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San Jose: Light Rail Transit Overview

Light Rail Progress · May 2003 (rev. June 2003)

California's Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) currently operates a 30.5-mile, multi-route light rail transit (LRT) system extending from south San Jose through downtown to the northern areas of San Jose, Santa Clara, Mountain View, and Sunnyvale. Service has been operating 24 hours, every 15 minutes during much of the day, and the system carries about 22,500 riders on an average weekday.
[VTA 2003/05/05]

There are 45 convenient stops along the system, including residential areas of South San Jose, Downtown San Jose, San Jose Civic Center, North First Street high-tech area, Paramount's Great America theme park, Tasman Drive high-tech and residential areas, Lockheed Martin, Middlefield Road industrial areas, and Downtown Mountain View. Schedule speed, end-to-end from Santa Teresa to Baypointe, is, for a system routed mainly in street and highway right-of-way, fairly high at approximately 20 mph – and that includes the slow-running segment through San Jose's CBD, with a maximum speed of 10 mph. Schedule speed for the southern segment, from Santa Teresa to the CBD, is even higher, at about 24 mph.
[VTA online schedule 2003/05/05; VTA route distance data 2003/06/02]

The first segment of the original starter LRT system opened in 1987, and the entire starter system was completed in 1991. The system basically consists of 3 lines:

· Baypoint-Santa Teresa
· Ohlone-Chynoweth-Almaden
· Mountain View-Milpitas

These are shown on the map below.

Light rail service has been provided 24 hours a day, seven days a week to serve Silicon Valley's round-the-clock lifestyle. The system provides links with dozens of VTA bus routes and employer shuttles, as well as with Caltrain commuter rail in San Jose and Downtown Mountain View, and the Altamont Commuter Express (ACE) at the Lick Mill Station in Santa Clara. For those who wish to drive to light rail, there are 14 Park & Ride Lots where passengers can leave their vehicles. Passengers who choose to bicycle to the LRT lines can sign up for bike lockers located along the lines, or simply take their bikes on board.

The LRT system has been increasingly cost-effective in its operations. The most recent Federal Transit Administration (FTA) data currently available, for 2001, indicate that VTA's LRT operating and maintenance costs were $0.86 per passenger-mile vs. $1.07 for VTA buses. Per rider-trip, they were $3.97 for LRT vs. $4.11 for bus.
[FTA NTDB 2001]

in downtown San Jose, the LRT trackage is shared by a heritage streetcar operation.

One of VTA's Strategic Plan goals has been to integrate transportation and land use planning. To accomplish this goal, VTA's Transit-Oriented Development Program was established. This program strives to intensify and diversify land uses and enhance pedestrian circulation at appropriate locations. VTA's LRT has been increasingly successful in attracting transit-oriented development (TOD), with the potential to build future ridership. For example, a residential project in Mountain View has been developed in the Whisman Station area along the Tasman West Line as a result of the TOD effort.
[Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal 2000/09/25; VTA 2003/04/29]

California's budget crisis and the huge nationwide slump in economic activity, which has particularly hit all of Silicon Valley, destroying jobs and reducing travel, has been decimating virtually all transit ridership, and VTA's services are no exception. A severe drop in both bus and LRT ridership has prompted VTA to pursue service cutbacks, fare increases, and the postponement of some planned expansion projects.

Photo credits: L. Henry (modern LRT scenes and streetcar). VTA (map).

Updated 2003/06/03


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