Transit Oriented Development
at Mountain View's Downtown Caltrain Station

Mountain View is at the south end of the San Francisco Bay, 10 miles north of San Jose. With a population of 72,200, it has about half the population of Santa Rosa, but with an average density about the same as the city of Los Angeles.

Once covered in orchards and vineyards, it was the agricultural center for the Santa Clara Valley. The town was incorporated in 1902 with a population of fewer than 1,000 people. After World War II, the population exploded with the growth of the electronic and aerospace industries. It was covered with small Eichler houses; the epitome of suburban sprawl.

The first hint of Transit Oriented Development came with the adoption of the Downtown Precise Plan in 1988. The community was searching for new strategies to stimulate new downtown development, and the Downtown Precise Plan was a key part of these strategies. A major goal of the Plan was to create a concentrated mix of land uses close to the Downtown Caltrain Station and within easy walking distance of each other. It established new development and design standards to create a better pedestrian environment. The Plan marked a major turning point for Downtown Mountain View.

The effort to implement high intensity development near transit stations escalated in 1991 with a successful grass roots effort to bring light rail from San Jose to Downtown Mountain View and create a multi-modal Downtown Transit Station.

The 1992 General Plan update emphasized the City's commitment to high intensity development near transit stations to address regional air quality, transportation, and housing issues. These goals were implemented by establishing three new Precise Plans, updating the Downtown Precise Plan, and creating a new Transit Overlay Zone.

In 1999, the City decided to reassess the Downtown Precise Plan to determine whether it was still consistent with the community's current goals and aspirations. This update focused on residential densities and building heights, and set new development standards for greater compatibility among the mix of uses and with surrounding neighborhoods. By that time the new Downtown Transit Center included light rail in addition to Caltrain, bus service, shuttles, and bicycle facilities.

The community reconfirmed its commitment to higher density housing and an intensification of development near transit opportunities. Building heights were lowered on some blocks, but high residential densities were maintained. The updated Downtown Precise Plan allows residential densities of 30 - 60 units per acre and encourages housing in more areas of the Downtown.

Within a year of adopting the updated Downtown Precise Plan in February, 2000, 40,000 sq. ft. of retail space, 260,000 sq. ft. of office space, and 220 new residential units were under construction downtown. Development has continued at a high pace in spite of the intense economic downturn in Silicon Valley.

For a street map of the Mountain View Downtown Station Area (circle of half mile radius), click here.

Downtown Mountain View

The push toward TOD in downtown Mountain View began at Castro Street, motivated by the city's desire to have a more lively downtown. It was a typical suburban non-center, a too-wide street lined with separated one- and two-story commercial buildings.

By early 1991 this complex of 3-story multifamily housing over subterranean parking had been completed. This side fronts on Evelyn St. near the train station (site A on the map).

This is an interior view of the development. Although it appeared to be about 30 or 40 units per acre, it was surprising how devoid of people it was in the middle of the day. Probably this is a consequence of having parking underground with access directly to dwelling clusters via elevators.

Ventilation grates for the parking are nicely concealed by the bushes.

Also by early 1991, Castro Street was narrowed by changing the uses of the edge and building sidewalk extensions into former roadway. Space formerly occupied by moving cars could now be utilized for angle parking, or even for outdoor dining, at the option of the fronting business.

These photos of the al fresco dining arrangements were taken in late December of 1991, which is probably responsible for a temporary lack of patrons.

These eating facilities seemed surprisingly popular at other times, given the nearness to traffic. Although the cars were moving by within several feet of one's dinner, they weren't going very fast.

Gaps between buildings are not conducive to the pedestrian experience. Some of these on Castro were cleverly utilized as formal passageways to parking structures in the rear. This one continued as a mid-block crossing. It also gave the feeling of a more continuous building face line.

Still late in 1991, with the same housing complex (at location A on the map) completed, large office buildings were under various stages of construction on adjacent sites.

Another view of the now famous Castro Street "flexible zones" on the street in front of the shops.
This view, in September 1994, shows the special standard Castro Street bus shelter, and a nearby canopy for streetside eating. This time of year it was well utilized.

Only one travel lane in each direction means that when the bus stops for passengers the cars behind it stop too. It's a great way to keep cars at a reasonable speed in a pedestrian oriented area.

This stop is on Castro Street in front of the new city hall (1994).

A bit of the nice City Hall is at the left behind this plaza, and the performing arts center is at right.

A complete cessation of motor vehicle movement probably is warranted only for special occasions. This one was a street fair, on Halloween day, on a Monday.

City Hall at left.

The Rail Station - September 2000

Arriving Caltrain
Passengers getting off and on
Information kiosk, light rail train waiting in background
Light rail train at platform
Bike parking. Planned or opportunistic?
Buses wait for train connections
High quality shelters