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Home>Projects and Programs>Transit>El Camino Real BRT Project History

El Camino Real BRT Project History

Measure A Vote

In 2000, Santa Clara County voters approved Measure A, a half-cent sales tax that would fund a list of transit improvements which included improving transit in major bus corridors. El Camino Real is VTA's highest ridership corridor, accounting for about 20 percent of entire system ridership.

BRT Strategic Plan

In 2009, VTA's Board of Directors adopted the Bus Rapid Transit Strategic Plan, a document that studied the six highest ridership corridors in Santa Clara County to determine whether upgrading transit service to BRT made sense. The BRT Strategic Plan evaluated the existing transit demand and operating performance, land use, transit competitiveness, market potential and physical constructability of BRT on each corridor. The Plan ultimately recommended three corridors for near-term BRT implementation: Santa Clara-Alum Rock, El Camino Real and Stevens Creek.

City Coordination

In 2010, VTA approached the six cities along the El Camino Real corridor—Palo Alto, Los Altos, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara and San Jose—to discuss a potential BRT project on El Camino Real/The Alameda. Over the next two years, VTA met with city staff and Councils to get a sense for each city's concerns, existing plans and how they felt about BRT on El Camino Real. The culmination of this process was a request by VTA that cities take an official action on which street configuration for BRT they preferred: dedicated lanes or mixed flow. This was an important decision for shaping the project as VTA anticipates that Caltrans will be unlikely to approve a project with a street configuration that an adjacent city does not want.

As a starting point for this exercise, VTA identified a project concept that was dubbed the “Optimal Project”—optimal in the sense that it provided the best balance of transit improvement and cost-effectiveness for VTA. In the Optimal Project concept, two lanes (one lane in each direction, adjacent to the median) would be converted into dedicated BRT lanes between Showers Drive in Mountain View and Lafayette Street in Santa Clara—a total of 10.3 miles of dedicated lanes. North of Showers Drive and South of Lafayette Street, the Optimal Project concept proposed a mixed flow configuration, where existing 522 stops would be enhanced into curb bulbout stations and the bus would operate in the right lane with traffic.

City Input

The cities reacted to the Optimal Project concept in a wide range of ways:

San Jose had already adopted the Alameda Beautiful Way Plan, which called for similar improvements on The Alameda, so the changes the Optimal Project concept proposed had already effectively been approved by the City Council. The San Jose Environmental Planning Commission formally approved the Optimal Project's concept's proposal for a mixed flow configuration on The Alameda.

Santa Clara's City Council voted unanimously to support the dedicated lane configuration—not exactly a surprise as the Santa Clara General Plan calls for dedicated transit lanes on El Camino Real.

Sunnyvale voted 4 to 3 against continuing study of the dedicated lane configuration in their city, instead preferring mixed flow.

The Mountain View and Los Altos Councils never officially took council actions, though a straw poll in Mountain View indicated a 5 to 2 preference for mixed flow. Based on comments from Los Altos' Council it was clear that the preference was for mixed flow.

Though the Optimal Project concept proposed a mixed flow configuration in Palo Alto, the City Council requested that VTA analyze what would happen to traffic if dedicated BRT lanes were installed in Palo Alto. Ultimately, Palo Alto's Council preferred a mixed flow configuration.

These decisions helped VTA staff to get a sense for what would be feasible for a BRT Project. As a result, VTA revised its concept for BRT on El Camino Real and called the new concept “Revised Project.” The Revised Project concept proposed to install dedicated BRT lanes between Lawrence Expressway and Lafayette Street in Santa Clara—a total of about 3 miles of dedicated lanes—with a mixed flow configuration in the rest of the corridor.

Direction from VTA Board

In the fall of 2012, VTA staff reported the city actions and preferences to its Board of Directors and recommended that the Revised Project concept be included as an alternative in the environmental analysis. VTA's Board of Directors acknowledged the cities' input but cited the difference in transit benefit and operating cost between the Revised Project and Optimal Project concepts and directed VTA staff not to discard the Optimal Project concept. Instead, the Board of Directors instructed VTA staff to study both the Revised Project (which has since been renamed "Short Dedicated Lane") and Optimal Project (which has since been renamed "Long Dedicated Lane") concepts as alternatives in the environmental analysis.

Environmental Scoping Period

In February, 2013, VTA kicked off the environmental process with a month-long scoping period from February 8 to March 8. The purpose of scoping is to give the public an opportunity to comment on the project alternatives recommended by VTA for the environmental analysis. The public may suggest additional project alternatives and request that certain concerns or locations be studied in the environmental impact report. During this time, VTA held community meetings where members of the public could offer verbal comments which were recorded by a court reporter or provide written comments on comment cards. The public also had the option to provide comments by mail or email.

At the scoping meetings, VTA presented five project alternatives that staff determined were worth studying at an equal level of detail in the environmental impact study (download the scoping meeting presentation). The five alternatives included:

 

  • No Build (Map) - An analysis of what would happen if VTA didn't do the project. This is a requirement of any environmental analysis and can be used as a baseline for comparing the other alternatives.
  • All Mixed Flow (Map) - This alternative would install a mixed flow street configuration with curb bulbout stations throughout the entire corridor. No bicycle lanes or street improvements outside of the station areas would be included in the project.
  • Short Dedicated Lane, No Build North of Santa Clara (Map) - This alternative would install dedicated BRT lanes between Lawrence Expressway and Lafayette Street in the City of Santa Clara and would install curb bulbout stations at two locations along The Alameda in San Jose. Due to the complete street transformation in their jurisdiction, Santa Clara would have the option of receiving bicycle lanes and other street and safety improvements as part of the project. No changes would be made in Palo Alto, Los Altos, Mountain View and Sunnyvale. This creates a potentially confusing operating scenario as the BRT-branded vehicles would operate in those cities but would offer a rider experience similar to the current 522 Rapid Bus.
  • Short Dedicated Lane (Map) - This alternative would install dedicated BRT lanes between Lawrence Expressway and Lafayette Street in the City of Santa Clara and would install a mixed flow street configuration with curb bulbout stations in Palo Alto, Los Altos, Mountain View and Sunnyvale. Due to the complete street transformation in their jurisdiction, Santa Clara would have the option of receiving bicycle lanes and other street and safety improvements as part of the project.
  • Long Dedicated Lane to Showers (Map) - This alternative would install dedicated BRT lanes between Showers Drive in Mountain View and Lafayette Street in Santa Clara. Segments of the corridor between the Palo Alto Transit Center and Showers as well as between Lafayette Street and Downtown San Jose would recieve a mixed flow street configuration with curb bulbout stations. Due to the complete street transformation in their jurisdictions, Los Altos, Mountain View, Sunnyvale and Santa Clara would have the option of receiving bicycle lanes and other street and safety improvements as part of the project.

Comments received from the public at the environmental scoping meetings led VTA to expand the scope of the study to include several localized concerns such as traffic, turn movement impacts and additional station locations. Additionally, two new project alternatives were suggested which will be included in the analysis:

 

  • Long Dedicated Lane to Grant (Map) - This alternative was requested by the City of Los Altos. This alternative would install dedicated BRT lanes between approximately Grant Road in Mountain View and Lafayette Street in Santa Clara. Segments between the Palo Alto Transit Center and approximately Grant Road as well as between Lafayette Street and Downtown San Jose would receive a mixed flow street configuration with curb bulbout stations. Due to the complete street transformation in their jurisdictions, Mountain View, Sunnyvale and Santa Clara would have the option of receiving bicycle lanes and other street and safety improvements as part of the project.
  • Long Dedicated Lane to Palo Alto (Map) - This alternative was requested by the City of Mountain View. This alternative would install dedicated BRT lanes between approximately Embarcadero Road in Palo Alto and Lafayette Street in Santa Clara. The segment of El Camino Real between the Palo Alto Transit Center and Embarcadero would be unchanged and would serve as a space for the BRT vehicle to change from the BRT lane to the curbside lane. The segment between Lafayette Street and Downtown San Jose would receive a mixed flow street configuration with curb bulbout stations. Due to the complete street transformation in their jurisdictions, Palo Alto, Los Altos, Mountain View, Sunnyvale and Santa Clara would have the option of receiving bicycle lanes and other street and safety improvements as part of the project.

What's going on now?

Currently, VTA staff are undertaking the environmental impact study. VTA staff will gladly attend community and neighborhood meetings to discuss the project. Contact VTA's Community Outreach at (408) 321-7575, or email community.outreach@vta.org to arrange.

 

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