All those people-movers must somehow be built into the city's downtown transit center, with enough space left over for a weekend farmer's market. After a roughly three-year effort, Mountain View's City Council last week approved a master plan that tries to satisfy everyone by bringing more parking, bike lanes and amenities for mass transit together in the same package.
The transit center master plan was approved in a 6-1 vote, with Margaret Abe-Koga opposed.
City officials now intend to pursue this local version of Grand Central Station over the next five years — if they can raise the $182 million needed to do it.
"You might ask how we're going to pay for this — we're still figuring that out," Project Manager Jim Lightbody admitted during his presentation to the City Council.
Measure B transit tax would help on some aspects, he said, but the city would need to find a medley of grants, city funds and private partners to pay for the rest.
For the lofty price, the city will get a transit center expected to anchor a transformed downtown. Among these changes, the transit center will include a $41 million slate of improvements for pedestrians and cyclists. That includes a new crossing beneath the Caltrain tracks for easier station access from Moffett Boulevard, and loading platforms that will be expanded to handle more passengers and longer trains when Caltrain switches to an electrified system. A new bike track would be added to link the transit center to Stevens Creek Trail and eventually connect to a Shoreline Boulevard bike corridor to North Bayshore.
The plans also call for a new $28 million bus and shuttle loading area.
In addition, the city will build a new $70 million underground parking garage with up to 700 spaces, roughly double the current amount of parking.
For many people, the most significant change will be closing off Castro Street at the train tracks and rerouting auto traffic along Evelyn Street. The council approved this closure last year despite complaints from downtown business owners who feared it would hurt their bottom line. At last week's May 23 council meeting, it was clear the closure plan hadn't become any less controversial.
Bringing up those concerns, Councilwoman Abe-Koga said she couldn't support the transit center plan based on the Castro closure. She said that a rejected idea to tunnel Castro Street under the Caltrain tracks could have succeeded if city officials had planned on relocating shops and restaurants. The transit center master plan includes up to 75,000 square feet of new development space that could have been used for this purpose, she said.
"Maybe the train's left the station already on this ... but I think it's odd that the main route into downtown will be closed off," she said. "I can't really support this — I think there's a lot of work that still needs to be done."
While Castro Street would be closed to vehicle traffic, city staff did include the option of building a different kind of underpass across the Caltrain tracks. This option would be for a $29 million ramp that would go from Central Expressway to the transit center's new underground parking garage. For now, the council opted to keep that ramp in the master plan, but building it would depend on future development.
Plans for new transit line
In a closely intertwined discussion, council members discussed early plans to design an entirely new local transit system. Late last year, the City Council commissioned the firm Lea+Elliot to perform a $250,000 study for a new automated transit line that could link the downtown transit center to the job hubs near North Bayshore. If built, the system is expected to serve up to 7,600 daily riders.
Last week, the council received its first progress report on that study. Jenny Baumgartner of Lea+Elliott gave a walk-through of a variety of systems being analyzed, including aerial gondolas, monorails, maglev trains and autonomous shuttles. For now, she avoided prescribing any particular technology for Mountain View.
For elected leaders, this was a chance to focus their scope and narrow down a hodgepodge of potential technologies. Council members expressed new skepticism toward the notion of podcars that could independently zip small groups of passengers to various destinations. '
That idea seemed nice in concept, but they expressed concern that it would quickly prove to be a failure if hundreds of people stepping off Caltrain or leaving a Shoreline Amphitheatre concert were all rushing to catch a ride.
"The concept of surge capacity — that's probably the make-or-break criteria here," said Mayor Ken Rosenberg. "If this system is only handling four or five people at a time, then people aren't going to take this when they have to wait 15 minutes."
In general, city leaders favored an aerial system that would require minimal infrastructure and that could be easily expanded. Council members proposed someday expanding this system to other parts of town such as San Antonio shopping center, East Whisman and Moffett Field. But for the sake of simplicity, they decided keep the initial transit line between downtown, North Bayshore and Shoreline Amphitheatre.
Once again, it was also clear that other Peninsula cities were eagerly watching how Mountain View would roll out this project. Speaking in public comment, Mickey Winkler, former mayor of Menlo Park, cheered on Mountain View's efforts to forge a new transit system. Previously, Cupertino officials have also hinted they might partner with Mountain View on the future project.
Some partnerships may be less voluntary, and more compulsory for a future project. Repeating an idea he has previously championed, Councilman Lenny Siegel suggested the city should consider putting a local transit tax on a future election ballot. Unlike the $6.4 billion sales tax put forward by the Valley Transportation Authority last year, Siegel suggested this tax should be put on large employers who bear responsibility for causing traffic congestion.
"An employer tax on transit would make it so that the companies that benefit from it will have to pay for it," he said. "There's money here from institutions that we can target to do this."
City staff and consultants plan to continue working on the automated-guideway study and discussing the idea with other agencies. They expect to bring back a focused report later this year.
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