As downtown Redwood City quickly fills in with new offices and housing, the City is promoting a set of transportation alternatives to help people get around without a car. The Connect Redwood City program launched in September 2013, funded by a $1.5 million grant from MTC’s Climate Initiatives Program.
The “Making the Last Mile Connection” grant is allowing Redwood City to innovate, providing programs to downtown residents and employees of smaller businesses that were previously available to only to very large employers. The pilot program will measure results, so Redwood City will have data on usage, travel patterns, and opportunities for improvement.
However, neither the pilot program nor the city have clearly defined goals, and the City and SamTrans haven’t yet identified ongoing sources of funding to keep these services running after the pilot ends.
Better connections to Redwood City
The pilot program includes carshare (ZipCar) and bikeshare, to help workers who come to Redwood City without a car, as well as residents who are car-free or “car-lite”, and a vanpool program to help employees who live in places that lack good transit options.
Redwood City got started with ZipCar about a year ago with 3 spots, and recently expanded with two additional spots. ZipCar’s initial markets have been larger cities and college campuses. The launch in a small city downtown is new for them. “We were thrilled that ZipCar took a chance on Redwood City” comments Corinne Goodrich, Manager of Strategic Development at SamTrans. The grant funding is being used to lease the spaces where the ZipCars are parked.
Redwood City Zipcar
An earlier survey showed that potential users expected to ZipCar to make it easier for them to use transit, by giving them travel options in the middle of the day. So far there have been 613 unique drivers (there is no data about how many of these are residents or workers), and 1970 reservations since the program started in May, 2012.
Most recently, SamTrans reports that the Zipcar station has 26% average weekday usage for Zipcars at the Caltrain station, meaning a car is reserved for usage about that percent of the time. This metric is down from a summer high of ~40%. ZipCar use tends to be seasonal, with higher use in the summer. Benchmark usage is about 40%, and Zipcar will expand the station if usage goes over about 45%.
As of October 2013, the vanpool program had 8 vans in operation, with 75% subsidy. The program started with six vans, but expanded based on demand. There is funding to run up to 12 vans. About 5-8 people travel in each van, serving employees who commute to Redwood City from the East Bay. According to surveys to date, 53% said they would consider continuing vanpool in the absence of any subsidy. The program is clearly taking cars off the road, although at a small scale, reducing driving in Redwood City by a tenth of a percent. The program’s follow-up will give the City a better idea of how the program might be scaled.
The funding is helping Redwood City support its participation in the Bay Area bikeshare pilot, with 6 bike share kiosks in the downtown area. The goal of the pilot is to figure out how to make the bike share successful.” The initial deployment had modest usage, and users reported that the kiosks – close together in a walkable downtown – were not located in places that users wanted to go. A Friends of Caltrain survey, and other customer comments, want to see bike share stations near office complexes, so workers can use the bike share as the first/last mile for their transit commute, as well as a way run mid-day errands and meet people for lunch downtown. Redwood City staff member Jessica Manzi recently told Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition that the next set of kiosks are going to include locations near employment.
Redwood City Bikeshare
Working from home
The pilot also includes promotion of the the county’s program allowing employees to work from home. The county of San Mateo has over 500 employees downtown. San Mateo County conducted an employee survey in 2009 and found a low level of employee participation in the telework program. Under the Connect, Redwood City! Program, the County is re-launching its telework and flex-schedule programs, and will be developing training for managers/supervisors and employees. The training materials developed by the County will also be available to shared with other agencies or employers interested in using telework and flex-schedules to reduce vehicle miles traveled.
The program is branded and marketed as Connect! Redwood City. Out of the $1.5 million budget, $438,000 is dedicated to marketing, provided by the partners in the pilot, Commute.org, SamTrans, the City of Redwood City and the County of San Mateo using coordinated marketing programs developed by a consultant for the pilot program. Managers of successful Transportation Demand Management programs at Stanford University, as well as effective city-based programs such as the Contra Costa Transit Village say that a key part of success, over and above the programs, is the marketing and personal service that lets people know that the benefits are available, and helps people plan transportation options that work for their needs.
The $1.5 million grant comes from a $226 Million pot of funds allocated by MTC for projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. MTC’s draft proposal for Cap and Trade includes an additional $400 million dollars to expand this program.
Can the program help Redwood city grow?
Downtown Redwood City is growing rapidly, following years of community involvement and planning to create a Downtown Precise Plan and updated General Plan.
Today, there are about 1,950 households within half mile of the Caltrain station, with another 2000+ residents expected to move into 1200 new units in the development pipeline. Redwood City has about 10,300 employees working in or near downtown Redwood City (7000 downtown, another 3000 nearby), and another 1400-1800 workers are expected to move into 350,000 new square feet of office space in the development pipeline.
Redwood City will need ongoing changes in order to avoid traffic and parking problems. According to the last census, Redwood City had fairly typical car-centric commuting patterns. 76% of people working in Redwood City drove alone to work (with 12% carpool, 3% public transportation, and 3% walking or bicycling). Mode share is similar for all Redwood City residents – 76% drove alone to work, with 9% carpooling, 3% taking transit, and 3% walking. Downtown residents tend to drive somewhat less. 69% drove alone, 10% carpooled, 5% took transit, and 8% walked or biked.
Measuring results, but no clear goals
To evaluate the Last Mile Connect program and prepare for next steps, the city will conduct surveys to assess people’s travel patterns, including origin and destination information, managed by Susan Wheeler. This is the information that high quality transportation demand management programs use to assess and improve their programs.
In addition, the the emissions impacts for the Last Mile Connect pilot and bike share programs are required to be tracked by the city’s Climate Action Plan, which was adopted on April 22, 2013 by the City Council. The CAP requires staff to submit an annual Climate Action Plan Implementation Report to City Council, detailing lessons learned, making recommendations to improve the programs and the plan, and including a period for public comment.
Could Redwood City set stronger goals?
In this pilot phase, the Connect Redwood City program does not have any specific goals. The Climate Action Plan calls for implementing the Connect Redwood City Program, and for completing the bikeways identified in the San Mateo County Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan.
The City’s Climate Action plan calls for “up to an 8% reduction in Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) by updating parking policies and management strategies, including the Downtown Parking Management Plan.
The reduction called for in Redwood City’s Climate Action Plan called for is greater than Santa Clara’s incremental 5%. But Redwood City’s goal is more modest than San Mateo’s 25% reduction in Rail Corridor peak hour vehicle trips and Mountain View’s 45% mode share goal for the North Bayshore area. Although the goals use different units, they are more aggressive. Also, goals in Redwood City’s Climate Action Plan are citywide, and the more ambitious goals in San Mateo and Mountain View are for specific growth areas. Redwood City does not have specific goals for the Downtown Area, which may be able to achieve greater change.
Redwood City’s parking plan does actively manage the city’s supply of vehicle parking with a demand-based pricing strategy, parking maximums in the downtown, unbundled parking, and shared parking. The Climate Action Plan recommends further strategies to help reduce driving, including parking credits for carsharing, an incentive for residents to own fewer cars per household, and parking cashout, a powerful benefit which can reduce driving by 5% to 30% according to multiple studies over several decades.
Redwood City’s primary focus on parking management may have limitations in the ability to reduce driving. With constraints on parking, but without a plan to measure and actively reduce vehicle trips, the City of Palo Alto wound up with problems of overflow parking in neighborhoods, and strong opposition to new development.
By contrast, the Redwood City Climate Action Plan has specific and aggressive goals for reduction in energy use, including commercial and residential buildings, including:
Achieve a 15% energy use reduction compared with Title 24 in residential and commercial new construction with adopted and updated Green Building Codes
Achieve a 15% energy use reduction in existing residential buildings and commercial facilities by targeting a 20% participation rate in residential and commercial energy audit, rebate and incentive, and upgrade programs
Circular reference to county emissions goals
With regard to setting transportation goals, the Redwood City Climate Action Plan points to a process under way at the County to track transportation emissions reductions. The City and County Association of Governments (C/CAG) of San Mateo County will be accounting for and addressing the transportation emissions reductions of each city with the San Mateo County Transportation Climate Action Plan (T-CAP). The plan is designed to complement the Climate Action Plans developed by San Mateo County local jurisdictions.
But as far as we can tell, that is a circular reference. The draft San Mateo County Transportation Climate Action Plan refers back to individual cities as having responsibility to set local goals for carbon emissions reductions for transportation. According to John Hoang, the county staffer working on the T-CAP, “ we look at county-wide numbers, but we’re not setting goals for cities.”
The C/CAG T-CAP is considered to be additive to the local CAP which already includes localized transportation and land use strategies at the city/County levels. The Transportation CAP addresses transportation on a countywide level, separate from the local jurisdictions. Therefore its strategies and any GHG reduction benefits can be added to individual local CAP development.
John Ford of the Peninsula Traffic Congestion Relief Alliance, which manages programs for the City/County Association of Governments, which is the congestion management agency for San Mateo County, agrees that the setting of goals is up to the City. In San Mateo, PCTRA manages the shuttles in a program with goals to reduce vehicle trips. In Redwood City, PCTRA manages the shuttles without such goals.
Transportation Management Association without goals or geographic focus
The Redwood City’s General Plan does have a provision enabling the creation of a Transportation Management Association, which would be a mechanism to provide ongoing funding, and managing programs in geographic areas toward specific goals (BE130, BE31.4, BE74). According to Susan Wheeler, Redwood City considers PCTRA as the City’s Transportation Management Association.
However, other jurisdictions that have TMAs have several features in addition to Redwood City’s programs: focused funding to run programs tailored for specific operating areas, and specific goals associated with the operating area. According to Rick Williams, head of Williams Consulting, who is also assisting the City of San Mateo in developing plans for its downtown parking program and TMA, says that without operating areas focused on geographies with specific needs, TDM programs achieve a lower level of results.
What happens after the grant ends?
Redwood City and SamTrans do not yet have plans for how to fund and manage the program after the grant ends. The good news is that at the end of the pilot, the City will have much more robust data, not only about the effectiveness of these specific programs, but about the transportation patterns of Redwood City employees and residents, which could be helpful in crafting ongoing programs and goals.
The recent experience in Palo Alto shows that lack of focus on alternatives to driving, even in a transit-rich and walkable areas, can lead to a traffic and parking crunch. As Redwood City looks beyond the pilot period, the City has an opportunity to be more proactive, with aggressive goals, ongoing measurement, and a strategy for ongoing funding.