San Mateo County to study options for 101 congestion relief – experts debate how

San Mateo County will soon begin a process of assessing options to address congestion on the 101 corridor. Options to be studied include a High Occupancy Vehicle Lane or an Express Toll Lane between the Santa Clara County line and the intersection of 380 near the airport.

The environmental scoping process will be important, because it will define what gets studied – will a toll lane option be studied, and will opportunities for “mode shift” investments be analyzed for their ability to help alleviate congestion. The process will start “soon” according to staff at San Mateo County’s transportation policy body, the City/County Association of Governments (C/CAG).

According to a recent article in the San Mateo Daily Journal, the project would cost about about a quarter billion dollars, and would be expected to increase maximum rush hour speeds on 101 from 25mph to 28mph. That would add up to a 5 minute savings on 20 mile trip from Palo Alto to the airport.

An MTC study suggested that the best results would likely be found by creating a toll lane and using the funds to invest in transit and vehicle trip reduction. Merely adding a 2+ carpool lane would result in greater congestion the minute the lane opened. The scope of the study will be formally defined in scoping for the environmental process.

MTC 101 Options

MTC 101 Options

While an early C/CAG staff study only considered El Camino local buses as alternatives to driving, there are other investments to speed trips.

Public express buses. Google and Facebook have been very successful with express bus service. There are jurisdictional barriers making this difficult, but ought to be overcome
Expanding Caltrain capacity. The next step following electrification is to extend platforms to allow for longer trains
Stronger transportation demand management with transportation management associations to pool resources for small to medium sized business. While San Mateo County has TDM requirements for large employers, these requirements, and the investments, don’t pertain to smaller developments and smaller businesses.
Paid parking. Unlike Stanford, which uses paid parking as a cornerstone of its TDM, car parking in SMC is typically fully subsidized outside of downtowns, and heavily subsidized in downtowns. Without reduced parking subsidies, driving seems more appealing on a cash basis than using transit. Transport-network first and last mile
App-based carpooling? There are a bunch of startup companies using mobile apps to help commuters find carpool partners more conveniently, with the hope of increasing carpool use which has been declining in recent years
Ferry service? While the ferry service to South San Francisco has had abysmal ridership, the Bay Area Council is bullish on Ferry service, and local employers have recently run some test service from the East Bay to Port of Redwood City.

Assembly Member Kevin Mullin is working on a bill to address congestion on 101 in San Mateo County. To date, Mullin’s office has convened stakeholder meetings to discuss options, that have included, with local major employers and public officials, but without public education and public participation.

For the Transbay corridor, there is limited space on the Bay Bridge, so the corridor is being managed as a whole, looking at all modes – with congestion pricing to encourage driving outside of the most crowded time, and a package of investments in increased BART capacity, Transbay buses, and ferries, and a long-term planning process to address future expected growth.

Core Capacity - All Modes

Core Capacity – All Modes

However, this isn’t yet the philosophy for San Mateo County. The news release for the bill for the bill asserts that “transportation capacity in the corridor is grossly insufficient to serve the growing number of commuters, leading to heavy and growing traffic congestion and serious overcrowding on Caltrain” – as if the region ought to have a goal to expand freeway capacity, in order to reduce the use of transit.

Should the 101 corridor similarly be managed as a whole, with a strategies to increase use of transit and other forms of sustainable transportation?

Would you find it interesting and useful to have a public forum to learn about and discuss options for improving the 101 corridor?