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Manzanita Talks move forward

 
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Efforts to bring together public and private sector leaders to talk about how to address regional transportation problems moved forward on June 13 with what Joint Ventures Silicon Valley President and CEO Russell Hancock called a historic discussion.

It was the third in a series of five such meetings that Joint Ventures has convened called the Manzanita Talks, which aim to explore creating a "sub-regional transportation management association (TMA)" a nonprofit that develops and manages a transportation program to give commuters viable alternatives to driving solo to get to work. TMAs generally include cities and/or businesses.

Officials from East Palo Alto, Los Altos, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Redwood City, Sunnyvale and Atherton are participating in the talks, as well as representatives from Facebook, Genentech, Google, Intuit, LinkedIn, Palantir and Tesla.

City Council members don't often meet with people from the private sector, especially outside of "contentious places" like council chambers or law offices, and most bring with them a "chip on their shoulder" based on the sector they represent, Hancock noted.

Those from the private sector, Hancock said, often feel vilified for creating jobs, and believe that they're being blamed for traffic and housing problems, as well as being pressured to pay for everything. They've already invested millions in their own companies' transportation programs, while the public sector appears to be doing less, he said.

Public sector people, he added, feel frustrated because they believe that people from the private sector don't understand that cities "can't just build transportation infrastructure overnight" and can't go "winging around with solutions" or making grandiose statements. Infrastructure projects have to be carefully studied, with environmental impact reports completed and many levels of city processes conducted first, all of which are time-consuming.

Despite those differences, he said, "none of the partners stormed out (of the discussion). Everybody is still talking."

Joint Ventures Silicon Valley is going to spend the summer doing research and analysis, and will come back to the group in September with alternatives and recommendations for funding and governance structures that might work.

While the effort initially was intended to address the "first and last mile problem," characterized as the challenge of connecting people with transit options near where they live and work, the effort now incorporates goals to encourage commuters who travel five to 10 miles to work to use alternatives to driving solo.

Hancock said that the eight tech companies taking part in the talks run some 1,600 buses in total that bring people from all over the Bay Area to their workplaces. Those employees alone equal in number 11% of all Caltrain daily riders, and they have a combined 3,000 bikes on their campuses, Hancock said.

Despite efforts by those companies, five out of six city officials expressed in a survey ambivalence toward the transportation demand management programs they'd required of development projects in their cities.

How to make those tech bus and shuttle trips more efficient whether by encouraging private sector companies to partner with each other or with the public sector and whether these companies should take on greater efforts to provide bus services to the contract workers they employ are elements that will be evaluated in Joint Ventures' research.

The group is also looking at the possibility of forming a subregional transportation management association, or at least linking the existing transportation associations to achieve better outcomes and economies of scale. Many, but not all, of the existing associations operate within the boundaries of single cities and provide transportation routes that don't necessarily capture the needs of people who work and live in different cities, Hancock said.

The Joint Ventures study also is expected to analyze three key components of what makes Peninsula traffic so painful: getting on and off U.S. 101, traveling east to west, and the needs of communities that have significant cut-through traffic.

Conversations about how to fund whatever is recommended in the study, Hancock added, will begin in the fall.

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