The Silicon Valley is a hotspot for techies from around the globe, funneling into the Bay Area with some of the world’s best talent and skill. And as more techies move to San Francisco and the surrounding areas of San Jose, Palo Alto, and others are plagued with gentrification, rising rent prices, and increasingly worsening traffic. To make matters worse, the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) that was planned for the El Camino Real has just been scrapped, meaning that traffic congestion in San Francisco and the Bay Area will continue to rise and commuting times will skyrocket.
In 2014, Citylab reported with excitement that commuting on the El Camino Real would be cut significantly with the release of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority’s draft BRT plan. The initial plan intended to connect San Jose with Palo Alto, near where Facebook is situated in Menlo Park, passing through Mountain View, which is home to Google. The proposed line on the El Camino Real BRT was supposed to be 17.6 miles (28.3 kilometers) long, and was supposed to be as fast as car transport by 2018. Nearly four years later, the plan has officially been scrapped.
According to officials, the project, which had a projected cost of $223 million, was cancelled primarily due to the failure to garner sufficient financial and political support from local politicians. The lack of support for the project – not to mention direct opposition to it – the latest of which was expressed by the Sunnyvale City Council, was due to the fact that the project was too ‘impractical.’
The failure of the El Camino Real BRT plan reflect the dire need for alternative transport in an area of the US that is home to two of the United States’ most congested cities. Nearly three-fourths of Bay Area workers currently commute in single-occupancy vehicles (SOVs); only 28 percent of recent development of offices in the Bay Area are within a 0.5 mile (0.8 kilometers) radius of regional transport. And as long as tech corporations continue to develop their headquarters closer to talent, which is concentrated in the Santa Clara Valley, more popularly known as the Silicon Valley, congestion and commute times will continue to rise.
There are, however, alternatives to the growing dependence on SOV for commuting to and from work in the Silicon Valley and the Bay Area. Currently, there are six means of transport available to commuters in the Bay Area, which vary between the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), public bus system, light rail, trains, ferries, and cable car. But, according to transit app Moovit, 78 percent of commuters in the wider San Francisco area and Bay Area spend more than two hours on public transit, meaning that the infrastructure in place isn’t sufficient to reduce commute time and traffic congestion.
Drivers in San Jose, on the other hand, experienced a whopping 144-hours in congestion-related delays on the roads in 2016, which explains why the Bay Area ranked fourth for drivers experiencing the most hours sitting in congestion during peak times in that same year. The El Camino Real BRT system that the City of Sunnyvale rejected would have decreased commuting time by 40 minutes had it materialized.
According to Wired, companies are being called on to make more concessions in positioning their companies in the Bay Area in order to make commuting easier for employees. In 2015, Samsung commissioned a relatively “open” headquarters in 2015 that engages the public outside of the premises; however, Samsung is an exception. Allison Arieff, the editorial director of the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Research Association (SPUR) told the online magazine that fixing traffic congestion and decreasing commute times “take[s] time and can’t be fixed with an app.” She joined calls to get private companies more engaged in working to drastically shrink commuting times by reconsidering how company headquarters affect workers’ commutes and traffic congestion overall.