Traffic along Highway 101 is already overloaded. Photo: Jaiya Alamia
What do Facebook, Google and Stanford have in common? All three are large and growing fast. They each employ thousands of workers. They are eagerly sought after by cities looking to add sparkle to their spirit and support to sagging budgets. And all three are expanding on large tracts of land near highway 101.
- In Menlo Park Facebook took over the Sun Microsystems campus, on the bay side of 101, near the Dumbarton Bridge and finds itself surrounded on three sides by the Don Edwards Wildlife Refuge.
- In Mountain View Googletopia now sprawls over a mile in 40 buildings north of 101 between San Antonio Road and North Shoreline. It now completely surrounds Shoreline Park and Regional Wildlife Area.
- In Redwood City Stanford has spun off a satellite campus, complete with medical clinic facility, taking over a light industrial neighborhood south of Woodside Road, along 101.
Now all three affected towns must deal with the problems that stem from major job destinations located on a choked arterial freeway, all remote from CalTrain, the buses on El Camino, and the retail centers near these transportation choices.
Highway 101 already moves at the speed of molasses during commute hours. As more jobs cluster along it, possible remedies for that are A) more pavement; B) worker housing near the new campuses; or C) alternative transport options.
Freeway Lanes? Housing? Transit?
|Created by Gita Dev on a map|
provided courtesy of the
San Francisco Estuary Institute
The trouble with ‘more pavement’ is that California state law requires cities to incorporate reduced driving into their plans in order to reduce greenhouse gases and pollution. Not only would expanding 101 be expensive and bad for the environment, it would be antithetical to the law’s goals. Precious transportation dollars should rather be spent on developing alternative transit systems.
Building more housing near these new campuses would help with the commute problem, as more people could walk or bicycle to work. However, the difficulty is that any housing on the bay side of 101 would have a population insufficient to support its own neighborhood grocery stores, restaurants, schools, and all of the other community resources to which people need access. Those destinations are all on the other side of 101. . We’d have less driving to work … and more driving to everything else.
Further, two of the new campuses—Google and Facebook—are adjacent to sensitive wildlife habitat along the bay. Housing, with its attendant cats, dogs, rats, and raccoons, is particularly incompatible with this habitat.
It is therefore imperative for all three towns and campuses to provide alternative commute options.
Companies Embrace Other Driving-Reduction Programs
Reducing commute driving can be achieved by several different strategies.
All three employers have embraced Traffic Demand Management (TDM) programs. A TDM program includes incentives for reducing driving: free shuttle buses (perhaps even with wi-fi), bicycle conveniences, carpools, van pools, transit passes, and cold cash for leaving your car at home. It also includes disincentives to clogging the freeway with your own gas-guzzling carbon-emitting car: high parking fees, limited parking, parking only on alternate days for any given employee, and priority for electric vehicles. Companies monitor the effectiveness of their TDM programs by counting the daily trips to and from the campus.
The organizations also reduce trips by providing attractive on-site conveniences for their workers, including food, gyms, and child day-care. These services do reduce daytime car trips by employees. The problem is that this creates insular institutions that do not contribute to the economic health of local towns.
The Missing Link is Transit
Reliable rapid transit connecting the job centers to the main transit rich corridor along the peninsula is the missing link, and would provide the best solution to the commute problem. It’s unfortunate that we have accepted locating large commercial office centers remote from transit. Having done that, however, we must develop robust, rapid, reliable shuttle service to connect these job centers to the transit corridor..
Gita Dev is an architect and member of the Chapter’s Sustainable Land Use Committee.