Far too many Bay Area families are struggling with the burden of high housing costs and must endure ever-longer commutes to find a home they can afford. Our region needs more of the right development in the right places to give its residents sustainable, affordable communities close to work, shops, and transit options. The El Camino Real is a street that stretches from San José to Daly City and is a major thoroughfare for cars and more importantly, buses. It also happens to be a location for climate-smart development. For years, Greenbelt Alliance has been working in several South Bay and Peninsula cities along the El Camino Real to transform the corridor into a thriving, sustainable, and inclusive area for residents.
What is Transit-oriented Development?
Transit-oriented development (TOD) is development that is focused on transit and places with access to transit. By including a mix of commercial, residential, office, entertainment, and other amenities, cities are able to attract people and create vibrant, livable spaces.
Some of the benefits of TOD as outlined by the Federal Transit Administration are:
- Increased ridership and associated revenue gains for transit systems
- Incorporation of public and private sector engagement and investment
- Revitalization of neighborhoods
- A larger supply of affordable housing
- Economic returns to surrounding landowners and businesses
- Congestion relief and associated environmental benefits
- Improved safety for pedestrians and cyclists through non-motorized infrastructure
Why specifically the El Camino Real?
In order for El Camino Real to become more healthy and sustainable, it is essential to encourage a mix of new homes and businesses along the corridor. This will create thriving neighborhoods and benefit both residents and local businesses. When residents live near job centers and public transportation, businesses acquire regular local customers because residents can walk to their jobs and businesses, strengthening economic sustainability and reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).
Who else benefits from Transit-oriented Development?
Inclusive and diverse neighborhoods are beneficial to communities at large. They can be created when residents have convenient access to multimodal transit options. This activates sidewalks, reduces noise for pedestrians, and discourages empty and blighted properties. Residents of all ages value convenient access to multimodal transit options, and when homes are built near transit options, it creates inclusive communities for people of all income levels, enlivening empty sidewalks and vacant lots. Community members of all ages and abilities have demonstrated a strong desire for safe, walkable, and bikeable neighborhoods.
What is our vision for the El Camino Real Corridor?
New development and future streetscape improvements should be focused to create nodes of interest and activity, particularly around stations for the VTA Rapid 522 bus and the future BART extension into downtown San Jose and Santa Clara. Particular attention should be placed on strengthening connections to work centers and making El Camino Real a destination. Safe biking and walking facilities can connect people to destinations that are close by or to transit for longer trips. Multimodal transit options will allow people to park once and use other modes of transportation to reach their destinations.
These goals to diversify transportation choices reflect a growing trend, particularly among millennials and seniors, to choose healthy, more sustainable travel options rather than driving alone. They also reflect more housing along the corridor, which makes short trips much more feasible for more residents. High targets are needed to help our local jurisdictions achieve greenhouse gas emission reductions as required by law while improving quality of life along the corridor. The plan should also include effective transportation demand management strategies to reduce vehicle miles traveled, establish interim targets and milestones, and measure and monitor systems to ensure progress.
Furthermore, ensuring that homes are available for a full range of incomes and abilities is critical for creating inclusive and diverse neighborhoods along El Camino Real. For example, Santa Clara County currently has a shortfall of more than 67,000 homes that are affordable to low-income residents. The average rent in Santa Clara for a two-bedroom apartment is currently more than $3,300 per month, far beyond the reach of many families. By explicitly planning for denser, mixed-use, affordable housing along corridors like El Camino Real, we are able to provide more sustainable housing for residents of all incomes.
Proposed specific plans along El Camino Real should remove on-street parking on the corridor in addition to reducing required parking ratios in line with its mode-share targets. Additional transportation demand management strategies may be required, including unbundling of parking costs from rents, allowing shared use of parking structures, and accepting parking-in-lieu fees. With better infrastructure for biking, walking, and transit, and the future of autonomous vehicles, the need for parking is decreasing over time.
What can the future look like?
Together these strategies will provide healthier transportation choices for residents and visitors, reduce traffic and congestion, improve air quality, increase development potential, improve housing affordability, and ultimately, foster a more walkable and bikeable El Camino Real. The vision for El Camino Real needs to meet many goals: improving quality of life, improving sustainability, and providing more housing with a focus on affordability. The plan is a transition from an automobile-centric past to a walkable, bikeable, sustainable future.
Changing the land use along El Camino Real as described makes this future possible. For example, including housing that features multi-family homes at five or more stories reduces water consumption per dwelling unit by 65% compared to single-story detached homes. Adding more housing and denseness also makes transportation work better and reduces vehicle miles traveled, which in turn, reduces fossil fuel emissions and pollution—improving quality of life.
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Photo: El Camino Real by Timothy Kozono