Does Facebook really generate that much traffic?

This is about real physical traffic, as in the movement of people. Not web traffic. This is not an article about how Facebook can help your search marketing efforts.

Long time readers know I once worked for Sun Microsystems at the Menlo Park campus now leased by Facebook. Known as “Sun Quentin” for its prison-like exterior and remote location along the San Francisco Bay Wildlife Refuge, the 57 acre campus was built between 1993 and 1995 after Menlo Park’s redevelopment agency enticed Sun to move its corporate headquarters there. I don’t know the history of these enticements, but relatively easy access to Highway 101 and the Dumbarton Bridge likely were mentioned.

Hawk's eye view

Besides the low frequency Dumbarton Express bus service, there is absolute no public transportation to this little corner of the Bay. Bicycle access is an afterthought.

Nevertheless, Sun was required to limit traffic impacts through a cap on employees and programs to encourage modes of transportation other than single occupant driving. All Sun employees received a free VTA EcoPass, and people like me who lived in the hinterlands even received the valuable EcoPass Express, which was worth $1300 in annual bus fare. Sun ran employee shuttles from all over the Bay Area, moving workers from San Francisco, Fremont, the Peninsula, and various locations around the South Bay. We also had shuttles serving the Menlo Park Caltrain station. Sun participated in San Mateo County’s commute alternatives program, which means carpool matching and emergency ride home services. Bike commuters had secure bike parking, lockers and showers. Sun’s telecommute culture also meant that probably 10% of our workforce worked from home on any given day.

We had somewhere around 4,000 people working at that campus, but even with all of these incentives we still had close to 3,000 cars entering and leaving the campus every day.

Facebook vehicle traffic

These days, people complain about Facebook traffic on the Dumbarton Bridge. The Dumbarton is the southernmost bridge across San Francisco Bay.

Has Menlo Park required any traffic mitigation steps from Facebook, given that they’ve enormously impacted traffic on Highway 84 / Dumbarton Bridge, and that’s before they build their enormous complex across the street?

Let’s look at the numbers: Facebook employs somewhere around 4,000 people in Menlo Park these days, so roughly what we had at Sun during our heyday. Over 40% of Facebook employees use “alternative transportation” to reach the office. Part of Facebook’s traffic mitigation was the reduce the number of parking spaces available to 2,800, so already we know Facebook has less of a traffic impact that Sun had back in the day.

It’s not just the Dumbarton Bridge

It’s easy to blame a highly visible newcomer like Facebook, but the fact is that traffic has increased dramatically throughout the South Bay and Peninsula over the past six months. Transit ridership has also boomed — although gas prices have dropped, Santa Cruz buses are packed, Caltrain is packed, VTA light rail and buses are packed. All of these are signs of an improving economy. More people working means more people need to travel to work, whether by driving, using transit, walking or riding bikes.

Mr Roadshow explains a little more about Facebook’s mitigations, which includes adding a third right turn lane from Willow Road to Highway 84. It’s bad enough cycling across that as a two lane turn lane, bleh. Here’s a photo of what that approach looks like now.

New lane config: Willow Rd & Bayfront Expy

That’s my two cents. Remember: If you’re sitting in traffic, you’re part of the problem. Your four wheels, engine and enclosure take up as much lane space as any other car, no matter who you work for.

One Comment

  1. Here, here! I am so tired of people who drive alone to work blaming newer companies for increasing the traffic, especially when those newer companies have a far fewer percentage of people driving alone that the existing companies.

    It’s like they think that having been in the area longer gives them more right to the road. “Sorry, no newcomers allowed!” or “Newcomers must take the bus so I can drive alone without traffic.” It’s selfish.

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