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By Steve Levy

CalTrain--Trends and Implications

Uploaded: Jan 30, 2014

This column explores the importance of CalTrain service to the peninsula and Palo Alto and the policy implications.

The basic data and trends

Average weekday ridership has grown from 24,000 in 2004 to 53,000 in the second half of 2013.

Most of these are in the peak hours in the morning and evening. To get a rough comparison of how this relates to traffic on 101, Caltrans reports that peak hour volumes are between 14,000 and 17,000 cars on the most congested parts of 101. So the CalTrain ridership and especially the growth are important traffic demand management tools into the communities near the stations.

The University Avenue station is the second busiest CalTrain station after San Francisco with about 5,500 average daily trips up from 2,400 in 2004. Most of these trips are peak hour trips. In the morning roughly 1,000 people get on mostly going north and roughly 3,500 people get off at the University Avenue station mostly coming from the north. But roughly 1/3 of the trips are to and from southern stations.

The increase in train traffic is the result of 1) the introduction of the bullet trains, 2) the Stanford and other shuttle services that meet trains and 3) the growth of start ups in the downtown area.

Policy Implications—Capacity constraints looming

These trains provide a great service to residents, to employers and University facilities near the stations and to passengers who get a larger choice of where they can live and commute more easily. They relieve what is already bad congestion on Highway 101.

But the peak hour service is nearing capacity while the economy up and down the peninsula continues to add jobs. It is in the common interest of all communities along the CalTrain line to support policies that allow CalTrain to expand capacity as soon as possible.

Policy Implications—parking near the station

Some riders bike to the station, some walk and some are dropped off. Some park in the CalTrain station but anecdotal evidence is that some riders drive to the station and park in adjacent neighborhoods and become part of the problems that residents are complaining about.

Both to support continued use and growth of CalTrain while helping reduce neighborhood parking, it would be helpful for the city to collect information about how many CalTrain riders are parking not at the station and why.

Policy implications—handling future growth

The CalTrain service if able to expand and add parking capacity will be a valuable part of the ability of peninsula communities to absorb the growth in jobs and housing that is coming. Not everyone lives or works near a station but concentrating future growth near stations while adding innovative shuttle, bike or other "last mile" services can minimize the impact of growth on local traffic while expanding opportunities to live in walkable neighborhoods.