Mountain View gives the green light to great transit on El Camino Real

This blog was co-authored by Charisse Ma Lebron, director of community development and health policy with Working Partnerships USA, and Chris Lepe, senior community planner with TransForm.

Should social equity, the environment, public health, safety, quality of life, and the economy be major considerations when designing our communities and investing in transportation?

We certainly think so! That’s why we were thrilled when the Mountain View City Council weighed these social and environmental considerations in relation to the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority's (VTA) proposed El Camino Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project on Tuesday, April 21.

By the end of the late-night City Council meeting, which featured a majority of public speakers in support of the project, Councilmember Ken Rosenberg, Vice Mayor Patricia Showalter, and Councilmember Michael Kasperzak took a stand to bring great transit to Mountain View by supporting the most vital component of the BRT project: transit-only lanes. Bus-only lanes would make it possible to move more people along the corridor and ensure better connecting transit services.

Councilmember Kasperzak made the motion in support of the advisory vote to transform El Camino Real from a car-centric city to a people and transit-friendly one, noting that “Mountain View has been pretty bold lately and I think it’s time to be bold again.”

The Council’s vote sends a strong message that it cares about the needs of all members of the community, particularly low-income people who make up the majority of the Valley’s workforce and the bulk of VTA’s transit users. Today a bus rider may spend up to three hours getting to and from work for a trip that takes thirty minutes by car. BRT with transit-only lanes will help give transit riders equal access to opportunity by cutting travel times in half, getting them to their destination on time.

Suleima Ochoa, a student at De Anza College, emphasized this point when she spoke during public comment, “This is a social justice issue. There’s something wrong with the system when an individual that takes public transportation cannot get to where they need to be in an efficient manner as compared to somebody that takes their personal vehicle. I believe in the philosophy of the late Senator Paul Wellstone that 'we all do better when we all do better'.”

This connection was not lost on Councilmember Rosenberg. “Not everyone can afford a car and so they rely on the graces of political leaders like us.”

Vice Mayor Showalter further emphasized that “We’re going to be building a lot more housing [on El Camino] and a lot of it is going to be mixed use, including retail. That’s going to be a lot of minimum wage [workers] that cannot afford to live here. They’re going to be taking the bus in and out.”

But the Council’s decision was about more than just social justice. Pragmatic councilmembers framed BRT as a solution for sustainable city growth and healthier communities.

Councilmember Rosenberg pointed out that the project will promote smart growth in the region by aligning our transit investments with local land use plans. “We have to make a conscious choice on the implications of our ultimate decisions on job growth, housing, and so forth because they all play together.

Vice Mayor Showalter also noted that transit-only lanes will improve public safety along the El Camino corridor because first-responders will have faster response times when using the lanes. She was also excited about the promise that VTA could install bike lanes with the project, helping to address the most dangerous street in the City for cyclists. 

In supporting great transit along this critical commercial, residential, civic, and transportation corridor, Mountain View has sent the region a signal that it wants to be part of the solution instead of a roadblock.

Until the Mountain View Council meeting, the project’s future was uncertain because other cities along El Camino Real had failed to give proper weight to BRT’s benefits for society and the environment while fixating on fears of inconvenience to auto users and cars trips diverted to surrounding streets.

Mountain View resident, Nirit Lotan, stated during public comment, “As a mother of a young boy…I am worried about the sedentary and solitary way of life of being forced to drive everywhere and spending our precious time stuck in traffic.”

30 year Mountain View resident, Javier Perez, raised the question, “What are we going to do ten or twenty years from now if we don’t take advantage of this opportunity? Why are we thinking parochially and not thinking about the bigger picture? Let’s think outside the box.”

The advisory vote opens the door for the City to negotiate with VTA on making the project even better for the region and the City. Three key conditions laid out by Councilmembers were 1) explore opportunities for better connecting transit services to expand the benefits of the project to more residents and workers, 2) maximize the use of the transit-only lanes beyond the ten minute headways assumed in the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR), and 3) include a stop at Escuela Ave, a low income area of the City with schools and a senior center.

Please send an email to Mountain View Councilmembers and thank them for their principled vote for innovation, progress, and equity.

Vice Mayor Pat Showalter: Pat.Showalter@mountainview.gov

Councilmember Ken Rosenberg: Ken.Rosenberg@mountainview.gov

Councilmember Michael Kasperzak: Michael.Kasperzak@mountainview.gov

Share your support for BRT with the VTA Board of Directors: please email the Board today.

The VTA will certify the Final Environmental Impact Report and hear the Locally Preferred Alternatives for El Camino Real BRT in fall 2015.

For more information about the El Camino BRT project and the diverse coalition of organizations that are working to ensure greater access for all people, please visit www.yessvbrt.org.

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About This Blog

TransForum is the blog of TransForm, California's leading transportation advocate. For more about our work, including ways you can take action and contribute, visit TransFormCA.org.