Mountain View Council supports reduced driving to address congestion, pursues employer tax

At last night’s meeting, Mountain View City Council supported strategies to relieve highway and expressway congestion by reducing solo driving, and negotiating for increased funding for sustainable transportation, while supporting negotiations based on the draft allocation proposal that had been worked out among eight cities for the proposed Santa Clara County transportation sales tax.

The draft proposal includes $1.5 billion to address congestion on expressways and freeways. However, to date, the only way this money is allowed to be used is to expand vehicle capacity.  This goes against the strategies of some cities to address their traffic jams by helping to reduce solo driving. For example, the projects in the County Expressway plan focus on Page Mill taking drivers between 280 and Stanford Research Park. Stanford, which owns the research park, has publicly stated that they would prefer to address the commute congestion with transportation demand management. However, the County Expressway project manager told Palo Alto City Council that the only tool that her team could use in the Expressway plan was increasing vehicle capacity.

Mountain View has been participating in a group of cities, including Palo Alto, Sunnyvale, Cupertino, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Saratoga, and Campbell, to develop shared investment goals for the transportation ballot measure.  The proposal includes $2.5 billion for BART, Caltrain, and Caltrain grade separations, but only $500 million for other transit options. According to research from TransForm, it would cost $500 million over 30 years to create a 15-minute all-day bus network using the heaviest-traveled routes, and this figure doesn’t include other transit investments, such as express buses, and first-last mile services.

Council Member Kasperzak commented that “we want to reduce vehicle miles travelled to reduce congestion, and most leaders in the valley would agree.  And if other leaders want to shift funds from highway expansions toward mode shift, bicycle and pedestrian, we should also support that.”  Council Member Siegel added, “I don’t support widening roads. To the degree that in negotiations, if we can reach agreement to whittle down the money to widen roads and use it to increase transit service, or create a flex program where a city could use the money to reduce driving, I would support that.” Former Mayor McAlister, who’d been involved in negotiating the agreement, agreed that widening roads is not the answer, we need to give people options to get out of their car.

The next group to review the proposal will be Palo Alto City Council Rail Committee next Wednesday January 27 at 8:30am.

In addition, Council Member Siegel reported on discussions with other cities and major corporate employers with exploratory discussions on an additional employee tax to fund transit, with favorable comments from employers who would pay the tax. Upcoming conversations are scheduled for February.