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 closest 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.

28 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.

      • Sister_H,

        Actually, the Constitution does have a say in how local governments spend their tax dollars. For example, if a local Mayor decided to spend the country’s tax money to promote local violations of our country’s laws, the feds could step in and show him the error of his ways.

        Likewise, the federal government is not obligated to subsidize a local government that excuses foreigners from abiding by our country’s laws. You are not arguing that our local government is automatically entitled to the taxes paid by the law-abiding citizens in the rest of our law-abiding country, are you? Because that would be crazy talk.

        The next election should be a referendum on the Mayor’s anti-American priorities, don’t you think? If this Mayor is willing to forfeit quite a large annual subsidy on our behalf in order to protect the daily lawbreaking of people who have no right to be here, maybe he should no longer be the Mayor. Maybe he should be behind bars instead. What do you think of that?

  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!

    • Wow–I bet it felt good to have such a nice, cathartic rant! Did you get it all out of your system yet? Or do you want to throw in something about illegal immigrants while you’re at it?

      • X 1971,
        You were 4 years old when I was working in those dirty old factories with illegals and immigrants and citizens that were closed down in the eighties that now have high density housing on them and NOW, how I love this,
        “Employment Development Office”. Formerly know as the “Unemployment Office”. Worse yet we all lost our terrible jobs.

        I went to those public meetings and was told all those wonderful little government euphemisms I just explained to you because you missed it watching Romper Room and Spongebob.

        No I’m not through ranting yet! Shall I take you on a tour?

  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.

      • Actually, “urban planning” does work. Even if you put it in quotes to make it look suspect. Consider, SJOTB; you must like some city, right? Look into how that city runs, and you will find an urban planning department. I know, you think they’re all a bunch of “pointy-headed elitists”. But the irony is that very argument you’re evoking here–that maybe the world is a more complex place than we give it credit for–might be applied to your own Dunning-Kruger-esque dismissal of a discipline that you so clearly know absolutely nothing about.

        • > Actually, “urban planning” does work.

          You got an “A” on your term paper in Urban Planning School, didn’t you.

  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?

    • By your “12 cents on the dollar” metric, VTA works better than roads–what percent of THEIR costs are covered by actual user fees?

  7. Study: Tech Companies Should Move Near Public Transit

    The entirely self-serving SPUR ‘study’ was paid for by a few elitist Social Engineers who believe they know better than the free market. Their Social Engineers were flat wrong: public transportation should move near employment, not vice-versa. As usual, they got it backward.

    If mass transit was such a good idea, it would make much more sense to use buses that could adjust their routes according to changing employment conditions, instead of building extremely expensive rail lines that cannot ever be altered. But without über-expensive trains, how could unions and construction companies cash in?

    Now we’re saddled with a fixed rail system that employers are expected to conform to, even though the cost is at least 8X higher than the heavily subsidized fares. Light rail will always be operated at a monumental loss. Therefore, wouldn’t the taxpaying public be much better off if we simply abandoned light rail, and used buses instead?

    The basic but unspoken premise of the self-appointed Social Engineering contingent is that the proletariat (that’s us) must be forced out of our cars. That’s why we have practically unused bike lanes that take up one-third of our city streets, and ridiculous “urban farms” that benefit only a special few, and a bloated VTA run by incompetent bureaucrats who have zero experience in any real world transportation company, and the rest of this horribly expensive, inefficient nonsense that benefits only a few, while burdening the rest of us who are expected to use their ‘human engineered’ crapola.

    The SPUR “studies” allowed for no real discourse. There was no discussion of any differences of opinion; no other solutions, or any other points of view—even though, as SPUR admits, most people want to drive, and they avoid public transportation. If there were other solutions allowed in this self-serving ‘study’, SPUR’s stupid ideas would go down in flames.

    That’s why SPUR did not allow any reasonable discussion: because most folks don’t want to use VTA, or any of their other Soviet-style public transportation ‘solutions’. Their one and only ‘solution’ is that the public must be forced into using existing public transportation. But that can be acheived only by allowing one point of view in their study, and effectively censoring all others.

    To boil it down:

    1. Government is force

    
2. Good ideas do not have to be forced on others

    
3. Bad ideas should not be forced on others


    4. Liberty is necessary for the difference between good ideas and bad ideas to be revealed

    There was no free discussion, because SPUR’s ‘solution’ cannot withstand scrutiny. They don’t care what the public wants, because their social engineers know what’s best… for the rest of us.

  8. Something to look forward to, Jessie James style robbery of BART passengers in Oakland this weekend by 50 or so non descript Utes as my cousin Vinny would describe them.
    Just makes me want to play Bernard Getts on VTA, NOT!
    ” Well don’t you feel lucky Punk?”

  9. Anybody notice how the Samsung complex features a large multi-storey car park as shown in the illustration. Since everybody going to Samsung is on light rail, what’s it for?

    • Right. It’s not possible that SOME Samsung workers take the light rail and OTHERS don’t. That level of complexity can’t be grokked by us trolls.

  10. “SPUR cited Samsung’s North San Jose office as an example of smart transit-oriented development.”

    Parking structure that is as big as the office building located on a light rail line with thousands of brand new residential units within one mile radius is indeed a very smart use of land….NOT

  11. Yet another reason for companies to stay clear of the Bay Area and for those companies already here to begin their exodus. It wasn’t the tech companies who made this area unlivable, it was the same planners who your article suggests are “experts” on urban growth. Look no further than Palo Alto where they regulated tech companies to the point where many chose to move along. Unfortunately local politicians and undereducated city officials choose to pander to the nonsense of urban growth planners whose meaningless ideas and studies only prove to highlight their ignorance. What a pity!

  12. Oh, great choice of an example. We certainly don’t want to be like Palo Alto. Terrible quality of life there. Which is borne out by their abysmal real estate prices.

  13. Sanjose1971: Guess your idea of paradise revolves around money. Palo Alto’s status has been reduced to a retirement community after the exodus of tech companies. Guess you can tell your friends you paid $2.5 million and got a 2 bedroom house if that makes you feel good about yourself. The tech companies left and they’re not coming back. The same will happen in other Bay Area communities with urban planners leading the way in over regulation. Guess you weren’t around during the dotcom era. Ignorance is bliss!

    • > The tech companies left and they’re not coming back. The same will happen in other Bay Area communities with urban planners leading the way in over regulation.

      1.) “There’s nothing so mobile as rich people.”
      2.) In the age of the internet, “technology” can be done anywhere.
      3.) Even software engineers get tired of living in cars and campers.

      • In “Figure 5″ above, the fastest growing means of transit is “Telecommute”.

        Visualize an affordable house in a low tax state, with no traffic jams, and Constitutional governance.

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