Results are out for Palo Alto’s transportation survey which was conducted in May, and will be presented to City Council on Monday night. The results of the study suggest a number of options for Palo Alto to reduce driving, which can help inform Palo Alto’s consideration of transportation demand management (TDM) policies. On Monday, Palo Alto is also holding study session to report on preliminary progress on TDM, and to learn from Stanford, Google, and other leading TDM programs.
A majority of survey respondents – residents and workers – drive to work, with sizeable minorities using alternatives.
Carshare for mid-day transportation needs
Out of the most common reasons people gave for driving to work – both for Palo Alto residents and commuters – was needing a car during the day for personal trips.
Why commuters drive to work
Carshare is one of the approaches that Palo Alto is exploring. Having carshare services such as ZipCar and CityCarShare available can help employees run mid-day errands without having to drive to work, and can help residents manage with fewer cars per household.
Potential to increase bicycling
Among resident respondents, bicycle ownership is very high.
- Bicycle ownership in Palo Alto
93% of residents noted having at least one bicycle within their household and 53% noted their household having four or more bicycles within their household. Bicycle use was also identified as the travel mode of choice for school-aged family members consistent with growing bicycle parking data at each school within the community.
The survey reported very high commuting to neighboring cities. “Of the 44% who work outside Palo Alto, almost 25% travel to neighboring cities of Mountain View and Menlo Park.” There were also sizeable numbers of people who commute into Palo Alto from neighboring cities, where bike mode share is already relatively high for the US and the region.
The data on bicycle ownership, and commutes to and from neighboring cities, suggests greater potential for bicycle commuting, in partnership with the neighboring cities which themselves have strong policies and programs to increase bicycling and motivation to decrease traffic.
In terms of inbound commuting, 142 respondents (18%) commute from the City of San Jose. Following San Jose, top commute generators are the neighboring cities of Mountain View and Menlo Park (14% together). A nearly equal number of people (14%) commute from cities within the Peninsula like San Mateo, South San Francisco, Burlingame, San Carlos, Belmont, San Bruno etc.
Improving access to Caltrain
For commuters, services that would help them choose not to drive include showers/changing facilities for people who want to bike or walk, improved Caltrain service at the California Avenue Business District, expanded bicycle and pedestrian facilities, and cheaper transit fares.
As Palo Alto’s fleshes out its TDM strategy, cheaper transit fares can be provided by expanding transit pass discount benefits to more employer. Caltrain’s bulk-discount GoPass is currently available for large employers and residential developments, not yet for TMAs or neighborhoods (Boulder, Colorado offers its bulk-discount pass to neighborhoods). The rise of TMAs is an opportunity for cities to encourage Caltrain to expand the GoPass to increase mode share to more employee and resident groups.
And data collected by transportation surveys about about transit demand could be used to help encourage more service from Caltrain.
More than 50% of residents respond that they live within a mile from Caltrain, not even counting the San Antonio Caltrain station which is in Mountain View adjacent to South Palo Alto. However, the survey does not report how close those resident’s workplaces are to Caltrain (in miles or Shuttle/bike time). The survey does show that many commuters give poor transit connections as a reason to drive.
A creative way for a Palo Alto TMA to help reduce traffic would be to assess if there are clusters of residents who would choose not to drive if they had better connections from Caltrain to their workplace. Then, chip in to help improve shuttle schedules at the destinations in Sunnyvale and San Jose.
Shopping by bike?
Interestingly, the vast majority of respondents said that they do shopping by car. The survey does not differentiate among types of shopping trips. How many trips are big trips filling up a car with many grocery bags, and how many are quick trips to get a gallon of milk or some salad ingredients, with one person in the car? Residents in Palo Alto express frustration at the amount of time it takes to drive 1-2 miles and find parking to run a simple errand during congested periods. It is possible that some of this frustration could be alleviated some attention to “safe routes to supermarkets” along the lines of the attention that has been paid to “safe routes to schools.”
More representative data
There were 3707 responses to the transportation survey, 77% from residents and 23% from commuters. The transportation survey was not random-sample and the results are not fully representative. For example, the share of people living and working in Palo Alto is high compared to the census. Also, the survey results show that more residents than in-commuters drive alone to work. This is different from Census results.
39% of residents noted working within Palo Alto or the Stanford campus. 44% of residents noted working outside of the City, with Mountain View and San Jose being the two main commute destinations for residents
Also, East Palo Alto residents do not show up as a notable block of commuters. This may reflect under-representation in the survey. There are opportunities to help East Palo Alto residents commute to PA without driving as well.
The non-representative data from the surveys has some value, but over time it would be helpful help to have more representative surveys. One of the best practices of effective TDM programs is to survey people in the constituent groups, assess where they travel to and from, and identify incentives that would help them drive less. Palo Alto can take further steps validate these and other ideas suggested by this study, and conduct further studies that are more representative going forward.