Traffic could put limits on North Bayshore housing plans

City's data shows jammed roads could not handle traffic from 10,000 new apartments

Aspirational plans by Mountain View City Council members to allow up to 10,000 new housing units in North Bayshore may hit a snag, after an early traffic analysis by the city shows that injecting that much housing into the office-heavy area would bring traffic to a standstill.

Early last year, council members agreed to revise the North Bayshore Precise Plan to include housing. Adding a residential neighborhood to North Bayshore, an office park primarily owned and occupied by Google, is part of a larger strategy to boost residential growth in the city. Although the number has fluctuated since Jan. 2015, the current goal is to add up to 9,850 housing units in the area.

But the big concern at the Sept. 27 City Council study session was whether the roadways into North Bayshore -- Shoreline Boulevard, Rengstorff Avenue and San Antonio Road -- could handle the kind of traffic generated by so many new residents. A preliminary traffic analysis indicated that vehicle trips associated with adding 9,850 units would far exceed the roadway capacity, and would fall well short of being compliant with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

The three roads have a combined "gateway" capacity of 8,100 vehicle trips during the morning commute into North Bayshore, and 7,940 during the evening commute out of the area.

Depending on the size of the units and the amount of parking allowed, 9,850 units could increase morning commute traffic, currently estimated at about 6,640 morning trips, by between 44 percent and 81 percent. For the evening commute, currently at 6,250 trips, that increase is even higher -- between a 81 and 99 percent increase in vehicles traveling in and out of North Bayshore.

The report estimates that between 1,300 and 3,200 units could be added to North Bayshore before reaching gateway capacity -- well below what council members were hoping to add.

"These results came in at a far different place than we originally anticipated," said Community Development Director Randy Tsuda. "It's pointing to the complexities of really trying to pull off a transition of this magnitude."

City Manager Dan Rich told council members the traffic study should be seen as an "early heads-up" based on the current data, and that city staff members fully intend to explore a range of options and policy tools to achieve the council's goals for North Bayshore.

"We don't think 3,000 (units) is going be the final number, but we can't tell you today with a straight face that 10,000 will be the final number either," he said. "It needs to be based off data and analysis."

Throughout the Tuesday study session, council members picked and prodded at the analysis, questioning whether the assumptions may have overestimated the effect of residential development on traffic. One of the big sticking points was that the traffic study lumped both inbound and outbound vehicle trips together to determine "gateway capacity," and that the big increase in morning commute traffic, for example, is really attributable to people traveling out of North Bayshore, not entering it.

It goes without saying that adding 9,850 units -- a 20-fold increase in the population of North Bayshore -- is going to increase traffic along the major access roads. But some council members were perplexed by the idea that residents leaving North Bayshore in the counter-commute direction would make a big difference in traffic flows into the office-heavy area.

Council member Lenny Siegel said he found it hard to believe that outbound traffic in the morning is going to bump up against the limit for gateway capacity when it's only one-sixth the number of cars heading into North Bayshore. Although staff suggested that drivers leaving North Bayshore will inevitably cause delays for the employees traveling into the area, Siegel pointed out that most people heading southbound are going to be headed straight, and likely won't be blocking any intersections until they hit Middlefield Road.

Siegel, along with Mayor Pat Showalter, also questioned whether the analysis low-balled the number of people who will both work and live in North Bayshore, making their commute "internal" to North Bayshore. City estimates predicted that between 10 and 20 percent of people living in North Bayshore will also work in the area. Siegel said he believes that number should be closer to 75 percent.

"The key variable in the analysis is the internalization rate, and I think the assumption that you're making is way off base," he said. "This is not Mission Bay, this is North Bayshore. It's clear that people are willing to pay a premium to live near the workplace."

City staff were quick to clarify that the traffic analysis doesn't preclude building more than 3,200 units of housing in North Bayshore, but another traffic analysis will ultimately determine what kind of residential development will be allowed, given the constraints of the roadway infrastructure into the area.

"This is likely how the analysis will have to be put together to be CEQA compliant," Tsuda said. "You can't put your aspirational goals into the CEQA analysis, they are, by their very nature, conservative."

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15 people like this
Posted by Bored M
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Sep 29, 2016 at 10:37 am

Who didn't know this was a bad idea? The best alternative is making downtown more dense and providing terrific transit options to/from North Bayshore. It'd be great for workers and for those going to concerts.

18 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 29, 2016 at 11:17 am

A few questions:

1. Why is these studies of capacity of roads not done before businesses are allowed to expand the number of employees into the area?

2. Has there been any thought that maybe the roads should be made all one way in the north bay-- say only exit at Rngstorff into the area, and only exit by Shoreline? (or other combinations maybe exit only by San Antonio and Shoreline) Was such a study done to see how this might work?

3. Left turns seem to be a problem. Can places be redesigned to eliminate all left turns?


It seems that aiming for total capacity is asking for stress, anxiety, too much pollution and while may meet some spreadsheet number work well doesn't make life good.

It seems that we are already accepting that the current congestion is the norm that we are working off of and not something we need to alleviate.

Eliminating left turns would certainly help downtown Mountain View evening traffic where often left turns (and double parking too) cause severe delays that make walking faster. I feel that the city could benefit from at least studying if one way streets and no left turns could make life safer and a bit calmer.

17 people like this
Posted by Build!
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 29, 2016 at 12:30 pm

If you build 1,000 market rate units, they will fetch a premium from people who want a short commute. Developers will want the best price for their units, and Googlers will be the only ones willing to pay it.

Despite how it may seem, this is a good thing. 1,000 renters will free up 1,000 units in other areas, and get a large number of cars off the road. BMR renters may need to drive, depending on how they are selected. And for kids going to school, I hope we can have a school bus.

The 10-20% figure is extremely low. Perhaps it was derived as a random distribution across the Bay Area, and totally ignores the market. It will be closer to 80%.

Start with 1,000 units, that sounds fine. But please build them concentrated in a few buildings-- maybe three 10-story buildings, near a transit stop (or future transit stop). Preserve our land so that when you see what a positive impact the building has, we can build more.

And PLEASE start building housing in North Bayshore NOW!

5 people like this
Posted by Really?
a resident of Monta Loma
on Sep 29, 2016 at 2:51 pm

I find it difficult to believe these numbers, if only because people living in that area will be going the opposite direction as the people going to work. I can believe there will be some impact, but not that much. I'd love to see some explanation to support these statistics.

That being said, I'm not sure the freeways can handle much of an increase, though currently both the morning commute heading out of MV and the evening commute heading in are much better than the opposite. It's one of the nice things about living here, TBH.

406 people like this
Posted by Trying to get from A to B
a resident of North Bayshore
on Sep 29, 2016 at 3:03 pm

I cannot believe they are just now doing the research on the traffix. Long time residents of Santiago villa have been voicing this problem for years. There is no way any more traffic can be permitted. Concerts, employees, residents, Shoreline Park goers, restraunt goers and movie goers are too much already. We just want to get home sometimes or run an errand and it becomes impossible or a task that takes hours. There is no way that it will work to build more over here.

40 people like this
Posted by OMG
a resident of Slater
on Sep 29, 2016 at 3:48 pm

OMG .... how can anyone be shocked by the outcome of this study? The entire city of Mountain View has 75,000 people. At a low average of 1.5 people per housing unit, 10,000 units would increase the population of Mountain View by 15,000 ... a whopping 20% increase. Who in their right mind can possibly believe that these three streets can handle 20% of Mountain View's residential population plus the associated North Whisman business population without absolute gridlock? Get real people. This "plan" is all about GREED.

5 people like this
Posted by North Bayshore Resident
a resident of North Bayshore
on Sep 29, 2016 at 4:24 pm

New luxury apartments right next door to Google and the city "estimates predicted that between 10 and 20 percent of people living in North Bayshore will also work in the area."

Those numbers seem so far off, it throws into question the rest of the report.
At the prices those housing will charge, it would only make sense for new residents who have at least one partner who works there, so that's 50%, and if people live alone or have non-working partners, even higher.

Even in the existing mobile home park, the percent of new residents who are buying because of work is higher than 10-20%.

15 people like this
Posted by Monta Loma
a resident of Monta Loma
on Sep 29, 2016 at 5:04 pm

Thanks to Planning for bringing the council this reality check. It makes perfect sense to me that 3,000 new units in NB would push the roads to capacity or more. Roads at "full capacity" is a horror story in itself. And beyond that, I'm waiting to see just what sort of trip reduction plan Google and LinkedIn can come up with to honestly justify the 3.4 million sf of new office space that the council wants to let them build.

3 people like this
Posted by Monta Loma
a resident of Monta Loma
on Sep 29, 2016 at 5:54 pm

Here's the staff memo that was the subject of this City Council study session: Web Link. On the first page of this link, click on "Study Session Memo."

Correction to my last post - I'd forgotten about the land exchange that was made between Google and LinkedIn. I think LinkedIn is no longer invested in the new NB office space, so any trip reduction plan will be up to Google.

7 people like this
Posted by Foolish study
a resident of another community
on Sep 30, 2016 at 12:30 am

The study absolutely ignores the simple fact that residents commute in the opposite direction of people coming to work.

It's very obvious at peak hours that there is a reverse direction which is way less loaded than the sluggish traffic direction.

How absurd not to recognize this in the study. It's not a small thing. This is a bit of an unusual situation. Using this "Combination" of traffic in both directions at each "gateway" might normally be OK, but in cases like this it makes the numbers nearly meaningless.

Talk about a "reverse commute!"

5 people like this
Posted by AC
a resident of another community
on Oct 2, 2016 at 12:42 am

AC is a registered user.

Last Wednesday it took me 50 minutes to go one exit on US 101 Northbound at 5:15pm. From Ellis Street to Moffett Boulevard, where I exited prematurely (instead of my normal Old Middlefield) to try to take surface streets home. The controlled signal at Shoreline only allowed a few cars to move at a time, and at long intervals. People put on their hazards and got out of their cars to pee in the bushes on the freeway. Middlefield was also backed up. Good thing I live here and I know how to take neighborhood streets; although if everyone did it, it wouldn't be so great for the neighborhood.

Just saying; the traffic patterns need to be looked at, whether they build there or not. I'm not going to pretend to know the answer to the problem, but I am offering this observation.

3 people like this
Posted by NB 101
a resident of another community
on Oct 2, 2016 at 1:13 am

Hmm, at Shoreline headed North, I imagine 85 injects more traffic into the already congested 101 than does Shoreline. In the morning the problem is traffic backs up from Shoreline's exit from 85 so that 85 is slowed. This throttles the traffic input from 85 to 101 N. In the afternoon, this doesn't really happen.

Probably some metering rights on 85 would help 101 a great deal. Doesn't have anything to do with the North Bayshore generating traffic. It's 85 which is the mess.

3 people like this
Posted by AC
a resident of another community
on Oct 2, 2016 at 10:22 am

AC is a registered user.

@NB 101

I would guess that NB SR 85 exacerbates it; but from what I could observe of when the traffic would move, it was the controlled light at the end of the Shoreline Blvd exit ramp; which unfortunately puts us right back at looking more closely at North Bayshore.

As an aside, as a 23-year Mountain View resident, I'd be kind of embarrassed for us to be the cause of horrific traffic to those many people who use US 101 to get where they need to go. You know... my freedoms end where another person's begins and all that. It's just not neighborly to be the city on the route that screws it up for everyone.

Of course we're not the only one. But I've always been proud of not being the culprit. I'd hate to be it now.

3 people like this
Posted by ivg
a resident of Rex Manor
on Oct 2, 2016 at 10:27 am

I agree with @Build.

The traffic problem is clearly serious, but there are solutions. For instance, this study does not take into account the recently proposed Shoreline bus lane, which should help a lot.

I'm also starting to reconsider light rail to North Bayshore. I imagine a single track continuing along the Caltrain right-of-way, tunneling underneath Central Expwy and entering the Shoreline median, then continuing up through Pear or Charleston. A single, short passing track somewhere around Middlefield or Montecito would allow two trains to run back and forth in a shuttle configuration. (Perhaps one train come up from Winchester as currently scheduled, while another would come south and stop and downtown. This would give a 7.5-minute service frequency.)

I estimate that it would cost $200M, by analogy with other rail projects in the Bay Area. This is clearly a lot of money, but that's only a few percent of the billions that developers want to spend on construction.

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

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