Council wrestles with growing commute traffic woes

Downtown transit station overwhelmed by employee shuttles

In a city where job growth never seems to quit, a growing number of workers commuting to Mountain View is causing a problem.

In a study session Tuesday, April 8, it was revealed that more than a few of the city's streets have recently reached the lowest possible grade for traffic -- an "F" -- while the downtown transit station is seeing 57 different employee shuttle services during rush hour, lining Evelyn Avenue and using space in the station's bus turnout.

Council members were surprised to learn that many of the shuttles don't even serve Mountain View, prompting council member Ronit Bryant to suggest they be charged a use fee. Cupertino-based Apple and Los Gatos-based Netflix are among the companies that take advantage of the Mountain View station's proximity to Highway 85.

"When the transit center was designed it wasn't anticipated it would have this level of service," said a consultant with Nelson Nygaard.

The study session focused on how to get downtown train station users to Google headquarters and the surrounding North Bayshore, a 1.5-mile trip on infamously gridlocked Shoreline Boulevard. The trip is said to be taken by 900 to 1000 transit users a day.

Proposals from consultant Nelson Nygaard showed improved bike-ways up Stierlin Road and Shoreline Boulevard, as well as a dedicated transit lane on North Shoreline Boulevard and bypass bridges over Highway 101 to prevent shuttles from being stuck in Shoreline Boulevard gridlock near the Highway 101 offramps.

Also proposed was a raised walkway over Central Expressway from the train station for cyclists en route to North Bayshore and shuttle riders, who may one day be picked up at shuttle stations on the north side of the expressway to alleviate gridlock at the downtown transit station.

Some frustrations were expressed by council members and others about whether such measures were enough.

"We aren't going to solve the enormous traffic problem we have by putting in more transit and bike lanes," said Lenny Siegel, founder of a campaign to balance Mountain View's job growth with housing growth so employees can live near their jobs. "I think we need to be more imaginative. It looks like we are rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic."

For the first time Tuesday, Google went on record supporting personal rapid transit (PRT), the controversial automated people-mover technology in which council members have expressed both a serious interest -- and more recently -- major skepticism. Council member John Inks stressed that the idea wasn't dead yet.

"Most of the study devoted to applications of existing technologies," said Kevin Mathy Google's transportation manager. "We need to have an eye towards PRT systems and self-driving cars that are coming closer to fruition in the U.S. every day."

Mathy also suggested the "reconstruction of Shoreline offramps" at Highway 101, presumably so that shuttles can avoid Shoreline Boulevard traffic and fixes for "Caltrain beyond (the) 2019 electrification process."

He said Google "applauds" the proposals so far, especially the bridge crossings and transit lanes, "but we hope that the study (examines) extending these lanes to HOV (high occupancy vehicle) users. People who carpool should be recognized for that effort."

Google has already taken major effort to reduce car traffic, and city officials report that solo vehicle trips are already low - representing only about 60 percent of all North Bayshore commute trips. The city's goal is to reduce it to 45 percent.

"I was hoping this study would make bicycling so attractive that Google would have bicyclists coming from all around," said Google employee and Mountain View homeowner Aldona Majorek. She added that new bike lanes should be as safe as possible.

"Please don't just design it for adults, it should be safe enough for my 10-year-old to go on and not be too scared," she said.

Consultants said that there are now several hundred bicyclists who ride from the transit center to North Bayshore, and that the number would have to go to 1,000 or 1,500 to meet city goals.

Two different proposals were presented for alleviating the bottleneck on Shoreline Boulevard at Highway 101. One showed a new dedicated shuttle lane running up the center of Shoreline Boulevard, reversible in direction, combined with a new bridge from Terra Bella Avenue over 101 for transit, bicyclists and pedestrians, making use of Caltrans property and some private property on the south and north sides of the freeway. Another option showed the bridge alongside a second new bridge allowing shuttles and pedestrians to go both north and south while bypassing the gridlock on the existing 101 bridge.

As for the shuttle traffic at the transit station, council member Ronit Bryant said she saw many shuttles with only a few people in them, as the goal appears to be to meet at least every bullet train that arrives at the station.

"One small Intuit van was completely full. The others were much much bigger and there were two to three people inside," Bryant said.

She said she believed that the new Mountain View Transit Management Agency, which major employers are forming to share shuttles and other car trip reduction efforts, would help solve the transit station shuttle traffic and "will actually bring relief to the downtown pretty much instantaneously."

"Once we have the TMA I think that problem is solved," Bryant said.

Council member Mike Kasperzak, who once called himself "the pod car mayor" adamantly raised the issues of pod cars (PRT). Council members backed away from the idea a few weeks ago, expressing concerns about helping to fund the development of a high-tech PRT system under development at NASA Ames called SkyTran. He said the city could have a system based on existing technology up and running in as little as five years, as it costs significantly less per mile than light rail.

"There's at least four around the world," he said of existing systems, including one that's operated in in Morgantown, West Virginia since 1975. "We can find out what they're doing. If we don't start talking about this now we're going to be making blind decisions without really knowing what our options are."

Council member Bryant opposed the idea, saying she doubted that her neighbors would "look happily at elevated PRT systems. The technology sounds exciting -- it's almost like science fiction. But think of what it basically is. It may not be that positive." She raised the example of PRT at Heathrow Airport in London, saying "Heathrow is not a 'sit down with a cup of coffee and enjoy the garden'" kind of place. "This is our city and it's not an obvious solution."

Consultants said they would return with more proposals and by the end of the year present a complete plan for mitigating traffic from North Bayshore, with a goal of reducing solo car trips to 45 percent. City Manager Dan Rich said that there will also be estimates on general transit costs, including a request for how much it could cost to extend light rail from the NASA station to North Bayshore.


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Posted by Scooter
a resident of Monta Loma
on Apr 9, 2014 at 3:32 pm

You know what would help? Having developers build more high density housing. There's gotta be plenty of land space left somewhere in Mtn. View.
Come on City Council. Do your part to approve more development of high priced apartments and retail stores.
Don't worry about the infrastructure. Let a new group of council members worry about that.

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Posted by PA Resident
a resident of another community
on Apr 9, 2014 at 4:46 pm

The MVCC got an F grade on this subject by rejecting the idea of the Pod Cars recently. We have innovative engineers with out of the box ideas but politicians won't let put their ideas into fruition.

Let's give the innovators a chance to be innovative.

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Posted by NW Resident
a resident of North Whisman
on Apr 9, 2014 at 5:10 pm

It would be interesting to poll employees in the North Bayshore area, including Google, to see how many would want to live in MV if there *were* more high density housing. I imagine that a lot of employees would still want to live in other cities, like San Francisco, and not necessarily live in the same city in which they work.

There are some Google families living in the Wagon Wheel neighborhood where I am, but there are also many other employers and occupations represented here.

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Posted by PA Resident
a resident of another community
on Apr 9, 2014 at 5:19 pm

Here is a comment I posted on a similar topic in the Palo Alto Weekly. This is not a city by city problem, because people work in one city and live in another even if they have less than a 3 mile commute.

The real problem is that this is not a Palo Alto issue, but a regional problem. Mountain View and Menlo Park have traffic problems too. Piecemeal band aids will not fix the problem.

To do this well we have to look at it working with our neighbors to the north and to the south. Palo Alto residents work in Menlo Park and Mountain View just as much as they work in Palo Alto. Palo Alto workers live in Menlo Park and Mountain View, etc. Putting in shuttles that stop at the borders of Mountain View and Menlo Park will only frustrate those that live just a bit further away.

How about a shuttle that runs the length of Middlefield from Mary to downtown Redwood City? How about another that runs along the length of Central Expressway, along Alma and up Sand Hill (oops that means fixing the intersection with ECR - a bonus)? How about a shuttle that runs from the Page Mill/280 intersection to PA Airport? How about a luxury shuttle bus from Castro Street to both SFO and SJC - people drive to these places every day just to drop/off and pick someone up, a trip to Castro Street would be much more efficient and keep traffic off 101!

Rather than each City having its own Traffic Team - there should be one team for all this area. Unless these Cities work together, I strongly doubt anything worthwhile will occur. Commuters travel from one City to another - wake up and get the Cities to innovate some out of the box solutions

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Stierlin Estates
on Apr 9, 2014 at 6:53 pm

Pod cars again, and elevated ones, I can't beleave it. There are homes along Shoreline and also half a block away there are neighborhoods. First it was only concert traffic that made us feel like we are prisoners in our homes. Now it's an every day thing all morning long and afternoon. Also kids are trying to get to school with their bicycles in the bike lanes on Middlefield the same time when cars are using the very bikelane as a right turning lane. Nobody thinks about the young school children. It is time that the city ask the residents of the neighborhoods around Shoreline, Middlefield about all this planning. I would say it's about time for a new access to the north of Bayshore via the Moffet 101 off ramp.

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Posted by F
a resident of another community
on Apr 9, 2014 at 7:15 pm

Did the City reveal that San Antonio Phase II will put the San Antonio/El Camino to a permanent F level of service?

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Posted by PA Resident
a resident of another community
on Apr 9, 2014 at 7:25 pm

Resident of Stierlin Estates

It is actually the legal thing to do to use a bike lane (when the line is broken) to turn right. In this situation the bikes approaching cars in this lane should wait behind the vehicles waiting ahead. It would be dangerous for them to do anything else.

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Posted by John
a resident of Monta Loma
on Apr 9, 2014 at 8:24 pm

In other words, rubber stamp every development and do nothing.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Stierlin Estates
on Apr 9, 2014 at 9:15 pm

PA Resident,

May be you should look at this situation, cars get into the bike lane way before the dashed line . They are backed up for a block, so it is safer for kids to use the sidewalk but oh they (small children) do have to cross Shoreline in the crosswalk and those car will turn in front of them. I bet that most of those drivers don't live in Mtn View and came off 85 and use Moffet/Middlefield to get around the long backup from the 101 Shoreline off ramp. That has been the case during concerts for years now and we do hear lots of horn blowing during those backups. Everyone is only thinking about themselves.

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Posted by PA Resident
a resident of another community
on Apr 9, 2014 at 10:18 pm

Resident - haven't been there so I don't know first hand but I have had my hood wrapped on while waiting legally in the broken lane while waiting to turn right.

Anyway, the problem of traffic is something that we do need to be concerned about I agree. Read my earlier post as I think that all neighboring cities should be working together to get shuttles and traffic solutions that work cooperatively rather than piecemeal. Google workers live in more cities than Mountain View and for Palo Alto residents (or Sunnyvale, or Menlo Park) who want to use public transit for work at Google they are all in the same situation.

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Posted by Konrad M. Sosnow
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 10, 2014 at 10:13 am

All North Shoreline commuters do not work for Google.
When I have to visit clients in Redwood Shores, I take North Shoreline to 101 and wait in traffic.

Yes, we need a regional solution.

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Posted by So
a resident of Shoreline West
on Apr 10, 2014 at 2:37 pm

Stop building crap apartments in Mountain View. I can't believe the City Council is even complaining about this when they rubber stamp all of this crap.

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Posted by Steve
a resident of another community
on Apr 10, 2014 at 2:54 pm

One more example of VTA light rail failure. What an ideal opportunity! It terminates right at the MV Caltrain station. But alas, doesn't go where people need it to.
And Rod 'father of modern transportation' Diridon still thinks himself capable of directing us toward the righteous path.

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Posted by letsgetreal
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 10, 2014 at 3:28 pm

City council, on behalf of many people that have lived in Mountain View for a very long time... you suck at building a bright, functional future for our city.

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Posted by rolling my eyes
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 10, 2014 at 4:14 pm

@ So and letsgetreal, ditto what you said. Additionally, our city council is a failure with no foresight. They keep allowing more and more people, buildings and businesses. What did they think would happen? It doesn't take a brain surgeon to know you can't put 10 lbs of "stuff" in a 5 lb. bag. We, the residents of MV, can't handle anymore of this over-crowding. Stop it now!!!

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Posted by Tom
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Apr 10, 2014 at 4:28 pm

Years ago, Mountain View spent 20 million dollars to bring Light Rail to the train station. There already is Light Rail on the Moffett property at Ellis and 101. Why not build a new track through Moffett to the Shoreline area. The only bridge needed would be over Stevens Creek. Then, Shoreline workers could take a direct route to the CalTrain Station without adding to the traffic congestion. Plus, this Light Rail spur could be used by NASA and the new Google Moffett campus.

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Posted by Ben
a resident of Monta Loma
on Apr 10, 2014 at 4:51 pm

The Council cannot solve the long term overpopulation problem by more short term and crazy fixes. There is no hope to fix the problem and almost no one will ever address the overpopulation problem.

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Posted by MV Resident
a resident of Waverly Park
on Apr 10, 2014 at 5:33 pm

I completely agree with PA Resident. The solution must be regional. I don't think Mtn View should feel it needs high density housing for every job it has. Los Altos does not have a job for every sprawling house it has. Should Los Altos be forced to put in office buildings since it has so few? Again, the problem is regional? Very few people stay in the same job for their entire career any more, so unless we all live in rental units and never buy a house, the idea of everyone living near where they work is unrealistic. People will buy a home they will live in for 20-30 years unless they move out of the entire Bay Area, but they may commute to many different jobs during that timeframe. Regional interlocking solutions are critical, and each city should not be expected to solve the problem in its own little vacuum.

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Posted by We have had enough
a resident of Jackson Park
on Apr 10, 2014 at 6:25 pm

Google, thanks for comming to the party, we have enjoyed having you. Now it is time to leave, take your growth to San Francisco, where your works want to live, or some other urban area like San Jose. You have been great, but having you here causes ABAG to require our Mountain View being blocked by tall urban buildings mostly corporate owned housing consessions. Our Streets are grid locked, and we are too old to ride a bike.
We never built the trams for old folks because we thought we were as dense as we would ever get. So please, go now..... before the life style you came for is completely gone.

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Posted by Konrad M. Sosnow
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 10, 2014 at 7:50 pm

@ Tom,

Eureka!You've got it!

I have been a proponent of extending Light Rail to North Shoreline (Google, et. al.) Your idea of building a short extension from Moffett property at Ellis and 101 is brilliant!

However, the VTA is focused on BRT and the City Council is focused on bicycles (or doing nothing.

Tom, please write a letter to the editor with your suggestion.


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Posted by Konrad M. Sosnow
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 10, 2014 at 8:39 pm

If you think it is bad now, just wait till next year!

If Ken Rosenberg, Mike Kasperzak's hand picked candidate is elected to the city Council, there will be a coalition of four City Council members dedicated to more and more growth, perhaps even increasing the number of Mountain View rental properties by as much as 50%. Yes, I said 10,000 additional units, which is 50% of exiting rental units.

Mike Kasperzak, John Inks, Chris Clark (Mike's Clone #1), and Ken Rosenberg (Mike's Clone #2) will do as they and the out of town developers wish. Mountain View will become Developerville!

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Posted by mv resident
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 10, 2014 at 9:08 pm

Is this caused by decisions of the city council, or their approval, being only part time workers and representatives without the time to understand the details of things, and depending on the decisions and arguments and presentations made by the city manager and the city staff including the planning department. Perhaps the city manager should be made an elected position by the city, and many also the head of the planning department also should be elected.

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Posted by Gary
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Apr 10, 2014 at 10:11 pm

The council has no imagination or problem solving skills. I see more and more traffic lights and so called improvements by adding left turn lights to intersections while completely ignoring synchronization of said lights etc. WTF...if you want to add lights at least put some intelligence in the system. This is low hanging fruit. Look at shoreline. How many red lights do you hit? I asked the MV traffic engineer if he actually drove in mountain view during rush hour and all I got was a sarcastic response. These people are completely out of touch. They are so into new development and at the same time ignoring the infrastructure that needs to be in place. I saw this happen in San Diego in the 70-80's and now it is just an extension of LA. Stop new development until you provide the infrastructure to support it. Vote them all out!

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Posted by concerned citizen
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 10, 2014 at 11:40 pm

@Gary - "Stop new development until you provide the infrastructure to support it. Vote them all out!"

You are absolutely right. However, here's what is happening in the next election: No incumbents will be running. Three present council members will be termed out, including Jac Siegel, who has been a voice of sanity. John McAlister has also been a voice of sanity, and will continue to serve on the council. There will be three open seats to vote on. If the right candidates materialize, we may be able to elect a decent council majority, that is oriented towards preserving quality of life, and is not a rubber stamp for developers.

We need to be very, very careful who we vote for. This is our future.

@Konrad - As far as I can tell, Ken Rosenberg is not a candidate who will bring the change we need, and is not a candidate I can support.

Like this comment
Posted by Rodger
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Apr 11, 2014 at 11:22 am

First Stop building high density office and housing. Second work with NASA Ames to allow buses to use Moffett Blvd and then onto the west edge of Ames property and cross over a NEW BUS ONLY BRIDGE over Stevens Creek to reach the North Bay Shore area which is mostly Google. Build the bridge not to far north of Higway 101 to avoid NASA and wildlife impact.

Like this comment
Posted by Pat
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 11, 2014 at 4:10 pm

Is it all about Google n the Tech industry? I urge council members to attempt driving down Grant Road, either direction, 8-10 Am or 3:30-6pm on weekdays. With added radical offices, two day care facilities, two high schools, Huff school and a hospital/medical campus enroute, there are No OPTIONS except to sit waiting manyinutes in traffic.
Let us also note that a new housing development sits on land once the pumpkin patch which has added to the problem.
Ambulances n Fire engines respond to calls then are taking patients to the hospital.
It is obvious that solutions or forecasting remedies has never happened or we would not be in this terrible situation. If nothing else, where Grant Road meets Los Altos, as four lames are reduced to two, Los Altos needs to open up surface streets off of Grant that we're formerly open and provided better departure away from Grant.
Certainly, businesses, schools, shopping centers and the hospital need to meet and help w solutions such as alternate work schedules, earlier school hours, more traffic entering behind Grant Plaza etc. Mtn view is famous for harboring brainiacs so get going, use your brains to get this solved.
One thought, make rear entrances to stores n businesses off of Phyllus Ave?

Like this comment
Posted by Pat
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 11, 2014 at 4:13 pm

How about opening a one way road access to Hospital Drive off of Cuesta Drive?

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Posted by DC
a resident of North Whisman
on Apr 11, 2014 at 8:12 pm

Has anyone else been concerned over all these white buses roaming the city? The rush hour drives must be getting to them an I see them taking side streets and making dangerous maneuvers to transport people. Are the drivers regulated?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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