Despite outcry from neighbors over the possibility of increasing traffic jams on Moffett Boulevard, City Council members stuck to their promise of making the city more bike- and pedestrian-friendly Tuesday night.
City Council members voted 5-2 to close off an on-ramp to Central Expressway at the southern end of Stierlin Road, with members Jac Siegel and John McAlister opposed. In its place a lane dedicated to bikes and a pedestrian promenade would go in the middle of a 191-unit apartment project, making a gateway to a bike boulevard connecting the downtown transit hub to Google headquarters along Stierlin and Shoreline Boulevard.
The apartment project replaces the county's social services building at 100 Moffett Boulevard and auto shops on Stierlin.
"What you have tonight is an opportunity to define the environment of Mountain View as far as connecting North Bayshore and the downtown transit center," said bike advocate and resident Jarrett Mullen. "This link has to be really strong. We all know what our goals are for (car) trip reduction in North Bayshore. Half-measures are not adequate."
The council also voted to widen Moffett Boulevard by 8 feet south of Central Avenue to allow a bike lane and an additional lane for cars dedicated to right turns onto the expressway.
The council agreed to sell two oddly shaped pieces of public land at the corner -- estimated to be worth a total of nearly $1 million -- to developer Prometheus Real Estate Group, though a third parcel under the pedestrian promenade worth an estimated $900,000 was not sold so the city could maintain control of it. Without the third parcel, Prometheus promised 13 fewer units for the project and no funding for a right-turn lane on Moffett it estimated would cost $900,000.
Dozens of neighbors spoke about the on-ramp, most expressing concern about adding to rush-hour traffic on Moffett where it crosses busy Central Expressway and the Caltrain tracks.
"The problem is there's so many cars on the road, one street is simply not enough," said resident Patricia Muskgrave of the backups on Moffett and Central.
Neighbor George Markle spoke for the the Moffett Neighborhood Group. "Many of us use it many times a day," he said of the on-ramp. Disproving a traffic study, Markle said neighbors found that drivers experience an average nine-minute wait time at Moffett and Central during rush hour, and said the wait would be 24 minutes with the on-ramp closed, based on the number of cars counted using the Stierlin on-ramp.
In his opposition to the closure of the on-ramp, Siegel said there was enough room to accommodate the on-ramp and a cycle track. He also said he "strongly" disagreed with the traffic study that downplayed impacts of the on ramp closure and claimed that the average wait at Moffett to cross Central during rush hour was only 43 seconds.
"I personally experience five to 10 minute delays there every time I go there," Siegel said. "43 seconds -- never happened to me."
Others questioned the assertion from neighbors that people would chose to sit in traffic on Moffett when they could cut over to the Shoreline Boulevard overpass where there's little in the way of traffic jams.
"A quarter-mile away we have an monument to 1960s car culture," Mullen said, referring to the Shoreline Boulevard overpass over Central Expressway, which has a relatively high "level of service" rating for traffic flow at its stoplights.
Another resident recalled the five pedestrians who have died after being struck by cars since April of last year.
"Let us be very clear what the proponents of not closing the on-ramp are favoring: vehicles, vehicles, vehicles," he said. "They complain about nine minute delays. Sarra, Joshua, Bill, Erik and Ruifen were more than inconvenienced."
Council members did not question the proposal for a new right-turn lane on Moffett onto Central, which would lengthen the distance pedestrians would have to cross Moffett and create more danger for pedestrians from cars speeding around the corner, Mullen said. The distance across Central in front of the apartment project will be shorter, however, with a "bulb out" replacing the pork chop-shaped island at the corner now.
At the end of the discussion, council member Margaret Abe-Koga addressed any complaints from neighbors that the council did not listen to the majority of neighbors.
"Not everyone is in consensus here," Abe-Koga said of the neighborhood. "We have to look at the bigger picture. Frankly, if you ask me, if we keep this ramp open, traffic will get worse and you are going to have more cars cutting through there."
Council member Bryant agreed.
"It's dangerous, scary and beyond annoying for people to treat your street as if it's an on-ramp," she said.
"I recognize it will be a major inconvenience for a lot of folks," said council member Chris Clark, calling it an inconvenience for "100 to 200 cars" a day. "Is that significant enough to warrant putting aside what we've articulated as our long term goals of a pedestrian and bike friendly city?"