BART to Santana Row, skip Santa Clara


BART in San Jose
VTA proposed BART route and stations in San Jose, and what a western extension to Santana Row would look like.

There’s always been a discussion in San Jose around connecting Santana Row/Valley Fair to the VTA Light Rail network, creating a rail backbone down the San Carlos/Stevens Creek-corridor, eventually extending to De Anza College, becoming the east/west version of the North First Street transit corridor, linking greater San Jose to downtown, and the Eastside. And now as Nate Donato-Weinstein reported last week in the SVBJ, Santana Row is expanding, literally, from retail and housing(new 25 story residential tower proposal via Nate Donato-Weinstein SVBJ), into a major new jobs cluster, with nearly 1 million square feet of new new class A office space proposed for the extension across Winchester Boulevard.

But Santana Row is a place where San Joseans drive, so that they can walk. Traffic is typically horrendous throughout the week, even with the new $63 million dollar 880-280 interchange. Add to that an expansion of 1 million sqft of office, with a typical 150-225sqft per office worker, using the higher of those two numbers, that comes out to an additional 4,444 people coming to the Santana Row area every week day to work.

So what are the options? Bus Rapid Transit(BRT)- This is a dedicated lane for buses and typically a lower cost to Light Rail, with some people arguing the that it moves the same amount of people as Light Rail. Light Rail(LR)- electric rail that could possibly run down the middle of the street in both directions, slow and limited by traffic signals. Bay Area Rapid Transit(BART)- Regional rapid transit, that could be elevated over the street, buried underground, or follow along 280, extremely expensive and planning takes decades.

So why is BART the best alternative? Because the BART momentum has hit San Jose. Despite the gap in funding for Phase 2 in San Jose from Berryessa to downtown, there’s a feeling that Transit Oriented Development(TOD), a proven and successful development model in many other cities nationally and internationally, could be the catalyst that helps San Joseans leave the car behind. Instead of redundant transit route already serviced by Caltrain from Diridon Station to Santa Clara, and because BART to Santa Clara completely misses an obvious station at San Jose Mineta International Airport(which is does), BART should continue west past Diridon Station to Santana Row/Valley Fair. This is a logical and sensible transit connection to an area becoming a vibrant mixed-use hub of housing, retail, and office in an isolated car dependent island. In return, it also gives West San Jose a key transit connection back to Diridon Station and Caltrain. Not only that, this western option leaves the opportunity to continue to De Anza College in Cupertino. Here is a map that shows the options.

All of this comes at a price of course but it also takes a shift in mindsets. Are San Joseans willing to look to the future of development and transportation, and ditch the beloved car, or hold fast to an unsustainable model in a burgeoning urban region? Millennials are leaving their cars en masse across the nation,  but in order for San Joseans to join, there needs to be other transportation options. Companies and individuals are becoming self selective, and will look towards TOD offices and residences. But in order for them to make transit a priority, there needs to be well designed transit options available.

Maybe BART is the wrong answer for Santana Row, but adding more cars is definitely not the answer. There needs to be alternative options that allow office workers, shoppers, and revelers reliable ways to move to and from Santana Row that aren’t exclusively individual cars.

Updated on 11/30/15

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24 thoughts on “BART to Santana Row, skip Santa Clara

  • Chris

    It is silly that BART won’t connect directly to airport.

  • imgoph

    It’s a great idea, but sadly, the project underway is too far down the tracks to be altered this much without causing it to be completely undone.

    That’s not to say that a future heavy rail network (an actual network) instead of just a trunk line (which is all BART & Caltrain are right now) isn’t a good idea. Advocating for that would be a good idea going forward.

    You might want to attend one of the Community Working Group meetings ( to get a feel for how the planning discussion is progressing currently.

  • I think it would be a good idea to do this instead of the Santa Clara station, just dump that station and the extra tracks from the plans, and have the Phase 2 stop at Diridon, and start looking at alternatives for Phase 3, replicating Caltrain service with BART is stupid. Even a parallel route on 101 would be better than running underneath Caltrain and HSR .

  • Donovan Lazaro

    “But Santana Row is a place where San Joseans drive, so that they can walk.”

    Such a sad irony that is SJ’s greatest display of a mixed-use development.

  • The problem with using Santana Row/Valley Fair as an argument for a BART station is that people go to these places to shop. People heading there will think “I might pick something up, it might be a lot, it might be bulky and it might be expensive… I better take my car even if I could take BART”.
    As for Santa Clara station, there are plans for lots of office space (much more than Santana Row) in the Coleman Highline project. There is also talk of a people mover connection between Santa Clara station and SJC (sounds unlikely to happen to me). The current Earthquakes stadium will be a 10min walk from the station. And finally there is Santa Clara University right at the station’s doorstep.
    Also BART is putting in a maintenance yard right at the Santa Clara station as a result of the extension to downtown SJ, so they need to build tracks up in that direction. There is almost no reason not to put a station at Santa Clara.

    • Except for the maintenance yard, the rest is covered by Caltrain. No sense in spending another $1-2 billion on repetitive transit.

      • imgoph

        But there is nowhere else to put the maintenance yard. We’ve discussed this to death at the Community Working Group meetings. If BART/VTA could build a maintenance yard for this project somewhere else, even at a marginally higher cost, we’d discuss it. It just doesn’t exist, unfortunately. The extension to Santa Clara is necessary. Kill the yard, and the entire line past Berryessa does not happen.

    • There is already a Caltrain station there, rather thanks spend billions of dollars replicating Caltrain service to Santa Clara, we should consider upgrading Caltrain service, there is plenty of reason not to have a BART station in Santa Clara.

  • Joe Brant

    There’s still no reason to waste money on duplicate service between Santa Clara and Diridon with nowhere to go but MORE of the existing Caltrain route. The maintenance facility can still exist as a spur off the main line. If VTA is at all interested in future expansion, Santa Clara is not the right place to go.

    • This is a good point, leaving replicated service to Santa Clara is bad enough, extending that line would require either using the Caltrain ROW, basically replicating Caltrain service more, or following the Capitol Corridor ROW, replicating that service. 280, 101 or Stevens Creek would all be better alternatives to study.

  • Good points by many, and great thought provoking idea.
    If a Stevens Creek alignment were to bring more riders, and
    If the Stevens Creek corridor were to densify, and
    If the railyard could still be build between Santa Clara and Diridon, and
    If Santa Clara County voters and VTA were on board and made the case that the Stevens Creek alignment made much more ridership, housing, jobs, operational, and revenue sense,

    THEN, I think this would be a great idea.

    I wonder what the capital and operational costs would be to place the yard in Santa Clara without a station there, but have trains run from Santa Row through Downtown SJ and up East Bay. Sure there’d be some dead heading of trains between SR and SC, and tunneling under Stevens Creek would be more expensive than the route to Santa Clara, but it might work and it might be better. And we’ll never know unless VTA takes a look at it.

  • Hi Everyone, Brent here from VTA. I like the discussion, a few quick things to point out and clarify. 1. VTA recently presented to the Winchester NAC, group the City of San Jose has identified to represent the community about matter regarding the Row/Mall area. The presentation included an update and discussion on strategies being researched to curb congestion near this area. Stay tuned for future information on this topic. 2. BART to Santana Row is great in concept, but not approved by voters. imgoph is right on point here, a maintenance facility is needed at Santa Clara, there is no other location readily available to support activities and operations for the Phase II anywhere else, we have exhaustively studied other locations. 3. New VTARapid improvements are coming to Stevens Creek. Not full BRT, but signal priority and improved bus stops will be here quickly! This will help to improve service and reduce travel times on the corridor. Shameless plug: Follow Us @VTARapid and @bartsv for project updates or contact me directly at

  • Joe Brant

    Another advantage: if BART goes in the 280 median, it can also hit Valley Medical Center and the whole Fruitdale area, which is part of another Urban Village plan.

    • The 280 median is attractive, but it appears that there’s little room for a BART train down the median which means either:
      a) widening freeway ROW to maintain # of lanes and get tracks in middle
      b) removing one lane in either direction
      c) Placing BART in elevated tracks above median

      All of these ideas could work, but would still require folks to cross half a freeway to get to the BART station. This is not conducive to created vibrant transit oriented developments.

  • Steve Malone

    Just across Mabury from the Berryessa station is an underutilized industrial zoned area. Why couldn’t this be considered for the maintenance facility?

    • imgoph

      It likely was. VTA has said at these meetings multiple times that they looked at many places for the maintenance yard, and the selected location is the best deal they could get.

  • rosegarden dad

    Team: This conversation is oddly disconnected from cost/benefit analysis. Just because it’s a neat idea to bring BART to Santana Row (or other parts of San Jose), it doesn’t mean it’s a good deal for the taxpayer of San Jose. Or a wise use of money. Or a wise use of money given all the other more pressing priorities in the area. For the price of the BART extension to Santana Row I’m betting we could give everybody in San Jose lifelong VTA pass and a new electric bike every five years *and still have money left over.*. Why is BART better than that?

    • Steve Malone

      Because, like it or not San Jose is going very high density. It is official city policy and without any alternative ways of getting around traffic will be unbearable.

  • JimK

    Great discussion here!
    My non-expert opinion: As good as it may sound, I don’t agree that BART to Santa Row is the best way to go. I doubt folks from San Francisco or Oakland would consider SR a destination. I imagine folks from other parts of the Bay would head to SF/OAK well before considering a trip to SR/VF. In addition, I can’t see anyone driving to Santa Row just to park their car in order to head out of town. I really don’t think a BART station at Santa Row would do anything to alleviate traffic congestion on Stevens Creek / Winchester.
    I do think that a Light Rail line would be much better. After all, someone in SF probably wouldn’t make the trip down to the South Bay to do some shopping,… but someone in Downtown SJ might. (especially with the dearth of retail downtown) Or someone from North SJ, or Sunnyvale, or Campbell, etc. On the flip side of that coin, I could see West SJ residents heading downtown from there as well. South Bay residents using light rail would alleviate traffic in that part of town, and more generally, get people out of their cars.
    Again, just one guy’s opinion here.

  • […] Shannon McDonald suggests San Jose is well positioned to be an innovation leader. She points out that the airport to rail proposal could be a start. VTA has allocated $81M for an environmental study of an APM (Automated People Mover from the Guadalupe Light Rail line to the airport and to the Santa Clara train depot (see page 38 of the VTA’s VTP2040 plan). Perhaps it would make sense to look at extending the APM to Santana Row. SPUR has suggested the BART extension should be to Santana Row, instead of Santa Clara. […]

  • Michael

    This would be amazing if it were a reality. Has anyone ever thought of the VTA light Rail continuing on the 85 to connect, Cambrian Park, Los Gatos, Saratoga, Cupertino, El Camino Real, and connect with the existing VTA Mountain View Station. It would relieve traffic on the 85 as well as creating a fast alternative for commuters working in Cupertino, Palo Alto, and Mountain View.

  • Evan

    I think BART will be fine ending at Berryessa or E. Santa Clara. I don’t want downtown San Jose to look like downtown Oakland or Mission Street between 16th and 24th in SF.

  • […] Southern Illinois University Assistant Professor of Architecture Shannon McDonald suggests San Jose is well positioned to be an innovation leader. She points out that the airport to rail proposal could be a start. VTA has allocated $81M for an environmental study of an APM (Automated People Mover from the Guadalupe Light Rail line to the airport and to the Santa Clara train depot (see page 38 of the VTA’s VTP2040 plan). Perhaps it would make sense to look at extending the APM to Santana Row. SPUR has suggested the BART extension should be to Santana Row, instead of Santa Clara. […]

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