With commuter rail stations and bus stops located in several downtowns in San Mateo County, transit should have been a popular option. However, each rail station and bus stop is situated alongside the 6-lane El Camino Real, an historic road turned drab asphalt strip that most pedestrians avoided. In addition, the areas around the transit stations - dominated by parking lots, wide streets, and underutilized properties—represented enormous unmet potential. Tthe San Mateo County Transit District (SamTrans) realized that boosting ridership on its trains and buses depended on both improving these transit stops and making the El Camino Real corridor a more inviting place for people.
Beginning in 2001, PPS led the development of a new vision for the El Camino Real corridor as a series of public space destinations linked by transit. The result is a groundbreaking model that demonstrates how traffic-plagued communities can reduce congestion and create robust, walkable downtowns supported by transit. This vision has been championed by an influential but unlikely partnership: SamTrans, the transit authority (TA), Caltrans (the State Department of Transportation), and the County of San Mateo, along with Samceda, a local business organization and the Peninsula Policy Partnership (P3). Through a participatory and interactive planning process, PPS developed conceptual Placemaking plans for seven transit stations along the corridor in order to attract more people to them, along with a plan to transform El Camino Real into a ‘Grand Boulevard.’ The Plan is based on four related strategies: 1. Turning Transit Stops and Stations into “Places”;” 2. Transforming El Camino Real into a Grand Boulevard; 3. Creating Balanced Access to Transit; and 4. Fostering Affordable Housing and a Lively Downtown Development Mix.
The project catalyzed a strong regional coalition united around revitalizing El Camino Real, which is still working together today. The initiative has succeeded in raising $8.6 million in grant funding to implement the vision that PPS helped to create.
The seven cities involved in this project are: