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Opposition grows to Shoreline traffic improvement project over loss of two dozen large trees

A heritage tree approved for removal in a median on Middlefield Road at the intersection of Shoreline Boulevard in Mountain View on Sept. 14, 2021. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Plans to revamp Shoreline Boulevard and add a reversible bus lane to the median are facing growing opposition after it was revealed that a growing number of significant trees would need to be cut down to make room for new traffic lanes.

In a rare move, the city's Parks and Recreation Commission voted 4-0 last week to oppose a plan that would fell 11 heritage trees so that left-turn lanes at the intersection of Shoreline and Middlefield Road could be constructed. Commissioners questioned how badly the traffic improvements were needed, and whether it was worth the loss of tree canopy in a pedestrian-friendly city.

"If we're talking about turning Mountain View into a walkable pedestrian and bike-friendly environment, this project goes exactly in the opposite direction," said Commissioner Ronit Bryant.

Eleven trees are slated to be removed in order to make room for left-turn lanes on Middlefield Road. Courtesy city of Mountain View.

Plans to build a bus lane on Shoreline Boulevard date back to 2014 as city officials considered ways to ease traffic woes heading into and out of North Bayshore, which is slated to grow substantially with thousands of new homes and residents in the coming decades.

The project includes a 12-foot-wide dedicated bus lane in the center of the road from Middlefield Road to Pear Avenue, as well as 6-foot bike lanes with a buffer from vehicle traffic.

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The City Council has since backed the project, and committed $4.3 million to acquire properties to widen the road.

Though it was clear early on that the project would require the city to chop down trees in the median and along the edges of Shoreline, commission members said they've been surprised by the growing number of trees earmarked for the ax in the name of traffic improvements. When the council approved the project in 2016, the total was 11 heritage trees, and it's gone up incrementally since then. At the Sept. 8 meeting, commissioners were asked to approve the removal of 11 additional trees -- most of them towering coastal redwoods -- to make room for new left-turn lanes onto Shoreline from Middlefield. That would bring the total number of heritage trees for removal to 26.

City staffers called the left-turn lanes an "essential part" of the project, and that pre-COVID traffic was horribly congested at the intersection. But commissioners questioned whether it was worth giving up tree canopy and losing one of the defining features of Middlefield Road.

"It ruins this part of Middlefield, which is one of the most wonderful tree-lined experiences in the whole city," said Commissioner Sandy Sommer.

Mountain View is seeking to redesign Shoreline Boulevard, adding a bus lane in the median and protected bike lanes. Courtesy city of Mountain View.

Bryant, who proposed formally opposing the plan, said she does not want the commission to act as a rubber stamp for projects, and that in this case, the price is too high and the return is too low. She also criticized the idea that planting new trees elsewhere somehow fixes the loss of large trees lining Middlefield Road.

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"The crux of the problem is if we take out those heritage trees, that cannot be mitigated. Planting trees in San Veron park is wonderful and should absolutely be done, but that in no way mitigates what will happen if this moves forward at the intersection of Middlefield and Shoreline," Bryant said.

Residents attending the virtual meeting also questioned the need for extra left-turn lanes and whether traffic will really be as bad as predicted. Resident Bruce England said employers in North Bayshore are still actively discussing whether employees will fully work from home or commute to the office on certain days of the week, and that it's too early to say where traffic patterns will land.

Albert Jeans, who lives near the intersection, called the city's justification a red herring, and that the debate boils down to whether the city wants mature redwood trees or "marginally" useful traffic improvements.

A heritage tree approved for removal in a median on Middlefield Road at the intersection of Shoreline Boulevard in Mountain View on Sept. 14, 2021. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

"I think it's premature to cut down these 50- and 60-year-old redwood trees," Jeans said. "Then we'll be left with nothing there but empty lanes that won't be used."

The commission does not have decision-making power, but took an opposition stance to removing heritage trees at the intersection of Shoreline and Middlefield on a 4-0 vote, with Commissioner Jonathan Herbach abstaining. The motion signaled that the project takes a "car-first" approach that will create a heat-island effect for those walking and biking through a critical intersection of the city. It also calls out the loss of tree canopy coverage and biodiversity.

The proposed tree removal is expected to come before the council in October.

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Opposition grows to Shoreline traffic improvement project over loss of two dozen large trees

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Mon, Sep 13, 2021, 4:01 pm

Plans to revamp Shoreline Boulevard and add a reversible bus lane to the median are facing growing opposition after it was revealed that a growing number of significant trees would need to be cut down to make room for new traffic lanes.

In a rare move, the city's Parks and Recreation Commission voted 4-0 last week to oppose a plan that would fell 11 heritage trees so that left-turn lanes at the intersection of Shoreline and Middlefield Road could be constructed. Commissioners questioned how badly the traffic improvements were needed, and whether it was worth the loss of tree canopy in a pedestrian-friendly city.

"If we're talking about turning Mountain View into a walkable pedestrian and bike-friendly environment, this project goes exactly in the opposite direction," said Commissioner Ronit Bryant.

Plans to build a bus lane on Shoreline Boulevard date back to 2014 as city officials considered ways to ease traffic woes heading into and out of North Bayshore, which is slated to grow substantially with thousands of new homes and residents in the coming decades.

The project includes a 12-foot-wide dedicated bus lane in the center of the road from Middlefield Road to Pear Avenue, as well as 6-foot bike lanes with a buffer from vehicle traffic.

The City Council has since backed the project, and committed $4.3 million to acquire properties to widen the road.

Though it was clear early on that the project would require the city to chop down trees in the median and along the edges of Shoreline, commission members said they've been surprised by the growing number of trees earmarked for the ax in the name of traffic improvements. When the council approved the project in 2016, the total was 11 heritage trees, and it's gone up incrementally since then. At the Sept. 8 meeting, commissioners were asked to approve the removal of 11 additional trees -- most of them towering coastal redwoods -- to make room for new left-turn lanes onto Shoreline from Middlefield. That would bring the total number of heritage trees for removal to 26.

City staffers called the left-turn lanes an "essential part" of the project, and that pre-COVID traffic was horribly congested at the intersection. But commissioners questioned whether it was worth giving up tree canopy and losing one of the defining features of Middlefield Road.

"It ruins this part of Middlefield, which is one of the most wonderful tree-lined experiences in the whole city," said Commissioner Sandy Sommer.

Bryant, who proposed formally opposing the plan, said she does not want the commission to act as a rubber stamp for projects, and that in this case, the price is too high and the return is too low. She also criticized the idea that planting new trees elsewhere somehow fixes the loss of large trees lining Middlefield Road.

"The crux of the problem is if we take out those heritage trees, that cannot be mitigated. Planting trees in San Veron park is wonderful and should absolutely be done, but that in no way mitigates what will happen if this moves forward at the intersection of Middlefield and Shoreline," Bryant said.

Residents attending the virtual meeting also questioned the need for extra left-turn lanes and whether traffic will really be as bad as predicted. Resident Bruce England said employers in North Bayshore are still actively discussing whether employees will fully work from home or commute to the office on certain days of the week, and that it's too early to say where traffic patterns will land.

Albert Jeans, who lives near the intersection, called the city's justification a red herring, and that the debate boils down to whether the city wants mature redwood trees or "marginally" useful traffic improvements.

"I think it's premature to cut down these 50- and 60-year-old redwood trees," Jeans said. "Then we'll be left with nothing there but empty lanes that won't be used."

The commission does not have decision-making power, but took an opposition stance to removing heritage trees at the intersection of Shoreline and Middlefield on a 4-0 vote, with Commissioner Jonathan Herbach abstaining. The motion signaled that the project takes a "car-first" approach that will create a heat-island effect for those walking and biking through a critical intersection of the city. It also calls out the loss of tree canopy coverage and biodiversity.

The proposed tree removal is expected to come before the council in October.

Comments

Nora S.
Registered user
Rex Manor
on Sep 13, 2021 at 9:07 pm
Nora S., Rex Manor
Registered user
on Sep 13, 2021 at 9:07 pm

Thank you to Ronit Bryant and the other commissioners for taking a stand against these tree removals.


Mark
Registered user
Monta Loma
on Sep 14, 2021 at 5:58 am
Mark, Monta Loma
Registered user
on Sep 14, 2021 at 5:58 am

This was a stupid idea to begin with. I bike regularly on Middlefield past Shoreline and have never had any problems, except possibly the loss of the bike lane to residential parking on weekends.
A friend has suggested Mountain View ought to change its city logo by adding a "heritage tree removal" tag to its tree. Seems they just can't get rid of nature fast enough, around here.


SRB
Registered user
St. Francis Acres
on Sep 14, 2021 at 8:31 am
SRB, St. Francis Acres
Registered user
on Sep 14, 2021 at 8:31 am

There aren't too many ways to get to 101 or across the Caltrain tracks. So there is certainly lots of demand for making a left from Middlefield onto Shoreline. Probably more so after permanent closure of Castro. What's frustrating here is the piece meal approach. If increasing left turns flow was so intrinsic to this project, why not propose the tree removals from the get go?


A
Registered user
Monta Loma
on Sep 14, 2021 at 10:26 am
A, Monta Loma
Registered user
on Sep 14, 2021 at 10:26 am

Thank-you to the council members who took a stand on this one. We need to preserve our large trees, as many have been removed for condo construction. The shade that trees provide will become increasingly important as our cities heat up and become more paved/crowded.


AnelaRose
Registered user
Monta Loma
on Sep 14, 2021 at 12:29 pm
AnelaRose, Monta Loma
Registered user
on Sep 14, 2021 at 12:29 pm

This is a total waste of money. We're talking about two blocks: Middlefield to Pear! Surely there are better uses for these millions.


Dan Waylonis
Registered user
Jackson Park
on Sep 14, 2021 at 2:06 pm
Dan Waylonis, Jackson Park
Registered user
on Sep 14, 2021 at 2:06 pm

So dumb. I know that city planners have a sweet spot in their hearts for buses, but their ridership is dwindling and easily replaced by many other modes of transportation. Ditto for light rail. No one ever talks about the ongoing maintenance and labor costs for those as opposed to just providing needy people with extra cash for Uber, Lyft, taxi, or jitney service.


Seriously
Registered user
Martens-Carmelita
on Sep 14, 2021 at 2:27 pm
Seriously, Martens-Carmelita
Registered user
on Sep 14, 2021 at 2:27 pm

Finally, a good decision from the Parks and Recreation Commission - let's hope that the council pays attention. MV is too often losing heritage trees because property owners want to maximize profits or in this case, because of a poorly conceived traffic plan. Does the council understand the meaning of the term "heritage"?


tommygee10
Registered user
Rex Manor
on Sep 14, 2021 at 2:47 pm
tommygee10, Rex Manor
Registered user
on Sep 14, 2021 at 2:47 pm

When these Heritage trees were planted in 1965 or thereabouts is when Middlefield Road was widened to how it looks today. The median and the trees look beautiful. I still live on San Pierre Way 56 years later. This area still looks beautiful. If these Heritage trees are cut down, is that for progress, or what? Or for more concrete?


Sam Connell
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Sep 14, 2021 at 2:52 pm
Sam Connell, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Sep 14, 2021 at 2:52 pm

I advise all to head over to Palo Alto's California Ave to see an avenue that is BAKING HOT WITH NO TREES! More than a decade ago they mistakenly cut down their trees - the place has not recovered.


Tim
Registered user
Blossom Valley
on Sep 14, 2021 at 4:22 pm
Tim, Blossom Valley
Registered user
on Sep 14, 2021 at 4:22 pm

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: think carefully when voting for council representatives. Perhaps it’s time to consider “new faces” whose ideas reflect your values.


EL
Registered user
Slater
on Sep 14, 2021 at 5:01 pm
EL, Slater
Registered user
on Sep 14, 2021 at 5:01 pm

Thank you to the council members taking a stand to protect these trees.


roaksinri
Registered user
another community
on Sep 15, 2021 at 8:44 am
roaksinri, another community
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2021 at 8:44 am

The only buses that have significant ridership are the Google buses. And they will be back once this pandemic is properly managed. Google cannot maintain empty buildings forever (or can they...?). If the City Staff is using the VTA system as a pretext for these "traffic improvements" they are being disingenuous at best. As someone else has mentioned, VTA ridership is down and the system has always has been a loss leader for the county, used mainly by students, seniors, the poor, and the homeless, all at heavy subsidies for reduced fares. It seems the will of the people is to not destroy the 22 heritage trees and leave well enough alone. The City needs to stop kneeling before Google whenever they beckon....


busybee6602
Registered user
Jackson Park
on Sep 15, 2021 at 9:33 am
busybee6602, Jackson Park
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2021 at 9:33 am

Unfortunately these trees will die anyway. They do not do well in this part of the valley. They rely mostly on fog to get the required water, which we have some of but not enough to sustain them. Combine that with Mountain View commitment to using reclaimed water to irrigate. Again, unfortunately reclaimed water has a high salt content, which these trees do not like. The redwood trees that are being watered with reclaimed water and continuing to not do well and will eventually die. We didn't know that when the trees were first planted. So should we continue down the same path and then have irate residents when the trees die? Or worse they die and then fall on someone biking? Or take them out, use the area needed and plant more trees in other areas?


Jeff Grafton
Registered user
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2021 at 10:04 am
Jeff Grafton, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2021 at 10:04 am

The staff memo has more details, if anyone is interested: Web Link

While this work on the Shoreline/Middlefield intersection is being addressed now as part of the overall Shoreline improvements, it is actually a mitigation for traffic impacts that were identified as part of the North Bayshore Precise Plan. Traffic analysis showed that there were already notable delays affecting traffic on Middlefield, even before the new planned development has begun.

Apparently these trees were not originally identified in the project plans because staff believed they could have been protected in place. Further field review has revealed this to not be the case, unfortunately, as the work would likely damage the root structure of the trees and potentially cause them to become unstable, uproot, and fall over into traffic.


Jeff Grafton
Registered user
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2021 at 10:06 am
Jeff Grafton, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2021 at 10:06 am

Also, for everyone deriding busses and other transit, the main reason these trees are being removed is due to single-occupancy car drivers.


Leslie Bain
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Sep 15, 2021 at 3:50 pm
Leslie Bain, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2021 at 3:50 pm

I don't know how someone can say "this work ... is actually a mitigation for traffic impacts that were identified as part of the North Bayshore Precise Plan," and then go on to say "the main reason these trees are being removed is due to single-occupancy car drivers."

The North Bayshore Precise Plan will add SEVEN THOUSAND new housing units. Of course traffic is going to go up on the streets of Mountain View as a result of new, high density construction. Blaming the proposed removal of heritage trees on "single-occupancy car drivers" is just silly.

The vision for the plan: "7,000 new homes, three complete neighborhoods, and nature everywhere" Web Link

Too bad that nature has to be killed in other parts of Mountain View in order to achieve that lovely vision.


Jeff Grafton
Registered user
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2021 at 4:23 pm
Jeff Grafton, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2021 at 4:23 pm

My point was that the heritage trees are not being removed to support the bus lane project. The expansion of the left turn lanes only really helps car drivers.


Leslie Bain
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Sep 15, 2021 at 4:51 pm
Leslie Bain, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2021 at 4:51 pm

The expansion of the left turn lanes would not be necessary if not for new, high density construction.

The North Bayshore Precise Plan does not "really help car drivers", no it really helps Google hire and house more workers who do not live in the area. Did you know that under capitalism, employers only hire workers when they will increase their profits by doing so?

So ... the North Bayshore Precise Plan will really help Google increase it's profits.


Leslie Bain
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Sep 15, 2021 at 6:17 pm
Leslie Bain, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2021 at 6:17 pm

Jeff Grafton: You wrote, "The staff memo has more details, if anyone is interested" and provided a link. I tried it, but the document is locked and requires a password. Do you know why it is locked and/or what one needs to do in order to obtain the password?


Jeff Grafton
Registered user
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Sep 16, 2021 at 9:17 am
Jeff Grafton, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
Registered user
on Sep 16, 2021 at 9:17 am

You continue to miss the point. All I am saying is that the left-turn lane changes are primarily driven by car traffic. The issue was identified through the NBPP EIR, but the traffic study seems to have concluded that the conditions were already bad enough to merit mitigations even before any real NBPP construction has started. (They were using the LOS standard, which is car-centric, of course.)

I'm not sure why you're having trouble reading the document; it's not password-protected, as best I can tell. Alternately, you could try downloading the most recent agenda from Web Link and download the memo from there. (This was item 5.3 on September 8, 2021.)


Jeff Grafton
Registered user
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Sep 16, 2021 at 9:19 am
Jeff Grafton, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
Registered user
on Sep 16, 2021 at 9:19 am

(I personally don't think we should be making changes for the benefit of car drivers, but everyone always complains about traffic, so...)


SRB
Registered user
St. Francis Acres
on Sep 16, 2021 at 10:23 am
SRB, St. Francis Acres
Registered user
on Sep 16, 2021 at 10:23 am

Need for left turns on Shoreline is also increased by closure of Castro crossing (one less route to get over the tracks).


Roy Mize
Registered user
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Sep 16, 2021 at 12:00 pm
Roy Mize, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
Registered user
on Sep 16, 2021 at 12:00 pm

The Council should have tossed this at the start and continued the vision of the councils that have gone before. Middlefield and Shoreline redwooods have become a defining feature of Mountain View. Staff has neglected Shoreline redwoods for years to the point of losing them all. Excuse? Salt in recycled water is killing them as I was told 10 years ago. 10 years to find a mitigation? MV has great staff, but they don't set the City's vision. The Council does. I'm a 57 year MV resident and lack of vision almost lost Cuesta Park Annex until residents forced the City to buy the property. The redwoods are the same lack of vision. Let's do a petition!!!


Randy Guelph
Registered user
Cuernavaca
on Sep 16, 2021 at 1:08 pm
Randy Guelph, Cuernavaca
Registered user
on Sep 16, 2021 at 1:08 pm

It sounds like a fair compromise would be to keep the trees and disallow single-occupancy vehicles. Repurpose the existing lanes for buses and carpools only.


Leslie Bain
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Sep 16, 2021 at 9:20 pm
Leslie Bain, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Sep 16, 2021 at 9:20 pm

Jeff, thanks for your help accessing the Staff report. On page 2 it says:

"The addition of a second left-turn lane in both directions on West Middlefield Road at Shoreline Boulevard was identified as a traffic impact mitigation for the adoption of the North Bayshore Precise Plan (NBPP) ... The left-turn lanes are needed to address the traffic patterns expected to return and the future development growth identified."

I think it is factually incorrect for you to say: "but the traffic study seems to have concluded that the conditions were already bad enough to merit mitigations even before any real NBPP construction has started."

The traffic analysis was conducted FOR the NBPP, apparently before the COVID-19 pandemic. The conditions were not so bad at that time that an analysis had already been performed and mitigations were already known to be required. No, that is simply not true. Analysis did show that existing, pre-covid traffic was already very heavy, however.

"The left-turn lanes are needed to address the traffic patterns expected to return" AND THE FUTURE DEVELOPMENT GROWTH identified."

In other words, expected traffic from NBPP (for the benefit of Google) was the straw that broke the camel's back. Don't pretend this traffic was not a factor.

You also wrote: "(I personally don't think we should be making changes for the benefit of car drivers, but everyone always complains about traffic, so...)"

I wonder where all of these car-drivers travelling to and from Middlefield onto Shoreline are going, eh? Could a lot of them possibly be workers driving to/from Google HQ? If so, isn't the entity driving the destruction of these heritage trees really Google, not "car-drivers" per se?

I think these old Redwood trees are being cut down for the benefit of Google. If only they grew more jobs elsewhere, Mountain View could probably keep them, or at least keep them longer.


Steven Nelson
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Sep 18, 2021 at 5:38 pm
Steven Nelson, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Sep 18, 2021 at 5:38 pm

@Jeff and @Lesley, thanks for your close reading of the administrtive history of this "civic" direction. Former Councilwoman Bryant is very very good at recognizing an opportunity to use a City Council permanent advisory board vote to 'formally inform the Council' of this perceved error. I think the record makes it clear (as Lesley explained) this is Driven by Google/NorthbayShore GROWTH and the Past Dependence of single occupancy cars to commute into NorthbayShore.

If you change the parameters of the "traffic problem" you have a wider range of solutions.

Like burnt to the crisp Sequoia redwoods, chopped down Coarst Redwoods on Middlefield cannot be replaced in less than half a centuary (Sequoisa take half a millenium). WAIT AND SEE! Something like that should be the policy. If traffice backs up? Put up signage and More Public Transit options and better schedules. Let the private cars backup - and the public/commercial busses RUN FREE.

Are we really serious about atmospheric Carbon reduction? Chopping down Coast Redwoods and encouraging more car use is - counterproductive? Yes?

-The Council is seperate from the Commission - You need to contact the Council now! if you care


Leslie Bain
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Sep 19, 2021 at 7:20 pm
Leslie Bain, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Sep 19, 2021 at 7:20 pm

Love your comments, @Steven.

Agree with you 100% ... let's not be "pro-active" resolving a "potential" traffic problem when it means chopping down old Redwoods that take DECADES to replace.

"Let the private cars backup - and the public/commercial busses RUN FREE." Agree!

Why is there an eagerness by some to "save the planet" by reducing parking spaces (to reduce car usage) but a willingness to cut down old Redwoods to "mitigate traffic" increases re NBPP? The logic seems highly inconsistent.

But my main point remains: high density has DOWNSIDES, not the least of which are parking issues and increased traffic congestion ON MV CITY STREETS. Those who try to deny this deny reality, most likely because they want high-density regardless of the downsides. Staff recommendations re the intersection of Middlefield and Shoreline provides EVIDENCE that higher density housing will in fact increase traffic congestion on MV city streets. Big Tech will be able to hire and house more workers, thus increase their profits, while ordinary residents will suffer the pangs of high density.


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