It wasn't long ago when one of the most frequently cited problems with Menlo Park was its traffic. And as Menlo Park recovers from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns and businesses figure out the circumstances under which they'll reopen their offices, the City Council is renewing its conversations about how to mitigate that traffic.
Pre-pandemic, one of the efforts underway was to explore a number of "traffic demand management" (TDM) programs, aimed at eliminating barriers to transit and promoting travel modes other than solo driving to and from work. Among those TDM programs, the city commissioned a feasibility study to look into a transportation management association (TMA). Such associations typically are nonprofit organizations that develop, manage and market transportation programs; its members are made up of local businesses and institutions. For instance, the Palo Alto TMA subsidizes Caltrain passes for low-income employees and some carpool and rideshare trips, and provides trip planning for people who work in the city.
Rather than creating its own TMA, the feasibility study by city staff and the consultant Steer Group recommended that the city consider three steps toward expanding options for getting workers in Menlo Park out of solo vehicles.
The City Council adopted the study Oct. 12 on a 4-0 vote with Councilwoman Cecilia Taylor absent, and supported working with Manzanita Works, a new organization to help employees avoid solo trips to work, to learn more about what benefits the city would receive from joining a transportation consortium managed by the organization. The council also agreed to do more research about the commute tools that the community needs as people's work habits may change as the threats posed by COVID-19 lessen.
Manzanita Works is a relatively new fiscally sponsored project of the nonprofit Community Initiatives. Among other projects, the organization manages a long-distance shuttle for essential workers employed by its member organizations. Members of the Manzanita Coalition include school employee and teacher associations in several local school districts, including the Mountain View Los Altos, Mountain View Whisman, Palo Alto, Los Altos and Ravenswood districts, as well as several local churches including Congregation Etz Chayim in Palo Alto, St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in East Palo Alto, and the St. Mark and University AME Zion churches in East Palo Alto and Palo Alto.
In a public comment, Manzanita Works CEO Mila Zelkha encouraged the City Council to join the consortium this year to help speed up and shape the programs that the consortium pursues. Councilman Ray Mueller favored joining the consortium sooner, but ultimately the council held off on considering that proposal until more details were ironed out, in accordance with a request from Councilwoman Jen Wolosin.
In addition, the three steps toward better managing transportation options for workers citywide were laid out in the adopted plan. In the first step, to endorse existing TDM programs in the region, the city would join commute.org and its board. It could also encourage other employers within the city to participate in Manzanita Works' transportation programs.
In the second step, the city could work to become an example of an employer offering its workers a robust set of options to avoid driving solo. That step might include educating city employees about and promoting the transportation offerings available through commute.org. It could also join Manzanita Works as an employer to offer its workers more commuter benefits, estimated to cost about $40,000.
In the third step, the city could invest further funds in supporting commute.org and Manzanita Transit at an estimated cost of anywhere between $30,000 and $120,000.
Those steps would begin later this fiscal year and run into the 2022-23 and 2023-24 fiscal years, according to a staff report.
Email Staff Writer Kate Bradshaw at [email protected]