Mountain View's vision for North Bayshore is banking on a car-lite future for the city's bustling jobs center, home to massive tech offices for Google, Microsoft and Intuit. But when it comes to getting commuters to bike to work, the city is missing the mark and losing ground.
Getting tech workers out of cars has been a critical strategy in building out the city's urban vision for the mostly low-density office park, and the bar is set high. The goal is to get the number of solo drivers down to 45% of the total commuters into North Bayshore, and hit a lofty goal of 10% commuters heading in by bike.
Failing to meet those goals threatens to jam roadways into and out of the area, some of which were arguably over capacity prior to the coronavirus pandemic and temporary telecommuting policies.
Starting in 2015, the city saw a surge in bike commuting into North Bayshore that reached about 6% of the total trips into North Bayshore, which amounts to about 1,500 employees, according to data collected by the city. That number remained steady through spring 2017, at which point it precipitously dropped to only 3% -- or about 750 employees -- and never bounced back. Meanwhile, the number of solo drivers heading into North Bayshore hasn't budged, making up about 57% of the trips into the area in the spring this year.
When asked by the City Council about the puzzling change, particularly as the city priorities bike and pedestrian infrastructure, city staff could only speculate. It could have to do with busy construction activities in North Bayshore discouraging bike use, or it could be caused by differing methodologies used to count commuters.
Representatives from Google, North Bayshore's largest employer, did not respond to requests for comment.
Reaching 10% of commutes by bike may not be feasible, at least not yet. The future plans for North Bayshore include robust bike infrastructure that criss-crosses all of the major roads in the area intended to make it easy and safe to get to work. Many of the proposals in the North Bayshore Precise Plan call for dedicated bike lanes, including "cycle tracks" completely separate from the road and the sidewalk. The city is also planning to build a new bridge over Highway 101 for bicycles and pedestrians to commute between North Bayshore and the rest of the city.
A 2015 study by the city found that bike commuters prefer to use Stevens Creek Trail to get to work, followed by Middlefield Road, California Street and Shoreline Boulevard. The most loathed streets, considered the least bike friendly, including El Camino Real, Castro Street and San Antonio Road. At the time, 6.5% of the Mountain View's residents biked to work, significantly higher than the average across Santa Clara County but falling short of Palo Alto at 9.1%.
At a community meeting last month, residents overwhelmingly told city staff that they would like to see Mountain View prioritize bike infrastructure as a top priority, even over transit services, and ensure bike and pedestrian routes are both safe and convenient.
City officials closely watch commute patterns into North Bayshore as part of its "trip cap" policy for the area, which monitors traffic flows and whether they exceed the maximum roadway capacity into and out of the jobs center. Though the traffic lull during COVID-19 has given commuters a reprieve from the gridlock, data from earlier this year shows some city roads are already at or exceeding their "practical capacity." Shoreline Boulevard in the morning had 3,170 commute trips in the morning -- a touch over the 3,110 target set by the city -- while Rengstorff Avenue was clogged and overcapacity during the evening commute.
Looming over transportation decisions for North Bayshore is what, if anything, will happen to the area's commute patterns following COVID-19. During the approval of Google's Landings office project, Mountain View council members that met with company officials suggested that the tech company may shift gears, drop some of its office proposals and embrace telecommuting on a permanent basis. Google is currently reevaluating its need for additional offices, council members said at the time, and may not move forward with building the Landings project.