Palo Alto Council considering the kickoff of a major vehicle trip reduction initiative

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.

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4 Responses to Palo Alto Council considering the kickoff of a major vehicle trip reduction initiative

  1. Pingback: Today’s Headlines | Streetsblog San Francisco

  2. javaplace1 says:

    First step is to add parking meters or parking stations on University Ave – without doing that, it’s just lipstick……..

    • Adina Levin says:

      There is more support in the business community so that might happen. In the mean time, the TDM programs are first designed to reduce driving for employees and residents. I don’t see why you need to solve customer parking (those short-term onstreet spaces) before you address the issues for employees who stay all day and for residents who hate being stuck in traffic.

      • javaplace1 says:

        It is true that priced parking on University does little, if anything, to address employee parking availability and demand. What it does do is bring in the factor of pricing – on a daily or hourly basis, to Palo Alto. The only pricing the city applies is quarterly or monthly pricing of permits for city-operated lots and garages.

        I recently read in one of the papers that the city needs to provide “free and convenient” parking. Well, you can have one or the other, but not both.

        Could parking meters/stations on University lead to daily pricing in garages, replacing permit parking with 10-hour parking meters? I would hope so. The first place I would try parking pricing is on University, but I suppose they could do it in garages as well.

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