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El Camino Real BRT Project History

Measure A

In 2000, Santa Clara County voters passed Measure A, a 30-year half-cent sales tax for transit improvements. Measure A called for improving transit on major corridors, including El Camino Real, that included improved bus stops, passenger transfer points and queue jump lanes to permit buses quick access along the corridor. VTA began collecting Measure A in 2006.

Bus Rapid Transit Strategic Plan

In 2009, VTA adopted the Bus Rapid Transit Strategic Plan, a policy document that selected bus rapid transit (BRT) as the preferred improvement strategy for the El Camino Real, Alum Rock Avenue and Stevens Creek Boulevard corridors.
 
In 2010 and 2011, VTA initiated bus rapid transit projects on the first two corridors: Santa Clara Street/Alum Rock Avenue/Capitol Expressway (Alum Rock BRT Project) and El Camino Real/The Alameda/Santa Clara Street (El Camino Real BRT Project).
 
Combined, those corridors comprise the entirety of VTA’s Rapid 522 route. The Alum Rock BRT Project is now complete. Rapid 522 buses began using bus-only lanes and serving enhanced stations along that corridor in May 2017. 

2011 – Policy Advisory Board Crafts Vision

In the preliminary planning phase for El Camino Real BRT, a Policy Advisory Board (PAB) featuring council members from each of the cities along the corridor (Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Altos, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara and San Jose) as well as two county supervisors was convened to provide direction on the design of the project.
 
The advisory board considered street configurations,developed preliminary alternatives for the project, and  adopted ten goals for the project, the last two borrowed from the Grand Boulevard Initiative:
  • Increase ridership
  • Improve transit travel time savings
  • Make transit travel times competitive with automobile travel times
  • Install signal priority for buses
  • Install enhanced stations
  • Operate low-floor, uniquely branded vehicles
  • Support city land use plans
  • Enhance El Camino Real as a multimodal street
  • Create a pedestrian-oriented environment and improve streetscapes
  • Develop a balanced multimodal corridor to maintain and improve mobility of people and vehicles along the corridor
The advisory board also identified potential street configurations for BRT:

Dedicated Lane Configuration

In this configuration, the median-adjacent general use lane would be converted to a bus-only lane served by median stations.
 
The Rapid 522 would use the bus-only lanes and the Local 22 would operate in the right lane, making curbside stops. If cities desired, VTA could install bicycle lanes in areas where the street would be reconstructed for bus-only lanes.

Dedicated Lane Configuration cross-section at midblock 

Graphic showing El Camino Real bus rapid transit Dedicated Lane Configuration cross-section at midblock

Dedicated Lane Configuration cross-section at stations

Graphic showing El Camino Real bus rapid transit Dedicated Lane Configuration cross-section at stations

Mixed Flow Configuration

In this configuration, the Rapid 522 would operate in the right lane with automobiles but stop in the travel lane to pick up passengers at curb-bulbout stations.

Mixed Flow Configuration cross-section at midblock

Graphic showing El Camino Real bus rapid transit Right Lane Configuration cross-section at midblock
 

Mixed Flow Configuration cross-section at stations

Graphic showing El Camino Real bus rapid transit Mixed Flow Configuration cross-section at midblock

The Alameda Street Configuration

The portion of the corridor in San Jose east of Portola Avenue is narrower and would receive curb-bulbout stations, but no dedicated lanes. This design is compatible with the Alameda Beautiful Way Plan that the City of San Jose adopted in 2010.

2012 – Preliminary Analysis of Street Configuration Concepts

VTA staff conducted a high-level analysis of eight potential project concepts that featured combinations of dedicated lane, mixed-flow and no-change segments, using the advisory board’s adopted goals as a ranking criteria. 
 
The highest-scoring concept, which staff recommended, would install 10.3 miles of the dedicated lane configuration between Showers Avenue in Mountain View and Lafayette Street in Santa Clara and the mixed-flow configuration elsewhere along the corridor.
 
However, the advisory board expressed a preference for a different concept that would install 3 miles of the dedicated lane configuration between Halford Avenue and Lafayette Street in Santa Clara, the mixed-flow configuration east of Lafayette Street and make no changes west of Halford Avenue.
 
At a September 2012 Board Workshop, VTA staff recommended to VTA’s Board of Directors that the agency begin an environmental analysis for a BRT project on El Camino Real that employed the advisory board’s preferred concept.
 
The Board of Directors expressed a desire for staff to analyze multiple alternatives including the staff recommendation and advisory board recommendation in environmental analysis. The Board formalized this in an action in November 2012.

2013-2014 – VTA Undertakes Environmental Analysis

In February 2013, VTA initiated an environmental analysis for El Camino Real with a scoping phase in which VTA, its member agencies and members of the public could submit new alternatives to be studied. 
 
As a result of the scoping process, the number of alternatives that were analyzed grew to seven, including the advisory board preference (3a) and staff recommendation (4b):
  • Alternative 1: No Build (no changes made)
  • Alternative 2: All mixed-flow from San Jose to Palo Alto
  • Alternative 3a: Dedicated lane from Halford Avenue to Lafayette Street in Santa Clara, mixed-flow in San Jose, no changes in Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Altos and Sunnyvale
  • Alternative 3b: Dedicated lane from Halford Avenue to Lafayette Street in Santa Clara, mixed-flow throughout the rest of the corridor
  • Alternative 4a: Dedicated lane from Grant Road in Mountain View to Lafayette Street in Santa Clara, mixed-flow throughout the rest of the corridor
  • Alternative 4b: Dedicated lane from Showers Drive in Mountain View to Lafayette Street in Santa Clara, mixed-flow throughout the rest of the corridor
  • Alternative 4c: Dedicated lane from Embarcadero Road in Palo Alto to Lafayette Street in Santa Clara, mixed-flow throughout the rest of the corridor
VTA analyzed the seven alternatives in a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR), which was released in October 2014.
 
The DEIR found that transit travel time savings, automobile-competitiveness and transit ridership increases correlated with longer lengths of dedicated transit lanes. The higher-performing alternatives bore higher capital costs, but lower operating costs. 
 
Following the release of the DEIR, some of the corridor cities opposed dedicated lanes, some supported dedicated lanes and some took no official position. None of the city preferences matched the alternatives studied in the DEIR.
 
 VTA’s Board of Directors has not selected an alternative to be moved into the design and engineering project phase.

2015-2016 – Policy Advisory Board Reconvenes, Recommends New Alternatives

In April 2014, the Policy Advisory Board reconvened and began regular meetings to assess how to proceed on the El Camino Real BRT Project. In the subsequent meetings, the advisory board reviewed the findings of the DEIR as well as alternatives that had not been pursued, discussed city growth plans along the corridor and received an analysis of the DEIR from an independent commission of transportation practitioners and academics.
 
In October 2015, the advisory board decided to pursue new project alternatives that were less infrastructure-intensive and did not include bus-only lanes. The advisory board developed a new Right Lane street configuration wherein the right-most through-lane on each side of the street would be restricted to transit, high-occupancy vehicles, motorcycles and vehicles entering or exiting El Camino Real via right turn during weekday peak periods.

Right Lane Configuration cross-section at midblock​

Graphic showing El Camino Real bus rapid transit Right Lane Configuration cross-section at midblock

Right Lane Configuration cross-section at stations

Graphic showing El Camino Real bus rapid transit Right Lane Configuration cross-section at stations

The advisory board made two recommendations to VTA’s Board of Directors at their February 2016 meeting:
  • Undertake a new environmental analysis of the Right Lane street configuration
  • Implement a pilot project of the Right Lane street configuration
These recommendations would be brought to VTA’s Board of Directors for consideration following decisions made by each council to decide whether to participate in the pilot project and whether they would pledge to enforce the high-occupancy vehicle lane with local law enforcement. The extent to which cities participated in the pilot would inform the budget request made to VTA’s Board of Directors to undertake the pilot.
 
In April 2016, the City of Mountain View invited VTA to present the advisory board’s recommendations at a study session. The council expressed support for improving transit on El Camino Real, but not by reducing lanes for automobiles. They decided not to pursue a pilot project in their jurisdiction.

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