Following grim report, VTA SR 85 Committee abandons light rail dream

On February 25, the VTA’s State Route 85 Committee reviewed a report with scathing conclusions about the viability of transit on the suburban highway. The report concludes that investments in high-capacity bus rapid transit or light rail would likely unfeasible, due to the low-density, separated land uses on the corridor, though a transit/HOV lane may be worth considering. Given the report’s strong conclusions, the committee members recommended to take a light rail recommendation off the table, though they are apparently still considering median or shoulder bus/HOV lanes.

The report is concise and clear, worth quoting verbatim:

The Travel Market Analysis raises several questions about the potential for a public transit option on SR 85 to be financially sustainable. The limited and directional nature of travel demand and an urban form that is not transit-supportive are significant challenges to achieving a level of ridership that would enable cost-effective operation of public transit particularly any service with a carrying capacity greater than a standard travel lane.

These concerns are rooted in the urban form of the corridor, which lacks the conditions that support transit use such as a dense, walkable, well-connected urban form and a travel market that supports all-day, bi-directional demand. As such, a public transit option on the corridor is only likely to be time-competitive during peak periods and in the peak direction. The market for transit outside at other times and directions is likely to be weak and would likely not justify the cost of operating service…. As such, the travel market for SR 85 transit is likely limited to long trips during weekday peak-periods in the peak-direction.

The urban form surrounding the SR 85 corridor is not transit-supportive. Land uses along the corridor have relatively low-densities compared to established transit corridors. There are simply less people near the corridor which caps the ridership potential of a transit service along the corridor…. The neighborhoods adjacent to SR 85 were designed with the assumption that most trips would be made by private automobile. They were also designed to discourage through-traffic by employing street layouts that feature curvilinear shapes that create indirect paths of travel. An outcome of this design strategy is that walking paths to potential transit stations are generally indirect and long.

As such, a transit guideway that permits public transit and private shuttles would likely not exceed the person-throughput of a general purpose lane. It may be worthwhile to evaluate an alternative that adds a transit/HOV lane to SR 85-perhaps with features that manage entry to ensure high rates of speed. Such a configuration could achieve person-throughput figures approaching 5,000 passengers per hour per lane in high shuttle volume locations.

Following the committee meeting, the next step will be a facilitated workshop including city staff.