Lots of Development on the way. Let’s make sure its walkable and bikeable.

In recent months the City of Millbrea, BART and two other developers (Sierra Station Properties and Republic Urban) have signed an initial agreement to develop sites on the east and west side of the station. The city has wanted to develop these sites ever since they drafted the station area plan back in 1998, but missed the boat after the 2008 crash. So I am excited that after all these years there is some movement to bring more people to the station.

Right now the station is still impossible to access on foot or by bike without endangering your life! Let’s make it safer when the new development happens.

Remember this is what we have (bad, too much traffic, dangerous):

Bad_Metal_Map

We want connections to the station! (wonderful, super, beautiful)

Good_Metal_Map

Though there are no specifics with the development plans as of yet, the Station Area Plan has lots of robust ideas on how to make the station more accessible to those coming on foot and bike. Another good point is that the very old plan will be updated as part of this new process.

Peninsula Transportation Alternatives has a good post about how to get more involved. You can read it here.

Its probably a good idea to bring up my principles that should make the station more walkable. 

1. Create a set of design guidelines that institutionalizes the principles listed below. Form-based codes are one way to accomplish this.

2. Designing a consistent and recognizable wayfinding signage package utilizing kiosks at critical directional decision-making locations will further encourage and guide station users. These locations would include all intersections on Broadway and the intersections of Hillcrest and Victoria at El Camino Real. This signage should be installed with only one pole and be combined with other street furniture wherever possible. It should be installed outside the active part of the sidewalk and could be located on the bulb-out if necessary.

3. Building sidewalks with a minimum width of 9 feet. Additional sidewalk width free of obstructions with a buffer of on-street parking and/or trees provides a sense of safety and comfort.

4. Painting white crosswalks spanning the signalized intersections at Hillcrest and Victoria Streets on the north, south, east, and west corners combined with refuge islands between 6-10 feet wide. Maintaining the median strip of 6-10 feet wide on ECR will provide space for pedestrian refuge islands, which will help guide and protect pedestrians and cyclists approaching the station. Instituting generous signal timing at the signalized intersections (no faster than 4 feet/second) with crosswalks encourages the user to move at a comfortable and natural pace toward their destination.

5. Installing bulb-outs at all corners of all intersections of El Camino with the buffer streets will shorten crossing distances for pedestrians.

6. Increasing the density of development along El Camino. Encourage the construction of buildings that are between 50-60 feet tall (five stories) to create a sense of place and scale. Buildings on El Camino, especially at corners, should have landmark style designs that create a strong impression from the street and sidewalk. Develop context-sensitive, mixed-use buildings along Broadway and buffer streets.

7. Installing pedestrian scale lighting on all streets fronting the wayfinding path. Include side streets if financing is available.

8. Placing street furniture such as newspaper boxes, benches, and bollards outside of the pedestrian circulation zone of the sidewalk and not closer than 2 feet from the curb. Bike racks should be provided as close to businesses as possible and parallel to the street.

9. Reducing the width of the lanes on ECR to no more than eleven feet if the six-lane configuration is maintained. If a four-lane configuration is feasible, wider traffic lanes and a bike lane could be installed. The bike lanes should be at least six feet wide and placed to the right of traffic lanes next to the curb.

10. Installing class III bike facilities (sharrows) on other selected streets in the study area. Many of the streets in Millbrae are too narrow for separated bike lanes without removing parking. Traffic speeds are slow enough to allow bikes and cars to share the roadway.

There are a ton of other posts about what’s out there now, other improvements, etc. if older posts. Take a look and I’ll try to keep this blog updated with new developments.

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More bad intersections near transit.

After doing a lot of research on Millbrae and El Camino near the BART station, I thought I would look around at other transit stations to see if the nearby intersections are pedestrian friendly. The assumption is that these intersection should be really nice to walk and safe. I’ve found that this is to the contrary.

Part of the reason I studied Millbrae Station for my thesis is because its so perfectly terrible to walk or ride to. Surrounded by 7-8 lane freeway like streets, its really difficult to access on foot or by bike. Yet, downtown Millbrae is only a short 10 minute walk and thus lots of folks could walk there. But most do not.

So here’s the 4th and King Caltrain transit station in San Francisco. Tons of folks commute to and from Silicon Valley and the SF Peninsula on Caltrain and many of those folks transfer to Muni after they get off the train. The intersections are very busy with pedestrians, bikes, cars and light rail vehicles (T-3rd street Line).

Here is an image of the intersection at 4th and King Streets with crossing distances.

4th and King Streets

4th and King Streets

The crossing distances over 4th street are not too far (72′ and 97′), but King street is almost as far as Millbrae Ave. Most of that distance is because of the T-Third Street light rail. The major problem is the traffic on King street is either getting on or off HWY 280 thus they are in the worst mind set, “I’ve gotta get on the freeway. What are these people doing in the middle of my street?” Private auto drivers do not expect to see people walking and are often in a very, very, very big hurry. Not a good combination.

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The worst intersections for walking.

The other day I was reading a blog post on Streetsblog about the worst intersections in America. The post was asking for submissions for THE WORST intersection. There are a few entries that defy logic from the perspective of this pedestrian planner. I especially like the 3rd one down that looks like a big X.

This of course got me thinking about the corner of Millbrae and El Camino. Is it such a bad intersection? Is it really that bad to cross? Do regular folks think its bad too? Well, I guess we’ll just have to compare it to other intersections that I’ve crossed.

Here’s the intersection with distances included.

Millbrae&ElCamino

Millbrae Ave is the horizontal road and ECR is vertical. Now the image is a little old b/c the free right turn from Millbrae to ECR has been removed by none other than Caltrans. They thought it was dangerous.

The side of the intersection circled is the one that folks going to the station have to cross. That is 157′ of 9-lanes of traffic. Its tough even for an able-bodied person like me to get across while the light is still green. If you’re a little slower than spry me, ahh.. good luck. Asking someone who is going to get on BART to cross that many lanes of traffic is a little too much.

Another intersection I know that is pretty unpleasant is Geary and Gough streets in San Francisco. This is a pretty hairy intersection where Geary splits in half to form O’farrell Street. At 1st I would rank it as bad as the Millbrae intersection, but when I measured it, I found its worst leg was a mere 118′ to Millbrae’s 157′. Here’s the image. Geary is horizontal and Gough is vertical. You can’t really see Gough b/c the angle of the google earth image is very slanted.

Geary&Gough

The 111′ intersection has 8 lanes along with a double turn lane which are always really bad for pedestrians. The 118′ leg has 7 lanes, but the top lane is a very wide b/c of the side street that joins Geary. In addition to being an unpleasant intersection the area around it is pretty bland and uninviting as well. The Cathedral of St. Mary, or as it commonly referred to as Our Lady of the Agitator (b/c the structure looks like a washing machine agitator) is very stark and overexposed to the sun. On a side note, as ugly as the Cathedral is on the outside, it is matched by the beauty on the inside. Make a trip and visit.

So Millbrae is still the contender for most unfriendly intersection near a transit station. I’ll search around for other terrible intersections and propose solutions.

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Masked Lucha Libre Defender of Pedestrians

I just read this really funny post on the Atlantic Cities website. If you haven’t read anything from this site, you are really missing a lot of great stuff.

Here’s the link to the article.

Wouldn’t it be great to have these guys sitting at the corner of Millbrae and El Camino? Or any of the intersections along El Camino for that matter. Or it would be great if school crossing guards dressed up like Mexican wrestlers! Kids might really obey the traffic signals.

Anything in the name of safety.

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Transit projects are great for economic development!

I just returned from a transit conference in Hollywood called Rail-Volution where I heard again and again to economic benefits of transit projects. So, I wanted to write a post looking into this idea and link to a few good articles.

I first want to thank the organizers of the conference who gave me a scholarship to attend. I wouldn’t have been able to go w/o their support.

For some time now, many folks have talked about the safety benefits of transit, bike and pedestrian projects. How they calm traffic, make it safer to walk and cycle, and more. Now much of the discussion has moved to the amount of investment, increases in business, and rising land value that follows major transit projects.
An recent article in the New York Times does a good job of explaining the connection between transit and business.

Cleveland built at very successful BRT line along the old Euclid corridor that connects downtown with University Circle which had a large hospital campus. Since opening 2008 $3.4 Billion in economic development along the corridor since the project has been built. Amazing! I’ve heard, but couldn’t confirm that the Healthline has already exceeded 20-year ridership projections. The point of my mentioning these projects is the Transit expansion often is followed by investment and in the case of Cleveland, huge amounts of money.

San Jose VTA has proposed the build a BRT line down Steven’s Creek road. This would connect downtown San Jose with De Anza College. VTA wants to build a much longer BRT all the way down El Camino Real. This has run into problems recently. I will write more more on this later.

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Has walking be engineered out of our lives?

This is a question that Tom Vanderbuilt has asked in his series of articles on the history of walking. I think the case of Millbrae station the answer is yes. As I pointed out in my thesis, the Station is so isolated by El Camino and Millbrea Ave. that one can more easily reach it by car even though its within a 1/2 mile of downtown Millbrea. Here’s the link to the series.

That said, walking to downtown from the neighborhoods to the west, is great! There are sidewalks, slow(ish) moving traffic, and many great destinations to walk to. The problem lies is getting the other 1/2 mile to the station. If one drives the .5 – 1 mile to the station and then rides BART or Caltrain, you’ve lost most of the air pollution savings because cars emit most of their pollution in the 1st 5 minutes of use. After 5 minutes, the warming up period, a car doesn’t emit all that much pollution. What if those folks who drive to the station could walk there? They would get to know their neighborhood better, spend money in downtown shops, and get a little excerise in the process. Let’s try and think differently about how we get around.

On an unrelated note, a friend who cycled the bay trail sent me a note about how close the station is to the trail, but that he did not know how close it was because there were no signs! There are lots of reasons the signs are not there the most important being that a route around the airport has not been planned yet. Currently one has to ride the surface streets through the airport and then connect with the separated bay trail on either side. Tons of people do this now and the city installed bike lanes on a few of the streets to make things better. But Millbrea station would be a great place to start or end one’s trip on the bay trail since its only about a 1/2 mile away. The big problem getting to and from the station is the Millbrea Ave. overpass at 101. Its really hairy b/c of the on-ramp/off-ramps are really difficult to navigate. Thanks Tom for the comment!

Keep Walkin’

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Transit Maps need to be better

Good Signage

Near and dear to my heart is signage, well good signage I should say. Unfortunately we are surround by lots of bad signage.

As I have mentioned before, Millbrae Station does not have very good signage to tell you which operator is located where (BART, Caltrain, Samtrans). I challenge you to see a sign at this entrance to the station (besides the one on the train which will be leaving shortly). At a minimum there needs to be a sign that includes all three operators logos.

I am going to write more on this later, but I just read a good article that talks about this very issue and the great progress that is being made.

“In the Bay Area, Transit signs are Surprisingly Poor”   from TransportationNation.org

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