Palo Alto City Council to consider turbo-charging vehicle trip reduction strategy

On Monday, Palo Alto City Council will consider accelerating its strategy to address parking and traffic problems – by reducing vehicle trips. In a “colleagues’ memo” from Mayor Scharff, Vice Mayor Shepherd, Council Members Kniss and Price, the Council members recommend directing staff to develop a comprehensive “transportation demand management” plan to reduce solo car trips by at least 30% for the Downtown, California Avenue, and Stanford Research Park Areas.

Palo Alto was already in the process of a major study of options – including vehicle trip reduction – to deal with the impacts of downtown growth, including a major parking crunch that could leave Palo Alto with a bill for $100,000,000 in new parking structures if development and transportation patterns remain on today’s trajectory.   The current studies will start delivering results earlier next year, for decisions and implementation in phases in 2014.

If City Council votes tomorrow on this policy direction, the work of staff and consultants will be accelerated and simplified. An aggressive car trip reduction strategy will be a mandate, not an optional choice.   Staff would need to come back and review a detailed proposal with City Council before actions are taken to implement the strategy.

The Colleague’s memo intends to fix big weaknesses in Palo Alto’s historical transportation demand management policy.  For years, Palo Alto has included transportation demand management provisions in agreements with large developments. However, these provisions lacked clear goals, reporting, and mechanisms for accountability.    Also, if TDM is implemented by each development separately, medium-sized developments don’t have enough resources to afford significant investments like shuttles, and smaller businesses can’t participate at all.

The memo calls for the provision of a funding mechanism, “for example, assessments on existing businesses, impact fees on new developments, or a combination of both” that will fund a robust TDM plan regular evaluation about progress toward  measurable outcomes based on identified goals.   It encourages considering a “Transportation Management Association” which would pool revenue, and create a set of services for the area, such as shuttles, transit passes, carpool and vanpool programs, carshare services, bicycling support, parking pricing, and more.  With this strategy, the sum of the program can be greater than than the individual parts, since multiple developments in an area can fund more robust programs than an individual development could fund on its own.

The memo recommends reaching out to the head of Stanford’s successful TDM program for advice on effective practices. Over the last decade, Stanford has saved itself $100,000,000 in avoided parking construction by dramatically reducing solo driving from 72% of its employees in 2003 to only 42% in the last year.

The memo’s goal of “at least 30% solo trip reduction” comes from a field trip and comparison with the TDM program for Contra Costa Transit Center (the Pleasant Hill BART station area) which has successfully reduced solo car trips by more than 30%.   Palo Alto, which has a much higher bicycle mode share than Pleasant Hill, and highly walkable Downtown and Cal Ave areas, may well be able to do better than Contra Costa County.

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