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Mountain View on the Move

San Antonio area headed for trouble? : Residents say new growth creating traffic gridlock


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Increased traffic along San Antonio Road is testing commuters’ patience and raising concerns among local residents.

Some local residents fear the worst when it comes to traffic along San Antonio Road.

“The intersection at San Antonio and El Camino is becoming more like a parking lot,” said Mountain View resident Denise Pinto. “There seems to be more congestion and less movability through the signal light timing. There is absolutely more congestion with all of the new transplants into this area working for the larger corporations.”

Because of its visibility, some attribute increased traffic to the massive Merlone Geier Partners development at San Antonio and El Camino Real. But the rising economy, which has increased demand for jobs and housing, is the more likely cause, city observers said. They believe that the city of Mountain View is slow on the draw to prepare for the new growth.

Merlone Geier’s The Village at San Antonio Center is one of several projects in the pipeline for what the city calls the San Antonio Change Area – a busy mix of retail, office and residential space.

High-density apartments are under consideration for the 420 San Antonio Road and 2580 California St. properties. Target Corp. officials want to tear down the building on Showers Drive and replace it with one twice its size.

“Manhattan-esque” is how one Los Altos resident envisioned plans for multistory office buildings, a high-rise hotel and a movie theater – all part of Phase 2 of the Merlone Geier project, which is currently wending its way through the city of Mountain View’s approval process.

Construction on Phase 1, with its multistory apartments and 65,000-square-foot Safeway, is well underway.

Increased congestion

Although not based on official counts, some residents said they’ve noticed more traffic congestion in and around the San Antonio-El Camino Real intersection since Merlone Geier construction began.

City staff are conducting their own assessment of the current conditions as part of a San Antonio Precise Plan – a document that would provide more direction on how to accommodate the new growth.

“I am definitely seeing more traffic when I come home in the evening,” said Mountain View resident Stephen Friberg, president of the Greater San Antonio Community Association, which has just completed its own traffic study. “The intersection at San Antonio (and El Camino) has longer lines, but I really see the changes if I drive up to San Antonio where the new Safeway is.”

Friberg added that he was also seeing more people try to avoid traffic by cutting past Bruce Bauer Lumber and San Antonio Station on Showers Drive.

Mountain View City Councilman Mike Kasperzak said the traffic growth is more a reflection of the overall improving economy than any one developer. But he acknowledged that planners across the Bay Area are slow to react to growth happening all over the region.

“I personally don’t think everyone involved is doing everything they can,” he said.

Mountain View’s 2030 General Plan, approved last year, notes that the San Antonio Change Area (bounded by San Antonio, El Camino, California and Showers) was an area “the community identified as opportunities for change and enhancement over the next 20 years.”

“The (city’s) growth is in the change areas, where we’ve planned for the growth,” Kasperzak said.

Loud objections

Still, the Mountain View City Council heard some loud objections when members approved Merlone Geier’s Phase 1 in June 2011, before developing the precise plan. And according to city staff, Phase 2 will be likely be approved ahead of the precise plan as well. Opponents want the precise plan developed first.

Friberg’s traffic study, which he co-authored with engineer David Pilling, shows that the San Antonio/California intersection is more heavily impacted, particularly during peak morning and afternoon flows. They’ve recorded 2,500 vehicles every 15 minutes. Their study shows a 20 percent increase in traffic from 2010 to 2013 during peak hours.

What mitigation solutions the city comes up with remain to be seen. But longer term, Kasperzak sees a need for a change in the current car culture. Some employers, such as Google in Mountain View and Stanford University, offer incentive programs for using alternative transportation.

“If companies build free parking, people are going to drive,” Kasperzak said. “But companies that reward employees for not driving can help decrease traffic congestion. We’ve got to find better ways to get (places) other than getting into the car.”

Although widening San Antonio is not a likely option, Kasperzak pointed to potential mitigation measures such as improving the bike-lane system and modifying San Antonio medians.

Mayor John Inks pointed to the city’s use of Transportation Demand Management (TDM), “basically project conditions that limit car trips,” he said. “San Antonio will have TDM and perhaps some shuttle service.”

Members of the Greater San Antonio Community Association are sure to provide input when the city holds its first round of public meetings on the San Antonio Precise Plan in September and October.

Mountain View Associate Planner Rebecca Shapiro said the city’s goal is to complete the precise plan by December 2014.

Friberg said the association would offer the city its own recommendations for mitigation.

“We see the crucial issues as traffic on San Antonio, in San Antonio Center and how it is going to be forced into neighborhoods and side streets all along San Antonio,” he said, along with “growing safety risks for our children in our neighborhoods and walking or biking to schools in Los Altos.”

The Town Crier’s next Mountain View on the Move section, slated for publication Sept. 18, will feature an article on the impact of San Antonio Change Area growth on local schools, including student enrollment and responsibility for addressing such an impact.

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