Study: Tech Companies Should Move Near Public Transit

Silicon Valley prides itself on innovating products and culture, but the industry’s growth in the Bay Area perpetuates suburban sprawl and drawn-out commutes.

That’s according to a new study by SPUR, a local nonprofit that studies urban planning. The report titled “Rethinking the Urban Campus,” found that barely 20 percent of the region’s tech companies lie within a half-mile of public transit. As a result, more than 86 percent of people in Santa Clara County—the most populous and job-rich part of the Bay Area—drive alone to work.

“Recent growth is not reshaping the region,” the authors write. “It is reinforcing existing patterns … where most jobs are in auto-dependent places away from rail.”

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From the 1950s on, low-rise office parks replaced fruit orchards and pastures, turning Santa Clara Valley into the interminable sprawl of the present.

“This environment emerged in an era of wide-open spaces, cheap land and easy mobility by car—an era that is long past,” the study notes. “Today that same environment, built for near-term expedience, is expensive, congested and ubiquitous. Nightmarish commutes and soaring home prices are taking a toll on the Bay Area’s prized quality of life, challenging its long-term competitiveness.”

Despite policy efforts to cluster jobs near transit hubs, recent development largely takes the same shape of a 20th century corporate campus or cloistered office park surrounded by expansive parking lots. Apple in Cupertino, Facebook in Menlo Park and Google in Mountain View all lie more than three miles from the closes train station.

“The result is familiar and disappointing for the region’s performance on transportation, health and environmental measures as consumption of land, car congestion and time wasted in traffic all continue to rise,” the study notes.

Though it’s the largest city in the nine-county region, San Jose has added relatively little office space—virtually none of it near train stations. However, the study does cite Samsung’s Silicon Valley headquarters in north San Jose as an example of smart growth. The two 10-story towers with ground-flood shops and cafes sits adjacent to a light rail station on North First Street.

“Because Samsung owns the property, it was not subject to the speculative calculus that has prevented many other projects from embracing the urban ideal,” according to the SPUR report.

North San Jose overall ranked poorly in terms of walkability, however. With only three transit stops, 84 percent of the 14,500 workers in that area still commute by car alone.

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With so many tech workers commuting from San Francisco to offices in the South Bay or along the Peninsula, many of the biggest companies offer free shuttles that span the distance or simply ferry people to and from the nearest transit hub. But those private buses get bogged down in traffic, making the train a more convenient alternative. Another option: convince people to relocate.

After adding 20,000 hires this spring, Google announced plans to move 6,000 workers from Mountain View to Sunnyvale because of traffic concerns. Like other leading tech companies, Google also rewards employees for ditching their cars.

But incentives alone cannot overcome decades of haphazard development. Silicon Valley cities haven’t built enough housing to meet demand. Builders as well as the California Department of Housing and Community Development blame the shortfall on regulations, permitting costs and diminishing public resources. Another challenge is community opposition and legal opposition to more sprawl and increased density.

Meanwhile, trains grow increasingly crowded and funding to modernize them remains uncertain. Plans to electrify Caltrain hit a snag when the U.S. Department of Transportation held off on approving federal funding for the upgrade.

BART, which connects the Tri-Valley and East Bay to San Francisco, is stretching southward. A station in San Jose’s North Valley is close to complete and two more stops are expected to open by 2026.

Click here to read the SPUR study.

Jennifer Wadsworth is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Newspaper. Email tips to [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

10 Comments

  1. I hear that train a coming, but you won’t need transportation for illegals and H1B visa hawkers!!!!!!!!
    “Justice Department issues warning to sanctuary cities in California, 7 other states
    The Justice Department today fired an opening shot in the Trump administration’s crackdown on so-called sanctuary cities, sending letters to eight jurisdictions asking for proof that they are cooperating with immigration enforcement, and indicating they are at risk of losing federal grants.
    The letters went to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, as well as officials in Chicago, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Miami, Milwaukee and New York.”
    Mayor Slick Liccardo got his letter yesterday. Gee, where will you get your settlement money for your Police misconduct and shooting??????????????????????????????????????????????/
    Jack Slade
    The Saratoga Renegade

    • Even though many people assume that the federal government’s relationship to the states, counties, and cities is a master to slave relationship, local governments have rights and are not completely subordinate to the feds or the president (who is not a king, but who must obey the laws of the land.) The Constitution does not allow the federal government to dictate how local governments must spend their local tax dollars. We pay for local law enforcement and we cannot be compelled to spend this money on federal law enforcement. My understanding is that local governments may opt to do so, but cannot be required to do it.

  2. LOL, Oh Jennifer looks like you didn’t read the master plan 20 years ago. That plan was to tear down those dirty old factories, nice neat business parks and suburban blight and replace it with hi density environmentally friendly housing
    for the workers that were coming to take all those low paying factory jobs needed buy the new industry that would emerge as soon as there was enough cheap housing.
    That housing was to be built within 1/4 mile of transportation corridors like freeway, main roads, like El Camino and Capitol Ave and light rail etc. 1/4 mile being the limit people would walk to someplace like work of a shopping mall.
    20 years fast forward we have smart phones, smart cars, Amazon, stay at home offices and welfare for those who don’t want to work and free buses for those who do. We have just what the master builder wanted and you’re just now realizing the new socialist enviro Nazi were a bunch idiots.
    So tear it all down man or build the factories on top of the houses because the new workers don’t want to walk so far.
    Shouldn’t BART and light rail go to places like all the airports, meet at light rail, Big Rail, and bus stations.
    Wow who dropped that ball?…………………………………………………………………………………… Same old same old!

  3. > Click here to read the SPUR study.

    Jennifer:

    Tell SPUR to go to hell and take you off their distribution list for all their stupid studies and press releases.

    If your want to read stupid studies and press releases from pointy headed know-it-all activists and bureaucrats just visit the fish markets or pet stores at Berkeley or Stanford and check out the fish wrappers or bird cage liners.

  4. Sure. Great. Wonderful Idealist idea.
    Make the tech companies build next to transit centers. I’m sure that, in the same way that overpaying the “Arts Community” to paint several electrical boxes around town has transformed San Jose into the world’s most beautiful city, appeasing these tech giants by giving them tax breaks for locating next to transit centers will totally offset the congestion, traffic, and overcrowding that results from our sanctuary city and affordable housing policies and will make a positive, noticeable difference to the average middle class San Josean.

    • Perhaps we should put beds and showers in our Tech companies then people will be home and at work and never have to leave, or we could outsource all the jobs to India and Mexico then and we could get rid of commuting all together. We could ban cars and everyone would move back to the USA .
      There I have solved another problem!

  5. Lets face it. The entire zoning issue comes down to 2 things. The Leadership group, Rotary, Chamber, rule the roost. The General Plan of San Jose has been corrupted by rezoning applications decided by the highest bidder. Combined with the overwhelming power of the high density housing developers with the Tech industry’s demand for storage of their economic units (formerly known as humans) is what its all about. The irony to me is Mayor Sam in his 1st downtown neighborhood newsletter upon becoming a councilmen lamented that rezoning industrial parcels to housing negatively impacted the City’s revenues. Just look at what is going on and has already occurred on San Carlos Ave. All chances for enhancing that neighborhood have been destroyed. Transit corridors? What a joke. Few new condo-ites use public transit as stated about.

    • > All chances for enhancing that neighborhood have been destroyed. Transit corridors? What a joke.

      The reason that “central planning” and “urban planning” never work out is that people, societies and urban design are much, much more complicated than human beings can grasp, no matter how many urban planning degrees you have from MIT or NYU. People and businesses just don’t make the choices that the urban planners NEED them to make for their neat little plans to look like the desktop mockup.

      It’s the same reason Dr. Frankenstein created a “monster” instead of a decathalete-rocket scientist- brain surgeon. He just didn’t fully understand how everything worked.

      It’s the same reason people are queasy about genetically modified foods and geo-engineering to stop global warming. Instinct and experience prompt people to ask the question “what could possibly go wrong”, ant the first answer that comes to mind is: “A LOT”.

      • I suppose we could send them all Sim City and let them work out the problems on that before they screw up millions of dollars of real taxpayer funds.

  6. A bit more critical thinking will be refreshing. SJ’s two largest employers (Santa Clara County & Cisco) are served by VTA rail stations, Virtually all large employers offer free shuttle buses to Caltrain & VTA bus & rail, public transit discounts, plus showers & racks for those that bike. The Milpitas Great Mall is served by VTA rail. Yet their parking lots remain full while free Park-N-Ride lots have ample space. Our public transit is sparsely utilized and paratransit vans are rarely occupied.

    VTA fares cover only about 12 cents of every dollar they spend.

    Instead of more failed “If We Build It, They Will Come” hucksterism and profligate spending, isn’t it time to do what works?

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