Google’s “Grand Central of the West”

Google and Apple continue to be a story of contrasts, and their latest development moves are no exception.  As Apple completes a new inward-looking space-age fortress in a largely transit-hostile location, Google is planning a huge campus right at Diridon station on the west edge of downtown San Jose, with up to 20,000 employees.

google sj

Google has its eye on the middle of this area in downtown San Jose, California. Note Diridon Stn on the left, LRT line running through, and existing fine street grid. Most of downtown San Jose is just off the map to the right.  Lots of frequent bus service too!

Under current plans, Diridon station will eventually have frequent rapid transit up both sides of the bay (Caltrain on the west to San Francisco, BART on the east side to Oakland and Berkeley).  It’s also a major hub in the local transit network (which we take pride in helping to design).  It is clearly on its way to being the most transit-accessible location in the southern half of the Bay Area.

Google’s current Silicon Valley situation is, frankly, a mess.

google in mv

Google’s self-inflicted transportation mess, Mountain View and Sunnyvale, California.

The company occupies a collection of office parks gathered around various sides of the obstacle of Moffett Field, a military and NASA installation.  This obstacle creates a chokepoint where east-west traffic is all forced down to the 101 freeway, increasing congestion there.  So traveling between Google sites, even over a distance of a mile or two, can be a pain, regardless of whether you drive or take a Google shuttle.

Google’s current locations on the north edge of the valley also form part of the Great Silicon Valley Jobs-Housing Imbalance — jobs are mostly in the north and residents in the south — which creates unmanageable south-north congestion.  And of course Google must also run a huge fleet of buses to bring staff from San Francisco, where many of them want to live.

Many newer startups — like Twitter, Uber, Lyft, Salesforce — have decided that to attract urban talent they have to move into San Francisco — great for transit and walkability, great for their top talent who live there, not so great for lower level employees who can’t afford to live within 20 miles of their job in one of the most expensive cities in the world.

Meanwhile, San Jose has just been sitting there, right adjacent to Silicon Valley, with a historic downtown that has great bones but could use more investment.  Inner San Jose is a pleasant, walkable, historic city that non-elite techies can afford to live in, and that still offers good transit access to the rest of the Bay Area.  Adobe, to its credit, is already there.

So bravo.  I hope this is opens the floodgates to more employers relocating in the most transit-oriented place in Silicon Valley.

16 Responses to Google’s “Grand Central of the West”

  1. aelar June 19, 2017 at 3:58 pm #

    Unfortunately, due to the refusal to build adequate housing in the rest of the South Bay, it’s not actually true anymore that non-techies can afford to live in downtown San Jose. The rent prices have gone through the roof, driving people into congested living situations and homelessness, or farther from downtown where the transit is not as robust.

    I’m tentatively excited about the idea of Google moving into the Diridon area, but worried about what all those additional high salary jobs might do to an area that used to be affordable, is already out of reach of the working class, and well on its way to driving out all the middle class too.

    The San Jose jobs to housing imbalance is so bad that adding more jobs than housing would be good for our numbers and tax base (I understand both are planned for the area). But unless other cities somehow reverse their trends and build more houses than jobs, we’re just going to end up worsening an already unsustainable housing situation here if a lot of high tech jobs flood in without a place for the employees to live. The other option is that San Jose continues to build high density towers, using up spots that could go for offices, and not doing anything for our housing/jobs ratio.

    Theoretically the good transit access means that people could live outside San Jose and commute in. But there is no indication, that many other cities are building attractive housing near transit in any appreciable amount. Milpitas is doing a fair amount, but that’s a long bus or very long light rail ride away, and beyond that, nothing. It’s really frustrating.

    • EJ June 20, 2017 at 5:59 am #

      ACE is expanding, isn’t it? That makes Stockton, Tracy, etc. viable as commuter towns. And then there’s the Capitol Corridor. It’s a shame that BART won’t get to Diridon for at least a decade.

      • WF June 20, 2017 at 10:29 am #

        From Stockton to San Jose it takes 2 hours and 12 minutes. It get to San Jose by 8am you would have to leave at 5:35am. It does not sound like they are attempting to speed up ACE only extend it to Merced and Modesto and there is a vast limit to what they can do without any infrastructure improvements. IDK I have done long commutes but a 3 hour(6 hour round trip) commute seems unbearable.

        • JJJJ June 21, 2017 at 9:29 am #

          They have some really serious proposed improvements in the pipelines.

  2. JB June 20, 2017 at 12:22 am #

    The good news is that Milpitas will only be a short BART ride away by the time this project would get going.

  3. JJJ June 20, 2017 at 6:10 am #

    High speed rail to central valley, Caltrain (or Capitol Corridor) to Monterey, and ACE to upper central valley are all coming online in the next decade as well.

  4. Anis LaRosa June 20, 2017 at 8:13 am #

    I thought “Grand Central of the West” is what we’re all hoping Transbay will be?

    • Jarrett June 20, 2017 at 9:12 am #

      OK. The future Moynihan/Penn station then!

  5. david vartanoff June 20, 2017 at 8:58 am #

    Transbay will be Port Authority Bus Terminal West.
    On a more pleasant note, Google also is expanding its footprint in SF in the area just S of Market along the Embarcadero–thus a civil walk to BART/Muni and the Ferry Building as well as the temporary transbay bus station. As East Bay and SF employees transfer there, fewer of the tech buses will be needed.

  6. John Charles Wilson June 20, 2017 at 4:34 pm #

    Will the Bay Area start a trend of weekly (in lieu of daily) commuting? That is, workers having their “real” home 100+ miles away and sleeping in a flophouse near work Monday through Thursday nights, only going “home” on the weekends?

    Perhaps day care for children could become “week care” on the same concept, with perhaps the option of taking the kid home on Wednesday night as well as the weekend. I can’t imagine it doing a child any good to be picked up nightly around 8 by an exhausted parent after a 2-3 hour commute just to go to bed as soon as he/she gets “home” and then being dragged back to day care at 5-6 AM under similar conditions in reverse….

    • Wanderer June 21, 2017 at 1:38 pm #

      Unfortunately, this is already starting to happen. Some workers sleep in vehicles of varying degrees of comfort on parking lots adjacent to their job sites, then go home to the Central Valley on the weekend.

      San Jose isn’t so cheap anymore, but it’s still not up there with Palo Alto or even Mountain View. This plan seems very positive and quite different in urban impact from (endlessly praised) Apple.

  7. George Lane June 20, 2017 at 6:46 pm #

    Man, San Jose needs to redevelop all of that downtown surface parking ASAP! Would make commutes easier, and housing cheaper.

    What a waste of transit provision to put your ‘central’ station in such a sea of nothingness.

  8. av June 22, 2017 at 12:16 pm #

    “So traveling between Google sites, even over a distance of a mile or two, can be a pain, regardless of whether you drive or take a Google shuttle.” – just take a bike?

    • Al Dimond June 22, 2017 at 2:52 pm #

      Biking across Moffett, of course, is no picnic, either. Transportation between 101 and the Bay has always been quite fragmented, and bike routes today are no exception, with lots of barriers and network gaps in an area where the general street network (where there is such a thing) is highly car-oriented. It’s getting better incrementally, but it’s not there yet. When you bike you can’t just take 101, there’s no simple route like that!

  9. Jeff Wegerson June 23, 2017 at 5:28 am #

    “Live” in your camper pickup. Park in farthest spaces. Bike to station or front door. Miove as needed. Shower at office and gym. Vote for credible candidates promising student debt relief/free college, universal health/child care, actual housing, dedicated transit, that is to say an end to austerity driven neo-liberal corporate monopolized economics and neo-conservative war.

  10. run 3 May 19, 2018 at 12:45 am #

    I doubt this new Google campus would really change the rate of Google’s hiring in the area – they’d be consolidating and moving employees is all… And if they actually do build a truly mixed use area with housing, then it would be increasing supply.