Friday, November 14, 2008

Do You Know the Way to San Jose?

This is a new series I've started for the blog profiling transit systems I've ridden and found interesting.

When I was out west at Railvolution a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to ride down to San Jose and spend a few hours there. I have to say I was impressed. I was expecting a car-oriented suburban landscape of office parks, but found that the city has a nice core downtown.

The city has a light rail system which operates along 42 miles of track with 62 stations. The system first opened in 1987, and has been upgraded and expanded since. It is operated by the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, VTA. The LRVs currently used on the system are low-floor. They replaced the original fleet of high-floor LRVs in 2003. Platforms are presently being brought up to allow for level boarding.

Portions of the system still are single-track, but most of the system is double-tracked. Still, I found frequencies somewhat lacking. I had to wait almost 30 minutes for a train at Diridon Station. Ridership seemed to be decent considering the context. Approximately 37,000 people board the system every day, putting it in 14th place for American light rail ridership.

In my opinion, the San Jose Light Rail offers a few notable practices.

Downtown, the line operates in a pedestrian mall-type environment on parallel one-way streets. The picture at top illustrates this. Here, the rails are embedded in a linear-plaza setting, and between trains people walk and bike along the tracks. With street trees planted only feet away from the sides of the vehicles, the catenary wire is almost invisible. (See UMD, it can be done!)

Additionally, ample space for bikes is provided on board. I've ridden many light rail systems, but nowhere can I remember seeing quite so much space allocated for cyclists. This system is definitely bike-friendly, and I found that interesting, because I never imagined San Jose to be a great bike city. Apparently, however, the two-wheeled mode is popular in the Silicon Valley.

Unfortunately, I only had enough time to ride a small portion of the system. I wish I'd had more time to explore, but I suppose I'll be back in the Bay Area eventually.

Segments Ridden:
San Jose Diridon - St. James,
Lick Mill - Mountain View

Stations Visited:
San Jose Diridon,
San Fernando,
Convention Center,
Paseo de San Antonio,
Santa Clara,
St. James,
Lick Mill,
Mountain View

I'm interested in your opinions on this new segment. So comment with the following questions in mind:

1. What other information would you like to see in the segment "Profiles in Transit?"
2. What thoughts do you have on VTA Light Rail?


Michael said...

Matt, I was just there a couple of months ago and had the same impressions about the pedestrian mall. I love this type of segment and hope you have the opportunity to do more.

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

San Jose is probably one of the worst lines in the country. The ridership should be much higher but a lot of it is because it runs through a rediculous amount of office sprawl. Once that changes, it might work better. But for the time being, it's kind of a slow surface option that needs a parallel subway.

295bus said...

As you noticed, San Jose's downtown loop works ok as circulator, and has helped revitalize downtown.

Unfortunately, as a transportation system, the rest of it is mostly a flap, because:

- Downtown is not the main employment center of SJ, and the LR takes pretty roundabout routes to get to where jobs tend to actually be.

- Routes are just annoyingly slow and zigzaggy--in some cases just planned astoundingly stupidly, really.

- Inconvenient connections to CalTrain commuter rail.

- Little effort to plan grown around transit.

People really seem to want to use transit in Silicon Valley; it's too bad the VTA has built them such a lemon.

The newest line runs SW from Diridon station to Campbell. I think it's a bit better than the rest of the system: it runs in a straight line, in a private ROW, goes somewhere logical, is pretty quick, and new development is springing up around stations.