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About this blog: I grew up in Los Angeles and moved to the area in 1963 when I started graduate school at Stanford. Nancy and I were married in 1977 and we lived for nearly 30 years in the Duveneck school area. Our children went to Paly. We moved ...  (More)

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How to Find The Big Payoff in Reducing Traffic and Parking Challenges

Uploaded: Feb 27, 2016
This blog is based on a public comment at council and public memo to council members.
The council has asked staff to develop an additional Comp Plan scenario that goes more aggressively at specific traffic/parking and housing challenges.

I urged the council to design an alternative that goes further than the existing alternatives in developing policies and plans to reduce the traffic and parking challenges created by existing workers who drive to work in Palo Alto.

I do understand that the council has also asked staff to examine the impact of further reductions in job growth.

But simple math says that any big payoff will come from influencing the behavior of existing workers. There are simply far more existing workers who drive and park in Palo Alto than the number of new workers that can be changed legally by policy, especially since we do not control much of Stanford’s activity.

I was pleased that Mayor Burt emphasized the evolving common interests of businesses with the goal of residents in reducing the driving and parking behavior of existing workers and the Mayor’s support for the TMA efforts.

When I spoke to council I mentioned several ideas for a more aggressive push to change the behavior of current workers who drive here. Let’s ask the consultant to look at these options AND offer us other options to go big on influencing the behavior of existing commuters into the city.

Scenario 4 includes testing the idea of better transit service along El Camino and grade separation along the rail corridor.

Let’s have scenario 5 test the idea of better Caltrain service to California Avenue combined with an employer run shuttle service.

Scenario 4 includes implementing paid parking in the downtown and California Avenue areas. Let the consultant go big and test higher permit prices in addition—with some provision for low wage workers.

Scenario 4 incudes free transit passes for PA residents in transit accessible areas. Let’s have the consultant go big and test free or very low cost transit passes for low wage workers and perhaps all workers not now covered.

Scenario 4 includes two new parking garages. Let’s have the consultant go big and test additional new parking facilities perhaps underground or part of mixed use developments with extra parking for the public.

And let’s test the impact of letting residents sell their parking permits and letting businesses sell their extra parking spaces.

And finally, and perhaps the really important next step, is to fully fund the TMA as Neilson Buchanan has been persistently suggesting.

We know from the draft EIR that small changes in the amount of new jobs and housing do not move the needle much on traffic and parking.

Let’s follow the Mayor’s more optimistic and forward going approach and go big on getting existing commuters into the city to change their behavior. Then we can compare the impacts of those policies to what happens if the number of new jobs changes by 5 percent one way or the other.

I am sure also that readers can share other ways to go big for reducing the single occupancy car commuting of some/many current workers in PA.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Positive approaches , a resident of Professorville,
on Feb 27, 2016 at 3:45 pm

I like your approach of thinking creatively and positively.

Can the city set up some kind of subsidized "fleet" or something like that which would be focused on commuters and then others during the day in Palo Alto so that if they came on the train to our fair city, they could take a car to work and then during the day would take all of us from A to B (so we would not need cars)? I am thinking electric cars and a Lyft type system or shuttles or anything that would encourage cars to not be single occupancy commuters. My understanding is that one big problem is people drive due to convenience and if they had a way to get around from the train station or some parking place outside of town to their jobs they might forgot driving here from wherever they live? They might be motivated to save money and time. Just trying to come up with creative ideas....

Posted by Allen Akin, a resident of Professorville,
on Feb 27, 2016 at 6:02 pm

I like most of your proposals. A possible exception is new parking garages. If these are located in areas that are commonly accessed by driving through neighborhoods, won't those neighborhoods be significantly and unfairly impacted by the extra traffic? Perhaps satellite parking lots or structures located near 101, 280, and/or El Camino, with heavy shuttle service to handle the "final mile", would be viable. If there's sufficient land available (as there may be near 101), these might be attractive commercial development sites as well.

A friend of mine tells me that I consistently underestimate the effects of self-driving cars, and after some thought, I believe he's right. The impact can be either positive or negative, depending on the infrastructure that develops. For example, consider two scenarios:

Scenario A (current): Car owner leaves home, drives 10 miles to work, parks car for the day, drives 10 miles home, parks car for the night. 20 vehicle-miles travelled.

Scenario B (shared self-driving cars): Rider requests car from a central facility halfway between home and work (NB: this is the best case for a central facility; think about the triangle inequality). Car drives 5 miles to rider's home. Car then drives 10 miles to rider's work. Car drives 5 miles back to central facility. In the evening, car drives 5 miles back to rider's workplace. Car then drives 10 miles to rider's home. Finally, car drives 5 miles back to central facility. 40 vehicle-miles travelled -- twice as much traffic as before!

Shared cars (whether self-driving or not) can never travel fewer vehicle miles than the private vehicles they replace, unless some other change in usage occurs as well (mandatory on-the-fly carpooling or delaying and sorting service requests, for examples). They can approach the number of vehicle miles that private cars use if there's sufficient secure parking distributed throughout their service area.

The lesson here is that we need to think about the network configuration for shared cars in advance, or we could naively make things much worse than they are today. Another good thing to add to a forward-thinking EIR...

Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Feb 27, 2016 at 7:19 pm

Do you know if our city follows up on its existing TDMA/TMA arrangements? If not, and if it can be induced to do so, we could have a large element of the solution right there.

Posted by nondriver, a resident of Fairmeadow,
on Feb 27, 2016 at 9:14 pm

Perhaps some of the major Palo Alto employers (i.e. Palantir) could consider providing buses from SF as do Google, Facebook, Genentech, etc.

Posted by Norman Beamer, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Feb 28, 2016 at 7:19 am

Also need to come up with candidates for satellite parking lots with free shuttles.

Posted by Be Positive, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive,
on Feb 28, 2016 at 11:08 am

Be Positive is a registered user.

I would love to see a map of where our restaurant and retail employees live (they comprise a lot of the parking problem). Are they coming from EPA, Fremont, Redwood City, etc. Very simply, is there an easy, inexpensive, convenient way for them to get to work? Or any way at all? I have a friend who lives in Redwood City and works in a restaurant in downtown Palo Alto. To get to work by 4pm, she would need to leave Redwood City at 6 am. There is literally no way for her to get from the restaurant to her home at 11 at night when she gets done working. The next transport of any kind is at 6 the next morning. No choice but to drive and park. As another example, to get from my house to the San Jose airport (a 20-25 minute drive) takes between 1:10 to 1:30 minutes and requires 6 forms of transport and costs 7.75.

Posted by Professorville Resident, a resident of Professorville,
on Feb 28, 2016 at 1:08 pm

One of the issues of the garages is that they are often underutilized.
I suspect that we can help solve this by charging different prices on the different levels.
Make the cheapest paid parking the parking on the top of the structure. The most expensive should be the ground floor. If we do this, the structure will look empty until it is actually full, and people will be more likely to park.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Feb 28, 2016 at 3:11 pm

I would like to discuss your idea of paying for parking. RWC takes small change in meters for street parking. Why can't we do similar here with exemption for residents. Also, why not have free parking start at 3.00 pm rather than 5.00 pm. That would still give some free parking. I also advocate 30 minute parking outside retail, and that would be all over Palo Alto, not just the commercial areas.

We can do better than the confusing system we have at present.

Lastly. Residents selling permits. Are permits linked to cars by license numbers? Surely businesses should be able to give a contract employee a permit just for the few days being worked. That would enable them to park in a garage instead of needing street parking. And many residents who have driveways should be able to lease these empty driveways to downtown workers. This system works well in the UK.

Posted by Counterclockwise, a resident of University South,
on Feb 28, 2016 at 5:40 pm

"Also need to come up with candidates for satellite parking lots with free shuttles."

Reserve the PA airport runway and taxiways for shuttle parking from 5 AM to 10 PM; open them for airplanes the rest of the time.

Posted by Data-driven, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Feb 29, 2016 at 10:06 am

Be Positive - you can get a comprehensive breakdown of downtown commuters at this link: Web Link

A lot live in SF, SJ, and places like Redwood City.

For almost everyone in SF, it's faster to take Caltrain to downtown than to drive. (That's one reason it doesn't make sense for a mid-sized employer in the downtown like Palantir to run shuttles to SF. For shuttles, we should be looking at the top ten employers in Palo Alto, and they are all in the Research Park.)

Surprisingly, it's often faster to drive to Caltrain and park in San Jose than to drive to downtown PA, especially if you are going at rush hour, when Caltrain is most frequent and car trips are slowest. Redwood City has built a lot of housing near downtown and the Caltrain station recently. Those people can take Caltrain, and it's likely faster than driving either El Camino or 101.

If that's maybe 25-30% of downtown workers, you've got the potential for a big reduction in driving if you can convince most of them.

Unfortunately, with employee parking at $2/day for normal workers and $2/week for low-wage workers, the city has priced parking substantially less than the cost of transit. Since the actual cost is closer to $10/day, the city should consider withdrawing subsidies for employee parking and shifting them to employee transit. We'd all be better off if employees faced the real costs of driving vs. taking transit.

Posted by Steve Raney, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Feb 29, 2016 at 10:37 am

1. Enact a "city-wide trip cap" to reduce single occupancy vehicle commuting from 75% to 50%. If we poll Palo Altans, I believe there is a supermajority in favor. This will reduce about 50,000 car trips per week day in Palo Alto.

Within the last two years, the cities of Menlo Park, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, and Cupertino enacted "trip caps" on new development projects. These trip caps motivate employers to adopt strategies to reduce their employees' single occupancy vehicle commute mode share.

2. The most cost-effective alternatives to driving alone are:
* biking, foldable electric scooters, electric bikes
* walking
* carpooling
* filling up seats on existing transit service.

There is empirical evidence that people shift to carpooling when other options aren't so great. Some folks yearn for a big increase in public bus transit, but this is often not the most cost-effective approach.

3. Northern European cities have very high rates of biking with plenty of senior citizens biking. The main difference between Northern Europe and PA is the social expectation surrounding biking. It's all in our wimpy mind-set.

4. The State and others have made a finding about increased traffic congestion from the first wave of autonomous vehicles on freeways.
Toyota: induces sprawl.
Stanford's Sven Bieker: steals transit riders.
Fehr & Peers paper: 25% robocar mkt share induces 10% more VMT (vehicle miles traveled).
CA Air Resources Board: VMT increases because of rebound effect, sprawl, and mode capture from transit

Posted by Neilson Buchanan, a resident of Downtown North,
on Feb 29, 2016 at 11:08 am

Steve, thanks again for refining the scenarios and adding a fifth. This is the ideal time for even more divergent thinking followed by hard choices to narrow down best alternatives. You and I are in substantial agreement.

I dont agree with residents selling their permits to non-resident and negatively impacting neighborhood quality. The first step should a council policy decision to designating specific neighborhoods as commercial parking lots with associated come/go traffic. This wont happen politically. And I dont agree that Calif and Univ Ave downtowns should have more office space and garages. Space is too precious and now is time to proposal novel housing and retai options. Think Greenwich Village not Manhattan.

TMA has high ROI but long timelines. Timelines can be expedited with very small per capita funding by residents and employers over a larger geo area, ie Calif/Univ Ave commercial core and nearby residential area. On a monthly basis I have been generously donating unrestricted financial gift to City in hopes of triggering employers to step up. Employers mainly have ducked their leadership role. Talk is cheap. Financing the TMA is not expensive. In March TMA Study Session Council must have call to action...not more talk. I urge Chamber of Commerce to step forward with solutions not willful blindness. Judy Kleinberg above all others knows what can be done.

Posted by PASZ Fellow Traveler, a resident of Midtown,
on Feb 29, 2016 at 12:42 pm

deleted, referenced a comment that did not appear on this topic thread.

Posted by Other Ideas, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Feb 29, 2016 at 1:48 pm

How about tax credits for telecommuting or staggering office building open and closing hours? I have seen those strategies work in other cities with established downtowns.

Posted by Mary Grimes, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Mar 1, 2016 at 12:28 pm

Why not establish a Commuting Commission to review each individual's need to drive solo and issue commuting permits only to the truly needy applicants? Everyone else has to take transit or find another job elsewhere. Impound violators' vehicles. This would both solve the parking problem and give regional transit a much needed boost.

Posted by Gale JohnsonfEdz2, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Mar 1, 2016 at 2:11 pm

There have been many good ideas floated for mitigating our local traffic and parking problems. I like mayor Pat Burt's idea of building one new parking garage on the site of an existing big downtown parking lot, but not near residential areas. I'll let the experts on staff pick the best location and calculate the number of additional spots that would be made available with an underground level and 3 above ground levels. The offsite parking idea with an effective shuttle service to downtown is also a good one.

I am more pessimistic about the housing issue, the idea that building more affordable units in the downtown area will encourage and allow current commuters to move and live here, in our city, and nearer to their places of employment. But, another part of that equation is...nothing will happen until property owners/developers are given incentives...I think that means money... from cities with funds available for that kind of housing. They are not altruists by nature. They are smart business people and know what profits and losses and bottom line decisions mean and are all about!

I've written before about my concern and pessimism of the 200 a year non-resident parking permit reduction working. But, as it's currently written into law we'll deal with it and try to enforce it. And I hope we all understand that this is just a grand experiment. We'll learned a lot about human behavior and how much we can or can't change it I'm sure.


Posted by chris, a resident of University South,
on Mar 2, 2016 at 5:41 pm

Providing off-site parking in Palo Alto will be very expensive for little benefit, because of the high land cost in Palo Alto and difficulty of providing frequent shuttles. Ask Stanford how successful that is when they use it.

Better to analyze where workers are coming from and provide transit subsidies for Caltrain and VTA. Maybe provide help for them to get to Caltrain and VTA.

Palo Alto could work with VTA to provide express buses from various locations in the county to Palo Alto. There are already several of these to Stanford Research. Why can't these be expanded to Palo Alto?

Dumbarton Express runs separate express buses from the East Bay to Downtown / Stanford and Stanford Research / Cal Ave. These should also be subsidized.

Run shuttles from the Caltrain stations to points in Palo Alto, just as Stanford runs Marguerite from the train to its facilities.

Coming up with creative ideas is fine, but there are plenty of ideas right in front of us that are already successful and low-risk.

Palo Alto does all this wringing of hands over low-wage workers. Has anybody talked with Stanford about what they do for low-wage workers? They have plenty in food services, medical center, and facilities.

Posted by Allen Akin, a resident of Professorville,
on Mar 2, 2016 at 8:37 pm

@chris: The high cost of land downtown is one reason satellite lots are interesting -- *if* you're going to build more parking, it makes sense to build it where the cost is lower (even though it still may be high in an absolute sense).

This doesn't detract from the other points you made, of course.

Posted by Marie, a resident of Midtown,
on Mar 3, 2016 at 1:57 pm

Marie is a registered user.

Why not convert some of the monthly parking permit passes to daily passes at a reasonable amount. $17.50 a day is unreasonable. A reader above says a parking place costs $10 a day - although I have no idea how they arrived at that. The existing parking garages are sunk costs, so it is hard to believe that the maintenance isn't less than that. Provide a $5 permit for low income workers, particularly shift workers, who don't work everyday and for residents who want to come to lunch and a matinee, etc.? Put the cheaper daily permits on the top floor. Implement the change that allows employers buy transferable parking permits, identified by license plates, input each day.

I also think $50K salary is too low a bar for the lower rate. Given the cost of living, it should be more like $80K. We need to have a better policy for shift workers.

How about an app that let's people know where parking is available, which is common in so many places or an app that can accept license plates for daily parking? Why is the city transportation gurus so wedded to old technology? Permits that are attached to the vehicle and not transferable, is a good way to leave garages empty.

Posted by chris, a resident of University South,
on Mar 3, 2016 at 9:51 pm

Your are talking about encouraging more people to park downtown, when they are already too many cars already. You would need to build substantially more parking garages if you lower the price.

You will not be able to build new garages with cheap/low parking rates, given the cost of land and construction. Also, you imply the current garages are paid off. You should check the finances of the parking district. You are likely to find you are mistaken.

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