In a bid to get more people out of cars and into shuttle buses, Stanford Research Park is looking to build a network of bus shelters throughout its campus.
The application from Stanford University calls for building three bus shelters in the research park: at 3380 Coyote Hill Road, 3223 Hanover St., and 1501 Page Mill Road. Each structure would be consist of copper-colored steel columns and a steel roof with a color described as "off white cardinal." The back of the shelter would consist of tempered glass with a custom pattern designed to add visual appeal, according to a report from the Planning and Development Services Department.
Under the concept that Stanford has been discussing with the city, these bus stops would serve as a blueprint for other new stops that would go up throughout the research park.
But before Stanford can win approval, it has to overcome two obstacles: skepticism from the Architectural Review Board about the proposed design and concerns from the city about a private entity putting its brand on the public right of way. At a Dec. 19 public hearing, board members voiced support for Stanford's goal of promoting transit use but were generally unimpressed with the proposed design.
Jamie Jarvis, director of sustainable transportation programs at Stanford Research Park, said the goal of the project is to increase transit ridership among the roughly 29,000 employees who work at the park. In recent years, the research park has significantly expanded its commuting program, SRPGO, which now includes shuttles to and from San Jose and west San Francisco, two Caltrain shuttle routes and a lunchtime shuttle to California Avenue. The campus is also served by two Stanford Marguerite shuttles, Dumbarton Express buses from the east bay and seven routes from the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority: four express routes and three local routes.
Jarvis told the Architectural Review Board that about 3,000 employees currently ride public transit — a number that Stanford hopes to increase.
"We believe attractive, functional bus shelters are key to attracting transit riders," Jarvis told the board.
She described the current network as "a mishmash of aging and unattractive shelters" and noted that some of the research park's most well used transit stops have no shelters at all.
"Our transit riders get baked in the summer, get wet and windblown in the winter and generally feel unprotected and unvalued throughout the year," Jarvis said.
The board largely lauded Stanford's goal of improving bus shelters, which board member Alexander Lew called a "terrific opportunity" for promoting transit use. Board members had numerous quibbles, however, with the proposed design of the bus stops, which several members characterized as too dark and steel-heavy.
Board Chairman Peter Baltay also suggested that rather than zeroing in on the three sites — with the idea of expanding them later — Stanford and the city should proceed from the get-go with a comprehensive program for bus shelters throughout the entire park. Once the board approves the design, Stanford would be able to apply for new bus shelters without going back to the board.
"Most bus stops out there have some sense that they're offering you shelter and I'm not sure I see that with this one," Baltay said. "We should be fussy about getting the design right once, and then back out of the process."
Baltay also said he is concerned that by approving just the three shelters in the application, the board would actually be making the situation "dramatically worse" by having a few "knockoffs" that are very different from other stops throughout the park.
"We're just making the situation dramatically worse by having a few knockoffs that are different and then to be debating whether the color of these few should matter," Baltay said. "I think we really should have a program for all bus stops."
Board member David Hirsch described the proposed design as too dark, too heavy and generally unattractive. Given Stanford Research Park's reputation for innovation, the project offers the research park a great opportunity to create something more exciting.
"This is an area where we have fantastic engineering and capability to do things with steel in other ways. ... I think there's an opportunity for transparency and light that you're missing in this shelter. It's just too solid-feeling," Hirsch said.
Project planner Garrett Sauls told the board that city staff generally support Stanford's effort to improve the bus stops, but there is also some concern about the "slippery slope" of having a private entity brand something in the public's right of way, he said.
"It could produce other possibilities for other applications where other organizations come in and do something similar, which currently city staff is not supportive of," Sauls said.
Color is also an issue of concern. Stanford is hoping to use the color red at the bus shelters ostensibly to create a "strong visual cue" for employees who may not be aware of the SRPGO transportation network. While staff and the board support the idea of having a unifying color, city planners are concerned that the copper that Stanford is proposing to use as its visual cue is too close to the "cardinal red" that is the university's official color.
"While the 'Bright Copper II' color is not the trademarked Cardinal Red that Stanford uses, it is similar enough to allow the perception that this structure belongs to Stanford, and is influenced by its internationally recognizable color pattern," the report from the planning department states. "The color essentially brands a structure that is commonly considered to be managed by the local government for a private entity."
Planning staff also noted that the proposed red doesn't match the colors on other bus stops, including the blue VTA stops. Planners recommend that Stanford be required to use either the standard blue of the VTA or the city of Palo Alto's green.
Land-use watchdog Herb Borock, a frequent transit user, shared staff's concern and argued that the research park's proposal amounts to "a private entity appropriating part of the right of way." He compared this to a private shuttle system using public streets to park its buses without paying for it.
"We have the same problem with company buses as we've had with internet-connected bicycles and scooters: People just appropriate the public right of way for themselves without paying for it," Borock said.
The board remained largely agnostic on the issue of color. Hirsch said that if Stanford really wants to use red, he has no strong objections ("They're paying for it," he said). Baltay didn't offer a color preference but said the color should be consistent throughout the research park and appropriate to the park.
"It doesn't have to be 'bus-stop blue.' It probably shouldn't be Cardinal red," Baltay said.
The board voted 3-0, with Osma Thompson absent and Grace Lee recused, to continue its review to a future meeting and directed Stanford's designers to consider "light or transparent roof elements" in their next iteration. The board also agreed that whatever color is chosen "should complement and integrate with design and should support the overall goal of increasing ridership."
Several representatives from Stanford Research Park companies came out to voice their support for the new bus shelters. Kailor Gordy, transportation manager at VMware, the largest employer at the research park, said the software company is constantly trying to get more people to switch away from solo driving.
"We know that one-third of VMware's solo drivers have an interest in making the switch to public transit," said Gordy, whose company has nearly 5,000 employees in Palo Alto. "It's just something we work on a daily basis in VMware. But unfortunately, over half the bus stops near the VMware campus don't have a shelter and the three that exist have different designs which can be confusing to potential transit riders."
Evan Wakefield, environmental health and safety manager at HP, which has about 2,000 employees on campus, said the bus stop near his company's campus is currently just a bench.
"I cannot convince my employees to use alternative commute methods by sitting on a bench when it's raining," Wakefield said.