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Bigger Intersections, More Traffic Planned for Millbrae BART/Caltrain Station

El Camino Real and Millbrae Avenue
Millbrae Avenue at El Camino Real in Millbrae, slated for expansion with even more traffic lanes despite its location at San Mateo County's busiest transit hub. Photo: Google Maps
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As the City of Millbrae inches closer to final approval of plans for new construction at the Millbrae BART/Caltrain Station, officials have quietly proposed adding new traffic lanes and traffic signals to intersections near the station. The traffic expansions aim to cram even more auto traffic through the area, worsening already hazardous conditions for people walking or bicycling to and from the station.

The draft Millbrae Station Area Specific Plan to construct two major mixed-use developments on the Millbrae Station's surface parking lots and along El Camino Real west of the station was released last June. The draft proposed only two new traffic signals and no lane additions be considered to support additional auto traffic, and envisioned a redeveloped station area that would boost both transit use and retail sales by making major safety improvements for pedestrians.

"Streets and intersections in the Plan Area will be reconfigured to provide a safer and more pleasant walking and biking environment that can be enjoyed by children, the elderly, and people with disabilities," states the station area plan.

But last Tuesday Millbrae's City Council approved a set of General Plan amendments allowing city engineers to add new traffic lanes to El Camino Real and Millbrae Avenue - already eight lanes across, including turn lanes - as well as lane additions or new traffic signals to three other intersections. This despite the fact that the project's Environmental Impact Report, adopted by the city on January 12, recommended against these traffic lane additions, calling them "legally infeasible."

"The plan as laid out in text and drawings prioritizes the convenience of auto traffic and parking at the expense of pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit," wrote Sierra Club representatives in a January 22 letter to the City Council. They also wrote that it contradicts "the concept of a Transit Oriented Development."

Intersection Expansions
Traffic lane additions planned for two El Camino Real intersections adjacent to the Millbrae BART/Caltrain Station. Image: City of Millbrae
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Even though the future office, residential and retail developments are all located within walking distance of the Millbrae BART and Caltrain Station, city planners are still assuming that over 70 percent of rush-hour trips to and from those developments will be made by motor vehicle. This is in part because the developments will include hundreds of new parking spaces that will attract auto traffic to the area.

Millbrae’s auto-dominated streets are notorious for their hazards to pedestrians. Caltrans was ordered to pay $8 million in damages in 2010 to the family of Emily Liou, who was struck while crossing El Camino Real, and remains in a coma. The jury found that Caltrans had consistently failed to implement safety improvements, allowing dangerous conditions at several crosswalks and intersections along El Camino to remain unaddressed for years.

Since then, El Camino remains unchanged, with narrow sidewalks, long crossing distances, and sharrows placed in the door zone of parked cars as the only bicycle infrastructure. Millbrae Avenue has seen no safety improvements for people walking and bicycling whatsoever.

The Millbrae's City Council approved amendments to the city's General Plan on Tuesday, but postponed final approval over concerns about the impact on local schools.

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