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.
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.
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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

Auto

43

44

Current bus

71

85

Dedicated Lane BRT

47

52

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

Residents

Jobs

Current

378,000

169,000

N/S improvements only

415,000

185,000

N/S + Mixed Flow

434,000

288,000

N/S + Dedicated Lane BRT

543,000

374,000

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

Residents

Jobs

Current

294,000

140,000

North/South Only

303,000

149,000

North/South and Mixed Flow

319,000

167,000

North/South + Dedicated Lane

430,000

233,000

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

Residents

Jobs

Current

376,000

270,000

North/South improvements

402,000

297,000

North/South and Mixed Flow

519,000

334,000

North/South and Dedicated Lane

598,000

344,000

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: http://cloud.ianrees.net/vtabrt/ - feel free to ask questions in comments.

 

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Three Peninsula Cities consider protected bike lanes on El Camino

Last week, Menlo Park Transportation Commission unanimously supported a proposed design with cycle tracks – bike lanes that are protected with a physical barrier, such as curbs or planters – as well as protected intersections that help prevent collisions between vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians.  The Bicycle Commission also strongly supported this option. Based on the feedback, consultants will flesh out the designs, present material at a community meeting in December, and for City Council review in January.  Decisions will also be informed by a study of vehicle parking, which is not yet complete.

According to a survey, Menlo Park residents resoundingly favor improved pedestrian and bicycle safety for El Camino.  81% of respondents desired improve pedestrian safety, while 72% supported bicycle lanes, and only 17% sought faster vehicle speeds on El Camino. The most prevalent use of El Camino was shopping, with 69% using El Camino to patronize local businesses.

Screen Shot 2014-11-15 at 5.51.24 PM.png

The San Mateo Sustainable Streets Plan lays out a goal to increase multi-modal access for people of all ages and abilities, and specifically to increase the combined bicycle and pedstrian mode share to 30% for trips one mile or shorter by 2020.   El Camino is part of the vision.

Sections of protected bike lanes on El Camino San Mateo

Sections of protected bike lanes on El Camino San Mateo

In the San Mateo Sustainable Streets Plan, was presented for Council review last week,  to positive council and community response, proposes designs for El Camino that include Cycle Tracks from 2nd Avenue to 9th Avenue, the segment closest to downtown.  The proposed improvements also include high-visibility cross-walks and pedestrian refuge islands to make it easier to cross the street.   The plan lays out a longer vision that would need further review with the community and with CalTrans, the state agency that has official control of the road, but has been making progress toward approving people-friendly designs for populated areas. (see page 4-3 for the section on El Camino).

Survey results in San Mateo, with over 600 responses, also show strong support for better pedestrian and bicycle facilities.     The preferences for better pedestrian and bike safety hold even when residents are asked to make tradeoffs.  “Residents expressed the strongest support for investing in bike, pedestrian, and transit facilities at the expense of road expansion” (page 5)

Screen Shot 2014-11-15 at 6.05.44 PM.png

In Mountain View, the draft El Camino Precise Plan allows for bicycle lanes or cycle tracks along El Camino Real, focusing on areas that are needed to close gaps in the bicycle networks, that have long gaps between commercial driveways, where onstreet parking is less critical for local businesses.  The draft plan includes a longterm goal of reducing the need for onstreet vehicle parking as buildings on El Camino are developed.  The plan calls for an implementation phase study of planning and engineering options for bicycle facilities on El Camino, including relationship with onstreet parking, bus and pedestrian facilities.

Originally used as a highway traversing the state, the role of El Camino Real role for long-distance travel has been supplanted by freeways 101 and 280.  The street is used for retail businesses, as a main bus route, and increasingly for housing with access to transit.  Communities are moving toward appreciating the role that can be played by walking and bicycling in supporting local commerce and reducing traffic.

According to Ellen Barton, the San Mateo County bicycle/pedestrian coordinator, 70% of all trips are non-commute trips, and even during peak commute periods, perhaps 50% of all trips are for purposes such as shopping, errands, and recreation.   Marketing and education programs to shift short trips less than 2 miles to bicycling and walking could help reduce peak hour congestion.

Screen Shot 2014-11-15 at 5.43.16 PM.png

All of these proposed changes are works in progress. In Menlo Park, a more fleshed out draft will be presented at a community meeting in December, and presented for City council review in January for approval in Q1.   In San Mateo and Mountain View, the proposals will need further study and community review, and only cover parts of El Camino Real.   While more planning and review will be needed for all of these changes, the proposed transformations of El Camino Real reflect a substantial shift from the road’s car-centric past.

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Palo Alto Council to review El Camino Bus Rapid Transit, which would make the bus time-competitive with driving

The VTA Bus Rapid Transit project would make the El Camino bus time-competitive with driving, including in Palo Alto. This evening, Palo Alto City Council will review the project at a study session starting at 5pm.

VTA ECR BRT

For the El Camino route as a whole San Jose to Palo Alto, people using the bus would travel over 30 minutes faster, and a driving trip would be 3-4 minutes slower.  But, almost nobody travels on ECR from Palo Alto all the way to San Jose – most trips are 5-7 miles long, whether driving or taking the bus.

The proposed project has two main options – so-called mixed flow,which would have upgraded bus stops that allow people to pay before boarding, and dedicated lane, which would use a lane of El Camino exclusively for bus use.  If none of these changes were made (the so called no build alternative), VTA would still increase bus frequency from every 13 minutes to every 10 minutes.

For a more typical example – to travel from downtown Palo Alto to the San Antonio area in Mountain View, without any bus service changes, driving will take ~10 minutes and the express bus will take 22 minutes in 2018.  The mixed flow version saves only 1 minute in bus travel time.  With the dedicated lane version, the bus will take 10 minutes and driving will take 11 minutes.  So, at the cost of 1 minute in drive time, we get bus service that is time-competitive with driving!

Making the bus time-competitive with driving is *the* factor that attracts choice riders and causes ridership to increase.  When Caltrain introduced the Baby Bullet service, that’s when ridership spiked, increasing well over double in the following decade.   Recent BRT projects in Eugene, Oregon, Cleveland, and Los Angeles show that projects that made the bus much more time-competitive with driving exceeded their ridership projections.

El Camino BRT would be complementary with Caltrain.  Stops are closer together:  BRT will make 15 stops on El Camino Real and the Alameda, providing access to more destinations.  Caltrain electrification will enable more frequent service – potentially a BART-like 20 minute schedule. BRT service will still be more frequent, coming every 10 minutes.

Yes, some intersections would be worse for drivers with dedicated lanes.  Out of the 1 minute longer drive time, 20 seconds would be extra delay at Oregon and Page Mill. The dedicated lane version would divert some trips away from El Camino Real and add traffic to some side street intersections, but those impacts can be mitigated according to the EIR.  For example, Alma and Meadow would get 2 seconds slower, and by 2040 it would be 15 seconds slower.  Is that tradeoff worth creating a bus route that is 10 minutes faster, and time-competitive with driving?

Currently, Palo Alto’s land use plans include El Camino Real as a site for more housing.  If we want to use ECR as a site for more housing, a time-competitive bus would be extremely valuable to enable El Camino residents to have fewer cars, generate less traffic, and have a more attractive, safer streetscape with better pedestrian and bicycle accommodations.

TRAVEL TIME (2018) – UNIVERSITY AVE (Palo Alto) TO SHOWERS DR (Mountain View) – PM

No Build

Mixed Flow

Dedicated Lane

BRT (522)

22.1

20.9

9.7

Auto

10.2

10.2

11.1

Update: at the city council meeting, council members Scharff and Burt expressed skepticism about the plan.  Sharff was surprised that the VTA’s environmental impact report included a version with dedicated lanes all the way through to Palo Alto, although Palo Alto Council had opposed that option earlier.   Council Member Burt expressed a preference for using the VTA EcoPass bulk discount program to increase the use of the existing express bus service, rather than supporting making the service faster.   Council Member Berman acknowledged community concerns and expressed an interest in reviewing the information in the environmental report.   Chief Transportation Official Jaime Rodriguez mentioned concern about the impacts on side street intersections, such as Alma and Charleston.

During public comment, one community member expressed concern that there would be little ridership in Palo Alto because bus riders are lower income on average, while another community member described her family’s frequent bus use while living in Vancouver, where bus service was more convenient.

No council members drew connections between the potential relationship between time-competitive bus service, and the city’s transportation demand management initiative to reduce traffic and parking demand, although a recent downtown intercept survey showed that about 10% of respondents used public buses, with 4% reporting VTA and 6% reporting SamTrans.

As a next step, staff will analyze the proposal and present a letter for Council to weigh in.

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SamTrans considers El Camino Real bus speedup

SamTrans has published a study about the potential to speed up El Camino Real bus service by up to 25%.  ECR is the highest ridership line in the system, with over 13,000 daily weekday boardings.   Ridership on the ECR line has increased about 15% since frequency has been increased to every 15 minutes (as of August 2014)

Screen Shot 2014-11-16 at 10.12.24 AM.png

The changes being considered are similar to features that created the VTA 522 Rapid service, which has “signal priority” allowing the bus to get a green light, and has fewer stops than the local 22.

SamTrans studied various options for the speedup – doing an “overlay” adding a route with fewer stops, on top of local service that would continue run but less frequently, and a “hybrid” concept that removes up to 50% of stops across the line.   SamTrans’ analysis shows that the changes would increase ridership by up to 35%.

As cities continue to add development along El Camino Real following the principles of the Grand Boulevard initiative, better bus service is likely to help the area handle more people with less driving.  All of the improvement options would increase ridership, but would cost more money.

Screen Shot 2014-11-16 at 8.56.50 AM.png

Current

Overlay (keeps local) in 2020

Hybrid (eliminates local) in 2020

Ridership

16,600 daily

19,000 to 22,000

17,700 to 22,500

Ridership % change

+ 19% to 34%

+ 6% to 35%

Cost

$14.5 Million

+ $5.7m to $10.3M

+ $1.3M to $8.4M

Cost % change

+ 34% to 59%

+ 8% to 51%

What SamTrans calls the “hybrid” option would be relatively less expensive to run.   But it wouldn’t have any close-together local stops. According to SamTrans’ analysis for its strategic plan, elderly people will represent an increasing share of ridership as the baby boom generation ages. People tend to outlive their ability to drive by 7-10 years. Elderly people with less mobility tend to prefer closer stops; eliminating local service entirely would be a problem for these riders.

A “Rapid” service could also transit signal priority, which would reduce travel time by 15 minutes over the line, and improvements to bus stops to provide a better rider experience.

Enhanced bus stops

Canopy, benches, windscreen, lighting, realtime info

$11 million

Transit signal priority

Reduces travel time by 15 minutes

$2.4 million

Improvements to the ECR route would complement Caltrain. Although though the routes are parallel and close together across much of the line, the bus stops will continue to be closer together. The ECR line has over 100 stops in each direction. The proposed Rapid service would have 37 to 76 stops.  Caltrain has only 11 stops in San Mateo County.

SamTrans is not considering a dedicated lane for the bus, unlike the Bus Rapid Transit project in Santa Clara County, which would make bus travel time-competitive with car travel. But slowing car travel, even by 3 minutes over the distance from San Jose to Palo Alto, is running into significant political pushback.

The proposal builds on the traditional highest performing North/South route on the Peninsula Corridor, and doesn’t area’s chronic weakness, east-west connectivity. The draft SamTrans strategic plan proposes using “pulse” scheduling to enable connections to less frequent routes, as well as continuing to experiment with on-demand service that might help with connectivity in lower density areas.

SamTrans will be taking public input on the proposed changes at a meeting on November 18 at SamTrans HQ in San Carlos at 6pm, as well as meetings of the Grand Boulevard Task Force and Working Committee on November 19 and December 15, the SamTrans Citizens Advisory Committee on December 3, and other groups on request.

What do you think about this idea to beef up El Camino Real bus service in San Mateo County?

 

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VTA Bus Rapid Transit environmental report shows bus could be time-competitive with driving

VTA has recently released the environmental impact report for its its Bus Rapid Transit project on the El Camino line, the most heavily used transit route in the VTA system. The report 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 the express 522 bus is nearly twice as slow as driving.   Making transit 25-30 minutes faster would cost 2-3 minutes for drivers.

Travel time AM Peak Westbound PM Peak Eastbound
Auto

43

44

Current bus

71

85

BRT Dedicated Lane

47

52

However, obsolete environmental rules make the best transit project look bad, by measuring its transportation impact terms of vehicle delay, so saving 3 minutes for drivers outweighs saving 30 minutes for people taking transit.  Last year, the state legislature passed a law to change the rules; starting next year, a project that reduces vehicle miles will be seen as environmentally favorable.  For more information about the project – see TransForm’s blog post

If you are interested in learning more and commenting, there are several upcoming meetings:

  • Sunnyvale Council study session on November 11 at 5:15pm at City Council Chambers, 456 W. Olive Ave., Sunnyvale, CA 94086

  • VTA community meetings in Mountain View on November 20, 8:30am to 10:30 am and 5:30pm to 7:30pm at Mountain View City Council Chambers, 500 Castro Street

  • VTA community meetings, Wednesday, December 3, 8:30 to 10:30am and 5:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. at Santa Clara City Council Chambers, 1500 Warburton Avenue, Santa Clara, CA.

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SamTrans strategic plan looks to changes in demographics, technology, land use

SamTrans is working on an update to the agency’s strategic plan, with an eye toward changes in demographics and technology.   The relatively short-term plan, covering 2015 to 2019, is expected to be presented for board approval in December.

Although ridership has been down by 14% overall in the last five years, ridership has increased 3% since the introduction of the SamTrans service plan, which beefed up service on El Camino and some high-ridership areas.

SamTrans is looking to older and younger riders for potential ridership increases, for different reasons. Seniors represent a growing share of riders.  On average, women outlive their ability to drive by a decade, and men by 7 years. As people live longer and the baby boom generation ages, there will be many people more people dependent on transit.

According to a study from the AARP, seniors place a high priority on having a bus stop nearby, as well as nearby groceries, pharmacy services, and parks.

Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 12.55.09 PM

The strategic plan also acknowledges the changing transportation preferences of younger people.  The draft cites a statistic from a US PIRG report showing that  car use among San Mateo County’s young adults (16 to 34) decreased by 23 percent from 2001-2009.

Historically in our area, most bus riders have been people who don’t have other choices – elderly, youth, and low-income who can’t drive or cannot afford a car.   People who have a choice have chosen to drive. It will be interesting to see if SamTrans’ research shows a population of younger people who prefer not to drive, and will use a bus if it is reasonably convenient.

A characteristic of the “smartphone generation” of transit users is that they may value low-stress productive or entertainment time more than absolute speed, when driving is faster but means you need to focus on driving. To appeal to these users, including students and commuters, SamTrans plans to consider adding wifi to buses.

SamTrans will also be looking to new service models and technologies to provide service to lower density communities.  The first experiment along these lines is the FLX service used in Pacifica and San Carlos which allows users to call ahead and schedule a custom pickup.  According to SamTrans, “The Pacifica FLX has been successful, carrying about 100 passengers a day while meeting the needs of a community previously underserved by transit.”    This sort of model could conceivably be combined with transportation network technology to provide even more flexible service for areas that are difficult to serve cost-effectively with fixed route buses.

Finally, SamTrans is seeking to be a stronger steward of the land it owns along its right of way.  The San Carlos Transit Village is nearing final approval  in a scaled down version, after a bumpy ride where opponents objected to size and traffic, while supporters were lukewarm due to lack of affordable housing commitments.   At the time, SamTrans had largely delegated its community interaction to the developer.

In the strategic plan, SamTrans asserts an intention to play a stronger role, to “work with community partners to influence synergistic land use development policies that support transit investments and promote sustainable communities through the Grand Boulevard Initiative.” This will require creating a stronger “Transit-oriented Development policy that both guides development of SamTrans assets and influences growth near major SamTrans transit hubs.”

The transit-oriented development strategy can help over time serving the needs of older and younger people.  Our region has an undersupply of smaller housing units that are close to transit and basic services, which would meet the needs of older and younger residents. Seniors preferences to also be near services (groceries, drugstores) and parks provide helpful information regarding the TOD strategy – it’s important not just to add housing next to transit, but for the area to have nearby services and public space, to enable residents to go about daily lives without needing to drive.

These are all positive developments that could help SamTrans keep up with the times, providing better service to growing segments of riders, and over time, enable more people to live walking distance from public transit.

 

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Peninsula cities vote to support development near transit

Voters in San Bruno approved a ballot measure to raise height limits in the downtown area near Caltrain and El Camino Real.   An earlier ballot measure passed in 1977 required a vote of the people to build buildings taller than 3 stories in those areas, and the downtown has seen little change since.

Voters in Menlo Park opposed Measure M, which would have limited the amount of office space allowed near Caltrain (office workers near transit have the highest likelihood of transit use).  Two proposed mixed use developments, with offices, apartments, and a small amount of retail, are now in a position to move forward, although the development on Stanford-owned land will need an environmental study and some traffic reduction.

Voters in Mountain View elected Pat Showalter, Ken Rosenberg, and Lenny Siegel three candidates who support housing in North Bayshore where Google is, and progress on the city’s jobs housing imbalance, which has been contributing to price spikes and commute traffic increases.

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Redwood City seeks to recover stranded private parking and research opportunities to reduce car commutes

In an effort to use available parking space more efficiently in Downtown Redwood City as new buildings open up, Redwood City is investigating opportunities to recover underutilized parking spaces that are “stranded” in private buildings.

Redwood City staff sought advice from an East Bay company that has a specialty in working with private property owners to make underutilized spaces available to the public, by using parking meters, permit parking, or valet parking.  This approach has been successfully used in East Bay cities including Walnut Creek, Concord, and Pleasant Hill.

Successful examples of this approach, taken from the staff report, include:

• One Walnut Creek Center – facility is managed dynamically through the app ParkMe where the owner decides how many spaces to make publicly available  and under what terms. They currently offer hourly, daily, and monthly paid parking as well as allowing parkers to reserve a space.

• Plaza Escuela Parking Garage, where parking meters were installed on the lower floors with the remaining upper floors remained free.  This which successfully shifted employees away from the prime spaces and into the upper floors.

Enabling parking efficiency from the start

Redwood City and other cities can make this process even easier with new developments by requiring parking spaces to be unbundled in the lease, and to be sold separately to tenants. This process, called “unbundled parking”, makes it easy for developers and the city to tell if parking spaces are underutilized and can be made available for the public pool.

Unbundled parking also allows property managers, and employers to offer “parking cashout” benefits – a cash payment to employees who choose not to take a parking space, up to the value of the least parking space.   Parking cashout is required by state law for companies with more than 50 employees, as long as the parking is unbundled in the lease, so that there is a cash value for the parking.  The state does not enforce the law, but allows cities to do so.

Conserve parking spaces with less driving

In order to reduce the burden on the parking supply, Redwood City is starting to conduct a survey of downtown employees, in partnership with Commute.org and 511.org.   The survey will ask commuters where they come from, what modes they use today, their commute priorities. If they drive, the survey asks questions to determine their reasons for driving, and to identify programs and improvements that might help them choose to drive less, such as a better shuttle to transit, transit pass discounts, help finding carpool partners, or bike lockers and showers at work.  This is the type of information gathered by Stanford and other successful programs at private employers that enable them to design programs to greatly reduce car commuting and parking demand.

Council members acknowledge and support the direction they’re seeing, especially with the new startups that are flocking downtown.  Council member Aguirre admired the startups with walls full of bicycles, and urged shuttles serving the city to include bike racks.

Opportunities for more parking efficiencies

Based on analysis of parking utilization, Redwood City made some changes to its parking pricing in August, increasing the hourly parking rate in the downtown core to $1 per hour to help visitors find parking in the most popular locations.

The change has been working to improve turnover in the popular downtown core locations, helping more people find parking when and where they need it, and has also encouraged more people to park outside the downtown core where rates are $.25 per hour.

Based on occupancy analysis and feedback from the city’s Parking Advisory Committee, Redwood City will consider more refinements in the future, such as 20-minute “Grab & Go” spaces in the downtown core once additional supply becomes available with the open of the Crossing/900 development near the Caltrain station.  Data from on-street sensors and the parking study suggest  that a majority of trips to Downtown are quite short (52% of trips on certain  blocks of Broadway and Jefferson are under 30 minutes.)

Measure, manage, improve

Following the adoption of an overall strategy to manage its parking supply in its General Plan, Redwood City is making steady progress at using its existing parking supply more efficiently, and getting started on the next steps in reducing demand.

Mayor Gee praised the iterative approach that the city is taking. “This plan will be adjusted over time – things will change, we’ll adjust and make improvements, knowing that when we make a decision, it’s not forever.”

This approach represents a major transformation from earlier approaches to parking, which were based on assumptions of cheap real estate, driving as the dominant form of transportation, and subsidize for driving in the form of plentiful, free parking.  Now, with real estate prices at a premium, and increasing preferences toward less driving, cities including Redwood City are changing their policies to focus on using parking space more efficiently, and changing the incentive structure to encourage more people to access jobs and services without driving.

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Palo Alto moves forward with initiative to reduce car trips

Last week, the Palo Alto Planning and Transportation Commission got an update on the early stages of the formation of the Palo Alto Transportation Management Association (TMA).  In the last year, the Palo Alto City Council started a major initiative major decision to address traffic and parking problems by investing in programs to reduce vehicle trips, in addition to strategies to manage parking more efficiently and build more supply.  To implement this trip reduction strategy, Palo Alto is starting a TMA, a nonprofit organization which will manage marketing and programs to reduce vehicle trips, such as shuttles, transit pass discounts, carshare, and other benefits, on behalf of businesses and residents.

The update about the first steps to get the TMA started was provided by staff member Jessica Sullivan, and consultant Wendy Silvani, who staffed the successful, pioneering Emeryville TMA which currently serves 1.4 million annual shuttle trips to BART, and the Mission Bay TMA which has an 85% non-drive alone mode share.

To start to get input and gather support for the program, the consultants have been interviewing various stakeholder groups including businesses, senior centers, and neighborhood groups, and asked the PTC for other groups to reach out to.  PTC members strongly recommended reaching out to the school system, including “safe routes to schools” leaders who have already made tremendous progress at restoring  the share of kids walking and bicycling to school to around half, up from a low of about 25%.

Commissioner Carl King expressed concern that the goal of the TMA, which is to reduce vehicle trips by 30%, based on a council directive, might be too aggressive.   In response, Commissioner Arthur Keller pointed out that Stanford has achieved deeper trip reductions than that over the last decade. (So have Google and other leading private sector programs, and Portland’s Lloyd District).  As the TMA gathers information about the opportunities for vehicle trip reduction in Palo Alto, they could refine the goal based on data, in the way that the Cities of Mountain View and San Mateo have set their goals by analyzing how much the use of transportation alternatives could be increased.

Commissioner King strongly encouraged trip reduction methods to require participation. “In Palo Alto, we tend to be very polite” – but in order to get results, the program can’t be purely optional and without accountability.

A PTC member asked about the relationship between the TMA and the city. The Transportation Management Association will be a nonprofit with its own board. Silvani and Sullivan mentioned that the current thinking is that city staff will serve on the board – a PTC member suggested ex officio representation by a Councilmember and a PTC member.

Commissioner Eric Rosenblum asked questions about funding mechanisms, which were not answered very clearly by consultants and staff. Based on research regarding other locations, TMAs can be funded with a variety of sources. In areas dominated by new development, TMAs are often funded substantially by development fees. TMAs can also be funded via membership fees, fees for services, assessment mechanisms, and parking revenues. Parking revenues are a major source of funds for Stanford, as well as TMA programs in Boulder and Portland.

King and other PTC members questioned the initial focus on downtown, when community members are concerned about traffic all around town. South Palo Alto neighborhoods have perennial concerns about getting fewer benefits than northern neighborhoods, and there is a particularly high driving rate at Stanford Research Park.

Based on case studies from other places, it would be desirable for TMA to evolve to provide programs to multiple areas across town – but this blogger thinks it would be a risk to try and serve all parts of the city identically, all at once. By focusing on a defined set of places that people come from and travel to, the TMA will be able to  create focused programs for clusters of people tailored for specific areas.  For example, a neighborhood GoPass would likely be more effective in the Downtown and Cal Ave areas than South Palo Alto neighborhoods two miles from the closest Caltrain station.

With regard to Stanford Research Park,  contributors to the high rate of driving likely include free parking, challenges with the schedules of the shuttles to/from Caltrain, and shuttles home provided only by the largest employers for a fee. So it is financially attractive for employees to drive.   The first things that Stanford University did when implementing TDM was to start charging for parking, add Caltrain shuttles designed based on data about employees needs, and provide employees with deep-discount Caltrain passes.  An alternative to charging for parking is offering “parking cashout” benefits – a cash payment in exchange for not using a parking space.

As for neighborhoods, there are examples of cities with successful residential TDM programs. Boulder offers a neighborhood EcoPass – a deep-discount transit pass that a neighborhood can vote to adopt.  Neighborhoods using this program drive 40% less on average than other Boulder neighborhoods.  Data about potential use, and active community buy-in should be needed to institute neighborhood programs.

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