Over 60 merchants support first ever Silicon Valley Bike to Shop Day

May is the traditional time to celebrate Bike to Work month.  But 80% of trips are shopping and other nonwork trips. This year, the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition is sponsoring Bike to Shop Day, to celebrate and reward people who use bikes for errands on a regular basis, or who want to try it out bike shopping first time.
Bike to Shop Map
Over 60 merchants, from San Mateo to San Jose and places in between are providing promotions and discounts to people who arrive by bicycle.
Just a few of the participating merchants:
Nichi Bei Bussan in Japantown San Jose, Mariettes Chocolates in Willow Glen San Jose, Asian Box and Empire Vintage in Mountain View,  Forest juice bar in Los Altos, , Izzy’s, Street Bike, and Patagonia in Palo Alto,  multiple locations of Footwear etc and Diddams, and many more – explore the map complete with bike parking tips.
When cities plan bicycle improvements, merchant support is critical. Bike to Shop day also helps merchants appreciate how many of their customers shop by bike.
Follow along with the Bike to Shop day blog which has expert tips on topics such as outfitting your bike for everyday shopping  and getting a bike trailer for bulkier errands.  Also check out the Facebook page  for tips on bike shopping, photos and updates.
Bike shopping challenge.  In addition to all of the promotions and discounts, people who share a photo of themselves shopping by bicycle will get tickets for a prize drawing.   Send photos by email to ShopbyBikeSV@gmail.com or upload them to the Bike to Shop Day Facebook page. Or upload them on another social media (like Instagram or Twitter or Flickr) and email a link to it. Include your first name and home city plus a caption to make it more interesting. Deadline is Sunday, May 24.  Click here for challenge.
Check it out at the Bike to Shop day website, and get ready to enjoy bike shopping on Saturday, May 17.
Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

SAP Arena seeks to double parking in Diridon Station Area

In its comment on the Diridon Station Environmental Impact Report,  the SAP Arena urges the City of San Jose to nearly double the amount of parking in the plan area, compared to the amount proposed in the plan.

SAP predicts total demand will be in the low 20,000s of spaces for about 26,000 residents and workers once the plan area is built out.  This is enough parking for about 80% of people to drive.

With its Diridon Station Area Plan, the City of San Jose is seeking to transition the area over time to a walkable, urban extension of the downtown, with offices, entertainment, and new homes. The goal over the next 25 years of the General Plan is to have only 40% of the areas residents and workers commute by car.  The city’s goal is for the area to take much better use of existing and new transit, with existing Caltrain and light rail service, plus BRT lines, and BART coming in from the East Bay.

However, the SAP Arena currently has most of its customers driving, many from suburban areas with poor access to transit.  It is logical that they would be concerned that restricting parking would harm their business.  But in the interest of protecting their own current business model, SAP Arena are also proposing to negatively impact the value of future offices and homes that would benefit from being in attractive walkable neighborhoods rather than seas of parking lots and parking structure edifices.

When the Giants moved from Candlestick Park (where 90% of fans drove to ballgames) to AT&T Park on the waterfront near downtown, the City of San Francisco worked with the Giants and neighboring businesses to develop a new set of transportation plans that allow at least 50% of fans to get to the ballpark without driving.  Those plans have been successful, and the area around the ballpark is a revitalized, thriving urban neighborhood.  The SAP Arena isn’t moving, of course, but the area around is is changing. Hopefully the City can work with the Arena to work out plans to transform the access strategy over time, to support the sports and entertainment center and the city’s evolution to a walkable urban, more transit-oriented place.

Surface parking surrounding SAP arena

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In its comment letter, SAP Arena also included a request to add vehicle capacity on Bird (where there is currently a proposed bike lane) and listed other concerns about vehicle capacity that may pose challenges to plans to make the area more walkable and bikeable.

The San Jose Diridon Station Area Plan is scheduled to reviewed by San Jose Planning Commission on May 7 and by City Council on May 20.

If you are interested in seeing the area fulfill the plan’s goals of becoming a walkable, bikeable area that makes use of the Diridon Station’s transit, please plan to attend these meetings.  This is a substantial transformation for the City of San Jose, which grew up as a suburban, car-dominated place.  Support will be needed to help city leaders make the decisions to follow through on the planned changes.

 

 

Posted in Adopt-a-Station, San Jose | 1 Comment

Upcoming decisions in San Jose, Mountain View, Redwood City, Belmont, San Mateo

This week multiple cities on the Peninsula Corridor are reviewing Caltrain station area policy and access decisions. From South to North, here’s what’s going on in San Jose, Mountain View, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo.

San Jose Community Meeting, Diridon Station Area Plan

On Monday, April 7 starting at 6:30pm, the City of San Jose is hosting a community meeting laying out the next steps for the Diridon Station Area Plan, which is expected to be reviewed for approval by the Planning Commission and City Council over the next several months.  City Council faces a major turning point with the Diridon Plan – will it make the tough decisions to actually make the area walkable, bikeable, and transit-supportive, fullfilling the city’s General Plan goals? Or will it revert to the vehicle-dominant default, conceding to SAP Arena’s requests to have enough parking for more than 80% of people to drive?

If you want to help encourage San Jose to make the Diridon Station Area a walkable urban place that takes advantage of the transit, and want to catch up on what’s happening, this is a good meeting to attend.

Mountain View Shoreline Transportation Study

On Tuesday April 8 starting at 5pm, Mountain View City Council is reviewing interim results of the Shoreline Transportation Study.   The study covers proposals for improving the transit and bike connections between downtown Mountain View and North Bayshore (where Google is), in order to achieve Mountain View’s drivealone goal.

Mountain View Mode Share Goal

Good proposals include:

  • Protected bike lane on Shoreline (several options)
  • Several options to speed the shuttles, which currently take ~30 minutes to travel the 3 miles from Caltrain
  • Short-term, a bike/ped light cycle for the gnarly Castro/Moffett/Central intersection

Less good proposals include:

  • Pedestrian overcrossing of Central.   Pedestrian crossings should be designed as part of the Castro/Central grade separation that will be needed for more rail capacity
  • A parking garage with more spaces to meet the needs of growing transit ridership. Only about 35% of Mountain View Caltrain users park at the station today (Figure 2.9).  Given the high share of non-driving already, Mountain View should work with Caltrain and the Transportation Management Association to work on further reducing driving before investing in more parking capacity.

If you use Mountain View Caltrain station and go to North Bayshore, fill out this survey if you haven’t done so already.

Monday: Redwood City Climate Action Plan needs stronger transportation goals

On Monday night, Redwood City City Council is getting an update on progress on the City’s Climate Action Goals.

The good news is that the City is making progress on energy efficiency, where the city has strong and clear goals. The City is also taking some helpful and incremental steps on transportation, including implementing carshare with 613 participants and bikeshare with 140 participants, making tweaks to parking pricing, and marketing these programs with temporary grant funding.

But the city has weak goals to reduce carbon emissions for transportation – 8% overall, with no specific goals for the downtown area and key employment centers such as Redwood Shores. By contrast, Mountain View has set a goal of a 45% drivealone rate for the North Bayshore area, where Google is, and Palo Alto is about to set specific goals for the Downtown Area.

Redwood City has been doing very well with downtown infill development, and putting a price on parking. Nearby cites are realizing that this is not quite enough – it is important to have clear goals, stronger use of transit pass discounts so that transit is cost-effective compared to driving, shuttles and bikeshare for locations 1-2 miles from downtown, and a pro-active program to market the program and manage to the goals.

If you live in Redwood City and want to see the city set stronger transportation goals, send a note to Redwood City City Council.

Tuesday, April 8, 6pm: Belmont City Council reviews flawed recommendations for Ralston Corridor

On Tuesday April 8, Belmont City Council will be holding a study session to review a set of flawed proposals for Ralston Corridor which do not go far enough to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety. If you live in Belmont and/or use the Belmont Caltrain station please come to this meeting if you can and give public comment

Here are some of the problems with the current proposal:

Need to Reduce speeds - The current proposal does nothing to slow car traffic on Ralston, despite traffic speeds of 45+ in school areas, an accident rate 2x the state average, and speed being the primary cause of collisions on Ralston.  The Council should take action to:  1)  lower speed limits on Ralston, and 2) narrow vehicle lanes, which would would reduce vehicle speeds and increase space for bicycle lanes.

The traffic consultant has acknowledged that the City can lower speed limits on Ralston given the high accident rates, abundance of schools and elderly homes, steep grade, bicycle traffic, and afternoon glare.  However, Council is claiming that they have no power to lower vehicle speeds because most people are speeding already (the 85th percentile guideline).  Exceptions are possible given the aforementioned objective factors.

Install continuous bicycle lanes - The current proposal has few additional bike lanes on Ralston.  As a result, the majority of Ralston will still be without bike lanes, forcing cyclists to mix with traffic moving 40 mph faster.  This increases the likelihood of vehicle vs. bike collisions and slows car traffic caught behind cyclists.

Keep parks safer - The current proposal recommends that cyclists get off Ralston and instead bike through the heart of Twin Pines park.  This is dangerous given numerous of small children in the park at playgrounds and birthday parties.

Invest in safe pedestrian crossing and save money on parking.  The current proposal does not adding back the midblock crosswalk on Ralston connecting the downtown area, which would be a major improvement for pedestrians and people walking bicycles to get from one side of the downtown area to the other.   Belmont is considering investing large sums of money to build more parking supply on the logical south side of Ralston. There is plenty of parking on the other side, but people don’t know it’s there, and don’t feel safe crossing the street.  Having the long uphill walk between crosswalks is antithetical to the city’s goals to have a more walkable downtown area.

Monday, April 7, 7pm. San Mateo City Council set for final review of downtown parking plan

On Monday, April 7 at 7pm, the San Mateo City Council is set to review the Downtown Parking Plan for final approval.   The plan was developed with extensive community outreach, study, and Council review leading to a good proposal with strong community support from business  and residents.

Key elements in the plan include

  • increasing the price of parking
  • changing the price to incent use of structures and free up valuable onstreet spaces
  • encouraging demand-based adjustments along the lines of SFPark
  • signage and technology to make better use of existing space
  • investing in transportation demand management via a Downtown Transportation Management Association to reduce demand for parking

The TDM provision is particularly helpful in that it can enable the City to reduce downtown trips, which will help the City to do infill development in a transit-rich and walkable downtown.  For example, the proposed Essex apartment building, which is triggering fears of traffic among some residents, could to contribute to the downtown TMA, providing transit passes, carshare and bikeshare to help reduce trips, not only from residents, but others in the neighborhood.

The City of San Mateo is having a harder time filling areas that are more auto-oriented.   To meet the needs of today’s businesses, and to provide enough housing to avoid displacement of existing residents, it will help for San Mateo to be able to do infill development in the downtown area while reducing traffic and parking challenges.

If you live or work in San Mateo, send a note to the City Council, via the City Clerk thanking them for the good work on the parking policy, and encourage them to take the next steps to reduce vehicle trips downtown.

 

Posted in Adopt-a-Station, Belmont, Mountain View, Redwood City, San Jose, San Mateo | 4 Comments

Sunnyvale speaker predicts the decline of the office park

The Sunnyvale of today was designed for the industrial era, with factories located far from homes, retail malls built for freeway access and free parking, and cheap gas to drive from home to work to stores. All of these things are changing, according to Erik Calloway of planning firm Freedman Tung Sasaki, at a presentation for Sunnyvale Cool. These changes are transforming the places people prefer to work, shop, and live.

Separated zoning for the industrial era

Separated zoning for the industrial era

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The business parks that emerged in the mid-20th century were designed to be standalone centers for industrial manufacturing, far from homes and stores. They have plenty of landscaping, but no public space – the activity is inside the complex.

Screen Shot 2014-04-03 at 3.58.45 PM

 

Today the largest companies can still be self-contained – companies including Apple, Facebook, and Google are building internally focused headquarters – see Facebook HQ below.

Screen Shot 2014-04-03 at 4.25.15 PM

But a greater proportion of the economy is taking place among networks of collaborating business partners.


Screen Shot 2014-04-03 at 4.14.40 PM

Increasingly, people prefer public spaces to interact and collaborate.

Screen Shot 2014-04-03 at 4.25.28 PM

 

 

 

 

 

Many of the free-way-located shopping centers and arterial strip malls developed in the mid to late 20th century are now past their useful life, and no new malls are under construction for the first time since the 1950s.   More shopping is taking place online, so not all of the old retail space will be replaced.

Screen Shot 2014-04-03 at 3.59.09 PM

So there is demand for workplaces that have public space, and that have access to restaurants and services that people like to have nearby.

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The shift in workplace preferences is accompanied by a shift in the places where people many prefer to live.   More people prefer places where they need to drive less.  During the “great recession”, homes in urban areas maintained value more strongly than homes in remote suburbs.

Screen Shot 2014-04-03 at 4.12.12 PM

 

Driving is declining, in an age of more expensive gasoline and changing preferences.

Screen Shot 2014-04-03 at 4.53.06 PM

 

Because of these preferences, a much greater share of startup companies are starting to locate in center cities and walkable suburban downtowns, according to a new report highlighted in Atlantic Cities.

Screen Shot 2014-04-03 at 4.20.10 PM

 

Skeptics in Sunnyvale and other Bay Area suburban communities argue that there is no need to create new development, because the existing area is “built out.”  The presentation by Erik Calloway suggests that much of the existing building stock no longer meets today’s needs, so changes will be needed to keep up with how people want to live, work and shop.

An alternative, of course, is to continue to lose market share to more highly preferred walkable places with public space.

The full video is online, with many more insights on the evolution of Sunnyvale and Silicon Valley.

 

The slides from the presentation are online here:

Posted in Planning, Sunnyvale | 3 Comments

Proposed 8-story apartment building in downtown San Mateo – can the city use its new tools to limit traffic?

On Tuesday the San Mateo Planning Commission held a study session about a proposed apartment building at 5th and El Camino downtown, on a site currently used as a surface parking lot. The developer is proposing ~117 units in an 8 story building. They are proposing 165 parking spaces for residents, plus an additional 95 spaces to replace the spaces on the surface lot.

The place has a 94 walkscore, with groceries, downtown amenities, and Caltrain in walking distance, and the Hillsdale mall is a 15 minute bus ride. It is a great place to live without a car or with less driving, especially if the place provided carshare to complement the transit access.

But many of the community comments have focused on providing *more parking* (and then fearing the traffic generated as a self-fulfilling prophesy when everybody drives).

The City of San Mateo has been developing and implementing tools and policies to help reduce driving in transit-rich, pedestrian-friendly areas, including a Transportation Management Association for downtown. One key question is whether the City will be willing to use the new tools to reduce driving, alleviate traffic and parking fears, and help bring needed housing to the downtown area.

At the Commission meeting, there were about 15 public comments, half for and half against. Most supported the additional housing, with some concerns about having enough affordability, as well as traffic and parking.

Commission members made suggestions including real-time parking signs to indicate available space in the garages (a strategy that is part of the city’s proposed new parking plan), and creating safer street crossings to Central Park.

Reducing vehicle trips

The City of San Mateo has a Transportation Management Association for the downtown, to help reduce vehicle trips and parking demand. By requiring the development to join the TMA, with funding, reporting, and required trip reduction, the city could ensure that this development generates lower traffic and helps the neighborhood drive less. Measures could include unbundled parking helping residents rent as much parking as they need, giving out transit passes to residents, provided carshare spaces for residents and neighbors, and improving bike and pedestrian connections.

A blank wall facing the street

The pedestrian-friendliness of the building is marred by a blank wall proposed to face the street on 5th, covering parking spaces for residents and to replace the 95 spaces currently in the private surface lot. Even if there is architectural detail and landscaping, blank walls facing the street are ugly and would make the street less appealing for walking.

Paseo view, proposed Essex apartments in downtown San Mateo. Note parking area in the first 3 stories on the left.

Paseo view, proposed Essex apartments in downtown San Mateo. Note parking area in the first 3 stories on the left.

There are several ways the developers could solve the problem.
They could “wrap” the parking and put apartments on the outside (a design called a “Texas Donut.”) They could even seek to buy one of the two neighboring properties – a Sleep Train store facing El Camino, or a small strip retail center facing 4th. This would provide more space to accommodate parking without having the parking facing the street. In Mountain View, Planning Commission made a similar recommendation to a developer building on El Camino Real with a similar issue. That developer was successfully able to buy the adjacent property and improve the design. With unbundled parking and vehicle trip limits, the could provide less parking. They could use stacking technology to compress the amount of space taken up by the parking. A blank wall facing the street should be unacceptable in a pedestrian-friendly downtown area and the developer should come up with an alternative solution with a more active street face.

Height for housing

The developer is asking for permission to exceed the city’s 55 foot hight limit, to 75 feet. According Measure P, a ballot measure passed in 2004 extending Measure H passed in 1995, the building is required to provide 10% affordable housing units as well as other public benefits in order to exceed the height limit. Whether to grant permission, and what public benefits, will be the subject of debate.

San Mateo downtown is an increasingly popular place for startup companies. Job growth is exceeding housing growth, pushing up housing prices. The developer has applied for a State density bonus of 30% more units than allowed in exchange for including 10% low-income units. Beyond the dedicated low-income units, adding housing supply helps to relieve pressure on existing housing stock, and helps more people get to work without long drives. It is feasible to have a walkable, transit-friendly place within the City’s current height limit. How much should the city trade off improvement to the jobs/housing balance to alleviate rising prices and long commutes?

Posted in San Mateo | 4 Comments

Lawrence Expressway at Lawrence Station – help needed for a neighborhood-friendly, transit-friendly plan

Update: Here are the latest designs from Santa Clara County which were presented very briefly to Sunnyvale Planning Commission on Monday February 24. The material will presented in more depth, with more opportunity for questions an input, at the upcoming meeting on Monday March 3 (see below for detail). On March 3 the County will also present more detail on how the changes will affect Caltrain access and  bicycle access, responding to questions at the Sunnyvale Planning Commission.

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Santa Clara County is gathering community input on how to update Lawrence Expressway at the Reed/Monroe and Kifer intersections near Lawrence Station, as well as the Arques. They have been listening to the community and have started to incorporate community ideas in the plan. However, there are still significant concerns about creating neighborhood-friendly streets that can be accessed by Caltrain, walking, and bicycling, and that help the station area feel more like a “place” to live work and shop, supporting the goals of the City’s plans for the station area. There are a few key opportunities to learn about the latest plans and make your voice heard in the next few weeks.

If you care about making sure that the Lawrence Expressway will support – and not undermine – the city’s goals to make the Lawrence Station Area a friendlier neighborhood that supports walking, biking, and transit, please make your voice heard.  Santa Clara County cares a lot what Sunnyvale residents and decision-makers think. Input is needed and will make a difference. Here are the key opportunities:

* 2/24 Planning Commission study session on the latest proposed designs starting at 7pm at Sunnyvale City Hall, West Conference Room

* 3/3, Santa Clara County Public Meeting at 6:30 pm at Briarwood Elementary School (1930 Townsend Avenue, Santa Clara)

* 3/18 Sunnyvale City Council Study Session, time TBD

Posted in Adopt-a-Station, Sunnyvale | 5 Comments

Palo Alto Council considering the kickoff of a major vehicle trip reduction initiative

Update: Palo Alto City Council approved the initiative to move forward with a Transportation Management Association. This represents a sea change in how the city manages transportation. 18 months ago, the most common perspective in public discussions was that the city lacked enough parking, causing overflow onto neighborhood streets and needed more parking structures, which residents and businesses were reluctant to pay for.   Now, the City is pursuing a multi-pronged approach – residential permit parking; more efficient use of existing parking supply; transportation demand management to reduce driving, and more moderate increases in parking supply to fill gaps left by the previous policies.

On Monday night, Palo Alto City Council will review for approval the kickoff of a major transportation demand management initiative, with the goal of reducing demand for expensive parking structures and alleviating traffic congestion.

A year ago, the prevalent point of view in Palo Alto was that there was a serious parking shortage, and the solution was to build more parking.   Now, according to comments at recent City Council meetings there is broad agreement among many business leaders, residents, and decision-makers that a large part of the solution can be a set of programs to reduce driving, utilizing lessons from success of major employers and from other cities.

On Monday night February 24 (see agenda) night February 24, the City Council will review a range of measures, strategic and tactical.

The City is looking to start the process of creating a Transportation Management Association, a nonprofit organization that will collect funds and manage programs to reduce driving, with an initial focus on downtown.  The proposal is to hire a consultant by June who will help the city define and create the TMA.  In the startup phase, a steering committee would define the mission, initial priorities,  and initial funding sources. The steering committee would assess data about current travel behavior; the city’s current study evaluating downtown development, scheduled to come out this Spring, is expected to include relevant and statistically valid information.

The TMA would start with seed funding from the City, and would be funded on an ongoing basis from participating businesses and developments.

Palo Alto is the latest city in the area pursuing the TMA approach.  San Mateo and Mountain View have set up TMAs,  Menlo Park intends to as part of its General Plan in progress, and San Jose is leaning in that direction as part of the Diridon Station Area Plan.

Based on research among programs in other public and private sector programs, important factors in success over and above any specific program are likely to include

  • shared goals among business and resident stakeholders, including strong and quantitative mode share goals;
  • solid data about participants travel patterns and preferences
  • regular measurement and transparent, public reporting
  • accountability for results
  • strong and ongoing communication and marketing to participants
  • stable and sufficient funding

The City is looking to kick things off with some programs to start early, including beefing up the city’s shuttle programs, providing a rideshare app, and bringing in carshare stations.

In addition to these programs, the City is intending to offer the Caltrain GoPass to city employees who give up their parking pass, starting in April, 2014.

To help gather data to plan the transportation initiatives, the Council plans to discuss a recommendation from several council members to create a Business Registry.  Unlike earlier failed initiatives to create a business license tax, the goal of this program is to gather baseline data about businesses in the city. When a City Council member asked City Manager James Keene earlier this year about the number of people who work downtown, Keene answered “in the range of 10,000 to 15,000.”  This is not a precise enough figure for reasonable planning – the goal is to get better data to make decisions.

Parking remains an important part of the picture in Palo Alto. The city is moving ahead with a residential parking program that will remove neighborhood streets as a source of free parking for employees.  The City is moving forward with several projects to make more efficient use of the parking lots and structures it already has.  And the City is moving forward at a slower pace to evaluate the potential to add garages.  The more progress at reducing trips, the less need for garages.

Posted in Adopt-a-Station, Palo Alto | 4 Comments

Millbrae reviews development near Caltrain/BART station – can it be walkable?

The City of Millbrae is starting the process to review new developments for the area near the Caltrain/BART station.

Update: there are two opportunities to start to get involved in March – read on for details. 

Another Update: Jim Frank wrote his Master’s thesis on pedestrian safety in Millbrae and has some great recommendations about improvements

On Sites 5 and 6, owned by BART and currently used as surface parking lots, Republic Urban Properties has proposed a mixed use project with 136,600 square feet of office, 260 apartments, an extended stay hotel with 110 rooms, and 84,800 square feet of retail space.

On Site 1 along El Camino, formerly a lumberyard and convalescent home, Serra Station Properties proposes a mixed-use project with office and multi-family housing and commercial space on 3.5 acres. The developer is proposing several options, with varying amounts of office, retail, residential, and hotel space.

The area has excellent transit access with train and bus service.  Pedestrian and bike access is pretty bleak, however.  The street environment is focused on El Camino serving as a regional highway more than a local place, and Millbrae Ave serving as a freeway onramp.   Better walking and bicycling would be helpful to make the place more appealing for prospective residents and commercial tenants. Also, Millbrae can set parking standards and require transit pass and other transportation benefits to increase the use of transit and reduce the traffic impact of the development.

Ann Schneider of Millbrae and the Sierra Club Sustainable Land Use Committee are helping residents and supporters of sustainable transit-oriented development to organize and review the project.   If you are interested in participating, sign up here for updates on educational events and public meeting reminders.

The city will be updating its plan for the area and reviewing the developments, with at least two community meetings.  Specific Plan amendments and an Environmental Impact Report expected to be done by December 2014.

Millbrae Station Area

Millbrae Station Area Sites 1, 5, and 6 with proposed development

Opportunities to get involved

If you would like to see the Millbrae station area evolve into a place, there are two opportunities to get involved starting in March.

On March 12 at 10am, the two developers who are proposing projects will present to the Sierra Club Sustainable Land Use committee.  Location is Peter’s Cafe, on El Camino outside the station.  The location may change, so RSVP to Ann Schneider.

On March 27, there will be a Millbrae City Council meeting to review the Grand Boulevard / Mixed Use design concepts, to prepare to participate in the City’s revision of the Millbrae Station Area Precise Plan that will provide guidelines for these developments.

Posted in Adopt-a-Station, Millbrae | 3 Comments

Redwood City promotes carfree transportation for downtown – doesn’t yet have goals

As downtown Redwood City quickly fills in with new offices and housing, the City is promoting a set of transportation alternatives to help people get around without a car. The Connect Redwood City program launched in September 2013, funded by a $1.5 million grant from MTC’s Climate Initiatives Program.

The “Making the Last Mile Connection” grant is allowing Redwood City to innovate, providing  programs to downtown residents and employees of smaller businesses  that were previously available to only to very large employers.   The pilot program will measure results, so Redwood City will have data on usage, travel patterns, and opportunities for improvement.

However, neither the pilot program nor the city have clearly defined goals, and the City and SamTrans haven’t yet identified ongoing sources of funding to keep these services running after the pilot ends.

Better connections to Redwood City

The pilot program includes carshare (ZipCar) and bikeshare, to help workers who come to Redwood City without a car, as well as residents who are car-free or “car-lite”, and a vanpool program to help employees who live in places that lack good transit options.

Redwood City got started with ZipCar about a year ago with 3 spots, and recently expanded with two additional spots.  ZipCar’s initial markets have been larger cities and college campuses. The launch in a small city downtown is new for them. “We were thrilled that ZipCar took a chance on Redwood City” comments Corinne Goodrich, Manager of Strategic Development at SamTrans.  The grant funding is being used to lease the spaces where the ZipCars are parked.

Redwood City Zipcar

Redwood City Zipcar

An earlier survey showed that potential users expected to ZipCar to make it easier for them to use transit, by giving them travel options in the middle of the day. So far there have been 613 unique drivers (there is no data about how many of these are residents or workers), and 1970 reservations since the program started in May, 2012.

Most recently, SamTrans reports that the Zipcar station has  26% average weekday usage for Zipcars at the Caltrain station, meaning a car is reserved for usage about that percent of the time. This metric is down from a summer high of ~40%.    ZipCar use tends to be seasonal, with higher use in the summer.   Benchmark usage is about 40%, and Zipcar will expand the station if usage goes over about 45%.

Vanpool

As of October 2013, the vanpool program had 8 vans in operation, with 75% subsidy. The program started with six vans, but expanded based on demand.  There is funding to run up to 12 vans.  About 5-8 people travel in each van, serving employees who commute to Redwood City from the East Bay. According to surveys to date, 53% said they would consider continuing vanpool in the absence of any subsidy.   The program is clearly taking cars off the road, although at a small scale, reducing driving in Redwood City by a tenth of a percent.  The program’s follow-up will give the City a better idea of how the program might be scaled.

The funding is helping Redwood City support its participation in the Bay Area bikeshare pilot, with 6 bike share kiosks in the downtown area. The goal of the pilot is to figure out how to make the bike share successful.”  The initial deployment had modest usage, and users reported that the kiosks – close together in a walkable downtown – were not located in places that users wanted to go.  A Friends of Caltrain survey, and other customer comments, want to see bike share stations near office complexes, so workers can use the bike share as the first/last mile for their transit commute, as well as a way run mid-day errands and meet people for lunch downtown.  Redwood City staff member Jessica Manzi recently told  Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition that the next set of kiosks are going to include locations near employment.

Redwood City Bikeshare

Redwood City Bikeshare

Working from home

The pilot also includes promotion of the the county’s program allowing employees to work from home.  The county of San Mateo has over 500 employees downtown.  San Mateo County conducted an employee survey in 2009 and found a low level of employee participation in the telework program. Under the Connect, Redwood City! Program, the County is re-launching its telework and flex-schedule programs, and will be developing training for managers/supervisors and employees. The training materials developed by the County will also be available to shared with other agencies or employers interested in using telework and flex-schedules to reduce vehicle miles traveled.

Active marketing

The program is branded and marketed as Connect! Redwood City. Out of the $1.5 million budget, $438,000 is dedicated to marketing, provided by the partners in the pilot, Commute.org, SamTrans, the City of Redwood City and the County of San Mateo using coordinated marketing programs developed by a consultant for the pilot program.  Managers of successful Transportation Demand Management programs at Stanford University, as well as effective city-based programs such as the Contra Costa Transit Village say that a key part of success, over and above the programs, is the marketing and personal service that lets people know that the benefits are available, and helps people plan transportation options that work for their needs.

Marketing Connect Redwood City

The $1.5 million grant comes from a $226 Million pot of funds allocated by MTC for projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.   MTC’s draft proposal for Cap and Trade includes an additional $400 million dollars to expand this program.

Can the program help Redwood city grow?

Downtown Redwood City is growing rapidly, following years of community involvement and planning to create a Downtown Precise Plan and updated General Plan.

Today, there are about 1,950 households within half mile of the Caltrain station, with another 2000+ residents expected to move into 1200 new units in the development pipeline.  Redwood City has about 10,300 employees working in or near downtown Redwood City (7000 downtown, another 3000 nearby), and another 1400-1800 workers are expected to move into 350,000 new square feet of office space in the development pipeline.

Housing under construction near Redwood City Caltrain

Redwood City will need ongoing changes in order to avoid traffic and parking problems.   According to the last census, Redwood City had fairly typical car-centric commuting patterns.  76% of people working in Redwood City drove alone to work (with 12% carpool, 3% public transportation, and 3% walking or bicycling).  Mode share is similar for all Redwood City residents – 76% drove alone to work, with 9% carpooling, 3% taking transit, and 3% walking. Downtown residents tend to drive somewhat less. 69% drove alone, 10% carpooled, 5% took transit, and 8% walked or biked.

Measuring results, but no clear goals 

To evaluate the Last Mile Connect program and prepare for next steps, the city will conduct surveys to assess people’s travel patterns, including origin and destination information, managed by Susan Wheeler.  This is the information that high quality transportation demand management programs use to assess and improve their programs.

In addition, the the emissions impacts for the Last Mile Connect pilot and bike share programs are required to be tracked by the city’s Climate Action Plan, which was adopted on April 22, 2013 by the City Council.  The CAP requires staff to submit an annual Climate Action Plan Implementation Report to City Council, detailing lessons learned, making recommendations to improve the programs and the plan, and including a period for public comment.

Could Redwood City set stronger goals?

In this pilot phase, the Connect Redwood City program does not have any specific goals. The Climate Action Plan calls for implementing the Connect Redwood City Program, and for completing the bikeways identified in the San Mateo County Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan.

The City’s Climate Action plan calls for “up to an 8% reduction in Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) by updating parking policies and management strategies, including the Downtown Parking Management Plan.

The reduction called for in Redwood City’s Climate Action Plan called for is greater than Santa Clara’s incremental 5%. But Redwood City’s goal is more modest than San Mateo’s 25% reduction in Rail Corridor peak hour vehicle trips and Mountain View’s 45% mode share goal for the North Bayshore area.  Although the goals use different units, they are more aggressive.   Also, goals in Redwood City’s Climate Action Plan are citywide, and the more ambitious goals in San Mateo and Mountain View are for specific growth areas.  Redwood City does not have specific goals for the Downtown Area, which may be able to achieve greater change.

Redwood City’s parking plan does actively manage the city’s supply of vehicle parking with a demand-based pricing strategy, parking maximums in the downtown, unbundled parking, and shared parking.    The Climate Action Plan recommends further strategies to help reduce driving, including parking credits for carsharing, an incentive for residents to own fewer cars per household, and parking cashout, a powerful benefit which can reduce driving by 5% to 30% according to multiple studies over several decades.

Redwood City’s primary focus on parking management may have limitations in the ability to reduce driving.   With constraints on parking, but without a plan to measure and actively reduce vehicle trips, the City of Palo Alto wound up with problems of overflow parking in neighborhoods, and strong opposition to new development.

By contrast, the Redwood City Climate Action Plan has specific and aggressive goals for reduction in energy use, including commercial and residential buildings, including:

  • Achieve a 15% energy use reduction compared with Title 24 in residential and commercial new construction with adopted and updated Green Building Codes

  • Achieve a 15% energy use reduction in existing residential buildings and commercial facilities by targeting a 20% participation rate in residential and commercial energy audit,  rebate and incentive, and upgrade programs

Circular reference to county emissions goals

With regard to setting transportation goals, the Redwood City Climate Action Plan points to a process under way at the County to track transportation emissions reductions.   The City and County Association of Governments (C/CAG) of San Mateo County will be accounting for and addressing the transportation emissions reductions of each city with the San Mateo County Transportation Climate Action Plan (T-CAP). The plan is designed to complement the Climate Action Plans developed by San Mateo County local jurisdictions.

But as far as we can tell, that is a circular reference. The draft San Mateo County Transportation Climate Action Plan refers back to individual cities as having responsibility to set local goals for carbon emissions reductions for transportation. According to John Hoang, the county staffer working on the T-CAP, “ we look at county-wide numbers, but we’re not setting goals for cities.”

The C/CAG T-CAP is considered to be additive to the local CAP which already includes localized transportation and land use strategies at the city/County levels. The Transportation CAP addresses transportation on a countywide level, separate from the local jurisdictions. Therefore its strategies and any GHG reduction benefits can be added to individual local CAP development.

John Ford of the Peninsula Traffic Congestion Relief Alliance, which manages programs for the City/County Association of Governments, which is the congestion management agency for San Mateo County, agrees that the setting of goals is up to the City. In San Mateo, PCTRA manages the shuttles in a program with goals to reduce vehicle trips.   In Redwood City, PCTRA manages the shuttles without such goals.

Transportation Management Association without goals or geographic focus

The Redwood City’s General Plan does have a provision enabling the creation of a Transportation Management Association, which would be a mechanism to provide ongoing funding, and managing programs in geographic areas toward specific goals (BE130, BE31.4, BE74).  According to Susan Wheeler, Redwood City considers PCTRA as the City’s Transportation Management Association.

However, other jurisdictions that have TMAs have several features in addition to Redwood City’s programs:  focused funding to run programs tailored for specific operating areas, and specific goals associated with the operating area. According to Rick Williams, head of Williams Consulting, who is also assisting the City of San Mateo in developing plans for its downtown parking program and TMA, says that without operating areas focused on geographies with specific needs, TDM programs achieve a lower level of results.

What happens after the grant ends?

Redwood City and SamTrans do not yet have plans for how to fund and manage the program after the grant ends. The good news is that at the end of the pilot, the City will have much more robust data, not only about the effectiveness of these specific programs, but about the transportation patterns of Redwood City employees and residents, which could be helpful in crafting ongoing programs and goals.

The recent experience in Palo Alto shows that lack of focus on alternatives to driving, even in a transit-rich and walkable areas, can lead to a traffic and parking crunch.  As Redwood City looks beyond the pilot period, the City has an opportunity to be more proactive, with aggressive goals, ongoing measurement, and a strategy for ongoing funding.

Posted in Redwood City | Leave a comment

San Mateo Downtown Parking update takes shape

On Monday, San Mateo City Council held another study session on changes to downtown parking (staff report here).  San Mateo has a very lively downtown with thriving restaurant scene and move theater.   Topics being considered include increasing meter prices, changing meter hours, improving machine usability, using existing space more efficiently, making garages more attractive and providing users more information about where to find a space, and reaching out to existing property owners to gain access to under-utilized parking.   A final program will be presented to Council for approval at an upcoming meeting. 

The City has a new TMA operating area for the downtown, funded in part by Draper University and other new developments going in.   The staff report recommended, and Council members supported using some of the parking revenue to fund the TMA.   (This will be very helpful in an area where new development is a small fraction of existing development).   The City is also looking to raise the “in lieu fee” for new parking spaces – the current $9,000 fee is well under the cost of a new space, which is $30-$45,000 (and $60,000 for an automated system).

The results of the community outreach appear to be superb. Based on public comment, the program has support from multiple sectors of the community, including neighborhood groups, downtown business association leaders, restaurant/retail businesses, developers, and sustainable transportation supporters.  The tenor of discussion is calm and there are constructive suggestions from community members.
San Mateo has a lively downtown that is not impaired by paid parking, and they are going through an iteration to improve their system.
This blogger made a few suggestions for future phases that were well received, and may pertain to other cities with similar situations
  • For new developments, enable unbundled commercial parking, so tenants can buy what they need, there is an accounting of unused space, and blocks of unused space can be provided back to the public pool without later renegotiation
  • To encourage locals to get downtown without a car, consider extending transit pass discounts to neighborhoods, along the lines of the program that Boulder has and Palo Alto may be starting to consider.  This will take persuasion with the local transit agencies, but is a modest extension of existing transit pass programs
  • Just as the movie theater provides parking validation, offering a parking discount to customers, it would be helpful to provide a “Clipper rebate” to customers who arrive via transit (and leave a parking space free for another customer).  This would be very difficult with the current Clipper program, but MTC is starting to work on the next generation of Clipper this year.   Cities that want to incent people to get downtown without driving may want to give input for the next generation of Clipper

 

Posted in Adopt-a-Station, San Mateo | 3 Comments