Update: Palo Alto City Council approved the initiative to move forward with a Transportation Management Association. This represents a sea change in how the city manages transportation. 18 months ago, the most common perspective in public discussions was that the city lacked enough parking, causing overflow onto neighborhood streets and needed more parking structures, which residents and businesses were reluctant to pay for. Now, the City is pursuing a multi-pronged approach – residential permit parking; more efficient use of existing parking supply; transportation demand management to reduce driving, and more moderate increases in parking supply to fill gaps left by the previous policies.
On Monday night, Palo Alto City Council will review for approval the kickoff of a major transportation demand management initiative, with the goal of reducing demand for expensive parking structures and alleviating traffic congestion.
A year ago, the prevalent point of view in Palo Alto was that there was a serious parking shortage, and the solution was to build more parking. Now, according to comments at recent City Council meetings there is broad agreement among many business leaders, residents, and decision-makers that a large part of the solution can be a set of programs to reduce driving, utilizing lessons from success of major employers and from other cities.
On Monday night February 24 (see agenda) night February 24, the City Council will review a range of measures, strategic and tactical.
The City is looking to start the process of creating a Transportation Management Association, a nonprofit organization that will collect funds and manage programs to reduce driving, with an initial focus on downtown. The proposal is to hire a consultant by June who will help the city define and create the TMA. In the startup phase, a steering committee would define the mission, initial priorities, and initial funding sources. The steering committee would assess data about current travel behavior; the city’s current study evaluating downtown development, scheduled to come out this Spring, is expected to include relevant and statistically valid information.
The TMA would start with seed funding from the City, and would be funded on an ongoing basis from participating businesses and developments.
Palo Alto is the latest city in the area pursuing the TMA approach. San Mateo and Mountain View have set up TMAs, Menlo Park intends to as part of its General Plan in progress, and San Jose is leaning in that direction as part of the Diridon Station Area Plan.
Based on research among programs in other public and private sector programs, important factors in success over and above any specific program are likely to include
- shared goals among business and resident stakeholders, including strong and quantitative mode share goals;
- solid data about participants travel patterns and preferences
- regular measurement and transparent, public reporting
- accountability for results
- strong and ongoing communication and marketing to participants
- stable and sufficient funding
The City is looking to kick things off with some programs to start early, including beefing up the city’s shuttle programs, providing a rideshare app, and bringing in carshare stations.
In addition to these programs, the City is intending to offer the Caltrain GoPass to city employees who give up their parking pass, starting in April, 2014.
To help gather data to plan the transportation initiatives, the Council plans to discuss a recommendation from several council members to create a Business Registry. Unlike earlier failed initiatives to create a business license tax, the goal of this program is to gather baseline data about businesses in the city. When a City Council member asked City Manager James Keene earlier this year about the number of people who work downtown, Keene answered “in the range of 10,000 to 15,000.” This is not a precise enough figure for reasonable planning – the goal is to get better data to make decisions.
Parking remains an important part of the picture in Palo Alto. The city is moving ahead with a residential parking program that will remove neighborhood streets as a source of free parking for employees. The City is moving forward with several projects to make more efficient use of the parking lots and structures it already has. And the City is moving forward at a slower pace to evaluate the potential to add garages. The more progress at reducing trips, the less need for garages.