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Facebook Deciding Dumbarton Improvements

SamTrans claims it cannot fit a railway, busway, and multi-use path within the 100-feet wide Dumbarton right-of-way. Photo: Google Maps

Facebook has been calling the shots on which Dumbarton Corridor Transportation Plan projects get prioritized, pushing SamTrans staff to support a bus-way over a bicycle and pedestrian path along the Dumbarton tracks between Redwood City and East Palo Alto. The public has argued vigorously since the draft plan was published in early August that a railway, busway, and bike/ped path can all fit within the 100-feet wide right-of-way.

SamTrans Director of Planning and Belmont Vice Mayor Douglas Kim has commented privately that a multi-use path simply “doesn’t serve Facebook’s needs”, and insisted that a 25-feet wide buffer recommended by the rail freight industry group AREMA applies to Dumbarton Rail, thus ruling out all three modes within the 100 feet right-of-way.

It appears Facebook is betting on motorized traffic to bring its workers to and from headquarters on Willow Road, and has quietly put its thumb on the scales for a new bus-way. The Dumbarton plan includes flyover ramps that would someday shuttle traffic onto and off of Highway 101, just one mile west of Facebook’s buildings on Willow Road.

Last year, when the new Dumbarton study was announced, SamTrans planners and Facebook staff were still boosting the multi-use path concept. But as soon as the draft study was completed, SamTrans has lobbied against a bike/ped path along the tracks. Planners initially assumed a whopping $60 million to construct the four-mile long path, and $120 million annually to maintain it!

Caltrain’s proposed station over Ravenswood Avenue in Menlo Park is 62 feet wide. Image: Caltrain

“There’s a symphony of cognitive dissonance in my head right now,” said SamTrans Board member and Belmont Mayor Charles Stone at the August 2 Board meeting after planners defended their $120 million operations and maintenance cost estimate, citing as a source. “Something about that just seems way out of whack,” said Stone.

In addition to a bogus maintenance cost, SamTrans staff came up with an intentionally bloated $60 million construction cost by assuming overcrossing bridges at Marsh Road, Willow Road, and University Avenue. Instead, people walking and bicycling can simply cross those streets using the same traffic signals as the buses.

The width of pavement needed for a multi-use path is only 12 feet, less than half the width consumed by the proposed bus-way, so cost is hardly the issue.

“The regional travel demand model that we use to generate ridership estimates cannot produce ridership yields for bicycle and pedestrian facilities,” reported SamTrans Principal Planner Mellisa Reggiardo at the August 2 meeting. “Therefore, the path was not compared directly with our other high-capacity transit alternatives.”

The fix has been in from the beginning. Facebook is calling the shots and Facebook doesn’t want a walking and bicycling path along the Dumbarton tracks! Send comments to SamTrans Director of Planning Douglas Kim, (650) 239-6300, and to your SamTrans Board of Directors.