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 | 3 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

New draft San Mateo Sustainable Streets Plan has lessons for other cities

San Mateo City Council last week gave a favorable review to a Sustainable Streets plan that has been in the works for a couple of years. The plan covers a broad set of policy and design topics intended to evolve the city’s car-centric street network to a multi-modal place over time.   The initiative to update streets design has many elements that are potentially of interest to other cities, including:

  • clear communication of the value of multi-modal streets

  • a Vision Zero goal to eliminate pedestrian and cycling deaths and reduce injuries

  • change the city’s method of assessing transportation impacts to Vehicle Miles Traveled, in aligning with the new state environmental law

  • proposed update to the city’s Transportation Impact Fee so that new development pays for multi-modal improvements instead of mostly road-widening

  • proposals for major multi-modal improvements on key streets, including El Camino Real

  • expansion of the city’s Transportation Demand Management policy citywide, including a policy recommending paid parking within a half-mile of good transit

  • a “green streets” policy promoting the use of street landscaping to reduce water pollution and alleviate flooding

Clearly-explained goals

Among the components that may be of interest to other cities is the clear explanation of the reasoning behind the goals of the plan.  The clear communication is of a piece with the methodical process of community education that helped to create the plan.  A “Taste and Talk” series of lectures and discussions, with snacks from local businesses, covered topics including green streets, bike and pedestrian support, transportation and land use connections, and more.  Several participants came to support the plan when it was up for Council review.

The overview section of the report addresses topics such as:

Can multi-modal transportation make a difference in how people travel?  “A significant share of the daily trips in the United States are quite short. On urban roads, nearly 30% of trips are shorter than one mile and 50% are shorter than three miles. Distances under a mile are easily traveled by foot or bicycle, and 72% of these trips are taken by vehicles.”    Increase bicycling and walking mode share for trips under 1 mile to 30% by 2020.

How can street safety be improved?  The draft plan explains that survival rates for pedestrians and cyclists are directly related to the speed of vehicle travel.  The speed or travel isn’t just an enforcement issue – drivers tend to drive at the speeds encouraged by street design. Designing streets for slower driving saves lives.

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 4.16.26 AM.png

How to avoid making streets less safe?  Conventional methods of transportation planning have historically made transportation more and more challenging without a car.   Widening roads in an attempt to prevent future congestion is a recipe for more driving and congestion “it takes fewer than five years for additional local roadway capacity to be 90% occupied by new traffic. State highway expansions in California have also shown that new capacity will be about 70% occupied in fewer than five years.’

Peninsula’s first Vision Zero policy

Approval of the draft plan would make San Mateo the first Peninsula city to adopt a “vision zero” policy, following the lead of San Francisco and New York, with a goal of eliminating roadway deaths entirely and cutting the rate of injuries by 50% by 2020.  The Vision Zero philosophy is that “any roadway fatalities are unacceptable. Human error is a fact of life, but if we can design our streets to slow cars down, and in the process, reduce the dangers associated with vehicle travel, we can achieve this vision.”

One of the policies to promote safety by design is to change standards for vehicle land width from an average of 12 feet to 10 or 11 feet, freeing space for walking, bicycling, transit, and landscaping.  Striping lanes wider than 11 feet will require special permission.

Changing transportation metrics and impact fees

In order to create more sustainable streets, the plan proposes changes to fundamental policies that reduce safety and livability.  The draft plan proposes that the City of San Mateo change the way that it reviews development projects and collects fees from developers to improve the transportation system.

Until now, like most other US cities, San Mateo has used automotive delay as the main metric to assess transportation impacts of new developments, and collects fees from new developments to reduce delays at intersections.  The sustainable streets plan proposes updating the main to Vehicle Miles Travelled per Capita, complementing the new metrics being used under the California Environmental Quality Act, which are also being changed from auto LOS to VMT per capita.

According to the City of San Mateo’s last Transportation Impact Report in 2009, the city had accrued a $35 million fund, mostly allocated for road-widening, and 1% toward bicycle and pedestrian improvements. The plan states that further study will be needed to update the city’s policy, but proposes that funds be more evenly divided to cover multi-modal and green streets improvements.

Expanding Transportation Demand Management

The City of San Mateo has been one of the region’s pioneers with its Rail Corridor Plan, which setting vehicle mode share and trip goals for the area extending from Hayward Park to Hillsdale Caltrain. To address these goals, the Rail Corridor Plan required the creation of a Transportation Management Association to collect funds from developers to manage TDM benefits such as shuttles, transit pass benefits, carshare, and other trip reduction programs. Since then, City Council has also directed the creation of a TMA operating area for the downtown.  San Mateo has also been a pioneer in transportation accountability, requiring annual public reporting to city council for developments with TDM requirements.

The draft Sustainability Streets Plan now proposes to expand TDM requirements across the city – adding requirements for vehicle trip reduction and annual trip reporting within .5 miles of a Caltrain station and El Camino Real, as well as a 10% trip reduction requirement for new developments elsewhere throughout the city.  The draft plan includes a recommendation for paid parking in sites within a half-mile access of good transit, unbundled parking, reduced parking minimums and the introduction of parking maximums.

The path to implementation

The trip from draft plan to sustainable streets will not be swift. Many of the specific policy elements of the plan will need to have separate review for incorporation into the city’s various sets of rules, as will individual projects.   Based on the city council meeting last week reviewing the plan, the future looks promising. City council members and community speakers praised the plan, and the staff member who has driven the creation of the plan, Ken Chin, was given an award for his service to the city.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Mountain View Council considering study of downtown grade separation

At tonight’s Mountain View City Council meeting, the Shoreline Corridor Plan that is up for approval includes an important new recommendation regarding potential transformation of the Downtown transit center.   In addition to the expected thoughtful and robust set of improvements to Shoreline Corridor connections between the Caltrain station and North Bayshore for shuttles, cyclists, and pedestrians – which are up for Council approval tonight – the report queues up a major 12-18 month study of the transit center.
Update: City Council approved the plan, including the study of the transit center – exploring the potential for grade separations, and building on the parking lots.
Mountain View Transit Center
Topics to consider in the study, include grade separation at Castro to enable much higher transit volumes with increases in the use of Caltrain, VTA light rail, and High Speed Rail well as the potential to build on the parking lots, potentially adding parking structures, housing, and/or commercial buildings.   The proposed study would include a methodical process for the community to to review how to use the space currently used for surface parking.
Later in the meeting, the Council will review the much-debated North Bayshore Precise Plan, which sets strong trip goals, and does not currently include housing.  Several newly elected incoming Council members support adding housing to the North Bayshore plan to help alleviate the city’s housing shortage, and reduce commute times for some. But the current Council, which has voted against housing in North Bayshore, is schedule to review the housing-free plan for approval tonight.
Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

East-West or North-South improvements for VTA? Network is best

Data from VTA’s new Environmental report for its its Bus Rapid Transit project on the El Camino line, the most heavily used transit route in the VTA system, shows that if the project is built with dedicated bus lanes, it will make taking the bus time-competitive with driving, for the first time in Santa Clara County history.   Currently, taking even the express 522 bus is nearly twice as slow as driving. Many people choose to drive, since driving is the most practical option.   Making transit 25-30 minutes faster would cost 2-3 minutes for drivers

AM Peak Westbound

PM Peak Eastbound




Current bus



Dedicated Lane BRT



However, the project version with the best transit outcomes faces several challenges

Obsolete environmental rules make the best transit project look bad

Under obsolete rules, the Environmental Impact Report finds that the version with minimal transit improvements appears as the “environmentally preferred alternative”  The El Camino BRT project is one of the last projects that is being reviewed under obsolete rules that measure “transportation impact on the environment” using metrics of automotive delay.  Last year, the state legislature passed a law to change these metrics, which don’t actually measure harm to the environment.   The new metrics being developed will be be based on Vehicle Miles Traveled per capita.  A project that reduces VMT will be seen as environmentally favorable.  See this web page for more information.

East-West or North-South?

Meanwhile, city council members and community members have asked logical questions about whether El Camino Real BRT will help improve access to the major corporate employment centers.

In Santa Clara County, El Camino Real travels roughly East West, but the major employment centers are to the North, such as Google campus in Mountain View, and Moffett Park in Sunnyvale, and to the South, such as Apple Campus in Cupertino.  When the project was being reviewed earlier by city councils on the corridor, some council members and community members raised a logical concern.   Currently, the buses traveling North/South are infrequent and indirect. Wouldn’t it be better to improve North/South transit, instead of East/West?  VTA listened, and prepared a set of potential improvements to the North/South routes.

Screen Shot 2014-11-09 at 9.55.07 PM.png

We wanted to test the assumption that North-South improvements would have a greater benefit to job access than East/West improvements.   So we used “transitshed analysis” to see which combination improvements did the best job of connecting residents to job centers. What is a transitshed?  Based on the term “watershed”, which means the area that is drained by a system of rivers and streams, a “transitshed” is the area that is can be accessed by a transit network.

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 6.28.06 PM.png


For example, this picture shows the area that can be accessed from Palo Alto, at 8am, within a commute time of 45 minutes in dark gray, and the area that can be reached in 90 minutes in light gray.

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 6.40.36 PM.png

Comparing East/West and North South improvements

The tool lets you visually observe whether a given service change would allow a resident to get to a key employment destination within a reasonable commute time (e.g. 45 minutes).  And it shows the total number of residents who have access to the total number of jobs.  The tool can be set for any commute time.  In this diagram, the gray color represents the area that can be reached from a given starting point under current conditions, and the light orange color represents the area that can be reached with a set of transit improvements.

The sample employment destinations are:

  • Google campus in Mountain View
  • Moffett Park in Sunnyvale
  • Apple campus in Cupertino

Starting at El Camino and Fair Oaks in Sunnyvale – currently you cannot reach Google campus in Mountain View within a 45 minute commute, and you certainly can not reach downtown Palo Alto within that time. North/South improvements help somewhat, but provide access for 37,000 more people to 17,000 more jobs.

Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 2.27.59 PM.png

The version with North/South improvements and dedicated Lane BRT does by far the best job at connecting residents to jobs, allowing over 150,000 more residents have access to 200,000 more jobs, including robust access to the job centers of North Bayshore in Mountain View, and Downtown Palo Alto.


Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 2.31.14 PM.png






N/S improvements only



N/S + Mixed Flow



N/S + Dedicated Lane BRT



Starting at at El Camino Real and Showers in Mountain View – a heavily populated neighborhood, currently you cannot reach Apple campus or Moffett Park in Sunnyvale within a 45 minute commute.   VTAs proposed N/S improvements help a little bit, providing access for 10,000 more residents to 9,000 more jobs.

Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 2.36.13 PM.png

The mixed flow version allows 319,000 residents to reach 167,000 jobs.  And the version with both dedicated lane BRT and North/South improvements allows 430,000 residents to reach 233,000 jobs.   That’s over 100,000 more residents, given access to over 75,000 more jobs – by far the strongest access improvement.

Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 3.04.25 PM.png

El Camino And Showers






North/South Only



North/South and Mixed Flow



North/South + Dedicated Lane



Starting at El Camino and Scott in Santa Clara, a location that is being developed with substantial housing – currently you cannot reach Google campus or Moffett Park effectively within a 45 minute commute.

Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 3.11.08 PM.png

While North South improvements help somewhat, the version with dedicated Lane BRT does by far the best job at connecting residents to jobs, allowing 200,000 more residents have access to 70,000 more jobs.

Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 3.18.08 PM.png

El Camino and Scott






North/South improvements



North/South and Mixed Flow



North/South and Dedicated Lane



Conclusion – Network provides the best commute value

While it seems that North/South bus improvements are the critical missing element to address job center access, this analysis tells a different story. North/South improvements are helpful, but alone they do not solve the problem. A combination of much faster El Camino Real BRT and North/South improvements do the best at connecting employees to jobs.

Credits: the software development for the TransitShed visualization tool was done by Ian Rees, using OpenStreetMap and OpenTripPlanner.   Data regarding the transit schedule improvements is from VTA.  You can experiment with the tool here: - feel free to ask questions in comments.


Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments