Transportation: 50 years of development in a 50 second bike video

Commuters in Silicon Valley and throughout the San Francisco Bay Area deal with the frustration of their daily car commute. Historically, transportation departments have defaulted to a solution that involves removing housing to make space for more highway lanes.

Silicon Valley Highway 101 Traffic Hell

Many (most?) people still think widening roads is the obvious solution, without thinking about the system as a whole.

Let’s look at Santa Clara County, California, aka “Silicon Valley.” A half century of development policies among the numerous small cities and one large city has resulted in lots of housing in south San Jose and neighboring areas, and a concentration of jobs near the Bay side of the county, mostly on the Bay side of the Caltrain tracks and mostly in the cities of Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View and Palo Alto.

The (greatly simplified schematic zoning) map of Santa Clara and environs below roughly shows the location of jobs and housing. Pink shows jobs, blue shows housing. The Caltrain tracks shown in red divide Santa Clara. In a moment I’ll talk about San Tomas Expressway (the blue line) and El Camino Real (the green line).

Santa Clara jobs & housing map

Is it any wonder, then, that portions of the north-sound San Tomas Expressway shown in blue operates at Traffic Level of Service “F” during the commute? Unless development patterns change, can we really expect traffic to improve even after the county builds more lanes?

Experience a taste of 50 years of planning that assumes a car in every driveway for long distance commutes in this rear view video I shot from my bike on southbound San Tomas Expressway approaching El Camino Real last night. I originally intended a box turn for that left onto eastbound El Camino Real, but after I saw a quarter mile of stopped traffic I just filtered my way over to the left turn lane.

About 30 seconds into the video, I split the lane past the VTA 22 bus. The 22 and its limited stop cousin the 522 carry 20,000 riders per day, but these high volume, efficient conveyances carrying 50 passengers are stuck in the same traffic as the single occupant schmucks taking up nearly the same road space.

VTA (our county transportation agency) plans to build a Bus Rapid Transit system on El Camino Real from San Jose, across this part of the city of Santa Clara, all the way to Palo Alto. The preferred alternative for those who think systematically is a dedicated busway.

El Camino Real BRT Santa Clara

This is not a sure thing, as many businesses along ECR along with the Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce fear the loss of traffic and business when car lanes are replaced with dedicated bus lanes. I’m happy the Santa Clara city council supports this dedicated busway option for Bus Rapid Transit on El Camino Real.


  1. I love the dedicated bus lane concept. More efficient people movement and less stress for all. Thank you Santa Clara city council your progressive inclinations. aprogressive

  2. Meanwhile the city council allows the San Tomas Aquino Creek Trail – the real gem on this route (which was funded partly by VTA “congestion management” funds) – to remain closed during stadium events so that, basically, the 49’ers can sell beer to fans in the Great America parking lot. Counts on BTW day put re-routed ridership at Agnew at about 500 riders. Now if you’re a San Tomas daily driver, thank those bicyclists who are whizzing by you for saving you one or more stoplight cycles… and then thank the 49’ers for putting more of them back on the road in front of you.

  3. Dedicated bus lanes make a huge difference to this sort of congestion all across the UK and Europe. They’re generally a bit safer for cycling too.

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