Durable Growth

Pleasant Hill BART TOD a mixed bag

Pleasant Hill BART Today. Image from Google Maps.

Pleasant Hill BART Today. Image from Google Maps.

Contra Costa Centre, which is the name used in marketing the transit oriented development near the Pleasant Hill BART station describes itself as an “exemplary model of Transit-Oriented Development” which “invite[s] residents, workers, and shoppers to drive less and take transit more.”  It seems like it should be – the partnership in charge of creating the development built over 400 hotel rooms, 2700 apartments, 2.4 million square feet of commercial space and a modest amount of retail.  This sounds like a recipe for success – build a ton of housing, commercial and retail space within a quarter mile of a transit stop and watch people stop driving and start taking the train, walking and so on.  Sadly, at least from the point of view of increasing transit use, it didn’t work.

While planning for TOD at the Pleasant Hill BART station (which is in unincorporated Contra Costa County) began in the mid 1980s, nothing was really done until 2005 and the apartment portion was completed in 2010.  Looking at the graph below which shows the the number of average daily boardings for the BART stations on the Pittsburg/Bay Point line in Contra Costa county.  You can clearly see the tech boom the following crash the slow recovery and the great recession in the ridership trends.  What you can’t see is a clear increase in ridership at the Pleasant Hill BART station relative to other BART stations, which did not get much in the way of the TOD treatment.

Ridership since 2000. Image from the author.

Ridership since 2000. Image from the author.

In fact, the Pleasant Hill BART station can be pretty accurately estimated by simply adding 750 to the daily ridership of the Concord Station, which received no changes during this time.

The difference between Pleasant Hill and Concord station ridership.

The difference between Pleasant Hill and Concord station ridership.

Compared to the Concord BART station the PH Bart station has gained fewer than 50 daily riders, which is small compared to the seasonal variation.  It has lost significant ridership compared both to the average station in Contra Costa and to the Walnut Creek station.

The difference between Pleasant Hill and average Contra Costa BART ridership.

The difference between Pleasant Hill and average Contra Costa BART ridership.

I don’t have nice historic statistics on bus ridership, but it is likely to be small compared to BART ridership based on the fairly limited service offered to the PH BART station.  As for pedestrian traffic, I will also have to plead ignorance other than to mention that in my observation there aren’t that many people about on foot – fewer than in any of the three central Contra Costa downtowns or even around the Park and Shop in Concord (a 1950s era shopping center which will be the subject of another post when I get around to it.)

PH Private Plazas over Parking

Image from the author.

This establishes that the new development hasn’t been super-successful in its goals of attracting lots of pedestrians and transit riders, but doesn’t say anything about why.  There are several reasons that I can think of.

The retail space mostly sits empty.  This is both because there aren’t enough residents to create demand for the space and because the (well integrated) parking for the retail spaces is very poorly signed on Treat Blvd (the 6 lane road on the left in the photo on the right).  So poorly signed, in fact, that I was unaware of its existence until I looked for it on foot.

This is made worse because it is impossible to turn from eastbound Treat Blvd onto Sunshine blvd, the street through the center of the project without first making a U turn.

Because of the failure of the retail component of the project, getting to the nearest market involves a half mile walk along a 6+ lane road over a 10 lane freeway and crossing several 4 lane roads.  Making the retail more attractive to people on Treat as well as building more housing within walking distance of the stores is key to making this project more successful.

Office development nearby. Image by the author.

Office development nearby. Image by the author.

The other main problem with this project is that the office development surrounding the project, especially the older office buildings have large setbacks of 60-100 feet from the street.  This, combined with street widths of 80-120 feet, saps the pedestrian vitality of the area and are unnecessary.  20-foot setbacks would have been much better.

Contra Costa Centre is an example of how much we really have forgotten about how to build cities.  Its creators really tried and met with mixed success in creating a better environment.  Their main mistakes were in things like building setbacks, which can’t be easily fixed and seem to be part of the DNA of the suburbs, and in details like signage. The did get a lot right – the central area around the station is fairly pleasant and it does concentrate people so they are at least a short drive from shopping, but it doesn’t feel like a city or work like one.  But it is closer than it was when they started:

Pleasant Hill BART in 1988.

Pleasant Hill BART in 1988.

Cross-posted with Livable CoCo.

Written by Ronald Kappesser

Ronald Kappesser

Ronald Kappesser is a mechanical engineer who lives and works in Concord,CA. He writes about cities in his spare time because he believes good design can make them more affordable, durable, safe and attractive.

3 comments to Pleasant Hill BART TOD a mixed bag

  • […] Vibrant Bay Area Examines Transit-Oriented Developments At BART Stations (1, 2, 3, 4) […]

  • If you go to google earth and do the back in time aerial, you can also see it in 1939 when it was just orchards.

  • Ronald, one comment and one question.

    You conform with the developers in describing the entire Contra Costa Centre as a TOD. To me, only the residential/retail component immediately south of the BART station is TOD, with the remainder of the development being TAD (transit-adjacent development). Except for the ability to walk from the station to the office buildings, along routes that aren’t anything special for walkability, the other buildings are just the same as one would find in an office park anywhere.

    Also, you note that there is little evidence that train boardings have been affected by the TOD. Is is possible that the TOD residents are Contra Costa residents who were already using BART but who decided to leave their single-family homes in favor of the TOD? If that was the case, train boardings wouldn’t change, but parking demand and traffic would be lessened. I know that if I still lived in Contra Costa County, I’d have been tempted by the lifestyle change.