Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Wednesday Wishlist: Light Rail Tunnel

The Achilles heel of the VTA system is unfortunately the Downtown segment where trains slow to a 5mph crawl. My wishlist item for the week is to move all of the light rail track in the Downtown area underground. Some benefits:

  • It would cut ~5min from most light rail commute times
  • Downtown would be safer as patrons wouldn't have to look over their shoulder for trains
  • It would open up key spaces along 1st and 2nd St. (perhaps for kiosks)
  • Less noise (wheel squeaking and bells)
  • Traffic flow could be improved for cars, bicyclists, and pedicabs
  • Easier to keep homeless people from using it as a free transit system
A project like this would have massive costs, but perhaps some of those could be shared with the BART tunneling project. What do you think? Would you miss seeing/hearing the trains?

San Jose LRT


  1. I'm not sure if I would like that. I would definately miss seeing the trains coming and going, and moving the trains underground would be very disruptive (putting stations underground etc).

    And then again, anything that's underground always seems to be hella sketchy for some reason. Like all the BART stations in SF.

  2. I think the BART stations in SF are sketchy for a different reason. There are a thousand homeless people right above on Market, a street with huge potential since it hast BART, Light Rail, and Trolleys... yet is one of the most inconsistent thoroughfares I have ever seen. On one block you have Bloomingdales and on the next you have porn shops and people smoking crack.

  3. I prefer it above ground. It would also prevent expansion because of the costs. The picture shows a bigger problem in downtown... The railroad tracks that make the light rail tunnel under the tracks and a block away create the ugliest overpass I've ever seen... The Coleman overpass. Now that should be underground.

  4. it'll never happen. it's a funky design that we're stuck with... while we're thinking big, how about change the routes so you can actually get somewhere.

  5. Josh,
    I say move the tracks off the sidewalks to the streets like the trolley systems of yesterday: a streetcar! This would be similar to the setup they have on Market Street in SF, and the streetcars pretty much move at the same speed as auto/bus traffic. And yes, you could free up all of that 1st/2nd St. sidewalk for kiosks or cafe dining.

  6. Unfortunately trains underground would cost millions of dollars in construction and more millions in disruptions to businesses. VTA recently did a report called a comprehensive operations analysis on it's LRT system to find how limited funding could help boost system performance. You are already seeing the first stages implemented with Express Light Rail from the Ohlone station to Convention Center saving 6-8 minutes for passengers, wifi is also a plus. Check out the report here:

  7. I agree with Chris. I think LR should be extended down 2nd st or Monterey Rd to Alma or even Curtner so that there's access to Spartan Stadium and the Plant. Also it would be nice to connect Downtown with Santa Row/Valley Fair by going down San Carlos. It seems rather elementary to connect major shopping with Downtown.

  8. My top route extension choice would be down San Carlos, connecting Downtown with Midtown, Valley Fair, Santana Row, and potentially even Valco and DeAnza College.

  9. I'd definitely prefer to see more routes rather than under grounding the existing track. The downtown/San Carlos/Stevens Creek route would be tops on my list. It might also be interesting to see a line go down Santa Clara/The Alameda, which could connect downtown to Santa Clara University.

  10. In the early Comprehensive Operations Analysis, the planners considered a subway, but it was eliminated because of cost and disruption to downtown businesses. They also considered eliminating the 1st and 2nd street couplet and consolidating north and southbound service onto first street, while removing the tracks from the sidewalk. Again, this option was eliminated because of construction disruption concerns.

    If you take a look at the COA, VTA has essentially given up on light rail. The two planned extensions to Eastridge and Los Gatos/ SR-85 are described as poor performers. In addition, the proposed Santa Clara Street-Alum Rock line has been converted to Bus Rapid Transit.

    Bus Rapid Transit seems to be the future of local rapid transit in Santa Clara County since VTA is fixated on bringing BART to San Jose at any cost. With money diverted to BART, BRT is replacing Light Rail plans since VTA intends to implement BRT on the cheap (limited exclusive lanes, no off-board fare collection). Take a look at VTA's BRT strategic plan here:

    The San Carlos St. an El Camino corridors slated for BRT will be stuck with half-baked BRT for years to come, while money is diverted to massive BART-to-Berryessa parking garages.

  11. Digging a tunnel seems like over kill. Just put up some barriers like potted plants or something, to keep people from walking in front of the trains. Personally, I'd love LR going down Alum Rock/Santa Clara or down Stevens Creek and San Carlos.

    The real problem with downtown isn't so much LR, but that there's nothing to do there. I'm always struck by how many crappy fast food chains. With the exception of the art museum, I can't think of why I'd want to go there. It's really depressing.

  12. There are also about 100 restaurants worth going to, many with unique offerings like Morocco's, Pho 69, Mezcal, The Mmoon, A Taste of Paris, 71 St. Peter etc. etc. etc.

    You have 2 great comedy clubs, half a dozen performance venues like the Rep and California Theater, dozens of bars and nightclubs, 2 great movie theaters, a ton of SoFA art galleries, First Fridays, live music at dozens of venues... the question is why wouldn't you want to go downtown? =)

  13. Crappy fast food chains? You must be thinking of some other part of town.

  14. JM @ 646 writes "They also considered eliminating the 1st and 2nd street couplet and consolidating the northbound and southbound service onto 1st Street, while removing the tracks from the sidewalk...eliminated because of construction disruption concerns." UGH! This idea would have been awesome! Very similar to the San Diego Trolley as it traverses downtown San Diego through the Gaslamp District; dedicated rails on city streets removed from pedestrian traffic/sidewalks. Alas, I guess we're stuck with the slow moving "Sidewalk-cars" through downtown (whose design idea was that anyway?). Light-rail also makes perfect sense down San Carlos/Stevens Creek out to VF/SR, but again, it looks like we're stuck with BRT for this corridor :o(