This post represents Ken Pyle’s comments regarding the proposed amendment to the Mineta San Jose International Airport Master Plan (File PP18-103). The ideas and views in this post do not represent any of his professional or volunteer roles (including his role as SJC Airport Commissioner) and are strictly his own.
The proposed changes to the SJC Airport Master Plan extend the plan to the year 2037. Before we look forward, let’s look back 18 years ago. In 2001, there was no smartphone, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg was still in high school, AOL was the World Wide Web for many people, and GE was the world’s most valuable company as measured by market capitalization.
Fast-forward two decades from now and we are sure to see similar changes in mobility and the built-environment based on the technological developments occurring today.
Some of these developments include:
- Autonomous Electric Air Taxies are likely to be mainstream at some level, given the interest from major companies, such as Airbus, Bell Helicopter, Uber (PDF) and start-ups like Airspace Experience Technologies, Joby Aviation, and Lilium. Bye Aerospace is projecting operating costs for its electric trainer plane, slated for 2020 delivery, of approximately $3 per hour or 2 cents per mile. This promises cleaner transportation at a tenth of the current operating cost. The Air Taxi services will most like be intercity transit (e.g. San Jose to San Francisco) as alternatives to traditional transit and/or vehicles, as envisioned, may be as likely to be from building to building, as it is airport to airport.
- Autonomous Vehicles – The industry may currently be in the so-called “deflated expectations”, just as the broadband ecosystem was with the demise of Webvan, Pets.com, and others at the turn of the century. In the meantime, start-ups and established companies are working on solutions for the operational issues that will be required for autonomous driving to scale. Policy at the local, state and national will be critical to determining whether the future is shared autonomous or zombie cars; the so-called heaven or hell scenarios. In either scenario, there is likely going to be less demand for parking on a per passenger basis in 2037 as compared in 2019.
- Boring – Elon Musk’s December 2018 unveiling of his 1+ mile tunnel in Hawthorne, CA was widely derided by transportation experts as being unfeasible as a potential subway alternative. The real break-through was an order of magnitude reduction in cost for boring, compared to traditional methods. The techniques he employed for boring, along with low-cost, autonomous electric shuttles, which will become common by 2037, could make point-to-point transit projects financially viable, such as a connector between the Santa Clara train station and SJC. For a high-level analysis of one such scenario, please click here.
Solar, Energy Storage & Microgrids – The cost of electricity from alternative energy sources and associated storage continues to drop and is already close to parity with electricity from fossil fuel powered generators (see this article as a recent example). By combining power generation and storage, it is possible to create a microgrid, independent from the larger grid, providing resilience in the event of an outage from a manmade or natural disaster.
- Land will Become More Valuable – Unless there is an economic Armageddon, Silicon Valley land will continue to become more precious and will be reflected in the cost of housing. If we want to have a middle class, we will need to more efficiently utilize the land already devoted to housing, mix-use to reduce vehicle miles traveled and look at ways to better use land now dedicated to automobiles. Patrick Kennedy of Panoramic Interests puts it well with his statement that we need high-quality designs that are micro, modular and car-free if we are going to begin to tackle the high cost of housing.
Comments on the EIR
The following comments are made in the context of the above premises for how things will be different in 2037.
- What is the plan to accommodate electric vertical take-off & landing (VTOL) and other air taxis that may become both an airport connector (e.g. SJC-SFO, like the helicopter shuttles that flew between those airports in the 1960s), as well as an alternative shuttle to get to the airport (air taxi, such as what Uber proposes)? Specifically,
- What will be the impact on the airside operations (e.g. new pads to accommodate electric VTOL shuttle take-off and landings for inter-airport flights)?
- What will be the impact on the landside operations? For instance, will the airport need to build new pads, say, on top of a parking lot, to accommodate electric VTOL air taxi take-off and landings for air taxi service (e.g. building to-airport flights, where the passengers check-in and pass through screening after being dropped off by an Air Taxi)?
- Could T-8 be more generalized to include other types of buildings, such as hotel, workforce housing, offices, etc.? This might require zoning that isn’t possible in today’s code (e.g. housing on airport property).
- Could the scope of T16 (hotel) include the flexibility to include things such as building above a parking lot? Could it also include a bridge over the road that separates it from the terminal? This bridge might also be part of the building, effectively using the space above the road for offices (e.g. SJC admin offices), hotel rooms and, potentially, workforce housing.
- Is a connector between the SJC and the Santa Clara train station included in the General Plan changes? A transit connector is part of VTA’s 2040 plan (T-18, referenced on page 38 in the VTA plan), but it doesn’t seem to be in this plan? Does the terminal need to be included in the General Plan change? See this post for a fresh look at this challenge and how to potentially create a connector that pays for itself.
- What about the property that is just north of DeLaCruz/Trimble that had the Radar field. That should be looked at for some activity, such a solar power field.
- Regarding solar power and energy storage, what opportunities are there to integrate solar power (e.g. ring the fences with solar collectors, as an example) and does this need to be mentioned in the General Plan?