Yet another federal government regulation came to my attention last night. I attended my local city council meeting. One of the agenda items was a proposal from the (Santa Clara) Valley Transportation Authority (VTA). This proposal was for a bus rapid transit (BRT) corridor along El Camino Real. From the VTA website:
“BRT include exclusive bus lanes, high-capacity hybrid vehicles, more frequent service, traffic signal priority, rail-like stations, WIFI, real-time passenger information, level boarding and off-vehicle fare collection. Once implemented BRT has the potential to increase ridership, reduce travel times, ease congestion and attract people out of their cars.”
El Camino Real is 120 feet wide, three lanes in each direction. During rush hour, traffic is a mess. VTA presented two alternatives. The first was “mixed mode” in which buses use the same lanes as cars. Bus travel time would be reduced by adding curb bulb-outs at bus stops so the buses don’t have to pull into a cutout. The second was a “4+2” configuration, removing one lane in each direction which would be devoted exclusively to buses. The current plan is to have the dedicated bus lanes extend from Scott Blvd. in Santa Clara to Showers Dr. in Los Altos. VTA stated that this would lead to increased auto congestion on El Camino Real, but that drivers would find alternative routes. The city council expressed considerable skepticism about this claim.
To add to the confusion, VTA has divided the sales function into two geographic areas: the “northern cities” (Palo Alto, Los Altos, Mountain View) and the other impacted cities (Sunnyvale, Santa Clara, and San Jose). To see the presentations for each of the northern cities, click the link on the city name above.
On the face of it, removing two traffic lanes from 17 miles of El Camino Real seems insane. Why propose such an apparently dumb idea? The answer (you could have guessed this) is that Federal government money is involved. Our government requires that at least half the distance of any BRT project must be dedicated bus lanes. Great. My prediction is that VTA will spend a ton of money on consultants, architects, and so on, only to learn that the affected cities want no part of this plan. That view was expressed quite explicitly by one city council member last night.