New Palo Alto Downtown Commute survey shows 55 percent drivealone rate

The first employer survey for the Palo Alto Transportation Management Association shows a 55 percent drivealone commute rate, with 45% of commuters travelling to work in some other way.   17% of downtown commuters used Caltrain, and 15% of commuters walked or biked to work.

The TMA plans to use the survey data help plan investments to further reduce driving into Palo Alto downtown, where car parking is experienced as scarce, and traffic makes driving inconvenient.

Commute mode choices for Palo Alto downtown workers

Palo Alto TMA Mode Share

By US standards, downtown Palo Alto sees a high rate of walking and bicycling. Out of workers who live within 3 miles of work, 26% report walking to work, and 18% report bicycling.  Within 10 miles, 30% report walking or bicycling to work.

The survey suggested opportunities for even more commuters who live nearby to walk or bicycle. 40% said they would walk or bicycle if there were better paths, trails or sidewalks, and 32% said they would bicycle more if there were better bicycle parking options.

Bicycling and walking to work in Downtown Palo Alto









Barriers that keep people driving

About half of respondents said that they would rather not drive, but alternatives don’t work for them.   This information suggests ways the TMA might be able to reduce the barriers that keep people driving.

Nearly 50% said that they would use transit if it were less expensive – a common TMA program is to provide transit pass discounts.  The good news is that VTA has agreed to enable the Palo Alto TMA to “pool” groups of employees who work downtown in companies that are smaller than can typically qualify for VTA’s bulk discount programs. Caltrain does not yet allow downtowns and other dense areas to create pools of smaller companies for bulk discounts, however this sort of program that would likely benefit transportation management associations in a growing number of cities; not only Palo Alto, but potentially Mountain View, Sunnyvale, San Jose, Redwood City, San Mateo, and others.

Part of the cost equation is parking – currently, the monthly price of a parking permit in downtown Palo Alto is $44, which is about a quarter of the price of a monthly Caltrain pass.  The current cost of a parking pass, $528 per year, is a tiny fraction of the amount it would cost the city to build a new parking spot in a garage, which is more like $3500. If the cost of parking was increased closer to its replacement cost, transit and other alternatives would look more attractive in terms of out of pocket expense compared to driving and parking.

Sixty percent of people who’d prefer not to drive said they would use transit if it were easier to get to a stop – this suggests opportunities to provide better information about bus connections, improve shuttles,or potentially to support Uber/Lyft type services for first mile connection.

In addition to the barriers on the slide below, 44% survey respondents said that they drive to work because they use use a car for meetings, deliveries, or other work-related tasks. Some of these commuters may be able to use Palo Alto’s ZipCar service which is available in the downtown today (but workers may not yet know about).

Barriers that keep people driving

Barriers that keep people driving

Screen Shot 2015-07-03 at 4.43.06 PM


Potential programs to reduce driving

Based on the data so far, changes that might make sense include:

* transit pass discounts

* ZipCar and Guaranteed Ride Home services for people who drive because they have mid-day errands or may have unexpected mid-day travel needs (e.g childcare emergencies)

* first-mile transportation (depending on deeper geographic analysis)

* bicycle parking improvements

* personalized coaching to help employees understand their options

* adjusting parking pricing to provide a fairer comparison to the cost of transit

The next meeting of the Transportation Management Association steering committee will be July 9.  At that meeting, staff and consultants will present more information, including more detailed “clustering” of employee residences and needs by location, and analysis of the cost/benefit of various options.  The discussion in that meeting should result in recommendations for ways that Palo Alto can reduce driving to the downtown.









Posted in Palo Alto, Transportation Demand Management | Leave a comment

Millbrae Station Area Plan – 70% driving rate; El Camino sharrows under a truck

Millbrae city council is reviewing a station area plan, environmental report, and two good-sized developments for the area near the Millbrae BART/Caltrain station.  At a study session last night, residents crowded the Chetcuti room in Millbrae city hall, many with concerns about parking and car traffic.

The proposed developments would bring 400,000 square feet of office space, about 79,000 square feet of retail  and more than 800 residential units on land currently occupied by a parking lot and some underutilized commercial buildings near El Camino Real.   The mix of uses near a major and growing transit hub – with service from BART, Caltrain trains, SamTrans buses, and eventually High Speed Rail trains – might logically attract workers, residents, and visitors who prefer to come and go without driving.

However, in the plan and environmental report being reviewed, the offices and homes are expected to generate a 69% driving rate at peak commute hours, with 28% taking transit, and only 3% walking or bicycling.  The plan has provisions for sensible parking policies, including the potential for unbundled parking, where tenants can pay for only the parking they need, paid parking, parking shared among uses that need the space at different hours. And the plan calls for “transportation demand management” with programs including discount transit passes, onsite car-sharing, vanpool and carpool services.  With these services and such a transit-rich location, could the area generate less driving (and fewer traffic and parking worries?).

The rate of bicycling isn’t helped by the proposals for El Camino Real and Millbrae Avenue.  The treatment for El Camino includes wide, 14 foot vehicle lanes, and “sharrow” marking enabling intrepid people with bicycles to to share the lanes with trucks (as can be seen in the diagram below.)

The deadline for comments on the Environmental Impact Report is August 10. There will be community meetings beforehand, on July 16 and 30th.   For transit users and community members interested in commenting on the project, including opportunities to improve bike safety and sustainable transportation, Sierra Club will be hosting a workshop on Tuesday, July 21 – stay tuned for time and place.

Sharrows under a truck on El Camino Real in Millbrae

Sharrows under a truck on El Camino Real in Millbrae

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

Tonight: June 22 – Palo Alto City Council considers $90 million in expressway expansions

At 6pm on Monday evening, Palo Alto City Council will be holding a study session on the Page Mill Road portion of the County Expressway plan.   These proposals for nearly $90 million in road capacity expansion could be submitted in August for funding in the upcoming $3.5-$7Billion Santa Clara County transportation ballot measure in 2016.

Folks who are interested in sustainable development, walking/bicycling, and climate change have a lot to be concerned out in this major road expansion proposal.

  • over the last 50 years, we have seen that expanding roadway capacity does not achieve the congestion relief that proponents hope for. Instead, temporary improvements rapidly attract more drivers (“induced demand”) and congestion returns almost immediately

  • the expressway proposal acknowledges that the congestion improvements from capacity expansion will be short-lived – the intersection will F to C when the changes are made, but quickly decline again F by 2025

  • Stanford Research Park, the major employment center along Page Mill, has tens of thousands of employees and a very high drivealone rate.  Palo Alto has opportunities to deal with the traffic jam with programs for SRP to reduce driving, rather than adding lanes encouraging even more driving

  • Currently, SRP employees lack access to the the long-distance commute shuttles that help employees of Google and Facebook drive less.  VTA could learn from the success of commute shuttles and offer this service to SRP. Instead, VTA is proposing paying for massive expressway expansion.

  • Palo Alto’s  comprehensive plan actually has a policy against major roadway capacity expansion already (see below for the reference).

  • The proposals include facilities for cyclists and pedestrians – but the amount of money proposed could go much further with bicycle and pedestrian improvements.  Transit investments such as shuttles could reduce traffic instead of increasing it.

Come if you can on Monday night and share your thoughts with City Council. If you can’t come in person, send a note to

The staff report is here:

Elements of the proposed program include:

  • $50 million to grade separate the 4-lane intersection of Page Mill Road & Foothill Expressway so that Page Mill goes either over or under Foothill.
  • $17 million to widen Page Mill Road from 4 to 6 lanes from Highway 280 to Foothill Expressway.
  • $5 million for intersection “improvements” along Page Mill Road to add turn lanes and through lanes.
  • $20 million to reconstruct the Page Mill / Highway 280 interchange. This includes several design options with a variety of hazards for people walking and bicycling, including merging zones that force bicyclists to cross the path of car drivers speeding up to access free-flowing on-ramps. The “preferred” (by Santa Clara County staff) alternative includes a roundabout.   (The interchange is unsafe and needs improvements, but the proposed design is hazardous)
  • $6 million for a multi-use path along Page Mill Road from Deer Creek Road to Highway 280. (Is this project worth $6 million?)

Palo Alto Comprehensive Plan policy on road capacity expansion

Policy T-27: Avoid major increases in street capacity unless necessary to remedy severe traffic congestion or critical neighborhood traffic problems. Where capacity is increased, balance the needs of motor vehicles with those of pedestrians and bicyclists.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Palo Alto considers office cap in hopes of reducing parking, traffic problems

On Monday night March 2, Palo Alto City Council is going to consider capping office development in the city to an annual limit of 35,000 to 50,000 of new office space per year.  A major underlying concern motivating a proposed cap is parking demand and traffic generated from new buildings.

However, since 1995, new buildings have added only about .3% of the existing space in the city per year. So reducing new office building would take a very long time to affect traffic and parking.  Meanwhile, there are no restrictions preventing companies from adding even more people to existing buildings, resulting in even more driving.

To address traffic and parking, the most powerful strategies take these issues head on, with:

  • a funding mechanism for business to contribute to “transportation demand management” programs to help employees drive less – since the existing employee base is so much larger than employees added in new office buildings
  • for new development, strict monitored trip caps, plus fees to reduce trips around the city and fund other costs increased by new development, such as housing and community services
  • in the upcoming Comprehensive plan, consider a goal to cap or reduce solo vehicle trips.

What do you think? Let Palo Alto City Council now at, or come on Monday night, 8pm.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Mountain View City Council advances North Bayshore housing

Mountain View City Council agreed to move forward with plans for housing in North Bayshore where Google is, overturning the policy of the previous Council.  The change in policy followed a November election where the jobs/housing balance was a major issue, and the newly elected candidates all supported housing in North Bayshore.

It was a study session, so no official decisions were made, but City Council gave direction to move forward with allowing 1100 units of housing that were allowed under the General Plan (but not allowed under the last version of the Precise Plan), as well as a process to study a greater amount of housing, and the services, transportation, and other amenities needed to turn North Bayshore into a “complete neighborhood.”    After working on North Bayshore, Council agreed that the Whisman area, which is in the queue for planning, will also be considered for more housing.

Most of the public comments supported the concept of housing in North Bayshore, and the idea of creating a neighborhood, not only projects.  Commenters including people who live and work in Mountain View, want places to stay, and have been affected by the rise in housing prices triggered by a huge influx of new workers. In the last year, Mountain View has brought in 13,000 or more jobs, and added only about 1100 housing units, according to q&a between newly elected Council member Lenny Siegel and Mountain View staff.

One current resident said that he had left Russia, looking for career opportunity and freedom from persecution of gay and transgender people.  He attends graduate school at Carnegie Mellon, and needed to stay in his advisor’s RV because no housing was available on his grad student salary. He is moving to Carnegie Mellon’s Pittsburgh Campus in order to find housing, but hopes to come back to Mountain View.

Council members did not impose a moratorium on new office buildings while the planning for housing moves forward, raising a risk in theory that the land for housing would be used up by office developments before housing can be planned and built. However, Google, the largest employer and landowner in the area, reiterated that they are interested in seeing housing in the area, reducing the risk. Also, developers of office projects about to enter the queue are expected to request zoning bonuses which require Council approval, so council has the ability to reject or delay projects if they seem to conflict with housing plans in the works.

Housing plans are moving forward for North Bayshore. Now the challenge for community members, staff, and developers will be to create plans and projects that can turn an office park into a neighborhood.   Beyond that, the challenge for Mountain View and the region will be taking further steps, not only to allow some housing, but to help the region’s jobs/housing imbalance get better rather than worse.   According to housing advocate Pilar LorenzanaCampo, the Bay Area added 114,000 jobs last year and added only around 8,000 new homes, on top of decades of a growing housing deficit.  Can the region’s residents and decision-makers take action to reverse the trend, agree to the added population, and change transportation practices – there is room for more people, but not at the current rates of driving.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Mountain View reconsiders housing in North Bayshore

After electing a pro-housing majority, the Mountain View City Council is reconvening to consider adding housing in the North Bayshore area where Google is.

Starting at 6:30pm tonight, Tuesday Feb 3, City Council will decide on questions including whether to consider housing in North Bayshore; whether to consider enough housing and services to create a neighborhood; and whether to also consider adding housing in other areas of Mountain View to address the worsening supply and demand imbalance.

The  staff report lists “key questions” for council to answer, focused on how much housing to add and where to consider housing.   A neighborhood isn’t just created by housing – if Mountain View decides to consider housing in North Bayshore, there are other important considerations about what it will take to create a functional neighborhood, with access to services including groceries and schools, sustainable transportation, and public space.

Housing in North Bayshore – Questions for Mountain View City Council

Key Question No. 1: Does Council support one or more  options for increasing the amount of City-wide housing?

1)   Study New Residential Uses in North Bayshore

2)  Study New Residential Uses in East Whisman

3)  Study New Residential Uses City-Wide

Key Question No. 2: Does Council support studying residential uses as a permitted use in an amended North Bayshore Precise Plan?

Key Question No. 3: Should the City study more than 1,100 residential units?

Key Question No. 4: Does Council support allowing new residential uses only in the North Shoreline Boulevard Core Area or some other geographic boundary?

Key Question No. 5: If residential uses are supported in an amended North Bayshore Precise Plan, should there be “residential only” areas?

Question No. 6: If Council supports the concept of residential uses within the Precise Plan, should a development moratorium be considered?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Peninsula corridor updates – Santa Clara, Palo Alto, San Jose, South San Francisco, Sunnyvale

Tonight, Monday January 26 at 5:30pm, the City of Santa Clara is having a major study session on a variety of transportation and land use topics including BART to Santa Clara, Bus Rapid Transit on El Camino Real, the Lawrence Station Area Plan, Tasman East Specific Plan, as well as road pavement needs. This major study session has had very little publicity in advance – if you are interested in these topics please come and speak up.

Also tonight Monday January 26 at 9pm, Palo Alto City Council will be considering whether to impose an office growth limit for the city, of 35,000 or 50,000 square feet per year.   The goal of the city is to reduce traffic and parking problems.  However, square feet of new development is a very blunt instrument to address the amount of driving.   A recent survey of three large tech companies downtown, which offer transportation benefits including Caltrain’s deep-discount Go Pass, shows that less than 40% of employees drive to work; but a parallel survey of a set of smaller businesses downtown showed that a majority of employees drive.  This blog post from Palo Alto Forward provides a number of recommendations for Palo Alto to directly address the core of the problem - cars – rather than the indirect problem – new offices.

On Wednesday, January 28th, the City of San Jose is expect scheduled to receive about $1.5 million in funding from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission for a San Jose program to reduce vehicle trips, and encourage transit, bicycling and walking.  The money is being repurposed from a grant for bicycle signal detectors at intersections, and is being complemented by $270,000 in funding from the City of San Jose.

Modeled after the SmartTrips program in Oregon, the program will provide customized marketing of transportation options to people in targeted neighborhoods, and with major and new employers. In its first year, the program will start by serving a about 3500 people within the greater downtown – four square miles with nearly half the city’s population, and then expand to other locations including East San Jose. The program expects to serve 15,000 people by its third year.  With measurement to assess effectiveness, these voluntary programs will serve as a starting point for larger scale transportation demand management programs that will be required in the Diridon Station Area and other areas targeted for vehicle trip reduction.

On Thursday, the advisory committee for Sunnyvale’s General Plan, called Horizon 2035 will meet for the first time in two years. Horizon 2035 will set city’s strategy to address housing and transportation for the long term. This is the opportunity to set policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by creating places that require less driving, and that provide housing to address the affordability crisis.  The  Horizon 2035 meeting is a great chance to learn about the plan – this Thursday, January 29, 2015 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m at City Hall in the West Conference Room.   The agenda can be found here.

Also on Wednesday, January 28, the South San Francisco City Council will review its Downtown Plan for approval. The plan is intended to revitalize the downtown area and make better use of the underutilized Caltrain.  A centerpiece plan to improve safety and access to the Caltrain station is getting funding and money from San Mateo County Measure A.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Mountain View City Council intends to build on Downtown parking lots

In a study session on Tuesday night, Mountain View City Council told staff to solicit bids for a hotel and parking on twin parking lots, and to come back to review concepts for housing on another, larger downtown lot at Bryant between California and Mercy.  The council members brainstormed a number of ideas for housing, including senior housing, subsidized affordable housing, and housing on top of ground floor retail.   The most common public comment at the study session was in favor of adding housing supply, including affordable housing.

Council members including Clark and Kasperzak talked about the city’s past strategy to acquire the land and “bank” it as parking, with the intention of future development.  In Council Member Siegel’s words, it makes no sense to use downtown space for surface parking, given the value of land.

In order to build on lot 12, the Council briefly discussed the potential to use Castro Street, the downtown main street, for the city’s large and successful farmer’s market.  The farmers market currently uses parking lot 12 on football game days, when the Caltrain/light rail lots are used by football fans.   Castro is already closed to cars for a variety of downtown events and festivals.

The site proposed for a hotel and parking includes lots 4 and 8, adjacent to Evelyn which fronts the transit center, on either side of Hope.

Maintaining parking and access

The city’s policy is to replace any parking at least at a 1:1 ratio.  In soliciting hotel proposals, the city will ask for projects that could potentially add more parking.

The city is working on a number of initiatives to use existing parking more efficiently.  At times, on street parking is full, while spaces remain in parking structures. The city plans to install signs showing where space is available, and update its 2011 parking study.  With the leadership of the Downtown Committee, Mountain View is also starting to explore paid parking.  Longterm garage parking for employees requires a permit fee, but on street and lot parking is free (i.e. fully subsidized).

While Mountain View has aggressive plans to reduce driving in the North Bayshore area, there are not yet initiatives to reduce driving in the downtown area.  Meanwhile, Palo Alto and San Mateo are moving ahead with initiatives to reduce the share of driving downtown, and Redwood City Council is expected to consider a similar initiative shortly.

Later this year, Mountain View will start to consider potential changes to the transit area, including the use of land currently used for surface parking.

Lot 12, 1.5 acres being considered for housing

Mountain View Parking Lots 4 and 8 across from Transit Center

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Tonight, Wednesday 1/14 – Redwood City investments in transportation, housing

On Wednesday night at 7pm at the Main Library on Middlefield, Redwood City is hosting a meeting gathering feedback on a community benefits program that is being developed. The City collects funding from developers to support community needs and is deciding how the money will be spent.

 There has been a lot of new development – more than 2000 housing units and offices for 3000 or more workers are under construction or in the pipeline.

  • Should Redwood City invest in bike and pedestrian safety, shuttles, transit passes and other transportation programs to prevent a big parking and traffic crunch when the buildings open up?
  • Average rents have gone up by over 50% over the last 4 years, and an average apartment requires over $50 per hour, pricing out many longterm residents. Should Redwood City use some of the funding to support affordable housing?

For more ideas about investments, see If you live, work, or play in Redwood City, come on Wednesday night in person, or share your thoughts online. If you go, please let us know how it went, and we’ll blog the story.

On Sunday, Friends of Caltrain participated in a panel discussion at Back Yard Coffee about big picture Bay Area housing and transportation issues, how they are affecting San Mateo County and Redwood City, and upcoming decisions for RWC. The slides are online here.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Housing and Transportation in Redwood City

How are transportation and housing costs related?  What decisions Redwood City about to make regarding housing and transportation?  This weekend, Sunday afternoon at the Back Yard in Redwood City, come learn, discuss, and get involved.

Screen Shot 2015-01-03 at 2.37.49 PM.png

Screen Shot 2015-01-04 at 11.15.57 AM.png

Back Yard Coffee Co – 965 Brewster Avenue, RWC
Sunday January 11 – 4-5:30 pm
Panelists:  Adina Levin – Friends of Caltrain.
Diana Reddy – Peninsula Interfaith Action.  Josh Hugg – Housing Leadership Council.  Moderator: Jessica Margolin

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment