Creating a cycling culture is now a goal of two major Silicon Valley employers, Google and Facebook.
“Transportation is a major gating factor for our growth and anything that alleviates that makes Silicon Valley more connected,” said Chris Weeks, Google’s Transportation Coordinator, after hearing about Facebook's plan to get people to bike to work.
“When we asked our employees whether they would rather give up their car or their internet access, a majority of them said their car,” Weeks said.
The Facebook Project’s Environmental Impact Report was presented to Menlo Park's Bicycle Commission Monday night, marking the beginning of a series of informational sessions about a Draft EIR that has motivated cycling enthusiasts from all over the Bay Area to discuss connecting bike routes on the Peninsula.
Rachel Grossman, associate project planner for Menlo Park, is leading these presentations. Grossman said the Facebook project will result in three “significant and unavoidable impacts” to air quality, noise levels, and transportation routes in Menlo Park.
“We’re finding that everything feeds back to traffic,” Grossman said.
Facebook is in the process of revitalizing its new headquarters in Menlo Park, which requires identification of the project’s physical impacts on the area and mitigation options, if any, in the form of an EIR. The California Environmental Quality Act mandates this procedure.
“A project may not be approved as submitted if feasible alternatives or mitigation measures are able to substantially lessen the significant environmental effects of the project,” according to ceres.ca.gov.
The social networking company is paving the way for an expanded employee headcount and intends to provide office space for about 6,600 employees, a number that the company is negotiating with the city. This would almost double the maximum amount of on site employees that are allowed by property’s Conditional Development Permit, which was set when it was inhabited by Sun Microsystems employees.
Facebook is proposing an exchange of that employee density limit for a cap on the number of trips their employees can take to get to work.
According to the EIR, Facebook’s project could be the cause of 15,000 trips to and from Facebook as soon as 2015, with about 2,600 taking place during the morning and evening rush hours. Add that to the traffic from the and the and the numbers forecast intense vehicular congestion on major thoroughfares. To combat this, Facebook is promoting the use of bicycles to get to and from work, while building food and fitness facilities on site that reduce the likelihood of employees leaving the campus on their lunch hour, says Jessica Herrera, Facebook’s Transportation Coordinator.
“We’re trying as much as we can to promote cycling and we definitely want to continue the percentage of cyclists we have and grow that,” Herrera said Monday.
Consulting firm Fehr and Peers found that a combination of traffic adaptive signal technology, bike and pedestrian undercrossings, and enhanced transportation demand management could mitigate the Stanford University Medical Center Expansion Project’s traffic issues. Similar methods could be approved for The Facebook Project.
A complication arises when considering how Facebook employees would get to the campus. Romaie Komorn who works at Facebook and lives in said Monday that the bike routes presented to employees by the company are not ideal.
“For people who come down Willow, it may not be very practical to sneak back into Belle Haven to get into the underpass that’s going into the campus.”
Others who live in San Francisco and San Jose told Commissioners that they should send a strong message to City Council about connecting the bike trails in town to existing ones such as the Bay Trail. So did members of the .
But, the cost of augmenting these trails may be prohibitive.
Nikki Nagaya, Fehr and Peers consultant, said that merging these separated sections of bike trails could cost $2 million dollars in construction costs alone.
No verbal comments on the Draft EIR were accepted by city staff that night. However, opportunity to share perspective on the EIR exists.
City staff will be holding additional informational sessions with other Commissions in Menlo Park, and accept public comment at the Planning Commission Public Hearing that will take place at 7 p.m., Monday, January 9, 2012.
Comments about the EIR can also be submitted in writing to Rachel Grossman at firstname.lastname@example.org. All comments must be received from interested people, as well as city commissions by 5:30 p.m. on January 23, 2012.
City Council is scheduled to review the project on Valentine’s Day 2012. It will have the final vote on what is included in project.