El Camino Real has a noble history. It was the “royal road” that connected the Franciscan Missions in California. But now the street, which links 19 cities between San Francisco and San Jose, is filled with oil-change shops and strip malls. The Grand Boulevard Initiative wants to change that. A group of counties and cities are teaming up to turn El Camino into a pedestrian-friendly street reminiscent of Paris’ Champs Elysees. We’ll discuss the vision for the new El Camino Real and potential roadblocks.

Russell Hancock, president and CEO of Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network and co-chair of the Grand Boulevard Task Force
Kevin Connolly, transit planning manager for the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority
Dena Belzer, president of Strategic Economics, an urban economics consulting firm
Corinne Goodrich, manager of strategic development for the San Mateo County Transit District and program manager for the Grand Boulevard Initiative

  • Fred

    El Camino Real is one of things I suggest everyone avoid when visiting the Bay Area. It’s mile after mile of stop and start, stop and start, un-synchronized red lights, which is bad enough without cars, but El Camino is a nightmare when there is a lot of traffic. It is a pedestrian-unfriendly, congested narrow road blighted with run-down buildings, crappy malls and unless small shops.

  • Jim in Pacifica

    What do your guests think about the part of ECR that runs through Burlingame? It is relatively narrow and residential, and is tree-lined, so it may be a choke point for any grand plan.

    • Rogier

      Agreed, its one big bottle neck.

    • TrainedHistorian

      That is problem with the way the proposal is being presented. That is one of the attractive stretches of Camino Real because of the trees & churches. Also there is quite a bit of high-density housing there already. It would be a shame if the trees had to be removed in order to make a “boulevard.” That would not be so “grand.”

      • Geryon

        First, it’s not a proposal, it’s an initiative. Second, one of the main ideas about the GBI is that it will be different in every community. No one is trying to take the trees out of Burlingame.

        • TrainedHistorian

          When I said “proposal” I was using the word loosely, not legally. Fine, I’ll call it by it’s technically correct name of “initiative.” Local control does not solve the problem of pressure to remove greenery for efficiency reasons; if the locality decides that it’s in their economic interest to remove old, large trees to widen a road.they’ll do it. “No one is trying to take the trees out of Burlingame.” Not yet,.. But it could well happen. particularly as many people (witness Rogier below) perceive that stretch of El Camino Real as no more than a “bottleneck.”

          My experience in the Bay Area: is that developers lobby to develop the small amount of green space, or high-income residential or commercial first instead of redeveloping already paved or otherwise underutilized lots in less expensive areas (“brownfielding”)…(Dreyers in Oakland kept trying to build a skyskraper office in low-rise residential Rockridge, rather than use one of the many empty high-rise office buildings in downtown Oakland. Oakland’s Kaiser for years tried to build anew on park space rather than expand their existing campus into a underutilized and then shuttered mall across the street), And when older, larger trees stand in the way of some well-connected new development, it happens., (E.g. UC Berkeley stadium).

  • Bob Fry

    Mexico City is way ahead of us in these matters. Many years ago they widened transit roads, dedicated bus lanes, etc. Glad to hear of this effort, it’s a shame that nowadays even modest changes to our infrastructure takes decades to accomplish (if it ever gets done).

  • lin

    I’m working with a group developing a walking route between the 21 California missions. It’s almost impossible to walk along El Camino Real: most of it has become freeway or major retail corridor. Several folks I know have walked the entire route, several more are planning in the near future. I’ve walked from San Rafael to San Luis Obispo and will be continuing south next year. I would be very interested in connecting with your guests. We have some common interests and might be able to work together. The interest is snow balling — this could become something similar to the Camino de Santiago in Spain.

  • Rogier

    Increase traffic flow:
    No Left turns
    Bus stop in tuns outs.

  • Ehkzu

    The unspoken assumption in this discussion is that the Bay Area would be a better place to live if its population doubled. Or tripled. Or quadrupled, since no one ever talks about any limits whatsoever.
    It has already doubled since I moved here, and when I did no one wanted it any denser except for developers and building trades unions. But those special interests won and they still hold the bullhorn. However, if you held a plebiscite on whether today’s residents want the Bay Area to become Manhattan West, how do you suppose they’d vote?
    Beautificaton yes, densification no. Want to add high rise apartment buildings along El Camino? Fine. Reduce housing elsewhere to compensate.

    • Rufus

      If the population doubles, I expect the cost of housing will quadruple. The housing cartel i.e. all those owners who illegally collude to maximum rental prices — are always looking for a new excuse to raise rents.

  • Lenore

    I agree. The issue of poorly synchronized lights has not been addressed. This is what makes El Camino the route to avoid if one is going more than 1 or 2 miles. Why can’t this be fixed?

  • TrainedHistorian

    Higher density housing on already existing parking lots and already developed but underutilized commercial lots would be good: . “brownfielding.” But the few stretches of green open space should NOT be developed into high density housing. Unfortunately in the Bay Area most developers lobby to develop the open space first rather than the already developed lots..

  • Grand Boulevard Initiative
    Dave, we have beautiful Heritage trees on the median now which the VTA dedicated BRT would have removed if it was implemented as VTA recommended. We need to look at more BRT alternatives.
    MV is doing MAJOR modern revitalization at San Antonio Center with retail, housing and commercial. Note today in MV , a lot of people live along ECR today– it is quite dense in Mountain View over 12000 persons per square mile near Escuela Ave nearby San Antonio Center. The City of Mountain View is an active member of the Task Force and have been since the beginning.
    We also have been looking at separated bike lanes.
    Hi Russ, Corinne, Kevin,
    Councilmember Laura Macias, Mountain View

  • norman

    I hear ‘make it pedestrian-friendly’…

    Make it bike-friendly. Wider sidewalks won’t get people out of there cars. El Camino will never compete w the freeway but, combined w public transit, bikes will be the most likely way to utilize this corridor -rather than just making a pretty street that people still only drive thru

    • Ehkzu

      El Camino is the only way to ride a bicycle up & down the length of the Peninsula. All city bike paths and bike lanes aren’t coordinate with those of adjacent cities, so you wind up at dead ends, having to retrace your steps, or taken on huge detours if you use them.
      And El Camino is a dangerous, unpleasant place to ride a bike, yet without any intercity alternatives.

  • Guest

    Why bus? Why not light rail?

    • Geryon

      Light rail is much more expensive than BRT.

  • Ehkzu

    “Every one of these decisions will be made by city planners”
    Actually, most of these decisions will be made by developers, with the enthusiastic support of building trade unions and city council “new urbanist” ideologues, then rubber-stamped by city planners.

    • Exactly. This is vividly apparent in Palo Alto SE of the Charleston intersection, where the buildings come right up to the sidewalk, and continued on Alma St at Meadow. Palo Alto and Menlo Park are proceeding pell mell towards turning ECR into another Wilshire Blvd (LA).

  • lin

    having walked the whole way from San Francisco to Santa Clara, I can say that El Camino goes from gritty to georgous. sometimes there’s no sidewalk at all, or the pedestrian route is unfriendly and longer than the car route.

  • Gail

    I am in no way supportive of BRT down El Camino. The idea of a BRT seems to assume that everyone wants/needs to travel up and down El Camino in a straight line to work, which is not where the technology and other large companies are located.

    You have compared the BRT to the Light Rail, but think of where the light rail runs in downtown San Jose – those streets are not appealing: of the lanes which are cut off just for the trains, it is unsightly and it blocks the store fronts of the businesses along those routes. Those streets look like a ghetto! Do we really want that for El Camino?

    • The Light Rail tracks are unsightly? Are you kidding? 1st and 2nd street look 100x better since they reworked the streets for Light Rail. No ghetto here, even though many of the people on the street are no what you’d call high income. Take a look at streetview of 2nd street: http://goo.gl/maps/1QkCA

  • William Walker

    The main problem with this discussion is that the two counties can’t even agree on how to move forward with a united vision.

    • Geryon

      Not true. The two counties are united under the Grand Boulevard vision.

  • John Tweed

    The bicycle is one of the most efficient transportation methods for routes up to 5miles. Yet there’s no joined up thinking on bicycle access and usage. I welcome this initiative.
    One failing that planners make is to fail to recognise that if you want people to get on their bikes, then you need to give them places to keep their bicycles at home. Most of the high density developments have nowhere to keep a bicycle safely.

  • SlySy

    This is such a perfect example of the obtuseness of bureaucracy, that looks at the finger and misses the elephant behind it. The vast majority of people in the area use the car? Trust a bureaucrat to suggest taking away lanes to traffic and dedicate them to buses, you know, those things that nobody uses. There are roads with potholes as big as my head? Trust a bureaucrat to completely ignore that real problem and sink the money in something non essential like… oh I don’t know… planting trees.
    They want people to walk on El Camino? To see what? Car washes? Gas stations? Or maybe to breathe the salubrious exhaust fumes of all the cars that will be crawling along 2 lanes of traffic that used to be 3? All the people on the show should be fired immediately con incompetence and sheer stupidity. These are the folks handling my hard earned money?

  • Jeffrey Nero

    Heres whats wrong with this concept this is a highway busses will not replace the cars and traffic will move to outher routes like residential streets. Packing people, familys into high occupancy communitys will results in familys moving away, when they can, and a large renting population. that will bring with it more cars and higher crime rates. this is your towns we are talking about.Its a happy dream to some polls and develipers but in the end it will be anouther failed urban experiment and all at the communitys expence.

  • I like the new visions for El Camino Real. Bike, transit, pedestrian and density. To the callers who fear the loss of eclectic character of ethnic restaurants and so forth, I also agree. That can be a problem especially if improvements push up property values and drive out those kind of places that might find it more affordable now. I’m for the improvements, but I hope they strive to provide affordability as well, at least along parts of the stretch.

  • courvoisier kq napol

    It’s sad that no one commented on the erasure of local culture that would be involved in this project. If El Camino is ugly, then what is pretty? A lineup of beige, box strip malls filled with franchises is the going standard. Having grown up on the Peninsula, it’s so sad to watch Silicon Valley replace the original population with its planned engineering pool from abroad. No one discusses this displacement of American workers and locals. Even better, has anyone asked why silicon valleyers are in such a hurry to get to San Francisco? Is it because Santa Clara County has made itself so incredibly sterile in culture and architecture that everyone wants to leave as soon as they get off? I have met no one, in 50 years, that is in a hurry to get to San Jose. I would REALLY appreciate feedback.

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