Another setback for Mountain View's ambitious automated transit plans | News | Mountain View Online |


Another setback for Mountain View's ambitious automated transit plans

Transit study for North Bayshore workers postponed due to workload, short staffing

In order for all area residents to have important local information on the coronavirus health emergency, has lifted its pay meter and is providing unlimited access to its website. We need your support to continue our important work. Please join your neighbors and become a subscribing member today.

For more than a decade, Mountain View residents have been hearing about the city's grand, technology-driven transit plans for getting thousands of employees in and out of North Bayshore during commute hours.

The idea has been floating around since 2009 under several names and iterations -- Personal Rapid Transit, pod cars, SkyTran, autonomous shuttles, monorails and gondolas -- all aimed at solving the practical challenge of efficiently moving commuters roughly 3 miles, from the city's downtown transit center to Google, NASA Ames and other major employers.

Despite the decadelong wait and worsening traffic, the project suffered another setback last month. An $850,000 study to figure out the land requirements needed for the future Automated Guideway Transit (AGT) line, originally intended to begin last month, has been pushed back to November. Council members granted the request of city staff who sought a one to two year delay, citing burdensome workloads and a vacancy in the public works department. The study now aims be complete in April 2021.

AGT has a long history of delays and abandonment, and the latest study was nearly quashed last year. In June, the council narrowly approved moving forward with the study, with serious misgivings from council members Margaret Abe-Koga and Lisa Matichak about whether the city was chasing an infeasible transit project. Estimated costs to build an elevated system over surface streets could cost as much as $195 million per mile, raising questions over how the city could cobble together enough transportation funds to pay as much as $1 billion.

Councilman John McAlister, a staunch proponent of AGT and regional transit projects, told the Voice that the delays don't change the fact that there is a growing demand for transit alternatives that could take thousands of vehicles off of city streets. Delays and a lack of clarity on how to pay for AGT notwithstanding, he said he remains optimistic: transit technology is rapidly improving, and employers are ready to work with the city to see the project come to fruition.

"It's going to happen," McAlister said. "We're looking for a public-private partnership with Google because North Bayshore is developing, the transit center is developing. We've already pretty much got a route."

A 2018 study found that a future transit system circulating between downtown Mountain View, NASA Ames and North Bayshore could be immensely popular, with more than 8,600 in daily ridership -- much higher than the more extensive Stanford Marguerite shuttle system to the west, even without taking into account a surge in demand from Shoreline Amphitheatre's concert season.

It would also be a much faster alternative, according to the study, with AGT travel times estimated to be between 7 to 13 minutes from downtown Mountain View to the western side of North Bayshore and 13 to 15 minutes to the eastern side. Employee shuttles that currently ferry people from downtown Mountain View to North Bayshore can take 25 to 30 minutes to reach the same destinations.

Bogging down those selling points were big questions about practicality and funding. At the June meeting, Abe-Koga said there are plenty of more immediate transportation improvements -- including a bike and pedestrian tunnel at Villa Street -- while Matichak argued that $850,000 and a year of staff time was a big ask to study something that may never materialize.

"Transportation is really important, but at some point you need to be realistic about what really might be possible," she said.

McAlister, reflecting back on the 4-3 June vote, said he felt his colleagues let price sensitivity get in the way of fully appreciating the potential of AGT for solving traffic woes, and that building the infrastructure for transit is going to be super expensive, no matter what they do.

"I think some council members don't really understand the full implications of what a good transit system can do," he said.

Under the revised schedule, the city will award the contract for the upcoming AGT study in November this year, said Public Works Director Dawn Cameron. The delay could have a silver lining in the sense that the city can wait for the latest advancements in autonomous transportation technology, she said, which is rapidly evolving. The scope of the current study is focused solely on the necessary right-of-way for the future transit system -- which could end up being elevated, depressed or at-grade -- meaning it can fit whatever cutting-edge technology comes down the pike.

"All the technology is in the vehicles, not the guideway," Cameron said. "Which means the use of the guideway could evolve over time to take advantage of new and smarter transit vehicles."

We need your support now more than ever. Can we count on you?


15 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Feb 23, 2020 at 11:30 am

How is the study on how to solve Mountain View’s mushrooming transient, drug, and auto break-in Problem going? How much was allocated to that study?

Seems like the goal of this super tram is to make it easier for people to not live in Mountain View but work at Google.

9 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Jackson Park
on Feb 23, 2020 at 11:49 am

The obvious alternative would be to extend the VTA light rail. What is the reason that is not Plan A?

8 people like this
Posted by J
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Feb 23, 2020 at 1:46 pm

Why don’t we have a miniature electric train to ride around? Like the one at the Oakland Zoo

10 people like this
Posted by John The Builder
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Feb 23, 2020 at 2:48 pm

Up to $1 billion means more than double that figure. Just take a look at VTA projects. Nothing is done on time or on budget. Are you people insane?

19 people like this
Posted by Carolyn
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Feb 23, 2020 at 4:43 pm

It is 3 miles. Ride your bikes and put in high-quality, bike supportive infrastructure. This problem does not require a technological solution to a 3 mile long problem. This is absurd.

6 people like this
Posted by Me
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Feb 23, 2020 at 5:45 pm

And how are people getting to such a system? Parking at the Caltrain station? Are there any places where these systems work (other than airport/theme parks etc)?

22 people like this
Posted by Diablo
a resident of Monta Loma
on Feb 23, 2020 at 8:29 pm

Carolyn, you beat me to it. 25-30 minutes for a bus! Ride your bikes people! Google maps show 22 min via St. Crk Trail, which is a very nice ride, and 17 min via Shoreline. And I, at 65, can beat these map estimates. I asked the major once, who asked Google, about their employees using their own colorful bikes between the Transit Center and NBS. Their response, "the bike aren't designed for that.". Huh? Why? Because they are single speeds? I can beat those Google maps estimates and that's what I ride, and mine are 70's vintage heavy steel bikes ... and I've never been particularly fast.

Mountain View should get serious about bicycle infrastructure. We live in a flat city with ideal weather. How can cold, wet Denmark and Holland do so much better than us at getting people on bikes? It was enlightened leadership and the desire to take back the streets for the benefit of their citizens. And btw, it's not just NBS workers -- the stay-at-home moms, work-at-home employees, retirees, etc, are driving their SUV's around town for every little errand. I see it every time I shop, two or three bikes and 50 cars parked at Trader Joe's, an even bleaker situation at Walmart or Target. Safe cycling infrastructure could chip away at these vehicles too.

8 people like this
Posted by The Successful Businessman
a resident of Whisman Station
on Feb 23, 2020 at 10:39 pm

The City of Mountain View has completely lost its mind.

7 people like this
Posted by The Business Man
a resident of Castro City
on Feb 23, 2020 at 11:11 pm

Not suggesting I support this project at all. I am in agreement with THe Successful Businessman on this one.

But there are some of us that no matter what we try we cannot ride a bike.

We are born with deformed inner ears and damage to the cerebellum in our brains.

Believe me, I tried for 8 years to learn to ride a bike. I finally gave up.

Then came the MRI that diagnosed my neurological problems and structural problems with my left ear. Which is my favored side.

This was just a DISNEYLAND idea that was too expensive and would not work in reality.

We need to use the KISS rule in Mountain View.

3 people like this
Posted by Terrence healy
a resident of another community
on Feb 24, 2020 at 1:54 am

An elevated system could run down all existing right of ways, above cal trans above existing freeways with circles around existing cities to link up to all other existing Bart, light rail, cal trans and could be msg lev and high speed, then build all 4 to six track systems don’t reduce it down to save money, expand high speed to affordable housing

16 people like this
Posted by Ilya
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Feb 24, 2020 at 2:32 am

I think we all know these projects are not even remotely possible in the modern day USA. This country can't build a bus terminal, leave alone something more complicated than this.

10 people like this
Posted by Jeremy Hoffman
a resident of Rengstorff Park
on Feb 24, 2020 at 7:36 am

Of course, one way to reduce the traffic from workers that doesn't cost $195 million per mile is to simply build jobs, housing, and transit stations near each other. Why are there single-story buildings across the street from the Caltrain/VTA stations in Mountain View and so many other cities?

I guess we'll keep having to look for land use reform at the state level, since the state senate choked yet again on Senate Bill 50, the More Homes Act, this year.

13 people like this
Posted by Whisman Neighbor
a resident of North Whisman
on Feb 24, 2020 at 8:22 am

Just last night NBC local news reported that in 2030 Mountain View proprieties north of 101 in Mountain View (Google, NASA) will be inundated due to rising sea levels caused by global warming. Considering $1 billion transportation gondolas now to those areas is pure madness.

4 people like this
Posted by Whisman Neighbor
a resident of North Whisman
on Feb 24, 2020 at 9:50 am

NBC sea levels report
Web Link

5 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Stierlin Estates
on Feb 24, 2020 at 11:17 am

If bikes are used to get to Google, where are they going to be parked?
How big would the bike lanes be?
This article said "with more than 8,600 in daily ridership" which would mean more than 4,300 bikes

8 people like this
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Feb 24, 2020 at 11:21 am

Fine MV employers who do not allow their employees to work at least one day from home.

5 people like this
Posted by @ Whisman Neighbor
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Feb 24, 2020 at 11:27 am

The key part of the NBC report is that _if nothing is done_ sea levels may inundate the area. Many cities work just fine and have for a very long time existing below sea level, because some things like dykes and levees have been part of the plan.
Once the flat earth deniers have run out of excuses, even they'll be onboard with fortification against the rising tides.

2 people like this
Posted by @work remotely!
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Feb 24, 2020 at 4:40 pm

Fine MV employers who hire their employees More than half from out of Mountain View.

6 people like this
Posted by Tom Lustig
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Feb 24, 2020 at 5:59 pm

25 years ago, $20 million City of Mountain View dollars were spent to bring VTA to MV. It runs thru Moffett at Ellis and Hwy 101. Simply extend it to North Bayshore to connect with Google, Shoreline Park and Amphitheater. Riders can either go to CalTrain in MV or Bart in Milpitas.

6 people like this
Posted by Rossta
a resident of Waverly Park
on Feb 24, 2020 at 6:01 pm

Good for McAllister to support continued work on this. Mountain View MUST solve its transportation problem BEFORE any more housing or offices are built. Our transportation system is already over capacity and staff should be taken off those other projects to solve the BIGGEST problem first.

Also, the earlier study of PRT concluded that trains bring huge numbers of riders in one big lump and would overwhelm small occupancy vehicles, but by the time a new system is built, the plan is for Caltrain to be running more frequently with smaller numbers of riders in each of those bursts.

I'm all for implementing better bike infrastructure, too. But, not everyone can ride a bike and the weather isn't always good for a bike (rain and too hot both rob us of days).

5 people like this
Posted by David
a resident of another community
on Feb 25, 2020 at 1:03 pm

How about they just spend the $850K to set up a robust bus system with some dedicated bus lanes in key areas. You would have a fast, high capacity, flexible system immediately without spending $1 billion.

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

Get fact-based reporting on the COVID-19 crisis sent to your inbox daily.

Coronavirus Food Safety Update + New! Insider Tips
By Laura Stec | 7 comments | 4,928 views

A Pragmatic Approach to A Trillion Trees
By Sherry Listgarten | 2 comments | 3,756 views

The University of California’s flexible policies during COVID-19
By John Raftrey and Lori McCormick | 6 comments | 2,514 views

Repairing a Disagreement with your Beloved & “Physical” vs. “Social” Distancing
By Chandrama Anderson | 2 comments | 2,490 views

Coronavirus: my early April thoughts – and fears
By Diana Diamond | 7 comments | 2,047 views



The 34th Annual Palo Alto Weekly Short Story Contest is now accepting entries for Adult, Young Adult and Teen categories. Send us your short story (2,500 words or less) and entry form by April 10, 2020. First, Second and Third Place prizes awarded in each category.

View Details