While costly highway improvements are expected to trod along slower than a solo driver in rush-hour traffic, a sub-regional public-private partnership is forming to address congestion by encouraging alternate means of transportation — specifically along State Route 92.
As governments and transit agencies look to the streets and tracks, employers and companies are looking to hop on board the momentum to enhance mobility.
It’s no surprise much of local traffic is being driven by those commuting from their more affordable homes in the East Bay to major job centers along Peninsula. But as significant focus has been geared toward major north-south projects like Caltrain and Highway 101, central San Mateo County officials are looking to draw attention to State Route 92.
The 92 Corridor Alliance is beginning to take shape with Foster City helping to steer the course. The voluntary transportation management association will also include the city of San Mateo; major private and public employers; transit agencies as well as county, state and federal representatives.
“Transportation congestion is a regional problem. A lot of the longer-term projects and solutions that have been discussed are absolutely north-south oriented,” said Commute.org Executive Director John Ford. “There’s the opportunity to look at 92, I think that’s why Foster City and San Mateo have tried to pull resources together. They have some really important major employers between those two cities so the collaborative opportunity is great.”
More than 70 percent of San Mateo County residents drive to work alone and the last five years has been marked by rapid job growth far outpacing commensurate housing construction.
How to resolve “last-mile” connection to mass transit, help smaller employers utilize shuttle programs, encourage more carpooling and make walking or biking safer are a few topics likely to be explored.
Expanding commuters’ network
Collaborating with employers, highlighting new opportunities like mobile apps connecting carpoolers with similar destinations, and finding means to make driving alone less desirable will also be of import, according to Foster City officials.
“Those are not infrastructure solutions, those are the kind of immediate ‘what can we do’ to get the commuters themselves from these various organizations to gain access to a greater network of opportunities,” Ford said.
Major employers that have already signed on include Gilead, Visa, Oracle, Biomed, Franklin Templeton Investments and Zoox. The Foster City and San Mateo chambers of commerce, San Mateo-Foster City Elementary School District and San Mateo County Community College District are also core members.
A crucial opportunity for the alliance will be to learn from one another and leverage resources, said Foster City Vice Mayor Sam Hindi. The city has sought to improve its own streets, enhance pedestrian as well as bicyclist safety and other transportation projects within its own jurisdiction. But addressing the gridlock lining Foster City will require far more than one community’s abilities, he noted.
“We understand we can only do so much in our local community, but we all know this is a regional problem that’s impacting all of us so we need to collaborate,” Hindi said.
As a community surrounded by the Bay, State Route 92 and Highway 101, Foster City has limited transit stops and is greatly affected by commuter congestion. But it also has a number of corporate headquarters and companies with robust transportation demand management plans or shuttle systems that can be shared, Hindi said.
“We want to figure out how to come up with solutions or ideas for how we can leverage what we have, what they have, what San Mateo has, and come up with solutions that can make an impact until the 101-92 [interchange] is addressed,” Hindi said.
One example might be encouraging larger employers with empty seats on their private shuttles to open them up to smaller companies that can’t afford to run their own service. Vanpools and carpools are also a quick way to reduce solo drivers but connecting people with proximate stops at both ends can be a challenge. That’s why expanding the pool of resources by connecting a variety of employers — from biotech to teachers — is key, Ford said.
Dante Hall, Foster City’s assistant city manager, said the group is in the initial stages and the next steps will be to talk about defining the problem, identifying strategies used locally and by others, and consider what gaps could be filled. On Monday, the Foster City Council agreed to proceed with forming the alliance.
“We’re looking to work closely with the businesses to develop a more localized collation,” Hall said.
Ultimately, connectivity is critical in a regional approach and a goal could be linking the alliance’s efforts to larger infrastructure projects, mass transit stops and north-south improvements.
Regional projects in the works
Examples of larger regional mass transit projects include electrifying Caltrain, expanding bus service, bringing Bay Area Rapid Transit further south in the East Bay and extending Caltrain into downtown San Francisco. On San Mateo County roads, much of the focus has been on Highway 101 with projects, albeit still in the very early planning stages, aiming to install express lanes and improve the interchange with State Route 92.
SamTrans is also looking toward the Dumbarton Corridor, the county’s second east-west Bay connection. The transit agency recently completed a study outlining billions of dollars in suggested short- and long-term improvements, including reinstating train service along the defunct rail bridge.
But competition for funding is steep and many of the larger transportation infrastructure projects could take years.
In the meantime, officials are striving to engage the business community to leverage what’s being done in the private sector. The San Mateo County Economic Development Association is doing similar work primarily focused on the north-south corridor through its recently-established Peninsula Mobility Group.
San Mateo City Manager Larry Patterson said companies have a vested interest in transit solutions and collaborating with the various sectors contributing to congestion will be key.
“It’s a problem that local government by itself, or business by itself, or transit agencies by itself cannot solve,” Patterson said. “This issue is going to require some collaboration and innovation to make constructive things happen.”
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