Tuesday: Should Mountain View trench its pedestrian-friendly main street? Or close the train crossing to cars?

Should Mountain View trench its pedestrian-friendly downtown main street? Or should it close the train crossing to cars?   On Tuesday, Mountain View City Council will review the options to address the Caltrain crossing at Castro, Moffett, and Central Expressway in a study session starting at 5:30pm.

Change is needed, because transit center usage is expected to more than double over the next decade, and more frequent rail service will result in gates coming down about every 4 minutes.


Two of the options separate the roads from the tracks – one lowers Castro and Moffett, and another option would lower Castro/Moffett and Central Expressway also.    The other option would close Castro Street to cars across the tracks, and to steer drivers to the nearby Shoreline overpass (see community meeting slides below).

For visitors to downtown Mountain View, the effect could be a chasm next to the outdoor seating.  For businesses, how many customers today arrive by seeing a sign on the other side of the 2-lane street and strolling across to the enticing looking restaurant or store?


The option to trench Castro might be less bad for pedestrians and businesses if a pedestrian plaza is added over part of the trench, however this option isn’t illustrated.

At first glance, one might think that closing Castro to cars would be the most disruptive option.  But the city’s data shows that only 20% of drivers get to Mountain View downtown by driving across the Caltrain tracks.   Based on rough napkin math (see sources below), this implies that less than 10% of people get to Mountain View downtown by driving across the tracks.  So it might work out ok to divert 10% of people to other routes, while making biking, walking and transit more convenient.


People attending a community information session asked about options raising or lowering the tracks. Because Stevens Creek is nearby, the tracks would need to go under the creek, which would be deep, steep, and expensive.  Because the Shoreline overpass is nearby the tracks could not be raised very much, though a slight elevation increase might help with street connectivity.

There is more information that would be needed to inform a final decision, including:

  • The effect of the project on Castro Street near the transit center, which is currently one of the city’s more popular public spaces and thriving business areas
  • The circulation and safety effects for all modes of travel, including walking, bicycling, wheelchair use, shuttles and buses, and drivers
  • The route and pedestrian/bicycle access for North Bayshore shuttles and possible future transit connection
  • The circulation and safety effects on a variety of routes, including accessing the transit center from the North side of Moffett, and for pedestrians and cyclists using Shoreline
  • The overall impact of diverting the 10% of visitors who arrive at downtown by driving across the tracks, considering other route and mode choices
  • An illustration of the option with the plaza, including the area that would be adjacent to a trench
  • The relative costs of the options (closing Castro would be the least expensive, even considering adding a ramp from Evelyn to Shoreline, and adding a bike/ped crossing of Central)

For the overall goals for downtown access and place planning, it would be helpful to have an overall picture of current and anticipated mode share, for visitors and residents, commuters, and transit users. (Because downtown is a great pedestrian place, there is substantial overlap). This would help put ideas about access and parking into context, just as the overall picture is context for North Bayshore planning.

Notes.   The staff report shows that 80% of drivers get to Mountain View downtown by a route other than driving across the tracks.  In addition, the staff report shows 12,000 people using Caltrain and light rail today. According to the Caltrain electrification EIR, and about half of Caltrain passengers arrive by car, with 30% parking and 20% being dropped off.  Another recent traffic study showed 17,000 average daily trips further up Castro at Mercy.  The Pedestrian Master plan shows about 4,000 daily pedestrians at Castro and Villa (page 68, extrapolated) though it doesn’t show how many walked from home/work or arrived by another mode.   With all of this data, it is reasonable to conclude that less than 10% of *people* get to downtown Mountain View by driving across the tracks.  

Update: here is a link to a comment letter from Mountain View Coalition for Sustainable Planning.