Bus Rapid Transit breaks ground in San Jose

Chris Lepe Headshot

Seven-mile transit corridor, years in the making, will cut travel times and improve quality of life in the most transit-dependent area of Silicon Valley.
 
After more than a decade of planning and design, the Santa Clara-Alum Rock Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project broke ground on March 21, 2014, in San Jose. The groundbreaking of the first Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project in the Bay Area represents a huge milestone in transforming transit service. BRT will help showcase what’s possible: fast, frequent, affordable bus service at a fraction of the cost of rail.
 
The Santa-Clara Alum Rock corridor has long had the highest transit use in the Valley, with some zip codes doubling or tripling the Santa Clara County average. "Finally the eastside, the highest public transit using community in all of Silicon Valley, is getting the attention we've needed for decades," noted Alum Rock resident Jaime Alvarado. "If anyone wants to know what a fully utilized public transit line looks like, they'll need to look no further than the Santa Clara-Alum Rock BRT line."
 
The seven-mile SC-AR BRT project will improve connections to important destinations such as Eastridge Shopping Center, the School of Arts and Culture at the Mexican Heritage Plaza, downtown San Jose, and the Diridon Station with upgraded transit facilities including bus-only lanes, state-of-the-art buses, and rail-like stations. With service starting in 2015, it is the first leg of what is envisioned to be more than 30 miles of Bus Rapid Transit connecting to County’s extensive light rail system, Caltrain, and soon-to-come BART service.
 
Public officials representing downtown and east San Jose who have unanimously supported the extension over the years were excited to see the project break ground. Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese proclaimed that the BRT extension "will serve a truly diverse population and get them where they want to go, on time,” and according to San Jose Councilmember Sam Liccardo, “BRT will vastly improve a lifeline of mobility for tens of thousands of east side and downtown residents to jobs, education, and amenities.” 

BRT's Broader Community Benefits

One of the speakers at the groundbreaking, Tamara Alvarado, Director of the School of Arts and Culture at the Mexican Heritage Plaza, highlighted how the project will offer an alternative to the automobile to a larger segment of the population. “BRT will change the way we as citizens access not only the arts at the Plaza, but healthcare, our jobs, our children’s schools, and the many amenities that our community has to offer.”

The BRT project will also improve the pedestrian environment in an area having among the greatest number of pedestrian injuries in the City. These improvements, coupled with the City's plans for an Urban Village, has some community members optimistic about the future. “BRT will transform the Santa Clara-Alum Rock corridor, bringing the east side and downtown neighborhoods closer together and upgrading our quality of life,” said Terry Christensen, community leader and advocate for the Five Wounds Trail. 

Terry credits cooperation between the City of San Jose and the Valley Transit Authority (VTA) as well as “hours of community meetings where residents made suggestions and demands that will make BRT work and look better, and improve pedestrian access along these streets in the process.” Terry’s sentiments were shared by speakers at the groundbreaking ceremony who acknowledged the hard work and collaboration between community groups, non-profit organizations, VTA project planners, and City staff.  
 
BRT stations will showcase local history and culture through public art. 

Over the past year, the VTA and their consulting partners at the San Jose Public Art Department have worked closely with community leaders and interested residents to create unique public art enhancements at bus stations that will highlight, celebrate, and reflect the area’s culture and history. 

Public art will be integrated into twenty Bus Rapid Transit station platforms and will feature an enhanced zone within each station platform saturated with a unique identity. This “room within a room” will feature a visual collage, lighting components, and specialized seating. The project artists, Franka Diehnelt and Claudia Reisenberger of Merge Conceptual Design, conducted extensive research on the history of the area and worked with local artist Corinne Okada Takara to obtain rich input and ideas from community members.
 
The result is an integrated strategy for artistic designs that reflect the area’s culture and history in unique and exciting ways. For example, at 17th Street (eastbound), the artists’ have developed lace-like patterns inspired by the local crochet crafts of the area’s Portuguese community. At King Road, Mexican and Aztec cultures will be represented through a traditional “papel picado” design that will be created by local artist Rick Moreno. Other proposed design concepts include symbols of traditional games played by the area’s sizeable Vietnamese population, vintage airplanes flown at Reid/Hillview Airport, and patterns acknowledging the Japanese-American-owned Kitazawa Seed Company, the oldest seed company in the US.

Community members who have viewed the artistic concepts have had an overall favorable reaction. At a December 2013 community meeting at the School of Arts and Culture at the Mexican Heritage Plaza, Jaime Alvarado remarked that the designs were a “trip down memory lane,” and other community members thanked the artists for capturing so much of the history and identity of the area. Residents also had several suggestions, including displaying student art at the stations and honoring Ohlone history and traditions, the native inhabitants of the area. 
 
Attend a community meeting this month!
 
The artistic design concepts will be further developed over the coming months as project construction moves forward. The City will host a community meeting on April 21 at 6:00 pm at the School of Arts and Culture and on April 22 at noon at San Jose City Hall, and give a stamp of approval at the San Jose Public Art Committee meeting on April 22 at 5:30 pm at City Hall. Community input will be balanced by the aesthetic vision of the artists and the VTA’s desire to maintain the architectural coherence of the station branding. 
 
The Santa Clara-Alum Rock BRT project will begin service in early 2015, giving community members, workers, and visitors to the area not just a faster, more reliable, and convenient transportation option, but also an interactive and stimulating lesson in the history, culture, and identity of downtown and East San Jose. Furthermore, the SC-AR BRT project will serve as an important case study for future BRT extensions in Silicon Valley and beyond. We look forward to working with the community, VTA, and the City of San Jose as the project progresses through final design, construction, and implementation to ensure maximum community benefits. 
 
For more information about the Alum Rock BRT project, visit the Santa Clara Valley Transit Authority website.
 
Images: Groundbreaking Ceremony (Silicon Valley Community Foundation); BRT photo-simulation (VTA); Station design (City of San Jose, Public Art)

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