The City Council spent two and half hours discussing a plan for dedicated bus rapid transit lanes on El Camino Real on Tuesday, coming to the same position it came to after a similar discussion in June -- opposed.
The council took a 4-2 vote in the study session, with council members Mike Kasperzak and Margaret Abe-Koga in support of the dedicated lanes and member John Inks abstaining.
The plans would reduce El Camino Real from six lanes to four, and add two dedicated bus lanes down the middle of the street and bike lanes on each side. With two bus stations located on the median, one at Castro Street and one at San Antonio shopping center, BRT buses would run every 10 minutes, 18 hours a day. The buses would beat car traffic through the use of sensors that give buses priority at traffic lights. To make boarding times quick, tickets would be bought at stations for the VTA's flat bus fare, now $2.
Most of the public speakers supported the dedicated lanes, including former Mayor Art Takahara who recalled similar opposition to light rail, now an asset to the community.
"Traffic is getting worse all the time, we need to do something to move ahead," he said.
Downtown resident Aaron Grossman, called it a "worthwhile project. Slow buses trapped in the rest of the traffic, that's the direction we're going. It's not cars that should be the priority, it's people. It makes no sense not to study this."
VTA planning manager Kevin Connolly returned as he had promised with more information on traffic impacts, saying that the time it would take to get from Santa Clara to Mountain View would be reduced by only one minute with dedicated bus lanes in the middle of the street.
Left turn lanes may be lost without up to six new stop lights added to maintain current left turns, such as three between Grant Road and Highway 85.
Council member Laura Macias expressed concern about the dedicated lanes making it harder to cross El Camino where stoplights aren't in place.
"I'm terribly disappointed that VTA chose to ignore the council in our last study session," Macias said. "There's a whole lack of respect that I don't understand."
Council member Abe-Koga defended the plan, saying it would make using buses more attractive and would benefit the poorest local residents who are "transit-dependent."
To help with the $240 million project, the VTA is competing with Seattle, San Francisco and New York for $75 million in federal funding. But in order to get the funding at least half the 17.4-mile stretch between San Jose and Palo Alto must have dedicated lanes. Current plans put dedicated lanes on a 10.3-mile stretch between Lafayette Avenue in Santa Clara and Showers Drive in Mountain View.
In June, VTA staff said a trip from Palo Alto to HP Pavilion on the line would take BRT 52 minutes, while it could take 60 minutes by car and 67 minutes by the current express bus line 522, which would be replaced by BRT.
"At this point the cost seems high for an enhancement that doesn't seem like much of an enhancement," said council member Ronit Bryant, who seemed even more opposed than she was in June. "A gradual approach might be much easier to accept."
VTA staff said that for technical reasons having to do with its transit center, Palo Alto is not being asked for dedicated lanes. Mayor Mike Kasperzak questioned that, saying Palo Alto should "share the pain."
"It does offend me that Palo Alto might be left out," Kasperzak said.