The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority plans to add a new commuter bus line to San Jose at the Gilroy Transit Center soon, and is looking to move the buses to the Monterey Street curb in order to add more parking inside the existing lot.
But most members of the Gilroy City Council, as well as other residents, do not see how a proposed housing project at the center fits into the downtown hub’s transit future.
The council and the VTA held a meeting Sept. 14 to discuss the current usage of the transit center as well as future plans. The center, located on Monterey Street near Seventh Street, has been under scrutiny over the past year since the VTA began gathering input on a proposal to build housing on roughly half of the nearly eight-acre property.
The property, owned by the VTA, is currently a parking lot for VTA bus and Caltrain passengers, and serves various bus lines for VTA, San Benito County Express and Monterey-Salinas Transit. It is also home to the Gilroy Southern Pacific Railroad Depot building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Conceptual plans for the project outline a five-story structure with 110-150 units of housing for people with incomes considered low, very low and extremely low.
The development is expected to take up roughly half of the current 471 parking spaces on the property.
In August, the VTA Board of Directors voted for a two-month delay in its search for a developer that would construct the project, to give the VTA staff time to work out issues with Gilroy officials.
VTA Service Planning Manager Jay Tyree said the 68 bus, which travels daily from the transit center to Diridon Station in San Jose, is heavily utilized, but riders complain that it is too slow.
Beginning Oct. 11, the VTA will unveil the Rapid 568 line, which will run weekdays from 5:30am to 7pm from the center to Diridon Station, every 30 minutes. The line will replace the Express 168, which runs four northbound trips during both the morning and evening on the weekdays.
The VTA is also looking at moving loading and unloading for all bus lines to the curb on Monterey Street between Ninth and Seventh streets, and converting the current bus bays near the railroad tracks into parking spaces.
Tyree said the Gilroy center has an “old style” design, where the bus bays are tucked away from the activity of the surrounding businesses.
“People don’t like that,” he said. “We were surprised when we were talking to riders in Gilroy. They want something that’s more integrated into the downtown environment.”
Councilmember Dion Bracco questioned if the buses could fit next to the curb, saying they currently block traffic when picking up passengers along the narrow corridor. Tyree responded that VTA staff have measured the space with a test bus, and found that it will not be blocking the lane to through traffic.
Councilmember Carol Marques said she was concerned about losing those parallel parking spaces, especially if the housing project is built.
“If the apartments are sitting on that lot, they’re taking up the parking spaces,” she said. “We have no other alternative for people who are going to be commuting unless they park in city streets in front of city houses and walk blocks. Then that’s going to open up a whole new situation.”
VTA officials have said the housing project would replace all the spots lost to the development, such as adding them underneath the structure. They have also pointed to the potential high-speed rail project, which could construct a parking lot east of the railroad tracks, and have stated that they believe the current 471 spaces to be sufficient for the center.
Mayor Marie Blankley said such an observation is “premature,” noting it is unknown when or if high-speed rail will come, or when Caltrain electrifies its operations. About 400 affordable housing units are in the works throughout Gilroy, she said, which would increase demand for the transit center as well as add to the congestion on Highway 101.
“Viable transit service needs to exist before you can determine whether or not you have underutilized parking spaces,” she said. “I don’t know how you can call something underutilized at a transit center that’s underserved. There’s not a reason to use those spaces yet.”
Councilmembers Rebeca Armendariz and Zach Hilton, who have voiced their support of the housing project, were absent from the meeting.