In the last few days, The San Francisco Examiner and other local papers have published stories pointing out that traffic in Silicon Valley has gotten noticeably worse in 2011. The worsening traffic is happening despite the fact that there are still major areas in the Bay Area with vacant office space. And unless you are Google or Apple, there hasn’t been an obvious upturn in high-tech industry hiring either.
The surge in auto trips and congestion has taken its toll especially on Highway 101, running from San Francisco to San Jose. If you are anywhere on that stretch of road during commute hours now on any given weekday, leave plenty of time to get where you’re going. You’ll need it.
The Examiner story points out that local officials are baffled by the return to gridlock in the face of a struggling economy. John Hoang, a local county government association official is even quoted, “We’re scratching our heads with that.”
No one should be surprised here. A trip down Highway 101 (at 40 miles per hour if you’re lucky) yields plenty of answers as the exits click by. This corridor, the main artery through the heart of Silicon Valley, has been the focus for the last ten years of uncoordinated major growth and land use development. What’s ominous is that if all the proposed new growth actually gets built, the current gridlock is going to look mild in comparison.
Let’s take San Mateo as an example. Governed for years by a council that seldom, if ever, rejects any new development proposal, the city has added major growth at the intersection of Hillsdale Boulevard, Highway 92, and Highway 101. This includes a major shopping center and housing development (Archstone’s Park Place), office park (Franklin-Templeton), and, just in the last year, a medical clinic (Kaiser Permanente).
All of this pales in comparison to what will soon come. The city of San Mateo has already approved plans for the development of the massive Bay Meadows project nearby for residential homes, offices and retail uses. Most of the car trips generated by this growth will migrate to just one place for travel north or south: Highway 101.
Just a few exits south of San Mateo, you come to Redwood City where a plan is under review to build the largest housing development on San Francisco Bay since the community of Foster City came into existence a half-century ago. The development is in an area known as the Cargill Salt flats and the proposal is for the construction of 12,000 new homes. From this location, the new residents and their visitors have only one real point of access to the rest of the Bay Area: Highway 101.
Further down the road, you come to Mountain View, home of the 10,000 pound heavyweight – Google. The tech giant has been quietly buying buildings on both sides of Highway 101 to house its growing workforce. And the company has a proposal to develop a 1.2 million square foot campus at the NASA Ames/Moffett Field site which is located – you guessed it – directly off Highway 101.
So when you are crawling along Highway 101 wondering what happened to the days of congestion-free travel, just look out your car window left or right. You’ll see a monument to poor land-use planning and local city self-interest that will guarantee gridlock for the rest of our lifetime. And the only mystery is why no one saw it coming.