The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) plans for future BART currently include an extension to the Santa Clara Caltrain Station. Is this an appropriate use of transportation dollars?
The map above highlights the area within one half mile of the existing Santa Clara Transit Center. Exclusive of student housing at Santa Clara University, there are 900 homes and apartments within this zone. 4,000 people (including the 2,000 students at Santa Clara University) live within a half mile of this station, which serves Caltrain, ACE, Amtrak Capitol Corridor, and five VTA bus routes including the popular 22/522 El Camino Real service. 2,000 people board some form of public transportation at the Santa Clara Transit Center every day, where 300 parking space are available.
When BART and VTA planners first talked about BART to the city of Santa Clara 20 years ago, they likely envisioned a massive park-and-ride lot on what is now 92 acres of vacant industrial land on the United Defense / Food Machinery Corporation (FMC) parcel. BART also stated a need for a maintenance yard at this end of the line. Furthermore, back when cash was flush in Silicon Valley, planners dreamed of a high-tech, fully automated $700M people mover tunnel under the runways at San Jose International Airport between Santa Clara Caltrain, Terminal B, and VTA Light Rail on 1st Street. The VTA #10 “Airport Flyer” was supposed to be a short term stopgap. The dashed red line below shows the originally planned “preferred alternative” before fiscal realities took over, encouraging consultants to draw in the less expensive yellow and purple lines that transit the airport perimeter.
The planning policies at both agencies have changed since then, with a shifting focus to encourage transit oriented development and serve denser, more urban localities. The massive park-and-ride lots that defined Bay Area transit planning in the 90s are beginning to fall out of favor, with transportation agencies slowly adopting policies to favor transit connections, walkability, and bikability.
Carl Guardino of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, who has been instrumental in driving BART to the South Bay, apparently didn’t receive that memo. He’s still bullish on BART to Santa Clara and wants $1.3 billion specifically ear-marked in any new South Bay transportation funding measure. Guardino has been lobbying local politicians to put such as a tax on the November ballot, and apparently there have been some awkward moments as it’s explained to him that the world of transportation planning is transitioning to a new paradigm.
Adina discusses the proposed transportation funding ballot measure and its ramifications for South Bay BART in much more detail over at Green Caltrain. She follows this stuff much more closely than I and I recommend a visit.