Noe Valley Voice October 2007

Google Shifts Bus Stop to Church Street

By Corrie M. Anders

The Google shuttle-bus flap in Noe Valley is over--at least temporarily.

In a move to mollify irritated residents, the giant search-engine company has relocated its employee bus stop at the corner of 24th and Castro several blocks east to Church Street.

After Oct. 1, Google's commuter buses will no longer use residential streets west of Church Street, as the firm had been doing since the private transit service started in early 2006.

The original routes and pickup spots had upset many local residents, especially those on Jersey Street, which had the highest volume of shuttle traffic. They complained that the buses, which ferry Google workers between Noe Valley and the firm's Mountain View headquarters, were noisy and too big for use on the neighborhood's narrower streets.

Jersey Street resident Jacqui Sawers, who led the campaign to steer the buses off Noe Valley's residential streets, applauded Google's decision to revise the commuter route.

"We're very happy about it," said Sawers, a legal assistant. "They heard our concerns, and this is a community-spirited response from them."

Google spokeswoman Sunny Gettinger said the change would benefit the high-tech company as well as local residents. The firm, which also operates shuttles in other Bay Area cities, has a corporate policy of putting the service near public transportation.

"Moving the stop allows us to do that better," said Gettinger, who also lives in Noe Valley.

For security reasons, Gettinger would not specify precisely where along Church Street the buses would pick up and leave employees. But several Google workers who take advantage of the shuttle said the stop would be situated near 24th and Church streets, a busy intersection for public transit in the neighborhood. That location would enable company workers to take Muni's J-Church streetcar line on Church Street or the 48-Quintara on 24th Street, or walk to and from the stop.

Jersey Street residents and their Castro Street neighbors began complaining publicly following a June 7 meeting Sawers hosted at her home. Google then used alternative routes on 25th and other streets to relieve the traffic burden on Jersey Street.

Sawers said residents weren't in support of what she called the "spreading-the-love option" because "we felt it was just creating more problems." The group held several meetings with Google and City Hall representatives, which led to last month's compromise.

The agreement did not consider related traffic issues. Residents had wanted Google to use smaller buses and to reduce the frequency of the 15 or more daily trips in and out of Noe Valley. "This was one of our primary safety concerns, and we're still concerned about it," Sawers said. "Church Street didn't alleviate that."

Approximately 100 residents have signed a petition asking the city to impose weight restrictions that would limit the size of private buses and commercial vehicles on the neighborhood's residential streets, she said.

Residents last month also asked Supervisor Bevan Dufty to consider weight-limit legislation.

"It was always a long-term goal of our group to introduce weight limits to remove the potential for future bus routes and address the increasing burden of large trucks," the residents said in a letter to the supervisor. "The objective is to come up with a more cohesive plan to address traffic in Noe Valley while taking into account the needs of community-based businesses."

City regulations prohibit commercial vehicles over three tons on many, but not all, residential streets in Noe Valley. The largest Google buses weigh 24 tons and have a capacity for 55 passengers.

Google operates the shuttle service under a contract with Bauer's Worldwide Intelligent Transportation, a San Francisco corporate limousine service.