I’m reviewing the environment impact review documents for the VTA Capital Expressway Light Rail Project in San Jose, CA.
VTA plans to transform the Capital Expressway traffic sewer into what they call a multi-modal boulevard offering bus rapid transit (BRT), light rail transit, and safe connections to the regional transit system. The images below show Capital Expressway near Story Road as it currently is, and how it might look after the Capital Expressway light rail extension project is complete.
In addition to the walkway, bikeway and bus facility improvements already underway, this project will extend the Alum Rock light rail line 2.3 miles down Capital Expressway to the Eastridge Transit Center. The project will remove two traffic lanes on Capital Expressway and replace them with light rail right-of-way.
Currently, Capital Expressway between Alum Rock and Eastridge Mall is a dehumanizing auto-dominated moonscape. The technical background report dryly notes the corridor “possesses moderately low value for vividness, intactness, and unity as the landscape components do not exhibit a unique visual quality or character.” This is engineering jargon for “meh.” VTA has already started with small changes to improve the landscape for pedestrians.
For the beginning phases of this project, VTA has already installed new crosswalk signals. Pedestrian islands will be added. Turn radii will be reduced and pork-chop islands will be removed. These changes reduce the speed of vehicles executing right turns which improves pedestrian safety. VTA has also allocated funding for pedestrian overcrossings.
A locally-funded project would expand the existing, discontinuous sidewalk network along Capitol Expressway to include a multi-use path of greenway approximately 16 feet wide that includes a 10-foot pathway dedicated to pedestrians and bicyclists. VTA also plans a 10 foot wide pedestrian walkway on both sides of the expressway , as shown in green in the above illustration.
Park and Ride!
The Environmental Impact Report notes the removal of 40 residential on-street parking spaces from cross streets in order to accommodate roadway and intersection reconfigurations and to make room for the Story Road Station. Because nobody actually uses those spaces, no mitigation is required.
A couple of things about parking really caught my eye in the EIR:
- VTA uses a “Santa Clara County Travel Demand Model” to calculate the number of Park-and-Ride spaces that are needed when they build a new transit center. Whoever authored the EIR then points out that this model “tends to overestimate the number of people arriving at a light rail station and parking their car for the day. Historically, VTA has found more individuals arrive by walking, being dropped off or transferring from a bus than estimated by the model, resulting in an overestimation of the Parkand-Ride demand.”
- The project proposes no new parking for Alum Rock Station, which has 129 parking spaces. The VTA Parking Demand Model predicts a need for nearly 500 parking spaces at the Eastridge Transit Center, a significant expansion over the 135 spaces currently available there.
VTA plans to add 140 more spaces to the park and ride lot, but to build the station, VTA will remove nearly 500 parking spaces from the adjoining Eastridge Shopping Mall. There will be a net loss in available parking, but maybe a net increase in foot traffic with an anticipated 4000+ people traveling through this transit center.
Levels of Service
Transportation engineers assign a letter grade from “A” to “F” to describe the flow of traffic on highways and through intersections. Level of Service (LOS) “A” is the mythical world of car commercials, where there’s absolutely no traffic — motorized or otherwise — to impede your way. Levels C & D are what cities often aim for, with mostly free-flowing traffic moving at close to the speed limit with only minor turbulence. Things begin to break down with LOS E, with LOS F denoting significant delays.
During the morning commute, Capital Expressway operates at LOS “E” at both Story Road and Quimby Road, where the average delay across the intersection is over 70 seconds. Quimby Road falls to LOS F in during the evening commute, where drivers wait an average of 82 seconds to cross that intersection.
The EIR includes an “Adverse Impacts” statement for each environmental impact the study reviews. Among the transportation adverse effects are a decline in the traffic Level of Service for several intersections, including South Capital Avenue and Ocala Avenue. The EIR notes the adverse effect that replacing lanes with light rail tracks will have on the LOS, but concludes with “No feasible mitigation.” Translating from bureaucratic jargon, this means “Suck it up, motorists.”
The light rail will also adversely affect those who use the HOV lanes. A little more space is spent discussion possible alternatives, but in the end also concludes with “no feasible mitigation.”
I used Streetmix to generate the street cross sections.