After nearly four hours of public comment, council questions and council discussion, the Sunnyvale City Council voted against pursuing the study of a dedicated lane option in an environmental impact study by a vote of 4 to 3. Councilmembers Meyerling, Whittum, Spitaleri and Davis voted against the Sunnyvale staff recommendation and councilmembers Griffith, Moylan and Martin-Milius voted for the staff recommendation. Video of the council meeting can be found here. An article by the Mercury News can be found here.
The Sunnyvale staff recommendation was to direct VTA to study a dedicated lane configuration in Sunnyvale through an environmental impact study with several conditions relating to mitigating traffic impacts, no new maintenance costs, preserving left turn pockets, pre- and post-project studies on traffic impacts, providing continuous bike lanes on El Camino Real, initiating a community-based transportation study in Sunnyvale, improving efficiency of existing curbside bus stops on El Camino Real and evaluating on-street parking needs. Councilmember Moylan moved to support the Sunnyvale staff recommendation with additional conditions: should the project create a significant traffic impact on Central Expressway, VTA would develop a near-term implementation plan for the Central Expressway auxiliary lanes project, study ways to reduce the frequency of the 22 local bus on El Camino Real and set up a task force to address concerns of auto dealerships.
The conditions placed on the recommendation—specifically the condition relating to the community-based transportation study—would have required council approval of the project following the completion of the environmental impact study and CBTP. Thus, the staff recommendation would have ensured that a “yes” vote on Tuesday night would not be the city’s last opportunity to decide on the street configuration of the project.
The councilmembers who voted against the project explained their dissent for a variety of reasons.
Councilmember Whittum indicated a preference for investing in BRT on Mathilda/Sunnyvale-Saratoga/De Anza rather than El Camino Real and suggested that the Stevens Creek BRT project, which borders San Jose, Santa Clara and Cupertino, be VTA’s priority as it could be a ridership generator along the southern portion of a Mathilda BRT project.
Mayor Spitaleri was concerned about the impact to auto traffic and auto dealerships and felt that the existing transit on El Camino Real was adequate. He also expressed a concern about studying the dedicated lane configuration in an environmental impact study, likening it to being at the end of a vacuum hose—that further study would make it difficult to oppose the project later.
Councilmember Davis stated that the issue that no one had talked about that evening was transportation planning. He expressed concern over the economic impact of removing left turn pockets, but the traffic impact of preserving them. He twice stated that a flaw in the El Camino Real BRT Project was that it would only serve the one-third of Sunnyvale’s population that live within walking distance of the corridor and would not serve the two-thirds that live farther away.
Councilmember Meyerling did not explain his vote, but offered a motion to request VTA to return in 90 days to discuss ways to improve travel speeds on Mathilda.
As a result of the council decision, VTA will not pursue a dedicated lane street configuration in Sunnyvale, but rather a mixed-flow configuration in an environmental study for the Sunnyvale portion of the corridor. Accordingly, changes made to El Camino Real in Sunnyvale as a result of the project will be minimal. New, rail-like stations would be constructed in four locations. Six auto lanes as well as on-street parking will remain and VTA will not add bike lanes or upgrade any signal infrastructure.
VTA will receive council actions from the cities of Palo Alto, Mountain View and Los Altos in the coming months. Once the council actions have been received, VTA’s Board of Directors will provide guidance on how to proceed with the project.
Finally, VTA would like to acknowledge the members of the public who spoke before the Sunnyvale Council on Tuesday night. The volume of speakers was unprecedented and the investment of time and courage that each speaker made to contribute to the discussion about transit and transportation on El Camino Real deserves to be recognized. VTA encourages public participation in the planning process. As always, if you have any questions, ask away in the comments below or email the BRT team at firstname.lastname@example.org.