By Meghan Hall
It is obvious that development has exploded across the Bay Area—and so has traffic. Cities are grappling with how to effectively move people in and around the Bay Area amidst worsening traffic and travel conditions. Infrastructure plans are becoming a critical part of navigating the issue of transit, and for the City of San Jose, they are becoming an important component of Urban Village Plans. Over the summer, the City of San Jose kicked off its efforts to begin piecing together a North First Street Transit Village Plan in an effort to create not just a vibrant business corridor, but lay the groundwork for safe and effective pedestrian-, cycle- and shuttle-oriented transportation.
“The North 1st Street Local Transit Village is envisioned to be a vibrant, multicultural, and well- connected community that promotes local businesses and amenities, provides affordable housing opportunities, integrates community gathering and open spaces, preserves existing historic assets, and offers a well-connected and safe transportation system,” states public documents.
North First Street is an important arterial through San Jose, traversing almost the entire northern part of the city, beginning in Alviso—home to a growing number of big-brand companies such as Rambus, Google, Novel and more—all the way to downtown.
The North Street Local Transit Village Plan will focus on a specific segment of North First Street, from Interstate 880 to a block just north of Saint James Park, and downtown San Jose on E. Julian Street. Part of the North First Street Urban Village, the Transit Village Plan will span six neighborhoods: Vendome, Civic Center, Hyde Park, Jackson/Taylor and Hensley. The corridor is currently home to 1,120 san Jose residents, with a General Plan capacity of 1,678 new housing units and 756,000 square feet of commercial space. According to the City of San Jose, 333 dwelling units have been entitled under the General Plan.
In terms of public transportation, the VTA Light Rail Network has two stops in the Transit Village along the green and blue lines at Civic Center and Japantown/Ayer. By 2026, the BART extension to downtown San Jose will pass several blocks south of the North First Street Urban Village. AMTRAK and Caltrain routes sit directly to the west of the site. The 181 Rapid Bus Line also travels down North First Street, and bus lines 65 and 73 have stops along the corridor as well.
The North First Street Village Plan has established several guiding principles based on community feedback. The first is to create a dynamic business corridor with ample gathering and open spaces, one that promotes local businesses and encourages sidewalk activation through high-quality urban design and streetscape improvements. However, in providing these improvements, city officials hope to maintain the multicultural environment characteristic of North First Street and promote an inclusive, mixed-use community that preserves historic assets and access to affordable housing. Layering on top of both those is the pivotal transit component, in which the City hopes to establish a well-connected, multimodal transportation system that promotes citizens to walk, bike, drive and take public transit.
Thus far, community outreach efforts, which began in June, have identified several constraints and opportunities when it comes to transit at various levels. When considering pedestrian transit, the City noted that there are long distances between marked, legal crossings and that widening sidewalks as well as improving intersection design can contribute to pedestrian safety. At a cycling level, the City recognized the need to reallocate space for cyclists, given slim right-of-way-widths that are currently hampered by both light rail and property lines, while State Route 87 presents as a physical barrier to east-west travel across the North First Transit Village.
And when the City examined public transit, it acknowledged something that many Bay Area commuters already feel: there is simply not enough. Transit on North First Street is slowed by traffic, but the North First Street Transit Village lacks a bus route heading south on North First Street toward downtown, and current high-capacity transit has not historically been well-leveraged.
The City of San Jose has held two visioning works thus far, the first in June and the second at the end of October. A third workshop is planned for the end of this year, after which City officials will begin working on a formal plan. The City hopes to have the North First Street Local Transit Village Plan drafted and before the Planning Commission in the winter of 2021, after which staff will seek City Council approval.