A baseball stadium at the Diridon station location will bring traffic gridlock, parking shortages, noise, and loss of quality of life, among other problems, to a large surrounding area, including freeways, nearby neighborhoods and downtown San Jose.
Few, if any, stadiums in North America have been built in such close proximity to established neighborhoods and downtown facilities. From the baseball owners’ point of view, this is a great location; for most of us, it brings major problems.
These problems are described - although sometimes downplayed - in the Environmental Impact Reports (EIR) for this project.
Major, unavoidable freeway gridlock
The stadium will create a choking necklace around San Jose for commuters trying to get home on the freeways, and for anyone trying to get to downtown. All freeways through or near downtown San Jose will experience significantly worse traffic for at least 2 hours at peak commuter time – 5 to 7 PM. If you think traffic is bad now, just wait.
The EIR identifies at least 15 freeway segments affected. Virtually all of the freeways through or near downtown San Jose would be severely impacted, including SR 87, I-280, I-880, and I-680. Apparently, the EIR did not analyze Highway 101.
In the technical terms used in the EIR, these freeway segments will operate at LOS F, the very lowest level of service for freeways. The technical description for LOS F is ‘Vehicular flow breakdowns occur. Large queues form behind breakdown points’. The layman's translation, that we all know from experience is 'very slow, frustrating, stop and crawl freeway traffic'.
For commuters on the way home to downtown, or to south San Jose, or to the neighborhoods surrounding downtown, there will be no place or time to avoid this. The commuter lanes (HOV lanes) will be especially clogged.
Congestion on local streets in and near downtown
Baseball traffic will bring congestion to downtown streets and cut-through traffic to neighborhoods near downtown, including Willow Glen, Shasta/Hanchett Park, Burbank, Gardner, and east Santa Clara St. Anyone heading downtown, or going home to a neighborhood, can expect frustrating delays and diversions during both evening games and day games.
The EIR understates this issue in at least two ways. First, the problem on downtown streets is legalistically defined away and ignored - downtown intersections are by policy exempt from traffic standards and thus are not analyzed. Second, a simplistic software model ignores the adaptability of drivers – in the model’s world, drivers sitting in freeway gridlock will stay there, ignoring free flowing exits and local streets that would take them to their destination. In the real world, drivers will take local streets for the last few miles of their trip, until those streets are as congested as the freeways
Parking: downtown shortages, permit parking for neighborhoods
A stadium will cause parking shortages in much if not all of downtown San Jose, and require burdensome permit parking and traffic controls in all neighborhoods within at least a 1 mile radius of the stadium.
The EIR uses very optimistic and unrealistic assumptions (contrary to traffic engineering standards) and ignores future demand from BART and High Speed Rail to reach the conclusion that there is barely enough parking in downtown San Jose for the stadium. Even under those assumptions, however, some problems are clear. According to the EIR, baseball fans will walk at least 1 mile from parking to the stadium. Obviously then, any neighborhood or parking lot within 1 mile is vulnerable. For neighborhoods and businesses, permit parking will have to be implemented, and/or traffic controls established to keep baseball fans from cruising streets for parking. Other venues and businesses in the vicinity of the stadium, including the HP Pavilion and the Center For Performing Arts, will have to try to implement some unidentified form of parking controls to have parking for their patrons, or just give up, and schedule around the baseball season (if they can do so and survive).
When more realistic and industry standard assumptions are used, it becomes clear that the parking supply throughout the downtown area will be stressed and exhausted. As a result, downtown businesses and venues will be very negatively affected, traffic congestion will increase, neighborhoods will have even more stress, and Diridon station will potentially be limited in reaching its full potential as a major transportation hub.
Traffic Management and Parking Program (TPMP): The Magic Bullet
But who is it aimed at?
The answer to many concerns raised about traffic and parking is that a TPMP (Traffic and Parking Management Program) will be implemented to solve the problem. The existing TPMP for the HP Pavilion is cited as a successful example. This is not a reassuring answer.
First, there is a large difference in scale, both in volume and in geography, between the current situation, and the situation created by a baseball stadium. For a baseball game alone, there will be twice as many people and cars as for a hockey game. When there is a baseball game and hockey game or concert at the same time - about 20 times a year, or almost every week during baseball season - there will be three times as many people and cars. And given the widespread distribution of parking, the TPMP will have to operate over a much larger geographic area. It is not at all clear that the TPMP model can be successfully expanded to this scale. Even now, street closures and traffic diversions are sometimes disruptive to people living and working near the HP Pavilion.We don’t know – and neither does the city – how wide an area will be included in the TPMP, what control elements will be implemented, and how many police offers will be needed.
Second, the TPMP’s primary focus is to serve the interests of the fans coming to an event, not to serve the interests of residents and workers. As the city has said, the fans are the ‘customers’ of the TPMP. This does not bode well for the neighbors, who may have to suffer so the fans can get in and get out easily.
Noise: Enough, Already . . . but There Will Be More
The area around Diridon station already gets much more than its fair share of noise. Airport noise, train noise, and traffic noise all are close to the maximum acceptable levels. The stadium will be another significant source.
According to the EIR, sustained noise levels from the stadium will be about the same as the current maximums from the existing sources. But the EIR doesn’t address the cumulative effect, and it ignores fireworks noise. Stadium noise will be on top of current noise, will happen mostly during summer evenings, and will be of longer duration – not just the 30 seconds or so for a plane to pass by. Don’t worry. Get double paned windows . . . stay away from Cahill Park . . . stay inside . . . keep the windows closed . . . during the summer. And pretend you can’t hear the fireworks at 11 PM.