Saturday, May 14, 2016

Green Caltrain: Dumbarton West Bay residents cheer corridor study; many options including road expansion


A largely supportive crowd of nearly 50 West Bay residents gathered in the Menlo Park Belle Haven Senior Center to hear an update on the Facebook-funded study of potential improvements to Dumbarton corridor transportation.   Since a rail project was considered and shelved several years ago due to weak expected ridership, current and planned growth has accelerated on both sides of the Bay.
Driving today’s congestion and future transportation needs, updated forecasts show that population in the Peninsula study area is expected to increase by 200,000 people (25%) by 2040 with an increase of 140,000 jobs (28%) by 2040.  In the same time frame, population in the East Bay study area is forecast to increase by 155,000 (28%) by 2040, while East Bay study area jobs are forecast to increase by 62,000 (24%) by 2040.
Many options are being considered in the short term (before 2020) and the long term (2030+). Short term options include a bike/pedestrian trail by the rail right of way, better bus service across the bridge, signal coordination, and metering lights.
Longer term options include bus lanes, additional general purpose lanes, HOV lanes, or toll lanes.   A wide variety of transit options are being considered, including light rail or diesel/electric trains over a restored bridge, or personal rapid transit, ferry, and even hyperloop service separate from the bridge.  Staff expressed concern about the potential cost to restore service on the rail bridge, which contributed to the project being shelved the last time around.
The study is considering approaches to address congestion on the highway bridge and connecting arterials; these approaches could increase person capacity (high occupancy lanes), vehicle capacity (additional lanes and turn lanes) or both.  Congestion pricing is on the table.
The “congestion reduction” approaches on the table include reconsidering road expansion projects from earlier generations, such as trenching Willow Road through Menlo Park’s Belle Haven neighborhood, which seem at odds with the city’s “Complete Streets” policies.  The main goal of the study is “operational and capital improvements that enhance mobility”. The metrics include average peak travel times, person throughput, costs, and risk, but don’t include reducing greenhouse gas emissions and vehicle miles travelled.
A community member who works in the area noted that some of his East Bay colleagues currently take 237 the long way around to avoid tolls; if the Dumbarton bridge were faster, it would could draw commuters to take a different route.  This “induced demand” could cause congestion to return if the main approach was adding general purpose car lanes.
While improving travel on the bridge would help people get to Facebook, the largest group of commuters across the bridge are travelling to Palo Alto or Stanford, and the latter part of the trip on University or Willow are narrow roads, in places where communities have long opposed road-widening.   If Dumbarton gets faster, and more solo drivers are attracted to Dumbarton, the last leg will get slower and local transportation would get worse.
Community members raised concerns about funding and regional political support – previous Dumbarton rail proposals have been de-funded more than once, in favor of investment in BART to Silicon Valley.    Staff members noted that potential corporate partners could help with the funding picture this time around.
A member of the Citizens’ Committee to Complete the Refuge raised concerns that wildlife breeding season restrictions would constrain construction time and increased costs. Other attendees cited a recent bridge project in Petaluma, with the same constraints, that was completed quickly. The same group raised concerns that the bridge had a federal requirement to maintain water navigability, and sea level rise might require the bridge to be raised to allow for boats into the future.
Dumbarton rail bridge
While attendees who’ve been supporting Dumbarton corridor transit for many years noted that earlier project versions had local opposition, the group this week was largely supportive, with applause at the end of the meeting.   Staff reported that the Fremont meeting earlier in the week was similarly supportive – if you know anyone who attended, first-hand reports would be welcome.
With all the approaches being screened for review, the next step in September, reviewing the results of the screening, will be important to pay attention to.
In the meantime, if you think the project should be considering greenhouse gas emissions and vehicle miles travelled among the goals; or have any other feedback, contact SamTrans – the contact information is at the bottom of this page. / Telephone: 650-508-6283
Mail: Attention Melissa Reggiardo,
         San Mateo County Transit District,
         P.O. Box 3006,
         1250 San Carlos Avenue,
         San Carlos, CA 94070


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