Santa Clara approves bicycle lanes on Tasman, over objections of car-dominated mindset

Santa Clara CA just approved a “road diet” on a section of Tasman Blvd that’s extremely over-built for current traffic needs (6 lanes of road, where 4 lanes would suffice).  The plan would create a bicycle lane going each direction, but some on the City Council objected because of a huge development planned nearby that’s expected to add lots of traffic to roads in the area.  What I see is a development pattern that’s continually not focused on creating a livable humane transportation matrix, but presuming that “more cars” is the only viable transportation solution.

The area of concern is shown in the map above.  Tasman is an expressway paralleling Highway 237 (a main connector between the East Bay and Peninsula), and that segment runs through office parks, the Santa Clara Convention Center, and the new Levi’s Stadium.  The VTA Light Rail system runs down the center-lane of this road, with two light rail stops in the segment shown here.  Traffic on the road is not heavy at all.  I imagine that an earlier generation of city planners thought 6 lanes was required because of the Convention Center and the Great America amusement park that’s within spitting distance – one of Great America’s parking lots empties onto Tasman.  But in my experience, that parking lot is never used at all.

The “road diet” idea is to rework streets to restructure them for more balanced use between pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders and car drivers.  That’s a change from the city planning paradigm which gives car drivers (and maybe transit) premium access to the roads over all other possible uses.

I know this road very well – I’ve ridden light rail, ridden my bicycle, walked, and driven this road frequently over the years.  Tasman has the potential to be a great bicycling corridor, reaching into an area with not just a zillion office parks (Silicon Valley’s “golden triangle”), but a growing number of housing developments.  Some of those new residents will appreciate bicycling infrastructure and walkability.

Over on StreetsBlog is an excellent summary of the situation.

The primary objection is a new development being planned for land shown on this map in green, north of Tasman.

That’s a former Landfill on which has been built a Golf Course, and north of that a BMX (bicycling) track.  The white area north of the golf course had for a long time been vacant land, with ominous signs about bad chemicals in the ground, but today office parks are being built there.  Across Hwy 237 another office park has already been built on another piece of former landfill.

A Silicon Valley Business Journal piece goes over the plans for that land.  The plan is nearly 8 million square feet of retail, office, hotel, and residential space on 230 acres of ground.  The first phase would be a minimum of 500,000 square feet of retail and 200,000 square feet of hotel space but it’s not clear from the BizJournal article which parcel would be developed first.

The BizJournal article concludes with Mayor Matthews bemoaning Santa Clara’s loss of its vibrant downtown in the 1960’s.  I’ve lived in that downtown area, and it’s a sleepy enclave of Victorian era houses preserving a small town feel within the megalopolis that Silicon Valley has become.  It’s clear that 100+ years ago Santa Clara was a large and prosperous town for the area.  Clues I see as to the loss of vibrancy in Santa Clara’s downtown is that the city destroyed parts of the downtown to make way for an apartment complex, a county court house, and other developments.

Mayor Matthews is quoted saying “Santa Clarans have longed for a city center where residents can work, shop, dine and enjoy sports and cultural entertainment” …. but let me ask, how would a development that’s way out on the edge of Santa Clara be such a “City Center”.  Most Santa Claran’s live miles away.

Instead, this particular development, as described by the BizJournal, is completely disjointed from the rest of Santa Clara.

By objecting to the “road diet” on Tasman because of potential for traffic from this other development simply demonstrates a pattern of disjointed development in Santa Clara (and the rest of Silicon Valley).

The pattern is that developments pop up wherever developers like, with no effort to integrate anything with anything else.  We could have had a vibrant connected city environment in Santa Clara had the city chosen to develop that way.

For example – the main shopping area for Santa Clara is El Camino Real.  It is almost entirely retail shopping, the road is constructed for the efficient movement of cars, and is downright hostile to pedestrians and bicyclists.  The result is no integration with the residential parts of Santa Clara, and there’s no organic urban fabric to it at all.

Another large segment of Santa Clara are office parks designed in the paradigm that people drive to the office, drive somewhere to lunch, drive home.  The office park areas are just that, office parks with no effort to have mixed use such as shops and retail and residences mingling with offices.  The density is too low to support mass transit.  Again, there’s no organic urban fabric.

This pattern isn’t unique to Santa Clara – I just happen to live here and am familiar with the on-the-ground situation.  This is the pattern of American sprawl.

The result is that we’re stuck with driving everywhere because we build our cities thinking driving is the only way to get around.  But when we travel to Europe we fall in love with real cities with real organic urban fabric, and come home disappointed by our own cities.  A “vibrant downtown core” is an organic thing which occurs with a high enough population density, and a mix of residences, retail and offices in the same area.

I walk around my neighborhood and it feels deserted because nobody is on the street even though all the houses are occupied.

To quickly get back to Tasman Blvd – adding bicycling to that road would be a help, but it’s part of a larger context that’s broken.  What I’d like to see is the Santa Clara planners develop this other parcel with a thought to better integrating our city.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

One Comment

  1. Pingback: The 6 acre senior housing Agrihood plan in Silicon Valley that could increase livability in the area | The Long Tail Pipe

Leave a Reply