City faces color quandary over bus shelters at Stanford Research Park | News | Palo Alto Online |


City faces color quandary over bus shelters at Stanford Research Park

Palo Alto officials laud project's goals but criticize proposed design

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.


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5 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 8, 2020 at 9:30 am

Are VTA busses allowed to use these bus stops? If yes, then I don't care what color they are. If no, then I have a big problem with putting them on public property.

11 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 8, 2020 at 9:34 am

Since anyone is allowed to use the Marguerite, I have no problem with this and in fact think it is a great idea. I would like to see something like this done all over Palo Alto. I would like to see it extend to the parking lot at 280 and have a similar parking lot near 101.

The more we can advertise public transport the better. The more people who use it, the better. The more it is improved the better. This is the way to go!

13 people like this
Posted by torreyaman
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 8, 2020 at 10:56 am

Don't these folks have more important matters to debate? Build the shelters, they are a good thing.

17 people like this
Posted by Family Friendly
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 8, 2020 at 12:32 pm

They're letting developers turn El Camino into a canyon of over-density and urban sprawl, but this they have a problem with.

4 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 8, 2020 at 12:53 pm

How about a quid-pro-quo? The city agrees to let *Stanford* advertise on public streets which serve the *Stanford* Industrial Park, and, *Stanford* agrees to convert some SRP office space to housing?

11 people like this
Posted by bus stops
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 8, 2020 at 2:11 pm

bus stops is a registered user.

Having lived in London I have never understood how anyone who promotes public transit does so with a straight face when few stops have any shelter. Why does anyone think, other than the most desperate, that people would bake in the sun or get soaked, or maybe have to stand for a while just to ride at best an inconvenient bus?

9 people like this
Posted by Gimme Shelter
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 8, 2020 at 3:06 pm

We should ask the homeless what color they'd like.

1 person likes this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 8, 2020 at 3:15 pm

Posted by Gimme Shelter, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

>> We should ask the homeless what color they'd like.

Pipe in some music. At least you can try to attract homeless with good taste: Web Link

7 people like this
Posted by wander3r
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 8, 2020 at 6:13 pm

wander3r is a registered user.

This kind of debate makes me embarrassed to live in Palo Alto.

12 people like this
Posted by LSJU79
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 8, 2020 at 7:47 pm

Because associating the "stanford" brand with street-dwellers, graffiti covered bus shelters, and the aroma of urine is always a good idea. But than again, after years of strip-mining the "stanford" brand with all of the kitsch merchandise available through the bookstore and online, maybe it doesn't even matter any more.

Corporate group-think deeply embedded within the administrative bureaucracy sleep-walking through branding decisions.

8 people like this
Posted by It can't be that hard
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 8, 2020 at 10:45 pm

Ridiculous. The image with the article at least doesn't scream Stanford Cardinal to me at all. (And who cares really?) And WHY does a bus shelter need to be innovative??
This is like the stupid bike bridge fiasco. In the pursuit of some artistic fantasy, actual progress is needlessly delayed.
Just build bus shelters. Someone is willing to pay and make it happen? Terrific. Make it happen.

2 people like this
Posted by Mila Z
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 9, 2020 at 8:10 am

The commission is right to give pause to having Stanford branding on a public right-of-way however limiting it to a VTA blue or a City green branding is way too restrictive.

The Marguerite goes everywhere, overlapping with other cities and other counties. What about SamTrans? They have buses that come into our county too.

This is where the funds Stanford wants to use on these 3 stops could go to the City's public art program and have that commission do an RFP for a thoughtful bus shelter that is beautiful over branded, and then any future stop can use the same design, leaving room for any kind of commuter program to stop at it.

The city has done this before: the public art commission worked with the public works department to put in the fun, colorful benches designed by artist Colin Selig downtown.

And no need to look further than our own Public Art Master Plan which calls for loads of opportunities to incorporate public art into infrastructure, naming bus shelters in particular. Within the City, the right hand should talk to the left hand and we'll get a result that helps SRPGo achieve its goals while not encroaching on the public right of way.

3 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 9, 2020 at 8:43 am

Having used buses in many parts of the world, a bus shelter is a great asset to any transportation system. It can be used to provide useful information about the arrival timing of the next bus and how to pay for the ride. Additionally, many shelters carry advertising which help the transport agencies pay for the cleaning of the shelter and other expenses.

We must improve public transport. Shelters make waiting for the arrival of a bus a much more attractive option than standing in the rain or the full sun.

We want to improve and get better usage from public transportation, then we need to do this and more.

4 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 9, 2020 at 8:53 am

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

>> We must improve public transport. Shelters make waiting for the arrival of a bus a much more attractive option than standing in the rain or the full sun.

Agreed. IF we are going to install a significant number of new shelters, we need to make sure the funding is there for continued maintenance and security. Otherwise, they just become a mess and eventually a liability.

1 person likes this
Posted by Martin
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 9, 2020 at 9:12 am

The shelters are used by people, residents, neighbors, commuters. Who cares if they are built by private companies? Isn't that actually good that no tax dollars are spent to provide benefits for the people?

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 9, 2020 at 11:13 am

@Anon, thanks for quoting my post.

If you had read further you would have seen that advertising could provide the answer to maintenance, cleaning, etc. of these shelters. Most bus shelters I have used in other countries are full of advertising either in panels or whole sides of the shelter. After all, if someone standing there for even 5 minutes waiting for a bus, is more likely to read what's on the shelter walls.

1 person likes this
Posted by GlassScratchers
a resident of another community
on Jan 9, 2020 at 12:16 pm

Why is it these people insist on putting up clear plastic or glass barriers/walls on these shelters. In 10 minutes someone with a diamond stylus pen will come in and scratch and cover them with Mexican gang symbols and ruin them? Whatever they end up doing, figure out another way, a different material or a different design to deter vandals.

6 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 9, 2020 at 8:26 pm

For pity's sake, approve the plan and move on to issues of importance.

1 person likes this
Posted by Grace
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 10, 2020 at 2:42 pm

Good for them for trying, but foolish to think that this will move the needle on getting people out of their cars. It's still way too cheap to commute by car with no road tolls and free parking.

3 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of another community
on Jan 10, 2020 at 5:53 pm

Great, as long as they don't plaster them with realtor ads.
When I see a realtor advertising over and over again wherever I go (shopping carts, at the gym on the machine screen, and on bus stops) - I won't use them, recommend them, or would take a slightly lower offer just to not patronize them.
Keep the Stanford colors, and the bus stops will be fine.

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