Wednesday: Santa Clara Lawrence Station Plan includes housing cut off by onramp

Update:  at the meeting, two additional public comments encouraged the Planning Commission to enable residents to cross the street to get out of their homes to the rest of the neighborhood.
Planning Commission recommended to City Council that the interchange should be modified to add a direct highway ramp between Lawrence and Central, bypassing Ryder and leaving Ryder to serve as a neighborhood street for residents.   The plan will be coming before City Council soon, and it will be helpful to support Ryder as a neighborhood street to Council.
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Santa Clara Lawrence Station Area Plan is coming to Planning Commission on Wednesday the 9th of November.   Unfortunately, one of the plan’s major housing developments is proposed to be cut off by an expressway onramp.  Read on for how you can help.

The LSAP plans to turn an underutilized industrial area near Lawrence Caltrain into a housing-focused mixed-use neighborhood, with up to 3,500 housing unites, 104,000 square feet of retail, and 6.3 acres of public open space. The final Environmental Impact Report will be reviewed on Wednesday.

The LSAP considers 3 proposed developments, including a 328-unit development from Westlake Urban.  The Westlake Urban project is proposed to be located adjacent to Ryder Street, which connects Lawrence Expressway and Central Expressway. The EIR states that the County of Santa Clara intends to continue to utilize Ryder Street as an effective onramp for the expressways, and therefore a grade separated pedestrian crossing should be constructed to enable residents to cross Ryder Street.

Ryder: onramp or complete street?

Ryder: onramp or complete street?

This proposal would require residents to take a longer walk, including an uphill grade, to get to retail locations, to the train station, and anywhere outside the development itself.  In their comment letter on the EIR, the developer says that they would consider an overpass to be an “unattractive eyesore that would divide the neighborhood”.

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This concern was raised in letters from VTA staff, Westlake Urban, and Friends of Caltrain. These letters encouraged the City of Santa Clara to work with the Santa Clara County Expressways to enable Ryder to function as a neighborhood street for residents, with safe, direct pedestrian crossings with high-visibility crosswalks, and a squared off intersection enabling drivers to see pedestrians and to travel at a speed that will reduce risk to pedestrians.  A pedestrian-friendly approach would better suited a development intended to foster reduced driving, and increased use of walking, bicycling, and transit.

However, the Final EIR defers to the County Expressway program’s interest in utilizing Ryder Street as primarily an expressway onramp, despite serving as a neighborhood street with residential development under the Lawrence Station Area Plan.   Santa Clara County’s Measure B did not include a “complete streets” requirement for expressways.  The Ryder proposal is an example of the risk of car-centric designs that contradict goals to improve the environment, safety, and health with walking, bicycling, and transit use.

If you agree that a transit-oriented housing project should be directly and safely accessible by walking and bicycling, it would be helpful to communicate this message to the Planning Commission, Staff, and City Council.

A few other issues to note, if you agree.

The final Environmental impact seemed to support stronger TDM goals (20%) in line with the city’s Climate Action Plan, with reporting to the city, but it was not clear that reporting will be public.  It is important for reporting to be public so residents can see that the transit-oriented development is reaching its goals of reducing car trips and increasing sustainable transportation.

However, the final EIR declined to allow parking at the lower level proposed in the Sunnyvale Lawrence EIR (as requested by Sierra Club and Friends of Caltrain), and also declined to support increasing the share of below-market housing to greater than 10%.  Too much parking in a transit-rich location can encourage more people to drive.  And providing affordable housing near transit is especially helpful to the budgets of low-income households who can lower household transportation costs, and are even more likely to use transit.

If you are able to attend, the meeting is at Santa Clara City Hall, 1500 Warburton Ave, Santa Clara, at 7pm.  Please let us know how it goes.

If you are unable to attend but can write a letter, that would be helpful. Letters can be sent to the Planning Commission at PlanningCommission@santaclaraca.gov, with a copy to planner John Davidson, JDavidson@santaclaraca.gov, and feel free to copy adina.levin@friendsofcaltrain.com.