many hopes on this form of transit as I used to.


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Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Aug 25, 2019 at 12:57 am

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

All, please remember to stay away from personal comments. I apologize for getting to these belatedly.


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Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Aug 25, 2019 at 12:31 pm

>> - @Anon talks about support for the more frail elderly. Do our buses kneel? I don't know. Walk-wise, many do stop at senior centers, at least...

According to the VTA website, all VTA resources have some accommodation, and, specifically, all large, standard buses like the 22/522 -kneel-. Presumably one usually asks the driver to activate it. Any readers out there use the kneeling capability regularly?


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Posted by WilliamR, a resident of another community,
on Aug 25, 2019 at 1:55 pm

I haven't used VTA in a while, but my experience with SamTrans was that drivers almost always automatically knelt the bus at stops; you didn't have to ask them to. Buses also have ramps for people with wheelchairs or walkers, or who had trouble with any kind of step.


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Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Aug 25, 2019 at 4:23 pm

As for the density question (or lack of density that some have mentioned) I think that is irrelevant. Google, Facebook, Apple, etc. are providing efficient transport for their workers regardless of density. The problem with their services is that they are only for their own employees. Marguerite is for everyone even though it is a Stanford service.

What is necessary is an affordable, efficient, alternative to solo driving for regular commutes for people to use at least 3 times out of 5 commutes. Even medium sized towns in Europe have efficient bus services and people use them because they can get to and from work or regular commutes in an efficient manner better than they can be car. Many European business centers are not providing free parking for employees. The cost of parking is often a lot more expensive than the cost of a bus ride. The traffic lights and roads are designed to give bus routes priority flow. Bus lanes are for any type of bus, city bus, private bus, long distance bus, tour bus, etc. and they often flow counter to regular traffic on one way streets. Density of the town is nothing to do with it.

I suggest that a local entity engages with our big employers and improve local services along the lines of the private corporate buses and make them available to all at an affordable cost using freeways and direct A to B routes that are designed to get people to where they are going as efficiently as possible. We could start with some efficient shuttle service from the parking lot on Page Mill at 280 to downtown/Cal Ave, and the Marguerite to do Stanford. We could then do the same with a parking lot at the Baylands to get arriving commuters from the 280 and 101 to their destinations. Satellite parking lots bringing the commuters into town at low cost should be one aim of localized public transit.


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Posted by ?Michael ?A?, a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood,
on Aug 25, 2019 at 7:09 pm

@Sherry Listgarten
In principle, MVGo could be a good model, but as implemented, it is way too limited. A minimally viable city-wide system should provide at least these five transit links in Mountain View between high-density areas and popular destinations:

1. Greater San Antonio - North Bayshore
2. Greater San Antonio - Downtown Transit Center
3. West Shoreline - Downtown Transit Center
4. Downtown Transit Center - North Bayshore
5. Downtown Transit Center - Moffett Field

?These links will make sense to you if you look at Web Link?. MVGo provides only link #4 and a short segment of link #5, and even these two have too low frequency for daily commutes (20 minute intervals). Public Works are looking into combining the community shuttle and MVGo into one system, and this would make a lot of sense.

For Mountain View, funding for free shuttles is not an issue. Measure P "head tax" is expected to generate $6 million on an annual basis - more than enough for extended and improved community shuttle and other transportation projects (see Web Link). Other Bay Area cities are contemplating a similar tax.

For longer inter-city rides we already have pretty good options - VTA 22/522 along El Camino, and Caltrain that should greatly increase frequency after it gets electrified in a few years. There is no need to reinvent these wheels (pun intended). What is missing are good connections between them and other destinations within each city. The intra-city shuttles can provide these connections.

Bikes are great, but they are not for everyone. Perhaps, bike ridership is already approaching to saturation, but maybe at least some people who wouldn't bike all way to-from work, might feel more comfortable to bike to-from a closest bus stop or Caltrain station once shuttles and Caltrain become more frequent and convenient. Hence, different transit modes can work synergistically, helping each other.


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Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Aug 26, 2019 at 8:21 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Anon, @WilliamR -- Thanks for passing on the info about kneeling! FWIW, I was talking to someone who works in municipal transit yesterday, and his impression was that the kneelers often break and then the bus has to be taken out of service, so he prefers that operators use them only when needed/asked. Not sure how much say he has in that, though!

@Resident. FWIW, the density argument as I understand it is that the buses can reach more people faster. So they fill up more quickly and they can offer more frequent service (lower “headways”). This (a) brings per-rider the cost down, and (b) makes transit much more appealing (no trip planning needed).

It is true that you can get people to take transit in less dense areas, either by paying a lot of money for each rider, or by ensuring that the driving experience is worse than transit, but that is a tougher sell. Paid parking is sometimes used intentionally in this regard to get more people into transit, even if they otherwise wouldn’t find it a better experience. Congestion pricing is another. Designated bus lanes is another.

We have already voted down a designated bus lane on El Camino, but paid parking is on its way. It is tough to push these through when transit is not effective.

I like your idea for parking lots or similar along the freeways, with transit (or bikes!) into the local areas. I was thinking bus service along the freeways, rather than driving, and someone told me yesterday that in fact people are exploring bus service and similar up and down 101! You should send them your ideas.

@Michael. Yes, I think you have great ideas for what is needed! I’m just surprised that there is no contention about how to use those funds, or discussion about whether the shuttle you describe is the best use. I do think different modes of transit can complement each other, but they can also conflict, not just for funds but for space and for mindshare. So, we’ll see. I really appreciate your enthusiasm, and taking the time to share all the info about transit thinking in Mountain View. It’s great the city has ambitious ideas, and I’m excited to see what pans out.

Thanks all for the great comments. There are a lot of good follow-ups, and I was really interested to learn about that 101 mobility project!


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Nemo, a resident of Professorville,
on Sep 9, 2019 at 11:06 am

Nemo is a registered user.

I hope I am not repeating what someone has already said, but it seems to me that shuttle buses are good candidates for driverless operation. I have no knowledge, but running on routes that rarely change, the streets could be instrumented with guidance beacons the buses would not have to be fully autonomous. Riders could signal for a bus with a smartphone. Eliminating the cost of the driver would make frequent service, and service in non-commute hours, more financially feasible.

Can the "birthplace of Silicon Valley", with help from local technology firms, lead the way?


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Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Sep 9, 2019 at 7:45 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Nemo -- Great comment, and I expect you aren't the first to ask that. One thing I wonder about (worry about), though, is whether we want to have these buses automated in what is a pretty complex environment, with many types of vehicles and kids cross-crossing in all directions. I would guess a highway would be a better/safer place to start. But I am no expert.



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On Friday, October 11, join us at the Palo Alto Baylands for a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run or half marathon! All proceeds benefit local nonprofits serving children and families.

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