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Exploring Ideas: Almaden Valley and Transit Options

With every large transportation agency, evolution and change are the major constants. Not only because planners have to consider the population shifts in the areas they serve, but also because communities evolve in terms of housing and job opportunities. The case of Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority’s (Santa Clara VTA) Next Network program provides a testament to the ever evolving shifts in transportation and urban planning, in which there will indeed be winners and losers in terms of having quality public transportation. This story, however, focuses on one of the main losers of the Next Network program, Almaden Valley in San Jose, and how I want to address that issue first hand.

Current State of Transit

The Almaden Valley currently sees a sporadic level of service in terms of the number of transit lines provided by the VTA. Lines that serve the district directly include:

  • Daily services:
    • Line 63 (San Jose State University – Almaden & Camden via Meridian)
    • Line 64 (McKee & White – Almaden LR Station via Downtown San Jose)
  • Weekday-only services:
    • Line 13 (Ohlone/Chynoweth LR – Almaden & McKean)
    • Line 328 (Lockheed Martin TC – Almaden & Via Valiente via Lawrence)
    • Line 330 (Tasman & Alder – Almaden & Via Valiente via San Tomas)
  • Nearby lines:
    • Ohlone/Chynoweth – Almaden LR line
    • Line 27 (Good Samaritan Hospital – Kaiser San Jose via Blossom Hill)
    • Line 65 (Hedding & 17th – Kooser & Blossom Hill via Downtown San Jose, Leigh)
Maps of Almaden Valley can be seen below, including:

  • A general overview from Google Maps
  • Santa Clara VTA transit map (source)

Next Network and Its Impacts in the Almaden Valley

Based on the VTA’s Transit Operation Performance Report, published in 2014, most of the lines that serve Almaden Valley directly fail to meet the ridership standards. For reference, below is a chart showing the minimum boardings per hour each line has to meet:

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Service Type
Weekday
Saturday
Sunday
Core
​27.7
25.9
24.2
Local
23.6
17.6
18.2
Community
15.7
15
15
Limited
15
No Service
No Service

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And here are the actual figures:

  • Green indicates the figure meets the minimum boardings per hour threshold
  • Red indicates the figure fails to meet the minimum boardings per hour threshold

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Line
Service Type
Weekday
Saturday
Sunday
13
Community
12.9
No Service
No Service
63
Local
18.3
17.3
13.7
64
Core
28
22.1
20.3
328
Limited
12.9
No Service
No Service
330
Limited
15.8
No Service
No Service

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With those figures, Santa Clara VTA, in collaboration with Jarrett Walker, developed Next Network, a plan that aims to:

  • Reduce inefficiencies and losses in the current transportation network
  • Streamline and strengthen the current transit network to attract more riders
  • Address the growing population and congestion issues in Santa Clara County
  • Reallocate limited resources to areas that need transit service the most

As a summary, what the VTA, Jarrett Walker, and county residents decided on was to pursue a transit network featuring 85% Frequency and 15% Connectivity. Known as the 85-15 model, it focuses most of its resources on bolstering transit service on the most popular lines in the network (e.g. Lines 22, 23, 522, 60) while providing “adequate” service on corridors that, if discontinued, will cause mobility hardships for its residents (e.g. Lines 21, 55, 63). This model  will replace the current 70% Frequency, 30% Connectivity model that the VTA has been using for years. To put it in a simplified mathematical perspective, let me illustrate how this works out:

Let’s say I operate a total of 100 buses, which will be spread out among my routes. (Note: this model does not take into account the Spare Vehicle Ratio necessary in case vehicles break down and immediate replacements are needed.) The proportions of vehicles being used to operate the network dramatically change when we tweak one of the factors (either Frequency or Connectivity), such that:

  • More buses can be deployed on the busiest lines during rush hours, resulting in frequency improvements and increased seating capacities
  • Less buses will be allocated to circulate around neighborhoods that still require adequate transit service

As a result, route adjustments will be necessary to reduce inefficiencies and streamline existing services, including line adjustments, line cancellations, and frequency adjustments. In this case, a transition from a 70-30 model to an 85-15 model will result in a significant reduction in the number of vehicles allocated for connectivity (50% cut), which will definitely lead to some routes being adjusted or eliminated completely.

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Model/Type
70-30 Model
85-15 Model
Frequency
70 buses
85 buses
Connectivity
30 buses
15 buses

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In relation to Almaden Valley, the VTA recommended the following as part of its Next Network plan:

  • Lines 13, 328, and 330: to be eliminated
  • Line 63: shorten route to end at Blossom Hill & Meridian instead of Almaden & Camden
  • Line 64: no service change to Almaden LR Station, but reroute in Downtown San Jose

As a result, no bus service will be provided south of Almaden & Coleman on Line 64, and south of Blossom Hill Road on Line 27. See map below (source):

Picture

Almaden Valley Transit Network if Next Network is implemented (sources: VTA, Santa Clara Bureau of Land Management)

Judging by that map, Almaden Valley come Fall 2017 might become a transit desert, meaning residents living further south of Almaden Expressway & Coleman Road will now have to drive all the way out to Almaden Light Rail station or Princeton Plaza (on Blossom Hill & Meridian) if they need to use public transportation. Similarly, residents who need to work in Almaden Valley will now need to either be picked up at Almaden LR Station or use ridesharing like Lyft or Uber to get to south San Jose. That would be contradictory to one of VTA’s goals to “Keep the Valley Green” since it will encourage people to drive even more than they have to rather than using public transportation. This bleak isolation from transit would force residents to think whether it is still worth the money and effort to drive further to get to a bus or light rail, such that it could actually increase congestion along the Almaden Expressway and connecting roads.

Idea: Repurpose a Major Local Line to Replace Line 13

Given that Line 13, a community service between Ohlone/Chynoweth LR Station and Almaden & Via Valiente, will be eliminated, I have floated an idea to Jason Tyree, a planner with the VTA, on the opportunity to extend the current Line 64 to operate along the current Line 13 alignment south of Almaden LR and serve Via Valiente, Camden Avenue, Harry Road, and McKean Road. Some of the advantages I mentioned to Jason about this potential extension would be:

  • It will maintain a semblance of transit service in the Almaden Valley by providing a line that will link it directly with Light Rail and train services, as well as Downtown San Jose and beyond.
  • It will give affected riders a lifeline to travel along Almaden Expressway and connect with the rest of the network through timed transfers at Almaden LR, San Jose Diridon, Santa Clara & 1st/2nd, and many other intersections along the way.
  • It will reduce fears found among Almaden Valley residents that it could become a transit desert, and as such, could actually increase congestion along the Almaden Expressway and neighboring corridors.

Also, with a loss of Limited Stop services, an extension of Line 64 down to Almaden Valley can compensate for any losses made with passengers now having to travel indirectly between their homes and workplaces in Sunnyvale, Mountain View, and Santa Clara.

With the Next Network changes, there will be frequency improvements (translation: more buses on the road) and service alignments designed to increase a transit line’s potential for higher ridership.

How to read:

  • Under all service types, there are comparisons: one is the Next Network frequency, the number in parenthesis is the current frequency on the line
  • Weekday peak runs from around 6am to 9am, and then from around 3pm to 7pm
  • Night frequencies vary depending on mitigating factors on the route (currently, Line 63 southbound has a 2-hour gap between 7:48pm and 9:48pm departing 7th & Santa Clara)

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Service Type
Line 63
Line 64
Weekday Peak
30 minutes (30)
15 to 30 minutes (15)
Weekday Midday
30 minutes (45)
30 minutes (30)
Saturday
60 minutes (60)
30 minutes (30)
Sunday
60 minutes (60)
30 minutes (30)

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A map of the Almaden Valley extension can be seen below, with the black line indicating the proposed route under Next Network, while the light blue showing my extension idea.
With that routing, it will maintain service to several schools and other activity centers in Almaden Valley, including:

  • Leland High School
  • Bret Harte Middle School
  • Almaden Center
  • Jerry Fontana Park

As well as a short walking (or biking) distance to:

  • Almaden Community Center
  • Castillero Middle School
  • Simmonds Elementary School

With the line extension, Almaden Valley residents will still see direct access to Almaden LR station, but it will also gain faster access to:

  • Willow Glen neighborhood
  • San Carlos Street (for Lines 23 and 523)
  • San Jose Diridon Station
  • Downtown San Jose
  • Regional Medical Center

I even thought about keeping the Line 63 routing, with a slight reroute to serve Race LR station instead of using Saddle Rack to get to Meridian Avenue. That way, it will skip the busy interchange with CA-85, and it will save some time by using Fruitdale Avenue. If that route was kept to serve Almaden & Camden, it could have played a role in filling the gap left by eliminating Line 13. But then, it would have potentially increased trip times one-way, making the service more inefficient than necessary.

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